Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A nest for Celeste : A story about art, inspiration and the meaning of home by Henry Cole

This book is beautifully designed.  The paper has deckle edges, the cover is warm and inviting and each of the illustrations inside the book are so tactile you just want to stroke the pages.

A nest for Celeste is another book I picked up while doing our library stocktake or inventory.  If you enjoyed the illustrations in Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret you will want to flip through A nest for Celeste.  Then you will need to settle into a comfy chair and let yourself sink into this wonderful story.

Celeste has come to live in a large plantation house near New Orleans.  Celeste is a mouse and she has created a small home under the skirting boards.  Living in the house with Celeste is the famous bird painter Audubon and his assistant Joseph.  It is Joseph who befriends Celeste and as she accompanies him Celeste is able to see just how Audubon creates the famous illustrations we can see today in Birds of America.  There are only 119 copies of this book still in existence and one sold in 2005 for over 5 million dollars.  While the painting of birds in this book are absolutely amazing, through the eyes of Celeste we discover the brutal truth.  Each of the birds has in fact been killed and then wired into position for drawing.  There are some quite disturbing sections in this book but I still highly recommend it.

"Then they heard the guns.  They were firing from every direction, with blasts of buckshot that bought down several of the beautiful birds at once. ... wave after wave were shot, and the birds fell like hailstones."  One lucky bird, though, is bought in alive and Celeste is able to set him free.

Celeste is a wonderful character.  She is creative - weaving exquisite baskets. She is compassionate, she is so courageous and she is highly intelligent.

The nest referred to in the title is a wonderful old dolls house.
"Through the dim light she saw an enormous four-poster bed covered with a soft, pink blanket. Two satin pillows were trimmed in tiny lace ribbon.  Beside the bed was a small table draped with a lace cloth. Against a wall stood a wooden armoire with flowers and vines painted up the sides and on each door.  A large overstuffed chair sat perched on a small rug ... the bed was stuffed with cotton balls and she sank blissfully into it. ... 'I've found home,' she said to herself.  'There is nowhere else I'd rather be."

All is well in her beautiful new home until a dreadful rat, a past enemy, discovers her new home. Luckily Celeste is able to dispose of this rat Trixie in a most satisfying away.

You can see more art work by Henry Cole on his web site.  You might like to read this review which should convince you to look for A nest for Celeste.  This book would make a good read-aloud to a class of Grade 4 students.  Here are some very detailed teaching notes.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Summer reading list

While we were stocktaking or taking our inventory at the end of the year I filled three boxes with novels from our library ready to read over the Summer.  Here are a few that I am really looking forward to reading.

Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks
I had two students last year who adored this book.
From the blurb :
"A magical tale of danger, friendship and heart-stopping adventure."

Chance of Safety by Henrietta Branford
This is a very old, slim book which I remember reading years ago.  I want to see if it as stood the test of time.  Our 1998 copy is very yellow.
From the blurb :
"In a terrifying journey, two children face a changed world.  In a race to survive, they encounter a society they never knew existed."

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
This has been on my reading list for a long time.  It was a winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and numerous other awards.
From the blurb :
"A powerful and affecting story of sisterhood and motherhood."  NY Times

My one hundred adventures by Polly Horvath
I adore this author.  Her book Everything on a waffle is on my top twenty all time best senior primary novels.
From the blurb :
"This rich spirited book is filled with characters that readers will love and never forget."

Apothecary by Maile Meloy
This one has a very intriguing cover.
From the blurb :
"Set in London in 1952, a time when the world feared another atom bomb, The Apothecary is an exciting adventure that sparkles with life and extraordinary possibilities."

The power of Poppy Pendle by Natasha Lowe
Another book with an intriguing cover. This arrived in our library two years ago but somehow missed my reading pile.
From the blurb :
"charming, effervescent and wholly original."

A home for Teasel by Margi McAllister
I am not a huge fan of horse stories so it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds.
From the blurb :
"This heart-warming tale of hope and friendship is perfect for all animal and story lovers."

http://momotimetoread.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/secrets-in-fire-by-henning-mankell.htmlSecrets in the fire by Henning Mankell
I am really looking forward to this one because it is another book translated Swedish.
From the blurb :
"A deeply moving and unforgettable story."

Possibles by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
This is another old book which I have been meaning to read.  Luckily in this case the paper is still in good condition.
From the blurb :
"Nelson transcends the color of skin to write about the strength of family, the love inherent in people of all races, and the 'possibilities' of a life creatively and courageously lived."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Strat and Chatto by Jan Mark illustrated by David Hughes

Strat and Chatto is a terrific way to introduce trickster tales to young readers.  Chatto is a cat with a problem.  Strat is rat with a solution - well a solution to his own housing problem.

Using the wonderful book Elmer in the Snow we introduce our students to the idea that every thing is relative.  Elmer's friends complain they are cold so Elmer takes them up to the snow covered hills where they enjoy a day frolicking in the snow. When they return home the temperature has not changed but their perception has - now the elephants feel so warm.

Chatto explains his problem to Strat.  There is one very pesky mouse living in his kitchen hurling lentils at his head. Strat, short for Stratorat, has a solution.  He invites his friends to visit Chatto. His friends are bats, cockroaches and silverfish.

"When are you going to act?' cried Chatto.  'I have bats on the cup hooks, cockroaches in the corners and sixty-five silverfish slithering about in the cracks ... also... that low-down mouse is still dropping lentils on my head from a great height."

Good friend that he is, Strat expels all these pests and Chatto offers to reward him.  All Chatto wants is bed and board and a lick of cheese.  Why the need for all this elaborate trickery?  Strat has been living across the road in a building with the word CONDEMNED on the door.

Strat and Chatto is not a new book.  It was first published in 1989 but you might be lucky and find it in a library.  This was another of the books I picked out as we completed our stocktake or library inventory.  I am including an illustration here because they are brilliant.

Figgy in the world all you need is a plan and courage by Tamsin Janu

There are three things I need to say first of all about Figgy in the world.  Firstly I nearly did not read this because I do not like the cover (I am happy to say I have now changed my mind).  Secondly I predict this book will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2015 which means quite obviously and thirdly I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

We meet Figgy on the first page of this book and I was immediately struck by her strong character and her unique voice. "I am the only person named Figgy in my village.  Probably the only Figgy in Ghana.  Maybe the only one in Africa.  And possibly, by the smallest chance, I might be the only person named Figgy in the World.  But that cannot be true.  I don't know much about The World. I don't know much about the people in it either.  But I do know that The World is big."

The world is certainly very big but this does not deter Figgy.  She knows her Grandma Ama is gravely ill.  Figgy has no confidence in the abilities of the local doctor and so she embarks on a journey to America where they have good doctors and medicines.  She takes her goat Kwame as a travelling companion.  In a very touching scene near the beginning of the book her friends kindly give her the little money they have and Figgy knows she "can walk for miles without getting tired."

Figgy does not know much about the world and has no idea about the distance to America. She makes some good friends particularly a boy called Nana who helps her with this important journey but Figgy also experiences some truly dreadful setbacks.  Very early in her journey all her money is lost after she falls into some mud. Later Nana is almost kidnapped.  As their journey continues Kwame is hit by a taxi and the children meet a man called Kofi.  This meeting will lead to a tremendous change of fortune for our two young heroes and an ending that may leave you slightly breathless.

Here are some very detailed teachers notes. Here is a short and very positive review in our Australian journal Reading Time.  Here is a video where the author Tamsin Janu talks about her book and her experiences in Ghana.

If you enjoy meeting Figgy as much as I did I recommend looking for the series of books about Anna Hibiscus and also a very old book called Callie and the Prince.  You would also enjoy Oranges in no man's land and Journey to Jo'burg.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Once upon a memory by Nina Laden illustrated by Renata Liwska

The text and illustrations in this exquisite book Once Upon a Memory make this a book you will not want to miss.

I have talked about the gentle art of Renata Liwska in a previous post.  You can see more of her special work in this Pinterest collection.

I am going to quote some of the words in the hope you will want to rush out and open the pages. This book would be a perfect present for a Grandparent to give to a young child.

Does a feather remember it once was ...
a bird?
Does a book remember it once was ...
a word?
Does a chair remember it once was ...
a tree?
Does a garden remember it once was ...
a pea?

Does love remember it once was ...
Does a family remember it once was ...
Does the world remember it once was ...
Will you remember you once were ...
a child?

On the last page of this important book there is a long list of memories to discuss.  I recently made a memory page for my 'fridge door.  This was easy to compose and gives me a smile each morning. Memory can be a fragile thing.  Why not take a few minutes to talk to your family about the important and even small memories that are too precious to loose?  I wish I had taken time to do this with my little grandmother and more recently with my own mum.  You might also like to read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge and  this star review in Kirkus.

Good for you, good for me by Lorenz Lauli illustrated by Kathrin Scharer

By coincidence this is another book which has been translated into English.  The original title in German is Ich mit dir, du mit mir.  I have mentioned Gecko Press in previous posts - they bring brilliant books in other languages to our Australian and New Zealand children.

Good for you, good for me is a tricky story.  Bear is a warm-hearted character but he is also quite naive.  Dormouse keeps suggesting they swap - a cushion, a flute and a lucky pebble.  The odd thing is the swaps always seem to end up benefiting Dormouse and not Bear.  After a day filled with dancing and travelling Bear finally takes some time to review his day.

"Bear looked at the pebble and thought about all the things he and Dormouse had swapped.  He wondered what do I want with a cushion?  All is need is my warm, soft fur.  Do I really need a flute when I can whistle my songs instead? And what about this lucky pebble?  Luck seems to find me anyway."

He passes the pebble back to Dormouse.  The point scoring ends and in words reminiscent of Guess how much I love you they talk about all the lovely things they can give each other- moonlight on water, the scent of flowers, and all the colours at sunrise.

This book was another discovery in our school library. It has a gentle life philosophy,  It was published in 2009 and I think it would make a good addition to my read-a-loud choices for our new Kindergarten students next year.

The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly by Luis Sepulveda illustrated by Chris Sheban

"A tickle on his belly woke him.  He opened his eyes and he couldn't help flinching when he saw that a little yellow tip was appearing and disappearing through a crack in the egg.

He steadied the egg between his hind legs and thus was able to watch as the chick pecked and pecked until a hole opened large enough to allow a tiny, damp, white head to emerge.

'Mommy!' the gull chick squawked.

Zorba didn't know how to respond.  He knew that his fur was coal black but he felt as if emotion and embarrassment had turned him pink all over."

The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly is by no means a new book, but as I mentioned previously I have been collecting boxes of books to read as we worked our way through our end of year stocktake or inventory.  The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly was first published in Spanish under the title in 1996 Historia de una gaviota y del gato que le ense├▒├│ a volar.

This story has a strong environmental message.  Kengah is migrating with the flock when she is trapped by an enormous wave.  On rising to the surface she is trapped in an oil slick.  It takes a huge effort but Kengah manages to fly to the shore.  She crash lands on a small balcony and meets a very special cat.  Kengah knows she is about to die but she is also about to lay her egg.  She asks Zorba the cat to make two promises - to care for her egg and baby and to make sure the baby gull learns to fly.

I picked this book up because I love the cover.  I have now discovered another book in our collection illustrated by Chris Sheban - The Lonely Book.  He also did jacket illustration for The Tiger Rising.  You can check out more of his art work in this Pinterest.

I read this slim volume in one sitting and by the final pages I had a huge smile on my face.  Zorba is so determined to keep his promise, his cat friends are very wise especially Einstein who loves to read encyclopedias, and you will find yourself cheering as Lucky takes her first flight.  This book would make a terrific read aloud.  The opening chapters alternate between Kengah and her troubles and Zorba and his early life. I should also mention the translator Margaret Sayers Peden.  I am so happy when publishers take the trouble to translate classic stories like this so it is accessible to an English speaking audience.

You can read a  Booktalk here and view an extract of the Film.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Calvin can't fly by Jennifer Berne illustrated by Keith Bendis

His books took him to places wings never could.
And his heart fluttered with excitement.

As I work though our large picture book collection I have been selecting books about libraries and reading ready to use when we return to school after our Christmas and Summer break. Here is one that made me smile - Calvin can't fly.

Calvin is a starling. He comes from a big family but he is the odd one out.  When he is very young he discovers books! When the aptly named Mr Wingstead their flying teacher prepares for class Calvin is nowhere to be seen.  He is in the library. His love of books and reading leads to serious and hurtful teasing so he "waddled back to the library - the only place where he was happy."  Then the time comes for the annual migration.  His brothers and sisters are able to help Calvin with 'flying' but as he is dragged along Calvin smells danger.    He has read about hurricanes and he knows the flock need to find shelter.

The subtitle of this happy book is "The story of a bookworm birdie."

I can't wait to share this with my students early next year.

Here are some teaching ideas.  Here is a page with a video of real starlings.

Amy's three best things by Philippa Pearce illustrated by Helen Craig

Over the last few weeks we have been stocktaking or taking an inventory of our large library collection.  While this can be a tedious process one positive aspect is the re-discovery of books of loved books and indeed even the actual discovery of books that I had not read.

Here is a book I had not read but I should have guessed Amy's three best things would be brilliant. What a team Philippa Pearce (famous for Tom's midnight garden and A dog so small) and the wonderful Helen Craig (Angelina Ballerina and the Suzie and Alfred books.)

Amy is off to spend three nights with her grandmother.  She is such a sensible girl she packs three special things - one from beside her bed, one from the mantle piece in her room and one from the rack over the bath in the bathroom.

Each evening as her fears and homesickness rise Amy reaches for her special thing - a flying carpet, a small wooden horse and a tiny boat.  Using these she is able to discover how things are going at home and all is well until the last night when she sails across the open skies only to discover her mother, dog and baby brother have left home.

This book is perfect for our youngest readers. The pattern of three, the genuine fears expressed by Amy, the moment of tension and the beautiful resolution.

As with all the best books make sure you begin and end with a close look at the end papers. I would also be good to take time (if you are a grandmother) spending your days doing all the lovely things Amy and her Granny do - making scrumptious cakes, exploring old toys and enjoying a picnic lunch. I highly recommend this special picture book.  It would make an excellent gift.

The Imaginary by AF Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

One of my all time favourite books is about an imaginary friend.  It is called O'Diddy and is long out of print.  This book, The Imaginary, shares some concepts with O'Diddy but The Imaginary is for a much older audience and I have read two reviews which caution adults to read this book before putting it into the hands of a child.

Rudger is Amanda's imaginary friend but when Amanda is involved in a serious car accident Rudger must find a way to reconnect with his friend before he fades away.

"Some kids have big imaginations and they dream us up.  They make us and we're best chums and that's all good and proper, and then they get older and they lose interest and we get forgotten. That's when we start to Fade.  Normally that's the end, your job's done, you turn to smoke and blow away on the wind."

Several days before the accident, Amanda has had a visit from the mysterious Mr Bunting.  His appearance is decidedly odd :

"The man was dressed in Bermuda shorts, with a brightly patterned shirt, all clashing colours and dazzle, stretched across his wide round torso like palm trees bending in a tropical breeze ... A pair of dark glasses covered his eyes and a red moustache covered his mouth."

Along side this weird man there is a girl (see illustration below).  Amanda's mother cannot see this girl.  Perhaps she too in an imaginary friend.  But why would an adult still have an imaginary friend? And what does this strange and slightly threatening man want from their family?

I usually only comment on books I have really enjoyed but this book has an enticing cover, a world famous illustrator and it has been promoted in several Christmas book catalogs so I thought I would share my reactions. This book did frighten me.  Not in a silly story book sort of way but really scare me.  In fact as I was reading it I had to put it down several times and take a break.  The events are resolved at the end but the way Mr Bunting devours his victims is quite disturbing.  Katherine England in her Magpies Review (Volume 29, Issue 5, November 2014 page 36) said : "I found it seriously, unpleasurably scary ... choose your child judiciously."

Here is a comment by another reviewer