Monday, June 30, 2014

A very peculiar plague by Catherine Jinks

As I lifted my head late into the night (last night) I sighed with happiness.  A very peculiar plague is the second installment in the City of Orphans series and it more than fulfills the promise of the first.

Once again Catherine Jinks takes her reader into a wonderful and murky world of London in the late 1800s. You should read the first installment - I did highly recommend it! - before joining Birdie, Jem, Alfred Bunce and Miss Edith Eames as they face a series of hideous bogles once again.

As the title suggests it does seem that there is a plague.  Alfred and Jem dispense of one monster only to be confronted by another sometimes on the same day.  Jem is the new 'prentice now that Birdie has moved in with Miss Eames.  The method of disposing of these monsters has not changed.  Alfred draws a ring of salt with a gap where the bogle will enter. Jem, as Birdie before him, acts as a lure by singing and holding a small mirror so he can see a signal from Alfred that it is time to jump away.

Perhaps you are curious about these creatures :

"Jem suddenly noticed that the bogle was starting to encircle him; it had slid through the gap in the ring of salt and now, on the floor at his feet, two viscous arms were flowing towards each other like channels of sludge, one from the left and one from the right."

"The body attached to the arms was a great, hairy bladder, popped up on legs like a toad's and crowned by a head bigger than a bull's ... Its snout was long, with flaring red nostrils and a double row of huge, dripping, steely fangs.  Its eyes were on fire."

"It had a misshapen lump of a head, pierced by several deep, dark holes that might have been eyes, or mouths, or ears; Jem couldn't tell.  Its limbs were blunted stumps, which would suddenly erupt from unlikely spots on its torso before dissolving back again."

Moments after Alfred disposes of this last bogle, another appears and it almost devours Jem but even worse horrors are close by.  Jem has been searching for Sarah Pickles but finding her and her daughter means he will become tangled with John Gammon better known as Salty Jack, a notorious and brutal criminal.  The scene where Jem is captured by this despicable pair made me gasp out loud.

I like to think this series would be a terrific way to introduce Charles Dickens to children and this year with our Connect to Reading slogan for Book Week I plan make parcels of books - one of which will contain books from this series and a couple of our simpler editions of Dickens classics.

High School readers might like to follow this book by reading Mama's Babies by Gary Crew.

Once again this book has an excellent glossary and a cast of very colourful characters with brilliant names such as Josiah Lubbock, Mabel Lillimere and Erasmus Gilfoyle.  To tempt you into the third installment a generous sneak preview is included too.

You might like to visit the author web site.  Once again the US edition of this book will have a different title - A plague of Bogles.   You might like to read this detailed review and this one too.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jerri Watts

I spent a long time reading Kizzy Ann Stamps - over a week.  Not because I wasn't enjoying it but because I just didn't want it to end - this is the mark of a truly wonderful book.

Kizzy Anne is an African American girl living in the 1960s. She is part of a world where people are treated differently and at times very unfairly just because of the colour of their skin.  Kizzy Ann has a voice - she expresses her confusion about life and her hopes and dreams through letters to her new teacher Miss Anderson and later through a journal.  The letters begin on July 1, 1963 and by September Kizzy Ann and hopefully some other students will move to a 'white or integrated school.'.  Early on Kizzy Ann asks the teacher about bathrooms.  "I know I can't use the ones in town, no matter how bad I have to go... Am I going to have to hold it all day?"  The teacher writes back (we don't read these directly but Kizzy Ann relates their contents) to say there will be one stall out of three set aside for the black kids.  This may give readers a small insight into the life and times of Kizzy Ann.

We have be talking about African American rights with our Grade 5 students this term and learning about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.  This little book, Kizzy Ann Stamps, is the perfect way to extend an understanding of this complex time in history.

Kizzy Ann has one very special and loyal friend - her dog Shag.  "Shag is the only one in the world who doesn't sneak glances at my scar.  She just looks me in the eye, dead on, and I prefer that.  You'd think I was a monster, the way people slide their glances around at me."

As a nine year old Kizzy Ann was helping with the harvest on the next farm belong to a white man called Mr Feagans. His son, Frank Charles, also loves Shag and on the day of the accident he knocks into Kizzy Ann and she falls onto a scythe that they have been using to cut the corn stalks.  "My scare is sizable, I suppose.  People do stare.  And it aches plenty when the weather socks in. Mama calls me Moon Child, because the scar is shaped like a crescent moon."

Kizzy Ann is a gifted student and a hard worker but there is so much to adjust to in her new school.  She is forced to wear a hand-me-down dress from a rich white classmate and has to endure teasing and some bullying but she also she excels at spelling and wins the spelling bee. Sadly she cannot attend the finals  "I should have known that winning the spelling bee wouldn't have meant I could really go. Of course they wouldn't have a way to reserve a room for a black girl in the hotel."

Kizzy Ann meets other injustices.  She has to ride in the back of the bus and suffer some abuse from the bus driver, she is not allowed to try clothes on in a dress shop - this horrified me "Folks like us aren't allowed to try on clothes in a dressing room.  The owner of the store doesn't want to clothes to actually touch our skin. He says ... he can't sell the clothes we don't buy if they've touched our skin.  So we either have to pick something of the rack and buy it or we put it on over our own clothes right there in the middle of the story and you have to wear long sleeves and gloves to try things on, so your skin and 'body oils' don't 'soil' the clothes."

The really special part of this story, though, comes from her relationship with Shag and the hard work they put into competing in a local dog and sheep show.  This reminded me a little of the wonderful book Shiloh.

Here is a detailed review which will give you more of the plot. I especially liked the way Jerri Watts wove all the historic details into this story while at the same time giving the reader a very satisfying story and a beautiful character to love.  Here is an excellent power point lesson plan.

If you enjoy Kizzy Ann Stamps I also recommend Walking to the bus rider blues which we also have in our library and for an older audience -  The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963.

The vivid historical setting of this short and satisfying read will leave readers feeling they have experienced life in Kizzy Ann’s world.

Monday, June 9, 2014

No place like home by Jonathan Emmett illustrated by Vanessa Cabban

The end of this picture book will make you sigh with happiness as Mole discovers there is "no place like home".  Following the age old tradition of "the grass is always greener" Mole heads off one day in search of a new home.  He thinks his burrow is too small, dark and dull.  Each of his friends invite him into their home but one is too windy, one feels quite unsafe and the last one is too wet. Returning to his original home, Mole discovers it is snug, safe and dry - it is of course perfect.  Better still it is a place where all of his friends also feel right at home.

This is a special picture book to share with a very young child.  I think we might read it in our library later this year when the new preschool children visit our school.

No place like home is not a new book (published in 2004) but it is a new addition to our library.  There are five books featuring the characters of Mole, Hedgehog, Squirrel and Rabbit.  We have Bringing down the moon and The best gift of all.  The other two are Diamond in the snow and A secret worth sharing.

Here is some information about the author and here is his website.

Mary's Penny by Tanya Landman illustrated by Richard Holland

When a new book is cataloged in our library we sometimes need to check other titles by the same author.  Last week we were looking for our books by Tanya Landman.  We had two others and one was Mary's Penny. It looked intriguing and the subject of stereotypes always interests me.

This is a terrific book which reads almost like a folktale.  There is a charming repeated refrain "in the golden, olden days".

A farmer has three grown up children - two boys and a girl. The farmer wants to decide who should run his farm.  "Franz or Hans? Hans or Franz? All day long the names went round and round in his head.  It didn't occur to him to think of Mary."  But he should have considered Mary because she has a special secret something - she has brains.

Each boy is given a penny and they must use their penny to buy something "that will fill the whole house". Franz buys a cart load of straw but it does not quite fill the whole house.  Hans buys feathers but they don't quite reach the ceiling.  Finally Mary boldly asks for her penny so she can try to win the challenge.  The farmer reluctantly gives Mary his last penny.  Mary uses her Penny very wisely ( as we all knew she would) but the things she buys might surprise you.  Mary fills the house and the farmer agrees Mary should run the farm.

I have been talking with our Grade 5 students about women's suffrage.  One of the aspects of this topic that students find confusing is why politicians blocked women from voting.  Mary's Penny will be the perfect addition to our discussion about equal rights.  You might also enjoy Ever Clever Eva.