Saturday, May 31, 2014

Pigsticks and Harold and the incredible journey by Alex Milway

There are not many books that I can say with absolute certainty "this book is a winner" but Pigsticks and Harold and the incredible journey truly is a WINNER!  The opening sentence sets the tone and quickly establishes the humour.

"Pigsticks was the last in a noble line of pigs.  His ancestors had done great things, but Pigsticks hadn't done anything yet.  As he sat in his study, reading about his fore pigs, Pigsticks made a momentous decision."

Pigsticks decides to travel to the ends of the earth but he will need an assistant - to carry his gear, cook the food and generally cope with all manner of hazards that are sure to arise on this adventure.  None of the local candidates seem suitable and then unexpectedly Harold, a young Hamster, arrives at Pigstick's door.  Harold has no interest in travel but the offer of cake (three cakes including a Battenberg) is very tempting.  And so this intrepid pair set off to the ends of the earth.  I have put an image of this cake below (BBC Food) because if you have dipped into my blog you will know, just like Harold, I also love cake.

Here is a very funny little video where you will see Pigsticks and Harold themselves promoting their book.

If you enjoy Pigsticks and Harold and the incredible journey you should also look for The Trip to Panama by Janosh and The Clumsies by Sorrel Anderson.  Here is a web site from the author which begins with his visit to Tales on Moon Lane.  I visited this special children's bookshop in London recently so I was excited to see Alex Milway had prepared a special window display.  If I have not yet convinced you to read this warm-hearted little story please take a minute and read this review in The School Library Journal.  This book would make a great read-a-loud for a younger class.  I wonder if Alex Milway has plans for more books in this series.

Little Croc's purse by Lizzie Finlay

While playing hide and seek one day Little Croc finds a pretty purse.  Inside there are five silver coins, seven golden coins and crisp 20-croc note  There is also a secret something hidden in the lining.

There is a strong moral presented in this book about the rewards that come from honesty and from giving but these are told in such a joyous and carefree way that Little Croc's purse is sure to make you smile.  Young readers will also love the neat pattern as Little Croc retraces his journey using the reward he has from finding the purse as a way to share his happiness.

"Little Croc divided his treasure into three envelopes labelled 'spend', 'share' and 'save'.  He used his 'spend' envelope to pay (for his lemonade, three envelopes and a pencil) and tucked the others safely into his purse."

There are some lovely touches in this little picture book - the name of the owner is Mrs Doolally.  The purse smelled of perfume and the cafe called Croc Monsieur's.

This week we read The Swap and I picked up Little Croc's purse because I was hunting for other stories about crocodiles.  It will be fun to share this book with our youngest students.

You might like to read the Kirkus review.

Along with making worthy points about the benefits of honesty, modeling responsible financial behavior and even somehow managing to keep Little Croc from coming off as a goody-goody, she introduces a young hero who is refreshingly oblivious to gender expectations—bravo.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Roscoe Riley Rules Never Swipe a Bully's Bear by Katherine Applegate illustrated by Brian Biggs

There seem to be two important elements that make a successful beginning chapter book - characters and situations that the reader recognizes and humour.  This little book has both.

The story Never Swipe a bully's bear opens with Roscoe Riley in the time-out corner. "This time I broke rule 214 : Do not kidnap your classmate's teddy bear. And hide him in the dirty clothes basket."

First Grader Roscoe takes his toy pig Hamilton to school.  His older brother warns him this is not a good idea but Roscoe cannot bear the idea of leaving his precious friend at home.

"I sat in the kitchen and stared at Hamilton.  I put him on the counter.  What if Max was right?  I was getting awfully old.  I mean, I had a loose tooth.  That's WAY old.  Hamilton looked worried, like he might start to cry.  I could see this was very hard for him.  'Okay, buddy, you can come,' I said.  I smushed Hamilton into the very bottom of my backpack.  I left the zipper open a little.  So he could breathe."

Are you smiling?  I am.  I adore so many of the revelations here - the tooth signifying maturity, the special relationship between Roscoe and Hamilton and most of all the open zipper!  I certainly did this with my toys. I also love words like 'smushed'.

Wyatt is the class bully.  No one is supposed to know about Hamilton hidden in the bottom of Roscoe's bag but of course Wyatt does find out.  When Hamilton is pig-napped Roscoe points the finger of blame at Wyatt and so when Roscoe discovers Wyatt has his toy at school - a bear called Bobo - retribution is in the air.

This slim volume has much to recommend it.  I think it would make a terrific class read-aloud.  You might want to talk about - guilt, innocence, bullies, evidence, and of course jumping to wrong conclusions.  This is the second book in this series.  We do have book one and now I need to add all the other titles to my shopping list.

Katherine Applegate is the author of The One and Only Ivan which is a book for older students that I recently reviewed and loved.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sorry Day May 26th The Burnt Stick by Anthony Hill illustrated by Mark Sofilas.

"They went to the campfire where the cinders were cold. Liyan took a stick that had burnt black almost to charcoal.  She ground the soot and the charred ends of the stick into a powder in the palm of her hand, and began to rub it into John Jagamarra's skin."

The Burnt Stick is an important and confronting story which should be shared with our older Primary students especially as we mark the occasion of Sorry Day.  You can learn a little more about this important day here.  The Burnt stick was published in 1994 long before our national discussions about the Stolen Generation but it is one of the best books to use with students as a way to explain this complex and tragic aspect of our history.

Liyan's plan as outlined in the quote above works twice.  The Big Man from the Welfare arrives to take John away because his skin is light-brown which is a sign of his mixed parentage. The first time he simply gets back into his truck and drives away.  The second time he pats John on the head and finds his hand covered with dust. (see the illustration by Mark Sofilas below)  Liyan laughs this off  'It's ashes from the fire, boss. He was playing in them this morning.  You know what black fellers are like.  We always bin sitting in the dust."  Sadly the trick is revealed and so on their third visit in the early morning John is taken away.

The scenes of John's capture come as a flashback.  The Burnt Stick opens with a description of life at the Pearl Bay Mission for Aboriginal Children.  I think this section would make a good starting point for a discussion with students :

"For the Fathers did not teach the children the songs, the dancing and the picture-making of their own people.  They did not ... tell them stories of the Dreaming and the Ancestor spirits of the land that had once been told around the campfires. They did not show them how to follow the kangaroo through the bush, or how to make spears, or how to find where the wild yams grew (and) ... as the years went by, most people forgot them."

You might like to explore this detailed unit of work for The Burnt Stick.  We also have an audio version in our school library and I found an excellent interview with the author Anthony Hill which will greatly add to your understanding and appreciation of this book.  Here is another detailed review with some useful links.

The Horn Book in 1995 said :
 "An exceptional and very emotional novel that will stay with readers long after they have finished it."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Urgency Emergency Big bad Wolf by Dosh Archer

"He may be a wolf,' said Doctor Glenda, 'but he is still our patient.  He only has minutes to live! Nurse Percy, can you overcome your fear of wolves and help me save him?' Nurse Percy pulled himself together. 'Good job,' said Doctor Glenda. 'Wait,' cried Nurse Percy.  'What is that noise? Where is it coming from?' It was coming from inside Wolf."

I picked up this slim hardcover beginner chapter book called Urgency Emergency Big bad Wolf without much thought.  It has big big printing so I knew I could read it quickly. Wait slow down.  I reached the pages above and realized I had missed an important clue.  I turned back and saw a little sheep sitting in the waiting room of the hospital - "someone in a red coat who was crying because she couldn't find her grandma."

Have you guess the story?  Yes it is Red Riding Hood in another guise.  This is a fabulous and funny spoof with an ending that will make you cheer.  There are others in the series too which I need to add to my shopping list.  If you need to know more about this little book click the Kirkus link below.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen illustrated by Diane Stanley

About three weeks ago one class and I embarked on a journey towards the exploration of Sleeping Ugly.  Firstly we needed to talk about fairy tales - make lists of titles and characteristics.  Then we read one version of the original tale of Sleeping Beauty.  Next we watched a DVD of a storyteller retelling this famous tale using just his voice and facial expressions.  It was good to note some of the variations to the story such as the number of fairies who are invited to the famous christening.

Last week we read the first part of Sleeping Ugly and yesterday we predicted the ending, read the book right through to the end and then began work using a reader's theatre script of this funny and wise story.

"Princess Miserella was a beautiful princess if you counted her eyes and nose and mouth and all the way down to her toes.  But inside where it was hard to see she was the meanest, wickedest, and most worthless princess around."

One day Miserella becomes lost in the woods.  She meets a little old lady asleep under a tree. Miserella knows this lady is most probably a fairy in disguise. She kicks the old lady and demands to be taken home but instead the old lady takes Miserella to the home of Plain Jane.  Jane is kind and has very good manners so the fairy grants her three wishes.  Annoyingly for the reader Jane feels compelled to waste two of the wishes on the wretched Miserella.  Finally, as in the original version, everyone falls asleep until at the end of one hundred years Prince Jojo arrives.  "He saw three women asleep with spiderwebs holding them to the floor.  One of them was a beautiful princess.  Being the kind of young man who read fairy tales, Jojo knew just what to do."

I adore fractured fairy tales and this one, Sleeping Ugly, is one of my favourites.  We also have Sleeping Bobby in our library which is a fun reversal of the usual roles.  Our next book will be The Tough Princess which presents a very modern interpretation of living happily ever after.  You might like to read my post about other Princess stories and this review.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Brave like me - Hippo and Rabbit in three more tales by Jeff Mack

When young children start school they are always keen to begin reading chapter books. We encourage our Kindergarten children to experience as many picture books as possible during their first two terms of school but when they are ready we have a large collection of beginning chapter books which actually contain terrific stories.

Brave like me is one of the simplest little chapter books I have ever read yet it manages to provide a very entertaining and satisfying story told with two voices - Rabbit (the optimist and voice of wisdom) and Hippo (the worrier and scaredy-cat).

This little volume has three chapters presented in just 32 pages using speech bubbles.  In the first story Hippo is afraid of a spider but rabbit carefully removes the little creature and all is well until a bee lands on Rabbit's nose.  Now it is the turn of Hippo to be brave.

In the second story Rabbit has a balloon but Hippo is so afraid it will pop as it grows bigger and bigger.  It does not pop and Hippo walks away with a smile and a gigantic balloon.  Now Rabbit can blow up another balloon and enjoy the pop!

I think the third story is my favourite.  Hippo does not want to take a bath. Rabbit has to use all his powers of persuasion to convince Hippo that taking a bath can be fun!  The final illustration is perfect.

I have discovered our book about Hippo and Rabbit is the second installment so I will need to add the first book to my shopping list.  You can see the inside of this book here.  I know Brave like me will be a popular little book when I share it with our youngest students.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My life as an alphabet by Barry Jonsberg

There were times when My life as an alphabet made me smile, other times when I cringed, still other times when I felt confused.  I guess that might mean this is a powerful book and perhaps it is.  Candice certainly is a character who will linger with me for a long time.

Oddly when I picked up this book, which has been short listed for our CBCA awards for 2014, I forgot to look closely at the cover so for the first third of the story I thought I was listening to a boy!  This is especially odd because Candice, our narrator, quotes her teacher Miss Bamford on page three and the teacher uses her name.  This book is a first person narrative so you will feel as though you are inside the narrator's head. (I don't know why but for me this was a boy.)

The whole class has been given a writing assignment.  Twenty six paragraphs (one for each letter of the alphabet) which is a recount of your life.  Candice ends up writing a whole book - not just a few paragraphs. As she recounts her life from A to Z we come to know a warm, quirky, loving girl who wants to heal the hurt in her family and save her best friend. Candice herself has some difficulties but at the same time she is well aware of her own limitations..  I will let Candice explain this herself via her letter to the casual teacher who is looking after the class while Miss Bamford is absent :

"Dear Miss Cowie
I am Candice Phee.  ... I have an ex-dysfunctional fish and a pernickety pencil case, with a divider so my pencils don't get mixed up.  I always have to sit in the same seat.  I don't talk to people until I feel comfortable with this.  This sometimes takes weeks.  In the meantime I communicate through notes like this one.  Some people think I am on some sort of spectrum, but I don't think I am.  It's just that I am different from most students."

Candice might be different - she loves to read the dictionary and books by Charles Dickens - but her view of the world also makes her quite insightful.  When Candice is paired up with the cool girl it is Candice who breaks down the barriers.  The speech Candice makes to the whole class about Jen Marshall is so poignant.

At home Candice has to deal with issues of her mum's depression, the cot death of her baby sister and her father's feelings of failure.  She also has to juggle a relationship with her Rich Uncle Brian and the new boy in the class named Douglas Benson From Another Dimension.

This book reminded me of The curious incident of the dog in the Night-time which is for an older audience and The dog that dumped on my doona by the same author.  I don't think My life as an alphabet will win the Younger Readers prize but I will be happy to recommend it to sensitive readers in our senior grades.

Here is a set of teacher notes.  Here is the author web site.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lemonade and other poems squeezed from a single word by Bob Raczka illustrated by Nancy Doniger

Lemonade and other poems squeezed from a single word is a new poetry book in our school library and it has quickly become one of my favourites.  The idea here is so simple and so effective.  Take a word and use the letters of that word to write a poem.  Here is the author web site and you can see pages from the book here. We have several of his art books in our school library.

Here is a quote from the blurb on the back cover :

"Part anagram, part rebus, part riddle - this brand-new poetic form turns word puzzles into poetry.  Using only letters from a singe word, each of the poems in this collection captures a scene from daily life ... Sometimes thoughtful and sometimes funny"

The contents lists all the words - there are 22 of them.  Words like lemonade, breakfast, snowflakes, pepperoni, spring and ladybug.

Here are two examples





Here is a review you might enjoy :

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Zebra Wall by Kevin Henkes

I picked up The Zebra Wall because I adore Kevin Henkes. You might like to read my reviews of Junonia and The Year of Billy Miller.

The Zebra Wall has so much to recommend it but sadly it also has one low point.  I am going to explain this because this issue does worry me.  Two of the main adult characters in this book are smokers. This book was written in 1988 and I am sure we were aware at that time about the dangers of smoking.

In this story we follow the emotional journey of Adine the oldest girl in a family of five girls.  Baby number six is about to arrive and everyone is sure this baby will be another little girl.  The family have lovely rituals to celebrate a birth - they write lists of suggested names, the nursery walls are painted with a special mural and everyone celebrates with  delicious home cooked treats.  In some ways the Vorlob family feel little like the Silks.  Each child is given a name following the alphabet - Adine, Bernice, Carla, Dot and Effie. The new baby will have a name beginning with the letter F (Adine has set her heart on Florinda) and the mural is filled with thing starting with F just as for Adine when it was filled with things that started with A.

I imagine you have guessed the new baby is not a little girl.  He arrives quite early and is tiny.  Nothing is ready and so Mrs Vorlob says for now they will call him Baby.  To complicate matters Aunt Irene has moved into the house to help with the new baby.  Adine finds life with her eccentric, cat obsessed and seemingly thoughtless aunt very difficult and worse news of all is that Irene will name the baby.

There is some very special writing in this book that just made me sigh with happiness.  Here is an example. When mum and dad are at the hospital Adine cannot sleep (she is sharing her room with Aunt Irene) so she moves into their room.

"The room was empty, the bed made.  Adine pulled the spread and the blankets back and climbed under them, sinking into the bed like syrup.  She loved the spread on her parents' bed.  It was the color of tea with milk, patterned with bursting, deep gold chrysanthemums."

I wonder did Kevin Henkes write his famous book Chrysanthemum before or after The Zebra Wall? Actually he did!  Chrysanthemum the picture book was published in 1991.

Back to the issue of smoking.  During her pregnancy Mrs Vorlob does not smoke.  Instead she holds onto carrot sticks.  Sadly the moment she arrives home from hospital she takes up smoking again.  Adine is disgusted :

"Mrs Vorlob reached into the pocket of her peppermint-striped jumper and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and her lighter. Adine frowned.  She had hoped her mother wouldn't take up smoking again.  Pretend-smoking vegetables may have looked silly but at least they didn't stink and they were good for you.  TV commercials about cancer frightened Adine."

If you enjoy The Zebra Wall you might also enjoy Lavender by Karen Hesse and also The naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard.