Monday, January 27, 2014

The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray

"I reckon you really could be twins anyway,' said Tom. 'Sometimes one twin is bigger than the other. We should call them Big and Little."

Lucy is the youngest child in a family of five.  Her two older siblings are adults.  "Lucy McKenzie was an afterthought. By the time she had arrived ... Jack and Claire were almost grown-up."

Claire is living in Paris but as the story opens she has been involved in a serious accident and so mum needs to rush to France.  Meanwhile dad has an important contract which involves visiting mines in remote Queensland so Lucy is sent to stay with her elderly aunt - Aunty Big.

The four seasons of the title refers to a special room in the old home of Avendale.  Each wall has a mural with a scene showing the different seasons of the landscape around the house.  "Lucy wanted to like the room, but there was something about it that made her uneasy."

The Four seasons of Lucy McKenzie is a simple timeslip.  Using the murals Lucy visits the family of her relations starting with 1939.  While there she helps with a major bush fire, saves Alice from a flood, finds some special friends and makes discoveries about her own heritage.

Here is a detailed review.  Here is the web site for the illustrator.  You might also enjoy Playing Beatie Bow, Cicada Summer, The Ivory Rose or Tom's midnight garden.  This book is also part of the NSW School Magazine bookshelf for 2014.  I am not a huge fan of timeslip stories but this one had a terrific setting, very like able characters and most important of all - an emotional ending.

Catkin mouse hunter closer than friend, wind dancer at the bough's end by Antonia Barber illustrated by PJ Lynch

I have a small collection of special longer picture books.  They fall into the fantasy genre, which I enjoy sharing with Grade 3 each year. These include The Mirrorstone, The Moon's Revenge, The Quiltmaker's Gift and The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup.  This year I will add Catkin to this selection.

The farmer and his wife have only one child and they have waited many long years for her arrival.  A small cat, the last, is born to an old cat who lives with a Wise Woman.  When Catkin is old enough the Wise Woman gives him to the farmer's wife.  She tells Catkin to watch over the baby girl called Carrie because the old woman had seen danger signs in the sky on the day Carrie was born.  Antonia Barber hints at the source of this danger early in the story when she tells us :

"And deep inside the hill (where the farmer and his wife live) lived the Little People, who are not born, and who do not die, but are there always."

This book uses the motif of three riddles.
"So be it, though I am not high, my magic branches sweep the sky."
"The meadow's wealth I trade for gold, yet wisdom in my fruit I hold."
"Mouse hunter, closer than friend, wind dancer at the bough's end."

This last riddle is a trap but if Catkin does not answer Carrie will not be saved.

If you are new to the work of PJ Lynch make sure you look for other books he has illustrated.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan

The Lost Children is an oddly haunting book.  Here is a trailer which is worth watching as an introduction to the story but it does make it all slightly more scary than the actual book.

Josephine lives a strange life with her distant father.  All people in their community are forced to wear gloves. "How did this silly law get passed in the first place?  It happened one night many years ago when Mr. Russing was in the middle of a heated game of five card stud with the city mayor. .. when he won, he decided to forgo his monetary winnings and demand that the mayor pass a new law on his behalf.  ... Mr. Russing was the only man who manufactured gloves in the town, so one can imagine how much this law improved his business."

This explains why Josephine owns 387 pairs of gloves but it does not explain why her father ignores her completely.  One day out in the garden she meets a mysterious boy.  Later she follows him to a strange world ruled by a tyrannical master and two vile monsters called The Brothers. These are the most loathsome of creatures. "They had thick coats of what looked like black fur running from their foreheads down their backs and into their tails.  But as the sun hit the creatures, she saw that it wasn't fur at all.  It was more like spikes or quills.  ... Pointed ears stuck out of square heads.  Each creature had beady yellow eyes and a muzzle that ended in a piglike nose. But most horrifying and terrible of all was ... these animals had no mouths."  Fergus has come from an orphanage in another place and time.  Following him Josephine meets Ida, another orphan, and the three children set out to uncover the truth about the Master and the fate of many other children who have also disappeared.

Here is a good review if you need more details of the plot.  You can read an extract from the book here.  I was wondering how I came to buy this book but now I see it was reviewed by my friend Mr K and once again I totally agree with his comments.  If I had to label this book I would say it is a combination of Peter Pan, Great Expectations, Jumanji and The Pied Piper of Hamlin.

Sophie Scott goes South by Alison Lester

This book is the perfect to introduce the topic of Antarctica to children.  It is personal - as we read of Sophie's experiences, it is factual with details of the climate, landscape, history and daily life of the expeditioners and it has the most fabulous illustrations because Alison Lester has incorporated her own art work with photos and captions and even stamps.

In 2005 Alison Lester travelled to Antarctica.  It was a six week journey and during this time she used email to share her experiences with children around the world.  The children in turn sent Alison their own stories and drawings.  Many of these appear in this book.

Sophie is lucky.  She travels to Antarctica with her dad - Captain Scott.  He is the Captain of the Aurora Australis - an icebreaker ship which is travelling to Antarctica to deliver people and supplies to Mawson station.  "As we head towards Antarctica it feels as though we are entering an icy kingdom and the icebergs are guarding it."

We will use this book in our library this term with Grade 6 as we begin to talk about this fascinating and important continent.  Here is a little video to view before you read Sophie Scott goes South.  This book also has an excellent glossary and the end papers present maps annotated with facts about Antarctica.

The Usborne book of Poetry collected by Sam Taplin illustrated by Kristina Swarner

Each year we complete a stocktake (or inventory) of our library collection. We complete the whole collection every two years which means every second year I focus on our Non Fiction.  This is a large section of our library and it can feel quite overwhelming as I begin so I like to start with my favourite shelves POETRY!

This year, as I do every year, I bought a few poetry anthologies home to read over the Summer.  One that caught my eye was The Usborne book of Poetry.  This book contains 75 poems. Some are very famous while others may be new to you.  I especially appreciate the inclusion of poem titles in the contents, an index of first lines and index of poets.  Here you will see famous names such as William Blake, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash and Edgar Allan Poe.

This book has the most scrumptious illustrations and these along with the large font and bright colours make this anthology perfect for young children right through the Primary years and beyond.  Take time to look a some other work by this illustrator.

My two favourite poems in this collection appear side by side - Words I like by Steve Turner and The Word Party by Richard Edwards.

The Word Party by Richard Edwards

Loving words clutch crimson roses,
Rude words sniff and pick their noses, 
Sly words come dressed up as foxes,
Short words stand on cardboard boxes,
Common words tell jokes and gabble,
Complicated words play Scrabble,
Swear words stamp around and shout,
Hard words stare each other out,
Foreign words look lost and shrug,
Careless words trip on the rug,
Long words slouch with stooping shoulders,
Code words carry secret folders,
Silly words flick rubber bands,
Hyphenated words hold hands,
Strong words show off, bending metal,
Sweet words call each other 'petal',
Small words yawn and suck their thumbs
Till at last the morning comes.
Kind words give out farewell posies...

Snap! The dictionary closes.

The compiler sums up the power of poetry "Be careful when you open this book - it's stuffed with poems waiting to ambush you.  Some of the poems are funny, and some are sad, and some will make you feel exactly how the poet felt at a particular moment long, long ago."

Timmy Failure mistakes were made by Stephan Pastis

"My family name was once Fayleure. But somebody changed it.  Now it is spelled as you see.  I'd ask that you get your 'failure' jokes out of the way now.  I am anything but."

This little quote from the first page should help you hear the 'tone' of this funny book which has the following chapter headings :

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah
The Candy man can't cos he's missing all his chocolate -(I wonder if you can hear the Candy man song here)
The Timmy empire strikes back
The answer, my friend, is blowing on my ear
Happiness is not a dumb blanket
Dial M for Magellan
I get no kick from kickball
No teacher left behind  (This refers to the US campaign No child left behind.)
For whom the Timmyline tolls
Elementary my dear Gunnar

As you can see this book is filled with references to music and popular culture though oddly, for me, it was not a book that made me laugh out loud. I did smile at times but mostly I found Timmy to be a fairly annoying and self absorbed little boy.  That said this is a fun book to read and it will be featured on the NSW School Magazine bookshelf this year.

Following the style of Detective Donut and the wild goose chase, Inspector Gadget and Victor's Quest, Timmy is a bumbling detective who works with a special sidekick but this is where Mistakes were made moves away from the predicable.  His sidekick is a Polar Bear and he is not the voice of wisdom - he much prefers Rice Krispie treats and raiding garbage bins along with his passion for seals.  Timmy knows one day he will be a famous detective but for now he is on the trail of a candy thief and worse, he needs to find out who stole his mothers Segway which Timmy has named his Failuremobile.  This is particularly urgent because his mother does not know Timmy has been using the segway.  In fact she has expressly forbidden this.  I did enjoy the way Timmy schedules regular teleconferences with is mother.

For fans of Diary of a Wimpy kid and Tom Gates and especially boys will enjoy Timmy Failure mistakes were made with its short chapters, perfect little cartoon style drawings and cast of crazy characters.  Timmy has a web site which contains story extracts and activities and you will see there is a sequel. The Kirkus review below is well worth reading too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Humpty Dumpty

My fascination with Humpty Dumpty goes back a long way. As a very young child I was given a toy Humpty Dumpty and when I was in Kindergarten my mum covered me with a huge cardboard box which had brick pattered wall paper attached and on top sat my toy.

This term I hope to explore some of the spin off stories from this famous nursery rhyme. You can see some in my Pinterest.

I think my favourite book for this topic is Dimity Dumpty by Bob Graham.  Dimity is Humpty's little sister. She is shy and "timid as a field mouse" and not at all like her tearaway brother or circus performing parents.  When Humpty does fall off the wall, though, it is Dimity who raises the alarm in time to save his life.  "She felt a tremor deep down in her little shell". Here is a video - it is almost as enchanting as the book.

Another simple story is Humpty Dumpty by Sarah Hayes illustrated by Charlotte Voake.  In this version Humpty sits on the wall and he dares others to try various maneuvers - inevitably each one falls off.  A horse tries to sit on the wall, another tries to stand, a man tries on leg, while another attempts juggling.  Dumpty takes great delight as each one fails then the King demands Humpty climb down and as he is showing off all his own tricks he falls too but this time all the kings horses and all the kings men do put Humpty together again.

As Humpty Dumpty climbs again begins Humpty has had his fall and the doctor declares :
"Mister Dumpty,' said the Doctor, 'you really must be more careful. I mean - for Pete's sake - you're an egg!."   Humpty goes into a decline.  He sits in his lounge room watching television surrounded by pictures of past heroic climbs while eating chips and looking miserable.  The Dish comes to visit but he can't rouse Humpty.  Along comes a spider and frightens him out of his house.  He reaches a mountain and finds the King's men have a dilemma - their horse is stuck on a high ledge. Humpty picks up their safety equipment and he climbs the wall and saves the horse.  "And from that day on, Humpty Dumpty never climbed again without the proper safety equipment.  Or pants."

Who pushed Humpty Dumpty and other notorious Nursery tale mysteries by David Levinthal and John Nickle.  This book covers Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, Goldilocks and Hansel and Gretel.  In this version Humpty is a drummer in the All the Kings horses and All the Kings men band.  Did he fall or was he pushed?  "It was hard to tell but one thing I noticed was that there was almost no yolk on the ground." Our intrepid Officer Binky does solve the mystery but sadly it is all over for Humpty.

What really Happened to Humpty by Joe Dumpty as told to Jeanie Franz Random illustrated by Stephen Axelsen centers around a conspiracy involving the Big Bad Wolf, Miss Muffet, some binoculars and the promise of fresh muffins.  Luckily Joe (Humpty's younger brother) is on the case.

Before we begin this mini theme we will read the original nursery or actually I might ask the students to dictate it to me as I scribe just to see how many children actually remember all the words.  I do think we will have fun with Humpty in a few weeks time in our school library.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses
and all the King's men
couldn't put Humpty together again!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

This is a difficult book to talk about because I feel it will not appeal to everyone.  Here is the publisher's description :

"You need something?
I can get it for you.
You have a problem?
I can solve it.
That's why they come to me. By 'they' I mean every kid in the school.  First graders up to eight graders.  Everyone comes to me for help, and most of the time I am happy to provide it. For a small fee of course.
My office is located in the East Wing boys' bathroom, fourth stall from the high window.  My office hours are during early recess, lunch and afternoon recess."

Christian, known as Mac and his special team are running a very successful business, they are popular and have made plenty of money.  This money is needed so the boys can attend a special baseball game if their beloved team make it through to the finals.  Everything is going well until a little third grade boy comes to the office.  He calls himself 'Fred' and he tells Mac that Staples is after him.  Staples is a legendary high school-er famous for extortion and violence.  A gang war seems inevitable now that Staples has moved into Mac's territory.  

Here is a very detailed review of The Fourth Stall and the web site for Chris Rylander.  Finally here is a terrific little trailer.  You might also like to know there are two sequels which will arrive in our school library shortly.  I don't often limit a book by specifying an audience but I do think this is a book that will especially appeal to boys in grades 5 and 6.

Where I live by Eileen Spinelli illustrated by Matt Phelan

I had a spare half hour so I picked up another verse novel today - Where I live.  This is written for a younger audience but as with all verse novels it still packs an emotional punch.

Diana lives with her mum and dad and baby sister, whom she has named Twink, in a yellow house with white shutters.  She loves all things to do with space, writing poetry and her best friend Rose and life is good.  Her other favourite family member is her grandfather who lives 6 hours away in Pittsburg.  He is a regular visitor.

The complication comes when Grandpa Joe has an accident and breaks his arm and Diana's father losses his job.  Diana talks with her teacher who offers wise advice :

"I tell Mrs Clifford
about Dad's job
and no money
and going to live
at Grandpa Joe's.
She nods.
'It's okay
to be sad, Diana.'

'And I'm mad too,'
I say.
'I'm mad at Dad's company
for letting him go.
I'm mad at Twink
because she's so happy
and already packing.
I'm mad because I don't
get a vote about moving.'

'It's okay
to be mad, Diana."

One of the really special things about this book is the wonderful illustrations.  Each picture perfectly captures the mood of the moment.  You can see some of Matt Phelan's books here.  You can see some of his work here and read an interview.  Here is another great idea.  A pinterest made with items that match this book. The author web site shows you all her books.  I will certainly recommend this book to my younger students when we return to school next week.

You might also enjoy Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

Yoko's diary - The life of a young girl in Hiroshima during WWII edited by Paul Ham, translated by Debbie Edwards

Late in the year in Grade six I like to introduce books about WWII. We read books like Rose Blanche and Let the Celebrations begin and then move to the story of Hiroshima by reading My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto.  My intention is to let students hear the voice of other young children who lived through these times rather than just the bare facts of history.

In My Hiroshima, Junko Morimoto explains how every day, prior to the dropping of the atomic bomb,  they would hear air raid sirens, how everyone has been working to clear older wooden buildings around the city to create fire breaks and there is a struggle to obtain food.  All of these things feature in Yoko's diary too but in more detail and so I am planning to share this book with my students later in the year.

The opening chapters give a background to life in Hiroshima and to Yoko herself.  The diary begins on page 61 starting on 6th April.

"The diary is a class project and bears the stamp of a conscientious little girl who is always trying to do the right thing.  She wants high marks for her work!  She comes across as extremely diligent ... a model child ... The reader might assume she was indeed such a very good girl.  But that assumption should be taken with a grain of salt, given that the diary is a school project."

Having said it is the work of a school girl this book is also very honest.  "It shows the hopes, beliefs and daily life of a young girl in wartime Japan."

Just like The Diary of Anne Frank, and the story of Sadako, Yoko's diary is an important book which does end in tragedy.  There is, however, an important message to take away from all of these books and that is the lesson of peace and hope, the lesson of humanity.

Here is a detailed review.  You might also like to read Hanna's suitcase, To Hope and Back and Sadako and the thousand paper cranes.

Books! by Murray McCain designed and illustrated by John Alcorn

This quirky little book was originally published in 1961 and it might almost be the oldest book in our library.  Sadly our copy is slightly stained and the tiny size makes it difficult to share with a group - but here is the good news.  I was in a special bookshop the other day and I saw this book called Books! has been republished which is terrific and even better they have changed the size to A4.

"What is a book?  A book is many, many things, at least ten thousand.  A book is for colouring for looking at for writing in and most important for reading but what is a book?  Does it make a noise?  What does it look like and what does it do?  Can it talk to you?  What does it feel like and what does it say?"

One of things that made me smile in Books!  was the list of topics that you can read in books.  This list includes Swallows and Amazons (a childhood favourite of mine), the Amazon (a prediction about the future!) and snarks (The Hunting of the Snark). There are also fun little word lists which a teacher could use and innovate on such as hard words (anemone, if, planetarium and hippopotamus), happy words (dance, Bambi, lollipops and Greensleeves), funny words (gnus, cuckoo, Pogo and porpoise) and words to think about (Shakespeare, imagine, why and idea).

I have included a page here so you can see the retro style and colours.  One final word about books - "usually they smell good."

Runaways by Sherryl Clark

I am constantly amazed at the power of verse novels.  Sherryl Clark has written some of my favourites but I think Runaways is one of her best. What do you think of the cover?  I think it gives the impression this book is aimed at High School readers but really a middle primary student could easily read this powerful story.

The voices in this book alternate between Cassie and her brother Jack.  Mum and dad have split up and mum finds Jack difficult to handle then one day dad turns up again and within days he and Jack head off to Perth.

"then Dad's suitcase
is in the hallway
what a surprise
he's bolting again

except this time
Jack's backpack
is sitting there, too.

I tell Mum
not to let Jack go
I tell her
not to say yes
I tell her
Dad can't be trusted"

Cassie right, Dad cannot be trusted and Perth is not the place for Jack so he runs away.  Cassie is frantic with worry.  She needs to find Jack and keep him safe.  There is only one place to go - Grandad's little house by the sea.

Here is an excellent review and here is a terrific idea.  Sherryl Clark has produced some postcards which incorporate parts of the text from Runaways.

Take a look at Motormouth also by Sherryl Clark if you enjoy Runaways and other verse novels by Steven Herrick in particular Tom Jones saves the world.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bing Bang Boing poems and drawings by Douglas Florian

Each week I send the teachers at my school a poem.  This term every poem will come from this zany poetry book Bing Bang Boing.

Some of the poems I have selected include :

Trouble Bubble Gum
No Nose
Delicious Wishes
Mr Backward
What the garbage truck ate for breakfast today.

The back cover sums the contents up really well :

"This book is filled
With brilliant verse.
Some are lengthy.
Some are terse.
Some are ingenious.
Some are outrageous.
But you won't get to any
If you don't turn the pages."

We have other poetry books in our library by Douglas Florian - make sure you check them out soon.

Carmine a little more red by Melissa Sweet

Before you rush into this book make sure you stop at the end papers (both ends please).  Carmine a little more Red begins with an artists page showing all the 'reds' such as magenta, vermilion, scarlet, fuchsia, sienna, crimson and ruby.  I just noticed how many of these we use as names.  The last end paper has more colour paint samples with letters from the alphabet soup which Carmine and Granny enjoy at the end of her adventures.

Words are a key to this brilliant book.  Lately we have been talking in schools about something called Multi-modal literacy.  Carmine a little more Red certainly fits this idea.  This book is an alphabet book, the story of Red Riding Hood, an art lesson, contains dialogue presented as speech bubbles and it is a book which uses the most amazingly rich vocabulary. This is a book for all ages.  The youngest child will enjoy Red Riding Hood in a new guise while an older child might appreciate the clever storytelling structure using the alphabet.

Here are some of the special words :  (in alphabetical order!)
clutter, cardinal, dilly-dally, exquisite, knoll, lurking, nincompoop, pluck and surreal.

Melissa Sweet produces illustrations that look deceptively simple and always joyous.  Her web site is a real treat - take time to dip in.  Here is an interview with Melissa.  Here is a set of lesson notes.

Here is a terrific review where you will learn a new word abecedarian - it means using the alphabet.

Walter by Barbara Wersba illustrated by Donna Diamond

"After two hours of sitting in Miss Pomeroy's easy chair and nibbling the top of her ballpoint pen, Walter wrote his letter to Miss Pomeroy.  It was very brief.  It said,
'My name is Walter.
I live here too."

Walter is a rat who can read and he has moved in with the author Amanda Pomeroy.  As a youngster Walter had read two books by Sir Walter Scott.  He liked the name and the leather bound books tasted good too. Walter enjoys living with Miss Pomeroy because food is plentiful and he has made himself a comfortable little nest behind a storeroom but the best part of all is the library.  "Words swam through Walter's mind like bright fish, darting back and forth.  He did not always understand what he was reading, but the experience excited him!"

Browsing through Miss Pomeroy's library one day Walter makes a startling discovery.  All of the children's books are about mice and to make matters worse Miss Pomeroy herself has written a series books with a mouse as the main character.  Where are the books about heroic rats?  Walter begins his correspondence with Miss Pomeroy and eventually he gains the courage to bring up the matter of mice versus rats.

"Dear Miss Pomeroy,  I have enjoyed our correspondence so much, but I want to ask you something.  I hope it will not make you angry.  What I want to ask you is this.  Why do you write only about mice, and never rats?  Why does everyone else do this too?  Those of us who are rats feel hurt.  Please do not take this as a criticism.  Walter."

This slim sixty page novel is a joy to read.  There are so many literary references many of which I recognized but quite a few I am sure that I overlooked or did not know.  This is a book for children but I also think it is a book that would make any adult who loves to read - really smile.  Walter himself also has a high level of emotional sensitivity.  He understands so much about Miss Pomeroy - especially her loneliness.  I do think you will fall in love with this very special rat.

I have included three jacket designs.  I especially like the German one.  A huge thank you goes to my friend at Kinderbookswitheverything who told me about Walter!  Even now, days later, I am still smiling.

A small but very nearly perfect gem depicts the growing friendship between a literary-minded rat and an aging author of children’s books.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The lonely book by Kate Bernheimer illustrated by Chris Sheban

Do you ever wonder how books arrive in our school library?  There are so many ways.  I might read a review or see a book in a shop or a student might suggest a new title.  One of the ways we find terrific books is via a very special bookseller in Sydney - Kate at Bloomin' Books.  Her selections are always such treasures. While I was away in 2012 she sent The lonely book and so this week I picked it up knowing I was in for a treat.

When the book (the hero of this narrative) is new it is very popular in the library passing from borrower to borrower "it hardly ever slept at the library."  Years and years pass and the book is now over looked and left on the shelf until one day it is found on the floor and borrowed by a little girl who rediscovers its magic "Daddy!' she whispered. 'This is the most beautiful book I've ever read.  Can I take it home?"  The last page is missing but this does not worry the little girl.  She is able to imagine her own happy ending.  The little girl keeps renewing the book but one day she accidentally leaves it behind at the library and a helpful volunteer places it in the basement thinking it is meant to be part of their book sale.  "And the lonely book missed Alice.  Though all the books were kept tidy and safe in the basement, it was very dark.  The book was lonelier than it had ever been."

Finally the day comes for the book sale.  It is raining.  Alice and her dad arrive at the sale.  Will she been reunited with her special book?  Everything about this book is special - the story, the emotional journey undertaken by the book itself and the gentle water colour illustrations.  This book will be one of the first I read to our students this year.

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

The sub-title for The Humming Room states "A novel inspired by The Secret Garden."  I have loved The Secret Garden since I first read it as a young child so I was keen to explore this book by Ellen Potter - I recently read and really enjoyed her book SLOB.

The plot of this book is indeed exactly like The Secret Garden but the setting is quite different and the garden has been inspired by the Amazon rainforest.  Roo Fanshaw is sent to live with her reclusive and mysterious Uncle following the death of her father and step mother. Mr Fanshaw lives on an island called Cough Rock in a building that was once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children.  Roo is told not to go near the west wing. Of course very soon after her arrival she goes exploring and eventually meets Phillip, Mr Fanshaw's sickly son, and a mysterious island boy called Jack.

I picked up this book from my huge reading pile yesterday intending (as I often do) to read a page or two.  Several hours later I lifted my head and let out an enormous sigh of satisfaction.  This is an engrossing and enjoyable book perfect for the middle primary reader.  I would suggest looking for Journey to the River Sea after you read The Humming Room.  Here is a review with a detailed comparison between The Secret Garden and The Humming Room.

Here is scene when Roo first sees the garden :

"The glass dome enclosed what looked like an ancient, brittle jungle.  Dead trees towered up out of the dirt floor.  Their branches were thin, many broken and hanging, trapped with in the spindly arms of other branches.  Thick, ropey vines twisted around the dead trees, climbing up to the very top then tumbling down in thick gray sheets, like grim waterfalls. Clinging to some of the panes on the dome were brown creepers, pressing themselves against the glass as though pleading to be let out. ... It was the saddest and most beautiful place Roo had ever seen"

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Waffle Hearts Lena and me in Mathildewich Cove by Maria Parr translated by Guy Puzey

Late last year I attended a Christmas function with Alison Lester as the after dinner speaker (more about her book Sophie Scott goes South soon) and while I was there a friend of mine gave me Waffle Hearts.  This has turned out to be a lovely present.

I liked the look of this little hard cover book straight away.  The textured cloth cover reminded me of books from my long ago childhood and I do find myself drawn to books that have been translated especially books from Scandinavia.  Waffle Hearts is a Norwegian book but oddly one of  two the main characters - Lena is exactly like the famous Swedish character Pippi Longstocking.  Lena also reminds me a little of Violet Mackerel and Gooney Bird Greene.

There are twenty chapters in this volume and each one is a self contained story narrated by her friend Trille. His real name is Theobald Rodrik Danielsen Yttergard but everyone calls him Trille.

"(Lena's) my best friend, even if she is a girl.  I have never told her. I don't dare, as I don't know if I am her best friend. Sometimes I think I am, and sometimes I think I'm not.  It depends.  But I do wonder about it."

Lena is fearless and always on the look out for an adventure.  I think my favourite incident comes in chapter four when Lena decided to re-enact the story of Noah's ark using her Uncle's small fishing boat.  Trille as usual is doubtful this will work but he is a loyal friend and so the pair round up various farm animals, wild animals and even insects in jam jars.  Everything goes smoothly until Lena declares they need a cow.  "In the middle of the gangplank, with the heifer in front of us, we suddenly discovered that the goat was eating the curtains in the cabin.  Lena let out a furious scream, and from that moment everything went wrong ... "

While there are many, many very funny incidents in this story there are also moments of great sadness such as when Aunty Granny - the maker of delicious waffle hearts - dies suddenly and when Lena moves away
and breaks Trille's heart.  Do not worry though the ending of the whole book is so perfect it will make you smile.  I also want to mention the grandfather who is a very special character in this book. He still has the ability to participate in imaginative play and when the parents are away there is great fun to be had.

You might like to read this warm and detailed review.  You can also read an extract from the story here.  There is a television series based on this book but I suspect it is in Norwegian.  As I have done previously with translated books I am including the Norwegian cover here so you can compare it.

The little reindeer by Michael Foreman

I know it seems odd to talk about a Christmas book in January but this one has been on my pile since December.  You might remember we had a little event in our school library over the last twelve days of the school year.  Each day we announced a book for the twelve books (days) of Christmas and one lucky class from our junior grades won the book for the day to read and enjoy.

We had one or two classes who used this time to read a different Christmas book every day. When I asked two students from a Kindergarten class which book they enjoyed the most they did not hesitate and declared everyone loved The Little Reindeer so I bought it home to read.

This is a gentle story about a curious small reindeer who one day wanders into a building and suddenly finds himself wrapped up and placed on Santa's sleigh.  He jiggles around so much he eventually falls out of the sleigh and lands on the roof of a high rise building in New York city.  A small boy finds the little reindeer.  "In a corner of the shed the boy made a straw bed for the reindeer and fetched milk and a whole assortment of cereals.  'Tomorrow we can try lots of different things to eat and see which you like best."  The reindeer is housed with some pigeons and he learns to fly.  By summer he is big enough to give the boy rides around the city.  On one glorious double page we see the boy and reindeer flying over Central Park in autumn with all the trees covered in orange and golden leaves.  When winter returns the little reindeer is needed elsewhere but the boy finds a note :

"Dear Boy,
Thank you for looking after my smallest reindeer.  See you next year.  
Love Santa Claus."

In 2004 an animated version was released.  You can see a tiny extract here.  Read this book with a glass of milk and a peanut butter sandwich.

The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster by David Conway illustrated by Melanie Williamson

Early in the year I have plans to explore our collection of books about Humpty Dumpty.  Humpty himself is not the main character in The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster it is Miss Muffet but I think this book might be a fun way to talk about Nursery Rhymes and hopefully revisit old favourites.

Miss Muffet is bored with being in the same old rhyme day after day so she sets off to try out a new rhyme.  Along the way she meets The Grand old Duke of York, Jack and Jill, the mouse who lives by the grandfather clock, Johnny Flynn and Tommy Stout, the dish and the spoon and finally Humpty Dumpty.

This is a typical case of the grass is not greener on the other side of the hill and Miss Muffet eventually finds her way back to her own rhyme only to have the spider side down beside her and frighten her away!

I love the huge colourful illustrations in this book along with the changes of type face and the inclusion of each rhyme.  In my next post I will talk about the Humpty Dumpty books I plan to read to the students this term.

Mr and Mrs Bunny - detectives extraordinaire by Mrs Bunny translated by Polly Horvath illustrated by Sophie Blackall

I am welcoming myself back to my blog after a little absence by talking about Mr and Mrs Bunny - detectives extraordinaire which is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time - not slap stick funny just genuinely witty.  I think the cover shows this will be a terrific book- written by Mrs Bunny herself and translated by the talented Polly Horvath.

Madeline lives in Canada on a small island east of Vancouver Island.  This should be idyllic but her parents are hippies who have lost touch with reality and so the management of their day to day life has fallen on the shoulders of young Madeline. "She became very good at cooking and cleaning and sewing and bookkeeping and minor house-hold repairs. She was the one who changed the lightbulbs.  When only ten she got herself a waitress job part-time at the Happy Goat Cafe."

The plot of this book is so wild and zany it is hard to explain.  Madeline heads off to school on day, making the long trip to Vancouver Island because she does not want to be homeschooled.  Meanwhile Mr and Mrs Bunny (who live alone now that their litter of twelve rabbits have grown up and moved far away. "The closest one was in Australia." ) have decided to move to a new house. Mr Bunny has found the perfect new house with furniture and even a shiny red Smart car.  Meanwhile four foxes have arrived at Madeline's house because they have a code that needs to be deciphered.  Flo and Mildred have a cousin in Ottawa who is an expert at codes.  The foxes need his address.  Sadly Flo and Mildred are so absent minded they have no idea about this.  Madeline would know but she is at school so the foxes kidnap these hapless parents and leave a ransom note.  Now this madcap adventure moves into full swing.  Madeline finds the note, heads off to talk to her uncle but he is in a coma, she bumps into Mr and Mrs Bunny who just that morning have bought some smart fedora's so they can follow their new passion as detectives.

Throughout this book there are very clever references to modern life such as :

"We speak Fox, Marmot, Bird,' said Mrs Bunny.  'You know, the Romance languages.  All bunnies learn those in grade school.  Later we might pick up a little Bear. Some Groundhog and a touch of Prairie Dog.' 'Highly esoteric,' sniffed Mrs Bunny. 'And impractical.  I keep telling him he should take a course in Squirrel."

"He paused so long one of the councilbunnies went out for coffee.  One had time to order a short decaf double shot no whip mocha iced frappuccino to go. ... he had time to change his mind to a venti semi skim soy no sugar caramel macchiato with no whip but double caramel and a reduced-fat skinny poppy seed and lemon muffin, hot, no butter."

"Mrs Bunny paled.  She had been found out!  She wasn't an urbane bunny after all.  She was just another country bunny who had lived on the outskirts of a human town. There was no lower status amongst bunnies."

Here is the author web site which includes some review extracts.  Here is a sixty second book review. I would give this book five out of five stars - rush into your library today!

The sequel has just been published Mr and Mrs Bunny - almost royalty and I hope to buy myself a copy this week.