Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A nest for Celeste : A story about art, inspiration and the meaning of home by Henry Cole

This book is beautifully designed.  The paper has deckle edges, the cover is warm and inviting and each of the illustrations inside the book are so tactile you just want to stroke the pages.

A nest for Celeste is another book I picked up while doing our library stocktake or inventory.  If you enjoyed the illustrations in Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret you will want to flip through A nest for Celeste.  Then you will need to settle into a comfy chair and let yourself sink into this wonderful story.

Celeste has come to live in a large plantation house near New Orleans.  Celeste is a mouse and she has created a small home under the skirting boards.  Living in the house with Celeste is the famous bird painter Audubon and his assistant Joseph.  It is Joseph who befriends Celeste and as she accompanies him Celeste is able to see just how Audubon creates the famous illustrations we can see today in Birds of America.  There are only 119 copies of this book still in existence and one sold in 2005 for over 5 million dollars.  While the painting of birds in this book are absolutely amazing, through the eyes of Celeste we discover the brutal truth.  Each of the birds has in fact been killed and then wired into position for drawing.  There are some quite disturbing sections in this book but I still highly recommend it.

"Then they heard the guns.  They were firing from every direction, with blasts of buckshot that bought down several of the beautiful birds at once. ... wave after wave were shot, and the birds fell like hailstones."  One lucky bird, though, is bought in alive and Celeste is able to set him free.

Celeste is a wonderful character.  She is creative - weaving exquisite baskets. She is compassionate, she is so courageous and she is highly intelligent.

The nest referred to in the title is a wonderful old dolls house.
"Through the dim light she saw an enormous four-poster bed covered with a soft, pink blanket. Two satin pillows were trimmed in tiny lace ribbon.  Beside the bed was a small table draped with a lace cloth. Against a wall stood a wooden armoire with flowers and vines painted up the sides and on each door.  A large overstuffed chair sat perched on a small rug ... the bed was stuffed with cotton balls and she sank blissfully into it. ... 'I've found home,' she said to herself.  'There is nowhere else I'd rather be."

All is well in her beautiful new home until a dreadful rat, a past enemy, discovers her new home. Luckily Celeste is able to dispose of this rat Trixie in a most satisfying away.

You can see more art work by Henry Cole on his web site.  You might like to read this review which should convince you to look for A nest for Celeste.  This book would make a good read-aloud to a class of Grade 4 students.  Here are some very detailed teaching notes.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Summer reading list

While we were stocktaking or taking our inventory at the end of the year I filled three boxes with novels from our library ready to read over the Summer.  Here are a few that I am really looking forward to reading.

Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks
I had two students last year who adored this book.
From the blurb :
"A magical tale of danger, friendship and heart-stopping adventure."

Chance of Safety by Henrietta Branford
This is a very old, slim book which I remember reading years ago.  I want to see if it as stood the test of time.  Our 1998 copy is very yellow.
From the blurb :
"In a terrifying journey, two children face a changed world.  In a race to survive, they encounter a society they never knew existed."

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
This has been on my reading list for a long time.  It was a winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and numerous other awards.
From the blurb :
"A powerful and affecting story of sisterhood and motherhood."  NY Times

My one hundred adventures by Polly Horvath
I adore this author.  Her book Everything on a waffle is on my top twenty all time best senior primary novels.
From the blurb :
"This rich spirited book is filled with characters that readers will love and never forget."

Apothecary by Maile Meloy
This one has a very intriguing cover.
From the blurb :
"Set in London in 1952, a time when the world feared another atom bomb, The Apothecary is an exciting adventure that sparkles with life and extraordinary possibilities."

The power of Poppy Pendle by Natasha Lowe
Another book with an intriguing cover. This arrived in our library two years ago but somehow missed my reading pile.
From the blurb :
"charming, effervescent and wholly original."

A home for Teasel by Margi McAllister
I am not a huge fan of horse stories so it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds.
From the blurb :
"This heart-warming tale of hope and friendship is perfect for all animal and story lovers."

http://momotimetoread.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/secrets-in-fire-by-henning-mankell.htmlSecrets in the fire by Henning Mankell
I am really looking forward to this one because it is another book translated Swedish.
From the blurb :
"A deeply moving and unforgettable story."

Possibles by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
This is another old book which I have been meaning to read.  Luckily in this case the paper is still in good condition.
From the blurb :
"Nelson transcends the color of skin to write about the strength of family, the love inherent in people of all races, and the 'possibilities' of a life creatively and courageously lived."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Strat and Chatto by Jan Mark illustrated by David Hughes

Strat and Chatto is a terrific way to introduce trickster tales to young readers.  Chatto is a cat with a problem.  Strat is rat with a solution - well a solution to his own housing problem.

Using the wonderful book Elmer in the Snow we introduce our students to the idea that every thing is relative.  Elmer's friends complain they are cold so Elmer takes them up to the snow covered hills where they enjoy a day frolicking in the snow. When they return home the temperature has not changed but their perception has - now the elephants feel so warm.

Chatto explains his problem to Strat.  There is one very pesky mouse living in his kitchen hurling lentils at his head. Strat, short for Stratorat, has a solution.  He invites his friends to visit Chatto. His friends are bats, cockroaches and silverfish.

"When are you going to act?' cried Chatto.  'I have bats on the cup hooks, cockroaches in the corners and sixty-five silverfish slithering about in the cracks ... also... that low-down mouse is still dropping lentils on my head from a great height."

Good friend that he is, Strat expels all these pests and Chatto offers to reward him.  All Chatto wants is bed and board and a lick of cheese.  Why the need for all this elaborate trickery?  Strat has been living across the road in a building with the word CONDEMNED on the door.

Strat and Chatto is not a new book.  It was first published in 1989 but you might be lucky and find it in a library.  This was another of the books I picked out as we completed our stocktake or library inventory.  I am including an illustration here because they are brilliant.

Figgy in the world all you need is a plan and courage by Tamsin Janu

There are three things I need to say first of all about Figgy in the world.  Firstly I nearly did not read this because I do not like the cover (I am happy to say I have now changed my mind).  Secondly I predict this book will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2015 which means quite obviously and thirdly I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

We meet Figgy on the first page of this book and I was immediately struck by her strong character and her unique voice. "I am the only person named Figgy in my village.  Probably the only Figgy in Ghana.  Maybe the only one in Africa.  And possibly, by the smallest chance, I might be the only person named Figgy in the World.  But that cannot be true.  I don't know much about The World. I don't know much about the people in it either.  But I do know that The World is big."

The world is certainly very big but this does not deter Figgy.  She knows her Grandma Ama is gravely ill.  Figgy has no confidence in the abilities of the local doctor and so she embarks on a journey to America where they have good doctors and medicines.  She takes her goat Kwame as a travelling companion.  In a very touching scene near the beginning of the book her friends kindly give her the little money they have and Figgy knows she "can walk for miles without getting tired."

Figgy does not know much about the world and has no idea about the distance to America. She makes some good friends particularly a boy called Nana who helps her with this important journey but Figgy also experiences some truly dreadful setbacks.  Very early in her journey all her money is lost after she falls into some mud. Later Nana is almost kidnapped.  As their journey continues Kwame is hit by a taxi and the children meet a man called Kofi.  This meeting will lead to a tremendous change of fortune for our two young heroes and an ending that may leave you slightly breathless.

Here are some very detailed teachers notes. Here is a short and very positive review in our Australian journal Reading Time.  Here is a video where the author Tamsin Janu talks about her book and her experiences in Ghana.

If you enjoy meeting Figgy as much as I did I recommend looking for the series of books about Anna Hibiscus and also a very old book called Callie and the Prince.  You would also enjoy Oranges in no man's land and Journey to Jo'burg.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Once upon a memory by Nina Laden illustrated by Renata Liwska

The text and illustrations in this exquisite book Once Upon a Memory make this a book you will not want to miss.

I have talked about the gentle art of Renata Liwska in a previous post.  You can see more of her special work in this Pinterest collection.

I am going to quote some of the words in the hope you will want to rush out and open the pages. This book would be a perfect present for a Grandparent to give to a young child.

Does a feather remember it once was ...
a bird?
Does a book remember it once was ...
a word?
Does a chair remember it once was ...
a tree?
Does a garden remember it once was ...
a pea?

Does love remember it once was ...
Does a family remember it once was ...
Does the world remember it once was ...
Will you remember you once were ...
a child?

On the last page of this important book there is a long list of memories to discuss.  I recently made a memory page for my 'fridge door.  This was easy to compose and gives me a smile each morning. Memory can be a fragile thing.  Why not take a few minutes to talk to your family about the important and even small memories that are too precious to loose?  I wish I had taken time to do this with my little grandmother and more recently with my own mum.  You might also like to read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge and  this star review in Kirkus.

Good for you, good for me by Lorenz Lauli illustrated by Kathrin Scharer

By coincidence this is another book which has been translated into English.  The original title in German is Ich mit dir, du mit mir.  I have mentioned Gecko Press in previous posts - they bring brilliant books in other languages to our Australian and New Zealand children.

Good for you, good for me is a tricky story.  Bear is a warm-hearted character but he is also quite naive.  Dormouse keeps suggesting they swap - a cushion, a flute and a lucky pebble.  The odd thing is the swaps always seem to end up benefiting Dormouse and not Bear.  After a day filled with dancing and travelling Bear finally takes some time to review his day.

"Bear looked at the pebble and thought about all the things he and Dormouse had swapped.  He wondered what do I want with a cushion?  All is need is my warm, soft fur.  Do I really need a flute when I can whistle my songs instead? And what about this lucky pebble?  Luck seems to find me anyway."

He passes the pebble back to Dormouse.  The point scoring ends and in words reminiscent of Guess how much I love you they talk about all the lovely things they can give each other- moonlight on water, the scent of flowers, and all the colours at sunrise.

This book was another discovery in our school library. It has a gentle life philosophy,  It was published in 2009 and I think it would make a good addition to my read-a-loud choices for our new Kindergarten students next year.

The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly by Luis Sepulveda illustrated by Chris Sheban

"A tickle on his belly woke him.  He opened his eyes and he couldn't help flinching when he saw that a little yellow tip was appearing and disappearing through a crack in the egg.

He steadied the egg between his hind legs and thus was able to watch as the chick pecked and pecked until a hole opened large enough to allow a tiny, damp, white head to emerge.

'Mommy!' the gull chick squawked.

Zorba didn't know how to respond.  He knew that his fur was coal black but he felt as if emotion and embarrassment had turned him pink all over."

The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly is by no means a new book, but as I mentioned previously I have been collecting boxes of books to read as we worked our way through our end of year stocktake or inventory.  The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly was first published in Spanish under the title in 1996 Historia de una gaviota y del gato que le ense├▒├│ a volar.

This story has a strong environmental message.  Kengah is migrating with the flock when she is trapped by an enormous wave.  On rising to the surface she is trapped in an oil slick.  It takes a huge effort but Kengah manages to fly to the shore.  She crash lands on a small balcony and meets a very special cat.  Kengah knows she is about to die but she is also about to lay her egg.  She asks Zorba the cat to make two promises - to care for her egg and baby and to make sure the baby gull learns to fly.

I picked this book up because I love the cover.  I have now discovered another book in our collection illustrated by Chris Sheban - The Lonely Book.  He also did jacket illustration for The Tiger Rising.  You can check out more of his art work in this Pinterest.

I read this slim volume in one sitting and by the final pages I had a huge smile on my face.  Zorba is so determined to keep his promise, his cat friends are very wise especially Einstein who loves to read encyclopedias, and you will find yourself cheering as Lucky takes her first flight.  This book would make a terrific read aloud.  The opening chapters alternate between Kengah and her troubles and Zorba and his early life. I should also mention the translator Margaret Sayers Peden.  I am so happy when publishers take the trouble to translate classic stories like this so it is accessible to an English speaking audience.

You can read a  Booktalk here and view an extract of the Film.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Calvin can't fly by Jennifer Berne illustrated by Keith Bendis

His books took him to places wings never could.
And his heart fluttered with excitement.

As I work though our large picture book collection I have been selecting books about libraries and reading ready to use when we return to school after our Christmas and Summer break. Here is one that made me smile - Calvin can't fly.

Calvin is a starling. He comes from a big family but he is the odd one out.  When he is very young he discovers books! When the aptly named Mr Wingstead their flying teacher prepares for class Calvin is nowhere to be seen.  He is in the library. His love of books and reading leads to serious and hurtful teasing so he "waddled back to the library - the only place where he was happy."  Then the time comes for the annual migration.  His brothers and sisters are able to help Calvin with 'flying' but as he is dragged along Calvin smells danger.    He has read about hurricanes and he knows the flock need to find shelter.

The subtitle of this happy book is "The story of a bookworm birdie."

I can't wait to share this with my students early next year.

Here are some teaching ideas.  Here is a page with a video of real starlings.

Amy's three best things by Philippa Pearce illustrated by Helen Craig

Over the last few weeks we have been stocktaking or taking an inventory of our large library collection.  While this can be a tedious process one positive aspect is the re-discovery of books of loved books and indeed even the actual discovery of books that I had not read.

Here is a book I had not read but I should have guessed Amy's three best things would be brilliant. What a team Philippa Pearce (famous for Tom's midnight garden and A dog so small) and the wonderful Helen Craig (Angelina Ballerina and the Suzie and Alfred books.)

Amy is off to spend three nights with her grandmother.  She is such a sensible girl she packs three special things - one from beside her bed, one from the mantle piece in her room and one from the rack over the bath in the bathroom.

Each evening as her fears and homesickness rise Amy reaches for her special thing - a flying carpet, a small wooden horse and a tiny boat.  Using these she is able to discover how things are going at home and all is well until the last night when she sails across the open skies only to discover her mother, dog and baby brother have left home.

This book is perfect for our youngest readers. The pattern of three, the genuine fears expressed by Amy, the moment of tension and the beautiful resolution.

As with all the best books make sure you begin and end with a close look at the end papers. I would also be good to take time (if you are a grandmother) spending your days doing all the lovely things Amy and her Granny do - making scrumptious cakes, exploring old toys and enjoying a picnic lunch. I highly recommend this special picture book.  It would make an excellent gift.

The Imaginary by AF Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

One of my all time favourite books is about an imaginary friend.  It is called O'Diddy and is long out of print.  This book, The Imaginary, shares some concepts with O'Diddy but The Imaginary is for a much older audience and I have read two reviews which caution adults to read this book before putting it into the hands of a child.

Rudger is Amanda's imaginary friend but when Amanda is involved in a serious car accident Rudger must find a way to reconnect with his friend before he fades away.

"Some kids have big imaginations and they dream us up.  They make us and we're best chums and that's all good and proper, and then they get older and they lose interest and we get forgotten. That's when we start to Fade.  Normally that's the end, your job's done, you turn to smoke and blow away on the wind."

Several days before the accident, Amanda has had a visit from the mysterious Mr Bunting.  His appearance is decidedly odd :

"The man was dressed in Bermuda shorts, with a brightly patterned shirt, all clashing colours and dazzle, stretched across his wide round torso like palm trees bending in a tropical breeze ... A pair of dark glasses covered his eyes and a red moustache covered his mouth."

Along side this weird man there is a girl (see illustration below).  Amanda's mother cannot see this girl.  Perhaps she too in an imaginary friend.  But why would an adult still have an imaginary friend? And what does this strange and slightly threatening man want from their family?

I usually only comment on books I have really enjoyed but this book has an enticing cover, a world famous illustrator and it has been promoted in several Christmas book catalogs so I thought I would share my reactions. This book did frighten me.  Not in a silly story book sort of way but really scare me.  In fact as I was reading it I had to put it down several times and take a break.  The events are resolved at the end but the way Mr Bunting devours his victims is quite disturbing.  Katherine England in her Magpies Review (Volume 29, Issue 5, November 2014 page 36) said : "I found it seriously, unpleasurably scary ... choose your child judiciously."

Here is a comment by another reviewer

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sea-Breeze Hotel by Marcia Vaughan illustrated by Patricia Mullins

Picture Book Month - a celebration of some picture book gems

The Sea-Breeze Hotel was first published in 1991 and so it has been long out of print which is sad because this book is a true picture book gem.  The story and illustrations (by the amazing Patrica Mullins) are simply a joyous celebration of a community coming together through the magic of kite flying.

The Sea-Breeze hotel is empty.  No one comes to stay on the cliff overlooking Blow-me-Down Bay. With no guests the hotel may have to close.  This is a huge problem for Sam, who lives with his Grandad Henry - the hotel handyman along with the owner Mrs Pearson and the housekeeper Hilda. Sam has a brilliant idea. He makes a kite.  It flies so beautifully that everyone joins in a makes a kite of their own.  Hilda makes a butterfly kite, Henry builds a box kite and Sam makes a dragon kite for himself. "People began to notice the four kites circling and soaring in the sky above the Sea-Breeze Hotel."  Perhaps the ending is predictable - well you need to read this special picture book to find out.

You can see many of the collage illustrations from this book here.

Are there other books you could link with The Sea-Breeze Hotel?
I would grab hold of The Tiny kite of Eddie Wing by Maxine Trottier.  This book is another wonderful celebration of community life and kites too of course.  This is also the perfect excuse to find all the kite making books in the library and also to experiment with the tissue paper collage which Patricia Mullins uses in her books.

Nothing by Mick Inkpen

Picture Book month - a Celebration of some picture book gems

"But instead he found himself shuddering and shaking, as great uncontrollable sobs quivered up his little raggedy body, and sat him on the ground.  
'I don't know who I am!' he howled.  I don't know who I am!"

A little toy is lying neglected in a dusty attic.  On moving day he is tossed aside as the attic is cleared and he hears someone say "Oh its nothing .... let the new people get rid of it."   Now that the pile of junk has been moved little Nothing can stretch and stand.  He takes his first steps and embarks on a journey of self discovery.  Along the way he meets different characters - a mouse who is the voice of doom, a fox who may be an enemy but luckily Nothing cannot be eaten and finally a cat named Toby who is destined to play the role of a true friend.

There are times when a book feels like a window to your soul. I may be going too deeply but this simple search for identity and a name does seem to mirror the journey we all take throughout our lives.  I adore the work of Mick Inkpen (I heard him speak once at a conference and yes this is his real name!) and I especially love this little book Nothing.  You may already know his books about Kipper.

In US schools celebrations for Picture Book Month are well underway so I decided to browse my school library picture book shelves and, without spending hours, pick out 20 special picture books. No doubt if I did this again I would make a different selection but I am happy with my twenty books for this year.  I did plan to read one each day at the end of lunch time but so far we haven't managed this so I thought I might focus on my choices here in my blog.

Why did I pick Nothing by Mick Inkpen?
Essentially this is a book about identity.  It is a sensitive story and includes a heroic character - the cat who takes Nothing to his new home.  I love the narrative arc and the affirming ending where we see little Nothing restored to his former glory.

Are there other books you might link with Nothing?
The perfect match with Nothing would be The Bunyip of Berkley's creek by Jenny Wagner. Other possible books are Hidden House by Martin Waddell and Albert Le Blanc by Nick Butterworth who coincidentally is a good friend of Mick Ingpen.

Something special
As I sat down to re-read Nothing tonight I discovered our old copy has an autograph by Deborah Inkpen the wife of Mick Inkpen.  I wonder how that happened?  This book was purchased over twenty years ago so I guess I will never know how our copy came to be signed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The ANZACS 100 Years on in story and song by Ted Egan

I rarely review books like this - Non Fiction - but this is such a special and important volume.  2014 marks the Centenary WWI and next year Australians will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli.

The ANZACS 100 Years on in story and song has 158 pages and is probably best read by adults and teachers but I am mentioning it because it is such a fabulous resource.  The accompanying CD has fourteen tracks interspersed with commentary by a soldier who survived WWI.  Jack (John Leslie Nicholson) was born in 1894 and died in 1986.  The contents of this book and CD are organised in chronological order and so between each section Jack recalls his experiences in a way which is so poignant. Chapter 12 of the book briefly relates some details of Jack's life and war experiences. Listening to Jack should help our students make a connection to this important period of world history.  The choice of songs and beautiful recordings are also worth mentioning.

I cannot do justice to this whole book so I would like to focus on one song which touched my heart - A song for Grace.  Here is the third verse :

When the telegram came, my mother collapsed, and I had
The terrible task of breaking the news to my Dad.
With our old draught-horse, Punch, my father was ploughing the land
[When] I ran to the paddock, the telegram clutched in my hand.

The Irishman read it, said: 'Thank you, now leave me alone,
'Go on back to the house, help your mother, she's there on her own'
He called: 'Stand up, Punch; we have to get on with this job'
But I saw his slumped shoulders, and I heard his heart-rending sob.

I don't normally tell my readers where to buy books but I do highly recommend this one for all school libraries so here are the publisher details.  You can read more about Ted Egan here.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L Holm

I am putting a little image here of Babymouse because I can hardly believe this but Turtle in Paradise is by Jennifer Holm who also wrote the Babymouse series.

Turtle in Paradise feels like a book from a completely different author. The setting here, for this middle to upper primary novel, is Key West in Florida.  The date is June 1935 and America is in the grip of the depression.  Poverty and hardship pervade life of the characters in this book and it is precisely because of this poverty that Turtle finds herself living away from her mother with her harassed and overworked aunt and boisterous collection of boy cousins.  "Truth is the place looks like a broken chair that's been left out in the sun to rot."

Key West is a tiny community where everyone knows everyone else and nearly everyone is related. Within hours of her arrival everyone knows about Turtle and they know her mum is far away working as a maid.  Aunt Minnie has no time for the new arrival.  "This is just like Sadiebelle.  She never thinks.  As if I don't have enough already with three kids and a husband who's never home ... And you bought a cat?"

The three kids are named Kermit, Beans and Buddy.  Along with their friend Pork Chop these boys are The Diaper Gang - they mind crying babies and change diapers in exchange for candy.  Turtle is not allowed to join this gang because girls are not allowed but she tags along.  What these boys don't know yet is that Turtle is a strong willed and very capable.  She has no interest in Shirley Temple but she does have a huge dream of a special house to share with her mum.  Along with her aunt and cousins, two other important people live at Key West - Turtle's angry grandmother Nana Philly and an old fisherman called Slow Poke.  Within weeks of her arrival Turtle has a job and she has begun to forge a relationship with her cantankerous grandmother.

Here is a flavour of the story - a description of a cut up :

"After we finish swimming, we have a cut-up.  A cut-up is something these Conch kids do every chance they get. Each kid brings whatever they can find lying around or hanging on a tree - sugar apple, banana, mango, pineapple, alligator pear (avocado), guava, cooked potatoes and even raw onions.  They take a big bowl, cut it all up, and season it with Old Sour, which is made form key lime juice, salt and hot peppers.  Then they pass it around with a fork and everyone takes a bite.  It's the strangest fruit salad I've ever had, but it's tasty."

There are only 177 pages in this book but it contains so many fabulous twists and turns you will find yourself spinning and smiling and definitely cheering for our special heroine Turtle.

My only real disappointment with this book comes from never really discovering why Turtle is called Turtle although I think I can make an educated guess.  Here is a good review and if I haven't convinced you that this is a terrific book here is another very detailed review from Jen Robinson.

You might also enjoy Waiting for Normal.

Turtle in Paradise won a Newbery honor (2010) so there are lots of book trailers - here is one that I like.  Here is a set of questions and a vocabulary list. One of the interesting ways I have already used this book was at a parent talk last week.  I think I convinced some of my audience that I had actually been to Florida - I love this aspect of reading when you feel as though you have really been a participant in a book long after you have finished reading.

Sable by Karen Hesse illustrated by Marcia Sewall

"She was all the dog I ever wanted, dark brown except for a blaze of white on her chest and the tip of her tail.  Even with brambles stuck in her dusty fur, there had never been a more perfect dog."

"Sable smelled like dried leaves, and dust, and pine trees. Her warm breath tickled inside my ear.  ... holding her face between my hands ... 'Sable,' I whispered.  For the first time she looked straight at me.  Her eyes shone like chocolate melting in the pan, all liquid and warm and sweet."

I wanted to begin this entry about Sable with these two quotes so you could appreciate the beauty of this writing. If you love dogs then this is a perfect book.

A dog appears on Tate's doorstep.  Tate names her Sable but her mother has a strong fear of dogs and will not allow this one to stay especially when Sable starts 'taking' things from the neighbours.  Sable is banished to a far off property but when Tate arrives weeks later to rescue her, Sable has disappeared.  Yes the ending is predictable but this story telling is so exquisite you just want to keep reading and reading.

You might also enjoy Shiloh, One dog and his boy and  How to steal a dog,   You should also look for Lavender by Karen Hesse.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rattlebang picnic by Margaret Mahy illustrated by Steven Kellog

It is picture book month and so we are celebrating in our own way with a selection of special picture books.

The Rattlebang Picnic is a wonderful story of ingenuity and family life by master storyteller Margaret Mahy.  Can you begin to guess the location of this picnic :

"It was a beautiful morning.  A plume of pure white cloud floated around the top of the mountain.  The old rattlebang struggled up the winding,rocky road - bumping and banging and backfiring - then stoppped right beside the hot springs."

The McTavish parents have discussed things.  Jack McTavish explains they can either have a wonderful speedy car or lots of children but not both. They decide to have a few children and an old car.  "So the McTavishes had seven children and drove an old rattlebang."

Luckily Granny makes a pizza for the picnic and luckily Granny is not a very good cook.  The pizza will save the day in a most surprising way.

I love exploring all the books in our library by Margaret Mahy.  Her picture books are all gems. This book makes a terrific read-aloud and lends itself to an exploration of our books about volcanoes.

Over November we are featuring one picture book each day.  I will explore some of our week one choices over the next few blog entries.

Temmi and the flying bears by Stephen Elboz

Temmi and the Flying bears is long out of print but you may find a copy in your school library. Luckily, even though our copy is very old, the original printing was on lovely white paper of a good quality and so this book has not turned 'yellow' as have so many of our older paperback books.

Temmi and the Flying bears is a book I first read in 1998 and ever since it is a title I recommend to our Grade 3 and 4 students who like a fantasy story.  Last night I thought it was probably time to revisit this book just to check my memory of the plot and storytelling.  This little book did not disappoint.  Temmi and the flying bears is a terrific fantasy adventure.  It is very short at only 126 pages and has quite large printing so it is perfect for younger readers who are just beginning to develop their reading stamina.

Temmi lives near a colony of flying bears.  He has a very special relationship with them and especially with Cush the last cub born that season.  One day some soldiers arrive from the queen. They have been commanded to capture a bear for the princess.  Temmi is distraught.  He must save his precious bears.  The soliders surround the village with fierce wolves.  By the time Temmi reaches the distant forest Pasha, the mother of Cush, lies dead on the snow.  Temmi is determined to save Cush and so he follows the men and their evil leader Tin Nose.  In the skirmish Cush is injured and so Temmi is allowed to travel with the group to the castle of the white witch.

"The castle was a jewel set in gardens of perfect snow, and was quite unlike any building he had every seen before - or any building he had ever imagined possible.  Built entirely from a single block of ice, it resembled a gigantic quartz crystal - that is to say, like an explosion of water that instantly freezes."

Haggoth, Witch-Queen of the High Witchlands, is dying.  Cush is a gift for her spoilt daughter Princess Agna.  Temmi needs to befriend this cold girl so he can secure freedom for himself and Cush.  He can not know that an odd group of dwarfs will become is truest allies.  My favourite scene comes as our band of brave friends flee the castle.  The covering of snow means they can be easily seen so Agna summons a herd of reindeer who surround them as they cross the open field.

I am very happy to keep recommending Temmi and the Flying bears to my students.  There is a sequel called Temmi and the frost dragon and here is a little video of Stephen Elboz talking about another of his books. Listen to an audio sample from the book here.

Lighthouse Mouse by Anne Adeney illustrated by Lisa Smith

This is a tiny and probably inconsequential book but I just wanted to share the impact of this story on a young reader in my school.  This little Kindergarten boy has moved from class home reader style books to using our library nearly every day.  This is a wonderful achievement and one that only a tiny number of students achieve during their first year at school.

I gave this boy Lighthouse Mouse last week partly because  I adore lighthouses and we have one near our school.  When he returned the book his smile was wide.  He loved the interaction between the mouse and the cat because it was completely unexpected :

"Cat woke and pounced!
Mouse was trapped!
But cat did not bite, scratch or hiss.
Instead, she gave Mouse a little kiss."

Even with a very controlled vocabulary, Anne Adeney has managed to produce a very satisfying story.  This book comes from the Leapfrog series - we have a large number in our library.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lulu's mysterious mission by Judith Viorst illustrated by Kevin Cornell

There was never any doubt I would love Lulu's Mysterious Mission.  I am a huge fan of Lulu.  Take a look at my review of her first two outings -  Lulu and the Brontosaurus and Lulu walks the dogs.

In this episode we have a new illustrator in Kevin Cornell but this does not detract from the fun. (Lane Smith illustrated the first two installments.)

"Lulu's dad explained that as much as they loved and adored their precious only child, they wanted to have - for the first time since they'd been parents - a private grown-ups-only vacation together.  And that even though they wouldn't be having the kind of fun they had with her fabulous Lulu, they would be having a DIFFERENT kid of fun."

Mum and Dad are going and so Lulu will need a babysitter.  Lulu is not happy. Let me say that another way Lulu is NOT happy.  Lulu is a plotter and so she devises all sort of plans to drive this babysitter away.  Oddly no matter how hard she tries Ms Solinsky is always one step ahead of her.

This book will make you laugh out loud.  You will cheer for our hero Lulu and admire her amazing babysitter.  Be warned you will probably read this book quite quickly then I recommend reading it all over again just for fun.

I love the use of white space, the whole page announcement of each chapter, the use of different fonts and even the colour of the paper!

"Eeny meeny miney mo, that babysitter's got to go
Hot or cold or sun or snow, that babysitter's got to go
Soon, not later; fast not slow, that babysitter's got to go
Up and down and to and fro, that babysitter's got to go
Forehead, belly, knee and toe, that babysitter's got to go
Ha-ha-ha and ho-ho-ho, that babysitter's GOT TO GO."

Wanted : The Perfect Pet by Fiona Roberton

No ducks were harmed in the 
making of this book

This quote comes from the dedication on the first page and perfectly sets the tone for this funny yet poignant book.

In the spirit of Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Charlie's Checklist by Rory Lerman  and A pet for Mrs Arbuckle by Gwenda Smyth,  in Wanted : The perfect Pet our hero Henry advertises for his ideal companion but he doesn't quite get the pet he expects.

He wants a dog "with floppy ears and a waggy tail, and a soft wet nose, and a warm fury tongue. A dog that can catch balls that I throw, that can learn fantastic new tricks and that I can chase around trees."  Henry places a detailed advertisement in his local paper The Daily Catastrophe.  When you turn to this page take time to read the other ads - free enchanted mirror, a woodcutter with axe and a time machine.

Meanwhile a duck with no name living all alone far way at the top of a hill picks up his newspaper and reads the advertisement.  Duck is not a dog but this does not deter him.  He makes a disguise and heads off to visit Henry.  Oddly Henry finds his 'dog' is not very good at catching balls, learning tricks or chasing games.  Then all is revealed.

Now comes the beautiful, emotional turning point.  On discovering Duck is a duck Henry takes him home, they share a cup of tea and Henry works on some research.  He makes a list of all the special qualities of ducks.  

'So you might not be a dog' said Henry happily, 'but you are certainly not JUST a duck. In fact, you might just be The Perfect Pet for me.'

There is so much to discuss with a book like this.  The inclusion of the newspaper page, the labelled diagram of the perfect dog, whole page illustrations which contrast with pages of tiny pictures showing duck and his desperate attempts to act like a dog.  Here are some teacher notes.  This book has been in our library for a long time so I must thank the teacher who bought it to my attention earlier this year.

Good news there is a sequel to this book called The Perfect Present which you can also find in our school library.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

NSW School Magazine Bookshelf titles 2014

I have mentioned our NSW School Magazines in previous posts.  The final issues of the four magazines contain an index and I took a moment to review the books which were featured each month on their Bookshelf pages.    I do find this list is a terrific source of books to read.  Each year there are forty books featured.  Many are titles I am sure I would not discover if they did not appear as part of this selection.

Here are some I have previously reviewed:

The No. 1 Car spotter and the Firebird
Definitely no Ducks!
Book Uncle and me
Timmy Failure : Mistakes were made
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Flora & Ulysses
A very peculiar plague
The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie
Mysterious traveller
Wolf and Dog

Right now I am reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Creatures of Magic - watch this blog for a review coming soon.  You might like to read an interview with the Australian Author Maree Fenton-Smith.

Other titles featured in the magazines this year which I enjoyed but have not yet blogged are :
The Matchbox Diary, Journey and Fortunately the Milk,

Because of Mr Terupt by Rob Buyea

For a few months I have been reading a conversation about this book online. Opinions have ranged from high praise to readers who find all sorts of story faults.  The discussion made me curious so I bought this book for our school library.  We will add this title to our Year Six only loan category because it does contain a few mature concepts.

Because of Mr Terupt was published in 2010 so it is not a new book but it was new to me.

If you have read Adam Canfield of the Slash, The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary, or The View from Saturday you will be familiar with the format used in this book where each chapter explores a different voice.

In this story there are seven students in the class.  Actually I am sure there must be more than seven students but we do not meet them or hear about them.  Mr Terupt is a new and very special teacher. Each student has 'issues'.

Girls - Jessica is new and adjusting to her parents separation, Anna is an intelligent but shy girl with a family history that makes her the outcast.  Alexia is the 'cool' girl but maintaining this means she is a bully.

Boys - Luke is the class brain who enjoys thinking challenges especially the one called 'dollar words', Peter is the class clown and joker, and Jeffrey has a deep and very sad secret which makes him a loner.

Over the course of the year Mr Terupt and his students make discoveries about themselves and about each other.  We know from the beginning, though, that disaster is coming.

The school year is marked by the months and by the different assignments the students complete including counting the number of blades of grass in the whole soccer field.

I did enjoy Because of Mr Terupt but I recommend trying to read the book in a short time.  It is quite easy to lose track of the seven voices.  There is a sequel but it is more appropriate for an older audience.

Here is the author web site where you can see a list of all the awards this book has won.  You might enjoy a  trailer based on the book blurb.  Here is a better one - students in US schools make trailers as book responses and this one is well done.  Here is a set of very detailed teaching notes.  If you need a further idea - Anna always has a book in her hand.  Her reading list is excellent and these books would be popular in a senior primary classroom.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The cat, the dog, Little Red, the exploding eggs, the wolf and Grandma's wardrobe by Diane and Christyan Fox

Warning this is a seriously FUNNY book!  Start on the first page - the end papers :

Dog - "What's this page for?" 
Cat -  "It's called the end paper, but it always comes at the beginning."

The cat, the dog, little Red, the exploding eggs, the wolf and Grandma's wardrobe - all sounds a bit complicated to me.  Actually it is not all that complicated for an intrepid reader who is well versed in the story of Little Red Riding Hood and this is the essence of the humour here.  Dog has no knowledge of this famous story and so he interrupts cat at every turn.

Cat "It's a story about a little girl who always wears a red cloak with a hood."
Dog "COOL I love stories about superheroes.  What's her special power?"

The book becomes a conversation between cat and dog.  Cat grows increasingly frustrated by dog as he jumps into to ask questions such as 'What is a dainty"  The handwritten text and simple dog and cat line drawings add to the fun.

My favourite line comes near the end as dog attempts to summarize the story of Red Riding Hood.  "It's not a very nice story, is it?  Are you absolutely sure this is a children's book?"

Here is a trailer from Scholastic.  Here is a review worth reading.  Kirkus call this metafiction I would perhaps put it into the postmodern category too.  It is part of my "Picture books with a difference" Pinterest collection.  Christyan Fox has a terrific web site.

One last thing make sure you turn to the back cover - this is the real end to the story.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Kite fighters by Linda Sue Park

I have said this in previous posts and I guess if you read my blog, even occasionally, you will know that I adore reading children's books.  When I read A Single Shard (also by Linda Sue Park) I said the story left me breathless so I was excited to read another book by this extremely gifted writer.  I am so happy I can also highly recommend this book too.

I picked up The Kite Fighters last night and read the whole book in one sitting.  As with A Single Shard and See Saw Girl the setting here is Korea.  Linda Sue Park gives the reader a wonderful insight into a family life which is steeped in tradition.  Young-Sup is the younger brother.  It seems all the good things happen to his older brother Kee-sup simply because of birth order.  Young-sup would love a kite but on this New Year he has been given a board game and so he must watch is brother and his clumsy attempts to fly the new kite.  Finally Young-sup is given a turn and his natural talents come to the fore.

"Young-sup picked up the kite. In that brief moment he had felt why it would not fly.  On only his second try he launched the kite from a complete standstill.  Kee-sup's jaw dropped.  'Hey! How did you do that?'  Young-sup shrugged, not wanting to display too much pride.  'I'll show you,' he said.  For he knew in his bones that he could do it again."

One of the best aspects of this book is the way Young-sup and Kee-sup work together firstly so Young-sup  can have a kite of his own and later when they participate in the annual kite fighting competition on behalf of the King himself.

If you want to extend your study of Korea here is a useful pinterest collection.  Another exciting teaching point comes from the five virtues of Confucius and the way Kee-sup uses these to convince his father Young-sup must fly their kite in the competition.

I have included two different cover designs below.  Our library copy is the one above but I prefer the alternate ones. After reading this book I recommend picking up the picture book The tiny kite of Eddie Wing.  Here is an excellent review which gives you more details of the plot.

Scary night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King

Picture books are often poems and Scary Night is no exception.

Here is the refrain :

"But where were they going in the dead of the night, 
tip-toe creeping in the pale moonlight?
It was a mystery!"

Three friends - Hare, Cat and Pig - set out in the dark of the night to make a special journey.  They each carry something slightly mysterious.  There are serious hazards along the way but these parcels do not assist with their survival.  Can you guess where they are going?  Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake and Pig with a parcel?

This is Lesley Gibbes' first book so how lucky to have the amazing and talented Stephen Michael King as the illustrator.  One of the special features of these illustrations is the way Stephen Michael King marks the passing of time - the journey takes the whole night and as each page turns the sky grows lighter and lighter.  Another special detail comes from the sack that is carried by Hare.  There is no mention in the text but as the party begins we see Hare open his sack which contains drinks, party streamers and balloons along with two special hats - one for goat and one for pig.  I have seen the pattern for this hat in another Stephen Michael King book - take a look at Emily's dress in the book Emily loves to bounce.  You might also look for some of the other tiny details that Stephen Michael King loves to include such as the television aerial and single sock on the first page, the Halloween pumpkin, ghosts in the graveyard, coat hangers and bells.

Two more things.  Take time to look at the second last page.  Goat has two pictures on his walls and a cupcake on the table with one candle - these might make interesting discussion points with your class. Finally a warning - Scary Night is not a quiet book - it demands to be read with a group of children who can join in to scream, roar and shout surprise!

Our Book Week slogan for 2014 was Connect to Reading. When I read Scary Night for the first time I saw a connection with two of my favourite books The Silver Christmas Tree by Pat Hutchins and Frog and a Special Day by Max Velthuijs.

Here is the author web site.  Here is a review in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Lesley Gibbes will visit our school library next week.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Disappearing act by James Maloney

Disappearing Act.  This book has it all!  An intriguing plot.  A very recognizable Australian setting. Magic and mystery. History and flashbacks. Love and loathing. Alchemy and science. Greed and the urgent search for truth and justice.  All of this is contained in just 181 pages!

Matt Cooper finds a book in a language he does not recognize with detailed drawings showing the process for a series of magic tricks. Matt tries out the tricks, simple ones at first, and discovers he has a talent.  When he visits a city dentist with his mother he sees an old man writing phrases in chalk on the footpath.  He has no idea what this writing says but he recognizes the letters from his magic book and so he takes a piece of chalk and completes the phrase (see below).  The old man is ecstatic.  "I've waited so long - a whole lifetime."

The next chapter of Disappearing Act sees the action switch to 1946.  We meet Mattheus Coperneau, a magician who has been given the honour of presenting a special performance before the royal family of Montilagus.

"Europe is not one country, but dozens of them.  Everyone has heard of Germany and France and Italy, but if you study the map closely you will see tiny specks among the larger ones, like pebbles in a rock wall.  These countries were never important enough to deserve a king and so they make do with princes.  That's why they are called principalities."

In a grand finale to his magic show Mattheus makes the Royal Sceptre disappear.  Naturally the second half of this trick should mean the sceptre reappears to the sound of great relief and applause but on this occasion the trick has failed and the sceptre is gone.  Magic is not to blame.  This is a crime but with no one else to accuse Mattheus is sent to the dungeon.  Chapters in this book now alternate between Australia 2011 and Montilagus in 1889.  At this earlier time Prince Edvord of Montilagus sees power coming from gold.  He enlists the help of a scientist called Joachim Tassisalus and an alchemist Augustine Rey.  Joachim knows alchemy is just trickery but the prince is determined there must be a way to turn ordinary metals into gold.

Look closely at these names Matthew Cooper and Mattheus Coperneau.  The story of Joachim and his love of Princess Agneta is also linked with Matthew Cooper but I don't want to go into these details and spoil the terrific twist at the end of this complex and highly rewarding read.

I will make one of my predictions that this book will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2015. I do hope I am right!

Here is a set of teaching notes.  If you enjoy this book you might also look for The book without Words by Avi,   This book also reminded me of The Medici Curse. You can read more about James Moloney here.

Only the heart knows magic is real.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A snicker of magic by Natalie Lloyd

"A snicker?"
"That's magic leftover," Jonah explained.  
"Not good for much, not as fancy as it used to be - but enough to make it special."

There are some books, the best books really, that are so beautifully told that you just feel as though you are really there - in that town or school or home.  I have just spent three days in Midnight Gulch, Tennessee with my new friends Felicity Juniper Pickle, her best friend Jonah Pickett, her wise little sister Frannie Jo and all the other wonderful people of this magic town who are connected in ways you just need to discover.  I have also fallen in love with the idea of collecting words.  Felicity sees words hovering over people - real words and invented words but always true words.  This is such a terrific idea and by the end of A snicker of magic I wanted to collect all these words and put them in a jar for myself. This is a bit like the idea behind Donavan's word jar and the magic reminded me of A Tangle of Knots and Savvy.  The other lovely ingredient in this book comes from the town ice cream factory. You will want to eat huge spoonfulls of :

  • Andy's snickerdoodle sucker punch
  • Day's chocolate orange switcheroo
  • Marsh-Mallory Mocha Delight
  • Jim's just-vanilla's-all-I- want

But be very careful before you dip into Blackberry Sunrise.  "People buy it by the gallon because it helps them remember.  The problem is that you don't know what kindof memory this ice cream's going to dredge up.... if the blackberries taste sweet, you remember something good. But if you take a bite and the blackberry are sour, well ... "

A gulch is a narrow valley with deep sides.  This makes it perfect for a small community and perhaps for a place where you can feel safe and at home. Midnight Gluch is a town with a long history and with citizens famous for many different types of magic.  Sadly years ago magic seems to have left the town when two famous brothers, Stone and Berry Weatherly, known as the Brothers Threadbare held their famous duel in 1910.  When Stone lost the duel, after three days of frantic music, magic left the town and worse a curse descended.  It is now nearly a century later and Felicity feels she is cursed. Her mum is a wanderer.  The little family of three never stay long in any one town but as our story begins they arrive back in Midnight Gulch - the town of her childhood.

Here are some words from this book :
apple fritter

Read this splendid review in the New York Times.  This reviewer loved A snicker of Magic so much she is predicting it will reach the Newbery for 2015.  "Every so often a book comes along where you say to yourself, “I feel privileged to know that I live in a world where books like this exist.” They are books that are forever imprinted upon your heart, a heartprint book if you will."

Apart from the books I mentioned above after you read A snicker of Magic you should look for Waiting for Normal and Pie.   Here is a blog site for the author who actually has a dog called Biscuit. Activities for this book from Scholastic.  Below I have included covers from the Italian and German editions of this book. You can listen to part of the story here. I do hope I have convinced you to read this magical book - I promise you will not be disappointed.