Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wolfie by Emma Barnes illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

Before you start to read Wolfie take a flip through the whole book and look at the illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark - they are brilliant.

Lucie wants a dog (how odd that I just read Invisible dog this week too) and so early on in the story her Uncle Joe brings her birthday present.

"Uncle Joe was standing on the doorstep.  But he was not alone. 'Hello!' boomed Uncle Joe. 'My, Lucie, how you've grown. And your hair is as read as ever, I see!'  
Lucie was not listening. She was staring at the animal that stood next to Uncle Joe.
It was BIG - bigger than Lucie.
It had pointed ears and sharp teeth.
It had a silvery coat and sweeping tail.
It had glinting eyes that looked straight at Lucie"

No one else seems to realise this is not a dog - it is a WOLF!  Lucie is a brave and practical girl and so she meets the wolf in the kitchen at midnight and discovers she can talk.   Her full name is Fang-that-Bites-Sharp-In-The -Forest but Lucie calls her Fang for short.  None of the adults notice Fang until one fateful day when Fang steps in to rescue a small child who has run onto the road.  The school authorities hear complaints about a wolf outside the school and so Lucie must find a way to protect her friend.  In a magical dream-like sequence she meets Silver Paw and he offers some advice in the form of a riddle :

"The task begins at your own front door
For answer follow your own right paw
Human knowledge is what you need
Written in the form that humans read."

An astute reader will know what this means long before Lucie.  Her neighbour is an old professor.  Lucie assumes HE is old and eccentric.  She is wrong on both counts but I will leave this for you to discover.

You might like to read this review or this one.  Here is a web site for the author.  We have 92 stories in our school library that feature wolves.  Wolfie might be a great way to begin your exploration of this theme.

Monday, July 7, 2014

I was a third grade spy by Mary Jane Auch

It is not often that I tell a reader exactly how to read a book but for this one I was a third grade spy there is one little trick that will help you make sense of this quirky romp - you need to notice the little illustrations at the top of each chapter.  These show you the voice or narrator for that chapter the most important of which is Arful the dog.

We do have the first book of this series in our school library - I was a third grade Science project.  This next story continues with Arful hypnotized and discovering he can now speak to his human friends Josh, Dougie and Brian.

If you have read Spunky tells all (and I hope you have) then I was a Third Grade Spy is the perfect follow on book.  Artful tries to help the boys win the school talent quest but while he can understand human speech many expressions and even individual words do not make sense to his dog brain.

This is a simple book but it is filled with humour and a quick story.  The ending at the talent quest is the predictable disaster and it is utterly hilarious.

In this scene the boys are attempting to make a souffle because they think their spy - Arful - has discovered this is what the girls are planning for the talent quest.

"We're in the kitchen, my favourite place in the whole world.  I pride myself on keeping this floor licked spotless. I'm hoping for a lot of spilling, because these guys haven't a clue how to cook.  I settle in the corner that gives me the best view. I could spot a dropped sesame seed from here."

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Crow-Girl by Bodil Bredsdorff

We have a small collection of books in our library reserved for our senior students in Grades 5 and 6 and this is where we will put The Crow-Girl.  This is a breathtaking story but it does contain strong themes and would be best suited to a very mature reader.  It is also quite a slim book which might be lost on our regular shelves so I want to be sure it reaches my keen readers.

The Crow-Girl herself is an amazing character.  She demonstrates such important traits - resilience, love, clear thinking, creativity and bravery.

The Crow-Girl lives in a remote place close to the sea.  Her only companion is her precious Grandmother. Before she dies the old woman offers some important advice about the people the young girl may meet on her journey away from their cove.

"There are those that make you feel inside as if you are drinking a good, warm soup - even if you are hungry and the two of you have nothing to eat.  In spite of that they nourish you.  And then there are those who cause you to freeze inside, even if you are sitting before a roaring fire and have eaten your fill.  Those you should keep away from."

The Crow-Girl has no name at first.  Her grandmother called her chick.  The first person she encounters on her journey supplies this name but this is not done kindly.  The girl works hard for this woman and her husband but then she hears them plotting against her.  She stealthily leaves in the night taking back her grandmother's shawl which the woman has 'stolen' and also taking a small supply of food.

Her next meeting is with a boy and his father.  This man is deeply grieving the loss of his wife and be has become violent. He offers the young boy to the Crow-Girl and the two flee this place of destruction.  As their journey continues the meet a young woman and her daughter and then a kindly sheep farmer.  With each meeting and each person who joins her, the Crow-Girl moves closer to her rightful place in the world.

You can read here a speech by the author where she explains in detail the inspiration for her book.

The Crow-Girl was originally written in Danish. I have talked before about how much I enjoy books that have been translated - especially books from Scandinavia.  This book also feels like a folk tale because despite adversity justice prevails.

"Luminous and uncluttered...With resonate concrete images and without sentimentality, Bredsdorff tells a harshly beautiful story that charts the characters' progress toward interdependence." --Starred, The Horn Book

There are two more books in this series - Eidi and Alek.  Each follows a character from The Crow-Girl.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Go well Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke

If you would like to read a little book that will

  • make you smile
  • make you cheer
  • make you feel like a visitor to Africa

and most importantly confirm why reading is such a special experience
go out and grab a copy of Go Well Anna Hibiscus!

I have written about other books by Atinuke and I do think she is such a talented writer.  Perhaps you have never heard of her and this might be because her books are intended for our youngest beginning readers but don't let the idea of a junior novel deter you - Atinuke is able to take her reader into Africa and into the lives of a very special family with Anna herself at the heart of the action.

Firstly let me introduce Anna Hibiscus :

"Anna Hibiscus lives with her mother and her father, her grandmother and her grandfather, her aunties and her uncles, her many-many cousins and her own two brothers, Double and Trouble. They all live together in a big white house in a big busy city on the wonderful continent of Africa."

As this story opens Anna's grandparents have decided to travel back to their remote village.  Grandfather says "he wants to be somewhere quiet enough to hear his memories think."

Anna and her three big cousins will travel with their grandparents but the car is too full so at the last minute Anna and her cousin Joy are left to follow behind on a very crowded bus.  The journey is long and filled with with interesting sights, experiences and characters.  Finally the girls arrive at their destination but there is nothing to be seen.  They must now take a long and dangerous walk to the village.  Anna is carrying her pet chicken Snow White and Joy has Anna's big pink bag. The girls must carefully place their feet in the footprints of the older women in order to avoid snakes but it is hot and Anna soon becomes quite exhausted.

"The village women were walking swiftly a long way ahead.  Their loads were balanced gracefully on their heads.  Anna Hibiscus was hot and too tired and too thirsty to even cry. ... Suddenly Anna Hibiscus knew what to do.  She shook Snow White off her head.  She balanced his heavy basket there instead. Snow White flew onto it. .. Anna Hibiscus did not stop she was not going to be left behind in a bush full of snakes!"

Joy copies this idea and everyone arrives safely. Now Anna must find a way to fit into village life.  She is too young to go swimming in the river and has no interest in sitting with the older men as they gather to gossip and reminisce.  Her solution to this problem will make you smile.

If you have not yet met Anna Hibiscus take a minute to watch this terrific video of one of her picture books. These are such wonderful books - simply perfect for young readers who are just gaining confidence.  We have nearly all the titles in our school library so why not borrow one today?

Invisible Dog by Dick King-Smith

I do think the world is divided into dog people and cat people and I am most definitely a dog person.  As a very young child I longed for a dog and this longing was made even stronger by the stories my dad told me about his precious childhood dogs and then one day, when I was at the end of Primary school, our dog arrived.

Just like the little girl in My Dog Sunday, Janie longs for a dog and just like my own experience Janie has heard about a precious dog that her parents owned a long time ago.  One day Janie finds the old collar and lead that once belonged to Rupert.  Holding this and smelling the far away memories fuels her imagination and longing and so Janie now takes the collar and lead everywhere so she can hold onto her invisible dog.  Her parents play along with the fantasy but for Janie, Henry is a real dog.  He is also a real dog in the eyes of her neighbor Mrs Garrow.  An astute reader will recognise some special things about this lady. She tells fortunes by reading tea leaves but more importantly "on the lawn old Mrs Garrow was sweeping away with a long broomstick of birch twigs, watched by her black cat."

Invisible Dog also has links to Desperate for a dog by Rose Impey.  Janie's dad tells her she will need lots of money for a Great Dane dog - a harlequin.  How can Janie ever get five hundred pounds?

I have included three different covers.  Which one do you like best?  The invisible dog is an easy and satisfying read.  It would make an excellent family read-a-loud.

This novel will appeal to animal lovers of all ages, and also to those who believe or fervently hope that wishes can come true.

Sun and spoon by Kevin Henkes

"Spoon Gilmore's grandmother had been dead for two months when he realized that he wanted something special of hers to keep."

Spoon had loved his Gram and his grief is deep and personal.  It is summer and his teachers parents are busy with their gardening, his older brother has gone to stay with Evie - his other grandmother in Oregon and so Spoon and his sister are spending their days together.  Spoon really wants time alone to solve his problem - a special item to help him hold onto his Gram.  A photo won't work but visiting his Pa he sees the special playing cards his Gram used when they all played together.

"Spoon had been dreaming about her since her death.  Not frightening dreams. But dreams in which she would pass through a room quickly, or be sitting in a chair in a shadowy corner, watching. At first, the dreams were constant, every night, but they were growing less frequent.  Spoon was loosing what little was left of her - his memories. He was afraid of forgetting her.  That's why he wanted something of hers."

Taking the cards has unexpected consequences.  Spoon needs to heal his own hurt but also the hurt he has caused others. I adore the name Spoon.  You may have guessed there is a history to this name but you will need to read Sun and Spoon for yourself. Spoon's relationship with his sister Joanie is also very important and filled with special moments and wisdom.  The voice of Spoon reminded me of another fabulous book by Kevin Henkes - The Year of Billy Miller which is a book I utterly adored. I have also included an alternate cover which I like better than the one in our collection.  Here is a set of lesson plans for Sun and Spoon.

Sun and Spoon is a perfect book for a sensitive reader and it is a book I highly recommend.  You might also enjoy Missing May.  For a younger child this book also reminded me of Miss Lilly's Fabulous Pink Feather Boa and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Excellent Junior titles

It is holiday time so today I bought home a small collection of beginning chapter books - I am always on the look out for easy books with a satisfying story and I think I have found some treasures.

Fancy Nancy Apples Galore! by Jane O'Connor
I will confess I am new to the Fancy Nancy series.  We have picture books, mid sized paperbacks and titles from the I can Read series which is where this one fits in but I have not really read one for myself. From the inside cover of this book I can see there are eighteen titles so we need to add a few more to our shopping list.

Fancy Nancy herself feels like a cross between Clementine and Keena Ford but for a younger audience.  In this installment Fancy Nancy is on a school excursion to an apple farm.  Her trip buddy is the class clown. Lionel is a joker but his jokes are wearing thin. Think of 'the boy who cried wolf'.  When Lionel does get into real trouble no one believes him but Nancy know she has some responsibilities as a buddy so she must find a way to rescue this naughty boy.

I enjoyed all the little vocabulary asides in this story and the mention of various apple varieties such as Jonathans, Honeycrisps and Gala.  On the last page there is a list of some of the fancy words used in this book and this might be a way to introduce the idea of a glossary.

Mouse and Mole A winter wonderland by Wong Herbert Yee
I adore these books.  Mouse and Mole have a truly special relationship. In this installment winter has arrived.  Mouse embraces this opportunity to explore the outside world.  "There is fresh-fallen snow!' exclaimed Mouse.  'The trees are trimmed with icicles.  The bushes are frosted like cupcakes.  It is a winter wonderland!' she sighed."  Mole on the other hand cannot see any sense to this.  He plans to spend this cold day tucked up in his bed.  Mouse sets off to have fun but she is lonely so she makes a snowman who looks a little like Mole.  Mole becomes bored with lying in his bed and when he looks out the window he sees Mouse has  new friend.  He is determined to investigate so he pulls on his boot and snow pants but oddly he cannot find his scarf or mittens.  Have you guessed who has borrowed them.  This perfect day ends with our two friends enjoying cookies and hot tea.

Kirkus describes this book as a 'splendid beginning reader' and I totally agree!

The High-Rise Private eyes - The case of the desperate duck by Cynthia Rylant
I have talked about this series before. The case of the desperate duck is book number 8.  In this installment Bunny and Jack venture out for high tea.  I am sure you will smile when you read Jack's response to this suggestion "Can't' said Jack. 'Afraid of heights."

When they arrive at Mabel's Tea Room they hear Mabel herself scream from the tea counter.  Someone has stolen her precious sugar cubes.  Bunny and Jack are now on the case.  Jack rightly concludes someone has taken the sugar because they needed cubes.  Our intrepid pair follow a couple of ferrets into the fabric shop next door and Jack asks an important question about Eskimos!  Louis Jr, the younger ferret, has a school assignment.  Can you solve the mystery of the missing sugar cubes?

I recommend reading a few books from this series so you get to know the personalities of Jack and Bunny. This will add to your enjoyment as you anticipate their, often silly,  reactions to every situation.

Watch my blog over the next few days as I talk about a new Anna Hibiscus title, the Julian books by Ann Cameron and The Invisible Dog by Dick King-Smith.