Monday, March 31, 2014

Little Stupendo by Jon Blake

Our Grade Two classes are looking at different junior book series from our library this term.  So far we have read Poor Fish (Aussie Nibble), My amazing poo plant (Aussie Nibble), Hot Stuff (Solo) and today we read Holly and the Skyboard (Sprinter).

I bought home a small selection of Sprinters to read tonight so I had more titles from this series to recommend to my students.  Here are three I really enjoyed.  It is always exciting to find simple beginner chapter books with satisfying stories.

Little Stupendo is the long suffering daughter of the Great Stupdeno.  It is Little Stupendo who has to repair torn costumes when his tricks don't quite work out but Little Stupendo is tired of this.  She longs to perform dare devil stunts herself.

The Great Stupendo has a new stunt involving a tightrope but he also has a serious rival - Johnny Bravo. When The Great Stupendo upsets his neighbour Mr Chinspot revenge is in the air.  The Great Stupendo has one serious weakness - his fear of spiders.  Meanwhile Little Stupendo has been practicing.  "As the Great Stupendo snored in his bed, Little Stupendo walked the plank.  Then the broomstick. By the light of the moon she crept outside and climbed onto the clothes line.  Bit by bit, she learned how to keep her balance. She even waved to the crowd, except no one was watching."

There are three Sprinter titles featuring Little Stupendo.

Hector the Rat is a completely unconventional fellow. "He was clean. He worked hard.  He was kind." He loves to tidy his room and he has discovered the joy of reading. His family are disgusted and order him to leave the family sewer.  Once above ground Hector meets Charlie and they become instant best friends.

Trouble is Charlie's mum will not allow him to have a pet rat in the house. The most glorious scene in this tiny 60 page book comes when Hector and Charlie are chased back into the sewer pipes. They are being chased by a rat catcher.  "Hector put his hand deep into his pocket. He pulled out some string, a tiny rat-sized torch, a magnetic compass, two boiled sweets, a toothbrush and a piece of paper which he unfolded carefully."

Ulf is a troll who lives in the far North. He loves to eat fingers and he tricks people by offering a friendly greeting as the walk alone on the hills.  As he says "How do you do" the walker would "hold out his or her hand to shake Ulf's.  Then Ulf would take it and, quick as a flash, bite off a finger with his razor sharp teeth and run away as fast as his bow-legs would carry him, chewing like mad and grinning all over his frog-face."

The Finger Eater continues his nasty ways until he meets Gundrun.  She has a solution which will stop this troll from inflicting any more harm on unsuspecting humans. I won't spoil this except to say if you ever find some discarded reindeer antlers (reindeer shed their antlers and grow new ones every year) hold onto them because you never know when they might be quite useful.

We have over 30 Sprinter titles in our school library.  They are part of our Fast Fiction collection and take less than twenty minutes to read aloud.  Perfect for newly independent readers.

Mysterious traveller by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Twice each term the wonderful NSW School Magazine arrives in my library. There are four different editions and I always turn the pages to read the Bookshelf pages first.

This month one featured book is Mysterious Traveller.  I think the mark of a great story comes from a very satisfying ending and you will certainly find one in this book.

Issa earns his meager living working as a desert guide.  He awakes one morning and sees signs that all is not well.  "On this particular morning, however, the bottom edge of the sun was not as bright as usual.  Blurry. Veiled.  Issa squinted at it, then took a deep breath of the cold desert wind, testing it smell with his nose... he turned to go back to his house.  It was time for his prayers.  Then he stopped.  A flash of bright colour had tickled his eye.  A scrap of cloth fluttering from the thorn fence of his goat-pen... the pattern told him this. The ribbon had travelled a long way. And it was not the kind of thing that anyone would lose or throw away."

Issa heads out into the desert with his old donkey and half buried under the sands near a cliff he finds a camel.  While he tries to coax the camel back up onto its feet he hears a tiny cry.  A young child lies in a woven basket protected by the camel.  "This child, this baby, had huge black pearls for eyes.  Her body was wrapped in finest, softest cotton.  Something made from gold hung from a cord around her neck. something the shape of half a star. There were letters hammered into the gold, but Issa could not make sense of them."

I hope you can tell from these two quotes that not a word is wasted in this exquisite book.  Issa takes the baby girl , whom he names Mariama, and cares for her as though she were his own grandchild.  As his eyesight begins to fade, Mariama becomes his eyes.  All is well until one day when three strangers arrive at his door.  One of the men is clearly the leader or important one "and if Issa had been able to see, he might have recognized the pattern in the embroidery that trimmed his robes."

After reading this book you should also look for Cloud Tea Monkeys also by Mal Peet.

Clara Button and the magical hat day by Amy de la Haye and Emily Sutton

There are so many reasons why I have been looking forward to reading this book.
  • I love hats and I also love books about hats.
  • I saw this book in the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2012 and I was curious since the setting was the museum itself.
  • My aunt was a milliner and she made my mother some glorious hats.
  • I have a little gift card inspired by this book which I am saving for a special friend.

Clara Button and the magical hat day is a truly special book.  Clara is a quiet thoughtful girl who enjoys crafts. Her brother Ollie is a wild boy who enjoys skateboards and action.  One day Clara is quietly sorting her buttons (something I loved to do as a child with my Grandmother's button jars) when Ollie zooms into the room upsetting her work and worse tearing an old hat made by Granny Elsie many years ago.  Granny Elise was a milliner and mum is just as upset as Clara so she suggest they all make a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ollie is surprised to discover it is not boring in a museum and Clara finds some special friends who help her with the repairs to her precious hat.  The illustrations in this book are perfect.  I especially like the colour palette. Here is a review if you need to know more.  And here is an audio review.

I also have some exciting news - there is a second book about Clara Button called Clara Buttons Indian Wedding.  It will arrive in our library soon.  There is also an ipad app of this story which sounds quite magical too.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tale of a tail by Margaret Mahy illustrated by Tony Ross

This is such a charming and sweet little story by one of my favourite writers - Margaret Mahy.

Tom moves into a new street - Prodigy Street.  Shortly afterwards someone else moves in at the other end of the street - Mr Mirabilis and his dog Najki.

You know the expression - be careful what you wish for?  Well that certainly applies here.  Tom comments that their street looks a little uninteresting.

"I think it's a bit too ordinary' said Tom. 'I'd like it to be a bit ... a bit sort of wilder! ... it would be great if it was spring now,' said Tom.  'I wish the trees were flowering.'  And Najki barked as if he was agreeing with Tom, switching his stubby tail up and down."

Take a closer look at this.  His tail is moving up and down not from side to side.  This is no ordinary dog - he is able to grant wishes using his magical wagger.  Each of the short chapters in Tale of a Tail contains a story of wishes and their consequences.  Wishing to win the inter school rugby game, wishing to save a cat from a gang of boys, and perhaps even wishing for a dog of your own.

Margaret Mahy sadly died at the beginning of 2012 and so this is one of her final books.  I think it would make a good little family read-a-loud.  The occasional chapter from Najki's point of view adds to the fun and so do the fabulous line drawings by the very talented Tony Ross.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Worried Arthur Countdown to Christmas by Joan Stimson and Jan Lewis

Over this term we enjoy reading books about Penguins with our Year One students. So far we have read some books about Tacky by Helen Lester, My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, Mum in a million by Jill Lewis and Worried Arthur The Birthday Party.

Our copy of Worried Arthur The Birthday Party had lost some pages - thank goodness it is still in print.  While I was browsing for our new copy I noticed there were other books in this series so I bought Worried Arthur Countdown to Christmas.  I know it is a little odd to talk about a Christmas book in March but this one is a treasure on so many levels.

Arthur is such a worrier. In The Birthday Party he worries about hosting a pool party because one of his good friends (a penguin!) cannot swim.  He worries about the bouncy iceberg that Dad is going to hire for his party because one of his friends has a sharp beak and the iceberg might spring a leak.  At every turn, Dad saves the day and eventually Dad prepares a splendid surprise party and finally Arthur can put his worries aside and have some fun.  The fish shaped cake looks especially delicious.

Now Christmas is coming.  Arthur comes home from school so worried. They have been learning about maps and Arthur can see there is a huge distance for Santa to travel from the NORTH POLE to the SOUTH POLE. Dad has the answer and Arthur is able to go to bed and fall asleep feeling a little less worried. At the end of the term Arthur is given a good school report except for the standard of his writing.  Here is the new worry.  Will Santa be able to read Arthur's Christmas list?  Once again Dad has the answer. Then there is the worry of the weather and worse Arthur worries he might not deserve any presents.  Dad is quite sure everything will be okay and yes Christmas morning is perfect.

These books about Arthur seem perfect for children who have worries and I also liked the gentle way the author introduces this single parent family.  Arthur and his dad have such a special relationship.

After you read this book go back and look for all the fun details in the illustrations - slippers to fit flippers, the Penguin book on the dining table, little mice having a cup of tea, ice cube Lego, and best of all Arthur's fabulous pyjamas.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

When Findus was little and disappeared by Sven Nordqvist

A young friend of mine is taking a break from his law studies in Australia so he can experience university life in Sweden.  Luckily his classes are in English which means he has been able to enroll in a children's literature course.

We were chatting about Taronga, which he planned to discuss in a tutorial group and I asked about Swedish authors. One of the big names he mentioned was Sven Nordqvist.  In our school library we have When Findus was little and disappeared so I bought it home to read.  Gecko Press do an amazing job sourcing European books and having them translated into English.

Pettson lives all alone in a little house in the country but he occasionally feels quite lonely until one day a kind neighbour delivers a tiny kitten in a box with the label Findus Green Pea.

"Hello Findus Green Pea,' said Pettson and he felt as you do when you open the blinds on a summer morning and warm sunshine floods in. 'My name is Pettson and this is my kitchen.  You can live here, if you want, would you like coffee?"

Pettson and Findus bond quickly. Findus grows bigger, finds his voice and speaks to Pettson.  He asks for some trousers just like the ones he has seen in the newspaper.  Life is good for this loving pair until one morning Findus disappears.  I won't spoil the story by telling why or how but when Pettson could not find little Findus I felt quite distraught.  Not to worry, though, there will be a happy ending.  We have two books about Findus in our school library. In a lovely coincidence I was chatting with a young boy who loves cats on Friday.  I can't wait to show him these books.

You can see the illustrations here.  There are eight books about Findus.  I hope some of the others have English translations so we can add them to our library soon.

Claude on the slopes by Alex T Smith

What a joy to read another little book about Claude.  In this installment Claude on the slopes, Claude and his faithful sidekick Sir Bobblysock are enjoying a day at the snow.

Every page in these joyous books makes me smile.  Claude begins his day feeling loud.  The previous day had been spent in a library where he had problems using his indoor voice.  He speaks so loudly the next morning  "that he blew the froth off the top of Sir Bobblysock's frothy coffee from the other side of the kitchen."  Claude goes outside and discovers the snow.

"Claude didn't know what they were doing, but he knew it was something exciting because his bottom had started to wag his tail like crazy and his eyebrows were jiggling about uncontrollably."

Claude is new to this past time but he observes others and decides this looks like fun.  Luckily Claude has his beret. When he needs a tea tray for sledging he simply whips it out and he is ready to go. Sir Bobblysock is not too keen on skiing or sledging so he sits down at the bottom of the mountain.  Everything is going well until Claude accidentally causes an enormous avalanche.

We have all the Claude books in our school library.  I recommend you find one today.  If you need to know more here is a detailed review.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Kenny and the dragon by Tony DeTerlizzi

I was not going to talk about this book today because I do need to re-read the classic book The Reluctant Dragon so I can better explain the references and storytelling of Kenny and the Dragon but I really want to put this newer version into the hands of a reader so I will leave my discussion of
The Reluctant Dragon for a different post. You could listen to the audio book yourself here.

Kenny and the Dragon is a terrific book and it is another of those little treasures in our library that I kept meaning to read.  I am so glad I bought this book home.

Kenny is a book wise boy and somewhat of a loner.  When his dad announces he has seen a dragon on their property Kenny is immediately curious.  He visits the dragon and discovers all the ideas in his authoritative book are totally wrong.  This dragon called Grahame is peaceful and he enjoys reading, reciting poetry and good food.  Kenny's mum certainly supplies some delicious morsels, once she and he husband also discover Grahame is a gentle soul.

"Spread out on the gingham picnic blanket was a delicious meal of radish souffle, sweet glazed carrots, and parsleyed potatoes ... the creme brulee, torches expertly by Grahame using his left nostril, was delicious."

This idyllic scene is interrupted by the townsfolk, who, on hearing about the dragon immediately set out to destroy this evil, fire-breathing beast.  Leading them into battle is George - Kenny's best friend - who is also the owner of the local bookshop.  In his youth George was a famous dragon slayer and so now the King has summoned him to once more pick up his sword and slay the dragon.

How can Kenny stay friends with George, how can Kenny save Grahame and how will he calm the villagers who are intent on a massacre?

I think Kenny and the Dragon would be a perfect bedtime read-a-loud for children in Grade 2 and up.  I also love the line drawings by Tony DiTerllizzi.

Take time to visit the author web site which includes some of the original illustrations.  You can hear the author talking about this book too.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The very brave bear by Nick Bland

The plot here is not new but Nick Bland has produced such irresistible characters in his book The Very Brave Bear.

This is a simple story of "one-upmanship".  Who is the bravest?  Is it Bear or Boris Buffalo?  We follow the antics of each animal through the forest told in a rhyme that almost asks to be a song.

 "In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on the edge of Slimy Bog, Bear was picking berries from a very wobbly log. 'Ahoy!' said Boris Buffalo, from underneath the mud, and Bear fell off his wobbly log and landed with a ... THUD!"

Things get wilder and wilder until the pair reach a cave - a scary cave and they hear a ROAAAAAR!

This is the fourth book about Bear.  The series began with The Very Cranky Bear and continued with The Very Itchy Bear and The Very Hungry Bear.  If you enjoy The Very Brave Bear you might also look for books by Julia Donaldson - especially The Gruffalo.

Omar the strongman by Gregory Rogers

In anticipation of the announcement in April of the Children's Book Council of Australia short listed titles I have been reading all the 2013 Australian picture books added to our library over the last 12 months.  In this post and the next I will talk about two I did enjoy. I hope both might be short listed.

Omar the Strongman opens with a page of suitcases topped by a small fez hat.  On the title page we see a young female elephant who seems to have just tapped a happy, bald, rotund man on the shoulder.  The pair are looking at one another and smiling and the man is carrying the suitcase in one hand while holding his fez in the other. On the next page we see the man striding towards some circus tents.  On his arrival he sees a sign.  "Wanted odd jobs man apply at office." Omar meets the ringmaster - a tiny lady with a friendly smile and big hair -  and she shows him around.

Omar lands the job and we turn to a page I really loved.  We see Omar standing beside a huge pile of cleaning equipment - buckets, an iron, paint and brushes, a wheelbarrow, a hammer, lots of cloths and a spade.  This is certainly a page where the picture "speaks louder than the words."

Omar seems to enjoy all his tasks around the circus but the one he likes best is looking after Mavis - the elephant. Everything is going well until the day the Mayor comes to visit.  Mavis is performing without her beautiful pink bow.  Omar rushes into the main arena holding the ribbon high.  Mavis does not see Omar and she lands right on top of him.  Can you guess what happens next - here is a hint - take another look at the title.

As I thought about this book I listed some of the values that are explored.  Having a cheerful attitude to your work no matter how boring or meanial, the importance of supporting a friend and the idea that  if you allow your heart to be open you might find your true destiny perhaps in a very unexpected way.

Sadly Gregory Rogers died in 2013.  You can read about his life and work here. You might also like to read my review of The Hero of Little Street also by Gregory Rogers.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lulu walks the dogs by Judith Viorst illustrated by Lane Smith

Writing book reviews it such a subjective thing.  This really struck me when I finished reading Lulu Walks the dogs.  I absolutely loved loved loved this funny and warm hearted little book. I liked it even more than the first Lulu installment which I also reviewed called Lulu and the Brontosaurus. And I am now excited to discover book three is coming soon.

When I finished reading Lulu walks the dogs I immediately clicked open the Kirkus review.  Read it yourself if you like but I was so disappointed the Kirkus reviewer did not really like Lulu walks the dogs.  He or she found "Viorst’s numerous authorial asides—in which the narrator insists on control of the storyline and stops for brief question-and-answer sessions with readers—come across as more confusing than clever because the voice and personality of the narrator are almost indistinguishable from Lulu’s."  I utterly disagree.  I loved all the little asides.  I always enjoy comments from an off stage narrator and in this book they work really well adding to the humour and also sustaining the mystery of why Lulu needs all this money.  The comments come as a repeated refrain.  "I really don't feel like discussing that right now."

Lulu needs money.  She won't say why but to get money she will need a job.

"Well may be you already know and maybe you don't.  Because Lulu first decided her jobs - or job - should be baking cookies, or spying, or reading to old people, and these jobs did not turn out too well. And maybe instead of writing a chapter about how those jobs did not turn out too well, I'm moving right along to Chapter Four."

What about the dogs?  Well they are hilarious too.  There is Brutus "an enormous, bigheaded, bad-breathed brute", Pookie (rhymes with DUKE and not BOOK) a teeny-tiny white fuzzball who must be carried until she needs to be placed gently under a tree to do what she needs to do and finally there is Cordelia, a German speaking Dachshund.  How will Lulu ever manage to walk these three very different dogs every morning before school?  Well the short answer is she won't - not without help and that help will come from Fleishman - her sworn enemy.

If I gave book stars Lulu walks the dog would be a five out of five or a ten out of ten or a one hundred out of one hundred book - I am sure you are getting the message here.  Rush rush into your library and read this book today.  I am sure you will love it too.