Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tacky the penguin by Helen Lester illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

Have you met this cute penguin?  His name is Tacky.  He is very different from his companions but this difference is something to be celebrated.  "Tacky was a odd bird but a very nice bird to have around."

In this first installment the hunters arrive.  They are determined to catch some pretty penguins but they are greeted by the unconventional Tacky.  He drives them away with his awful singing - "How many toes does a fish have and how many wings on a cow?" and his huge splashy cannonball dives.

At the beginning of each year I love to introduce Tacky to my Grade One students.  Luckily for me there are ten titles in this series including a new one I have just discovered Tacky and the Haunted Igloo.

You can find a list of all the books Helen Lester here and if you hover over the title you can see a cover image.

You can buy an interactive version of Tacky the Penguin for use on your device. It is very well done and we use it with our classes.  Here is a play of the story and some penguin poems. Here are some teacher notes.  I also have a few craft and teaching ideas for this book series in my Pinterest collection.  You could follow the reading of Tacky the Penguin with Elmer on Stilts which also looks at ingenious ways to foil animal hunters.

This is my last post for 2015 - see you again in 2016 and Happy New Year!

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox illustrated by Kerry Argent

The most famous Mem Fox book is of course Possum Magic but in my view Wombat Divine, published in 1989, is equally special.  I love the premise of Australian animals auditioning for the nativity play and the determination of one little wombat to gain a part.  The little repeated phrase works so well when you read this book aloud to young children.

"Never mind, Wombat!  Don't lose heart.  
Why not try for a different part?"

I seem to be following a wombat theme this week.  This is quite accidental but since I have 98 reviews for 2015 and in about 4 hours it will be 2016 I thought I might squeeze in two more reviews and reach 100 books for the year.

What part will Wombat take for this important play?  "With his heart full of hope and his head full of dreams, he hurried along to the auditions."

Wombat tries out for the Archangel Gabriel but he is too heavy
Wombat tries out for the role of Mary but he is too big
Wombat would like to be one of the three kings but he is considered too short to be a king
He is also rejected for the roles of Joseph, the inn keeper and one of the shepherds

"And then there were no parts left.  Wombat hung his head and hoped he wouldn't cry."

Here is a drama lesson based on Wombat Divine.

Here is the US cover and an illustration by the very talented Kerry Argent.

In 2006 Wombat Divine featured in the Myer Christmas window in Melbourne.  How amazing!

Rain for Christmas by Richard Tulloch illustrated by Wayne Harris

Even though Christmas is now past I wanted to mention Rain for Christmas because all around the world our news has been dominated by catastrophic weather events.  Here in Australia we lurch from drought to flood, from wild thunder storms to bushfires. This is best captured by the famous poet Dorothea Mackellar in the second verse of her poem My Country.

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me!

Rain for Christmas takes this theme of drought which Dorothea Mackellar explains in the fifth verse of her poem.

Core of my heart, my country! 
Her pitiless blue sky, 
When, sick at heart, around us 
We see the cattle die 
But then the grey clouds gather, 
And we can bless again 
The drumming of an army, 
The steady soaking rain.

As this story opens Sally is writing her annual Christmas letter to Santa.  She asks for a long list of special gifts including a little boat to sail in the rock pool in the creek near her outback home.  While this is a lovely idea Sally knows she will not be able to sail her boat.  "The creek had no water and the rock pool was nothing but a patch of sticky mud."  Sally sees the bush animals have come close to the house in the hope of some water.  You can see them gathering near the water tank in the illustration below.

Sally re-writes her Christmas letter.

Dear Santa.
I don't want any presents this year, but please, please, please could you make it rain on Christmas Day?
Your friend Sally.

Just as Santa is about to set off from the North Pole he sees Sally's letter in the snow.  He is puzzled at first but then he has a splendid idea.  "We can take a giant snowball to Australia!"

This is an old book first published in 1989 but you might be lucky and find a copy in your library. Please don't wait until next Christmas - this book is worth hunting for now.

Richard Tulloch uses a brilliant word in this book and I will use it to sum up Rain for Christmas :


A house for wombats by Jane Burrell illustrated by Michael Dugan

Earlier this week I talked about Sebastian lives in a Hat.  I saw new copies of this book today in a shop with a big sticker on the front to celebrate its 30th birthday.

One of my other most favourite wombat picture books is A house for Wombats.  I thought I would have talked about this book previously. Luckily I have a copy of my own.

I cannot go into too much detail when I tell you about this little treasure and sadly this book is out of print but I want you to go into a library and search for A house for wombats.

Kate is sorry the wombats have to live in holes in the ground.  She decides to build them a tree house. Her father has a shed full of wonderful materials.  "It's full of things for building tree houses.  If you use some of them I might be able to fit something else in."

Kate sets to work.  She builds a floor between the branches, a roof so the wombats stay dry, walls and a window with curtains, a chimney and finally a spiral staircase.  She asks her dad to come and take a look when she is finished.  This next page is the surprise.  Young children will gasp out loud and so will you!

Here is one page from the book showing the wombats all settled into their new and splendid home.  On the table is a book - Australian audiences will see the joke here.  The book is The Muddle-headed wombat which is an Australian classic.  Below you can see another page featuring beautiful Australian gum blossoms.


It is nearly 2016 and I am celebrating because my little blog has been featured on one of the very best Australian web sites for teachers!!!

Click here.  Scroll down and you will find my little blog.  Then take some time to explore this whole site.  It is a wealth of information, links, resources and wonderful ideas to enhance your teaching and learning programs.  Shellie has been generously featuring my blog for quite a long while but today she surprised me by compiling my reviews into groups.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Big change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

Last night I picked up the sequel to Small Change for Stuart,  which is a book I thoroughly enjoyed.  It is now the middle of the day and I have just finished Big Change for Stuart and I am happy to report that it is every bit as good as the first installment.

I thought I might just quote from a few reviews so you can read more about this book.

The Guardian

... short chapters keep the pace whipping along, as Stuart inches ever closer to his prize, as well as the greater goals of winning some friends and managing to tell the triplets apart. A smart book for a smart young reader.

Books for Keeps

This is a satisfying read: it combines real life with a touch of magic through lively characterisation, brisk prose and plenty of dialogue, ensuring the young reader will keep turning the pages from the immediacy of the opening to the very satisfying conclusion. It is not often that sequels are as good as the first book (or even better) but Big Change for Stuart certainly qualifies. Highly recommended

The Bookbag

I liked their different characters and there's lots of humour between the sisters! Stuart's dad plays a role again too, and I do enjoy the long, convoluted way he has of speaking and I thought it was an interesting twist that when he found himself involved in one of the adventures he was only able to speak in monosyllabic words - quite a challenge for him!

Sebastian lives in a hat by Thelma Catterwell illustrated by Kerry Argent

This year is rapidly disappearing and so I was reviewing my blog entries for the last twelve months.  I am slightly dismayed to discover I have not done as many entries as last year (112) or 2013 (143) so I am doing a little catching up today.

I had a look at my own book shelves and I have picked out a few treasures to share with you.

Sebastian lives in a hat is a book I love to read aloud.  It is made more special by the way it features a cute Australian animal - the wombat.  Children also love to discover that this special picture book is based on a true incident.

"When Sebastian was discovered beside the body of his dead mother on the side of a road, he was just four months old. Near death himself, the tiny wombat was nursed by the author until he reached full maturity, and finally returned to the wild."

This story is told very simply with touches of real humour.  You need to see the picture here to appreciate the perfect marriage of text and illustration.

"Sometimes Sebastian has to change his brown hat for a grey hat.  
We won't say why.
But when the brown hat is dry Sebastian has it back again and he is happy."

This is a very old book first published in 1985 but it has remained in print and would now be considered an Australian classic.

Our slogan for 2016 Book Week is Australia: Story Country.  I will read Sebastian Lives in a Hat to our younger students as we explore this theme throughout the year.

Here are some other wombat books to enjoy:

You could also share these classic books about our quirky Australian animals such as Possum Magic, Koala Lou, Edward the Emu and a personal favourite Miss Lily's fabulous Pink Feather Boa.  Please look in your library for one more wombat book - A house for Wombats.  It is a real treasure - long out of print but well worth the search.

Holiday reading

Here are the books I will read over the next few weeks as we enjoy our Summer holidays here in Australia.  I have included part of the blurb from each book as a taster.

The girl  who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own making by Catherynne M Valente
"Gather up your courage.  Scoop up some wishes. Grab a little pinch of luck ... and prepare to be swept away, in a ship of your own making, to a land unlike any other."

The Horses didn't come home by Pamela Rushby
"In an army camp in a Middle Eastern desert, a young Australia soldier named Harry is saddling and grooming his horse, Bunty.  She is sturdy and strong: an Australia waler who belongs to Harry's sister, Laura, back home in Australia. ... A few soldiers watch them as they ride out.  No one says a word.  It's their last ride together."

Soraya the storyteller by Rosanne Hawke
I am re-reading this one with a view to buying a class set for our Grade Six students.
"Soraya is a story teller. The stories from Afghanistan keep her memories alive in Australia, as she starts a new life under the shadow of a Temporary Protection Visa."

The Monster Odyssey - The eye of Neptune  by Jon Mayhew
"Prince Dakkar, heir to an Indian kingdom, has been expelled from the best schools in England.  Now he's stuck with the mysterious Count Oginski, genius inventor of a top secret machine: the world's first submersible."

I also have two books which link with Shakespeare which I am reading for our Grade 5 and 6 classes.

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper
"The plague?  Nobody's had the plague for centuries.  A young actor, Nat Field, wakes up on morning to find himself in the past, in 1599, acting at the Globe Theatre.  His co-star is the King of Shadows himself: William Shakespeare. Nat's new life is blazing with excitement and edged with danger, but why is he here?"

Shakespeare's secret by Elise Broach
"With a Shakespearean name like Hero, moving towns is never easy. A least this time there's the search for the missing Murphy diamond - rumoured to be somewhere in her new house - to take her mind off things.  But that's not the only mystery.  How come old Mrs Roth know so much about it? And why is Danny, the most popular kid in school, so eager to help?"

Completely Clementine by Sara Pennypacker pictures by Marla Frazee

In 2009 I talked about Clementine.  We have the whole series in our library now including the latest installment and seventh Completely Clementine.

Sara Pennypacker has created a such a memorable character with little Clementine.  This is one of those books where you really 'hear' the character's voice and this lingers with you long after reading.

The Clementine books are perfect for students in Grades 2-4.  As this book opens the end of Grade Three is looming and Clementine is upset.  She does not like to say goodbye, she does not want to leave her special teacher Mr D'Matz and she is especially upset with her dad because she thinks everyone should be a vegetarian.

The fight against her dad eating meat is such a funny and poignant thread through the whole story.  Clementine has decided she will not talk to her dad - she will give him the 'silent treatment' but she also needs to communicate her feelings so each day she presents her dad with a different drawing :
Crying Cow, Terrified Clam, Thanksgiving tragedy and Petrified Piglets.  Sadly, for Clementine, these heart-felt and graphic pictures do not seem to affect her father.  Her mum explains:

"I want to talk to you about this feud you're having with your father.'
'The sad-animal drawings?'
'No, not those. I like that you're doing those, in fact.  You're presenting your side of something you care about.  That's what  artists do: when they care about something, they make art about it.  And sometimes their art makes other people care too, although sometimes it doesn't.  The problem is the other thing: your not speaking to him."

I highly recommend the Clementine series.  You might like to read this review from Kirkus.  Here are some other junior series worth exploring.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Grade Six students recommend


At this time of year I like to give you a list of the titles our Grade Six students have mentioned in their Year Book.  Here is one from the past.  You might also like to compare 2014 with this year.

Their entries for this publication follow the format

Name, birthday, sporting house, High School, school duties in Grade 6, friends, likes, dislikes AND

The best book I ever read is ...

Many students mentioned these :

  • Skulduggery pleasant series
  • Rangers apprentice series
  • Wonder
  • Hatchet
  • The Giver
  • Deltora Quest series
  • Shadow by Michael Morpurgo 
  • Tom Gates
  • Gangsta Granny
  • Heroes of Olympus
  • Alex Rider series
  • Diary of a wimpy kid series
  • Sisters Grimm series
  • Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths
Other students mentioned these :

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Elmer on Stilts by David McKee

Towards the end of the year I love to explore some of my favourite book series with our Kindergarten groups.  We read the circle stories by Laura Numeroff which begin with If you give a mouse a cookie.  Next we read the Blue Kangaroo books by Emma Chichester Clark followed by several books from the Elmer series by David McKee.

I have talked about Elmer in a previous post but today I thought I might mention my favorites from this extensive series (there are more than twenty titles) and focus on one especially - Elmer on Stilts.

There are so many interesting things you can explore with young children before reading this book and while reading this book and in a discussion after reading.

What are stilts?
Why would they be painted green?  Would another colour work just as well?
Why would an elephant climb onto a set of stilts?
What are some of the problems the elephant might encounter?
How could the elephant climb onto the stilts?
Does it matter if the ground underneath is hard or soft?
Why would the hunters want to catch the elephants?
How do the elephants feel at the end of this story?
How do the hunters feel at the end of this story?

When we read Elmer on stilts I like to make some simple stilts using two rulers.  Pushing them into a cushion shows the problem with soft soil.  Adding cardboard 'feet' to the stilts is a way to show Elmer's ingenious solution. I have collected some other Elmer ideas here.

At its heart this is a book about problem solving, about right over wrong, poetic justice and, most importantly, determination.

My other favourite Elmer titles are :
Elmer and the snow
Elmer in the wind
Elmer and the lost teddy
Elmer and Wilbur

You can see some glorious Elmer illustrations here.  You could even make some stilts for fun!

My haunted house as told to Angie Sage

"I have a Secret Passage Kit, just like my Ghost kit.  I have always wanted to find a secret passage, and now I was sure that at last I had the key to one.

First I opened my Secret Passage Kit box and took out a torch a ball of string and some emergency supplies of cheese and onion crisps.  You need a torch because secret passages are always dark, and you need a ball of string so that you can find you way out again … You need emergency food supplies as you never know how long you are going to be in the secret passage, do you?"

This little extract should show you the tone of this first book from the series Araminta Spook. I have had this book on my reading pile for far too long.  A fellow Teacher-Librarian recommended it months ago as a popular series in her library.

Minty (Araminta) lives in a wonderful spooky house but she has not been able to find a ghost despite years of searching.  Her uncle Drac works at night and sleeps with bats and her aunt Tabby (Tabitha) is obsessed with cleaning and the boiler which constantly gives her trouble.  Aunt Tabby announces she is selling the house and moving somewhere small and clean. (Listen to the extract here.) Minty immediately sets up a plan to foil this scheme.  She easily drives away the real estate agent, she modifies the for sale sign, she drops spiders on a prospective purchaser and finally she enlists the help of a small ghost called Edmund and a suit of armour called Sir Horace.

I love the idea of a different bedroom for every day of the week. As this story opens Minty has been doing her ghost practice in her Thursday bedroom.

You might also enjoy One night at Lottie's house and the Piccolo and Annabelle series by Stephen Axelsen.  

Araminta has her own web site with games and more.  There are six books in this series which are perfect for fans of ghosts, haunted houses, mischief and fun!  It would be best to start with this first book in the series where you meet the main characters and learn some of their eccentricities.  

Many readers enjoy a series and these little books deliver all the right ingredients.  Easy to read, fast paced, delightful illustrations and a feisty, lovable main character.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The haunting of Charity Delafield by Ian Beck

This little book The Haunting of Charity Delafield has been in our school library for over a year and each time I shelve it I think - 'I really must read this one' - so yesterday I finally picked it up and two hours later I sighed with happiness.  The cover looked so promising and I am happy to say I was not disappointed.

Charity is about to turn thirteen.  Her whole life has been spent in one house and one garden.  She has not met any other children or been to school. Her father is a distant almost frightening figure who controls every aspect of her life even the number of times her unruly hair is to be brushed by one of the servants called Rose.  The 75 strokes of the brush twice each day are an agony for Charity but she knows this is something she must endure. Just as she knows her questions, and she has many, will remain unanswered.

"She was not allowed to run, or to explore much of her own house, or to leave the grounds.  In fact, she was not allowed outside at all, except under strict supervision.  She was discouraged from reading books of fairy tales and mythology."

All of this is about to change when one morning her father announces Charity is to be sent to a special boarding school.  On this same day she meets a mysterious old woman beside the fence which surrounds her home.  The woman seems to know Charity and more importantly reveals that Charity's mother is not dead, as she has been told.  The old woman tells Charity to look for a horn.

The other hugely significant event on this momentous day is the arrival of the Chimney Sweep and his apprentice Silas Jones.  When Silas meets Charity he immediately offers to be her friend. Together they explore the forbidden parts of the house using the chimneys.  They find a small diary but as the words are read they disappear into smoke and a book of fairy tales.  Each night Charity reads the fairy tales which seems to be hinting at her own history.

One of my favourite parts comes after their first foray into the soot filled hearth.

"They stood in the fireplace, smiling at each other, both covered in soot"
Silas slips away up the chimney just as Edward, the groundsman, arrives to check on Charity who has now been locked in her room.
"her eyes flicked down.  With a shock she realized that the soot had all disappeared.  Her nightdress was as white as snow, and her hair was shining gold; she looked as if she had just stepped out of the  bath."

You can read a sample from the book here.  Here are some insights into the writing process.

This book reminded me of The Secret Garden, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Little White horse by Elizabeth Gouge (I loved this book as a child) and Withering-by-Sea.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Gift by Penny Matthews illustrated by Martin McKenna

Yes right from the beginning - even from the front cover - you will know this sad-faced little bear will find a new home at Christmas but that does not spoil the joy of this story.

Brown Bear sits on the toy shop shelf.  His only decoration is a large, red ribbon.

"Brown Bear had rather hard fur.  His price tag was under his foot, so he couldn't read it, but he knew he didn't cost very much."

All of the toys are gradually sold except for Brown Bear and his shelf companion a green crocodile. Crocodile is certain he will never be picked because he does not look "Christmassy". What follows is a a gesture that will make you gasp and smile as Brown Bear takes off his own red ribbon and ties it around crocodile's neck.  That very same day crocodile is sold.  Now bear is all alone.

You can read more about Penny Matthews here.  Here are a set of teaching notes. We have nearly all of her books in our school library. This story reminded me of Arnold the Prickly Teddy which is a long time favourite book of mine.  You should also read Holly and Ivy and  Ruby and Little Joe,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Twenty-five December Lane by Helen Ward illustrated by Wayne Anderson

As she pushed open the door,
a bell on a spring rang merrily.
A little breath of Christmas slipped past her, 
out into December Lane

These are the most beautiful words - a little breath of Christmas.

A little girl, with no name, in a red coat and hat is searching shop windows in the busy city.  She wants to find the perfect present for someone very special.  It is now getting dark and her time has almost run out.  She stumbles across a shop filled with toys but oddly the one customer seems to be taking everything.  In a matter of minutes his huge sack is full and there is nothing left.

The girl leaves the shop empty handed but discovers the town is now covered in a soft blanket of fresh snow.  Perhaps this can be her gift.

We are celebrating the twelve books of Christmas in our school library.  Each day we announce a winning class and they come to the library to collect a parcel containing a special Christmas book which will be shared with the whole class.  In this way our Christmas books are shared right across the school.  Tomorrow one lucky class will receive Twenty-five December Lane.

I have discovered there is an audio version of this gentle book.  I need to put this new copy onto my shopping list tonight.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ophelia and the marvelous boy by Karen Foxlee

It took me a long time to read this book and then it  sat on my review pile for a long time too but last night I watched the movie Frozen which led me to think about the power of a story like The Snow Queen and hence this book.  Ophelia and the Marvelous boy is deeply entwined with the famous story of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen.

Before reading on take a minute to click this site and read the whole prologue to Ophelia and the marvelous boy.  It will give you a sense of the tone and astute readers will immediately see the connection with The Snow Queen.

Ophelia has come with her sister and father to a large city museum.  Her father has been appointed curator of  "Battle : the greatest exhibition of swords in the history of the world."  Malcolm is a sword expert but he is also easy distracted by his work which he conducts with meticulous care.  This means he has not noticed that his younger daughter Ophelia has become caught up in her own quest - to free The Marvelous Boy.  If you have read the prologue you will know he has been locked up.

"If you choose to help me, you must find the key to this door.  We need to find my sword, which is magical, and the One Other, who will know how to wield it.  On the Wintertide Clock there is a number in the little window at the very bottom of the face, ... that will tell us how much time we have."

They have just three days.  Over this time Ophelia will learn the full story of the Marvelous Boy and each day she will have to overcome her own terror and retrieve things for the boy beginning with the key to his room.

Here is a review in our Australian magazine Reading Time.  Here is an interview with the author. One more review worth reading from the School Library Journal.

If you pick out this book for a class novel study it might be interesting to compare it with The Tunnel by Anthony Browne.  You might also enjoy Temmi and the flying bears.  We also have Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu in our library along with many editions of The Snow Queen.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lest we forget by Kerry Brown illustrated by Isobel Knowles and Benjamin Portas

Every week I visit a veteran in an aged care facility not far from my home.  His name is Bert and he was working as a solider when WWII began.  At the end of the war (he served in Darwin and PNG) the men were told not to talk about their experiences and so Bert does not talk about this experience in any detail but he has a voracious interest in WWI and especially the pacific campaign of WWII.

Bert met his wife while he was training other soldiers in Newcastle, north of Sydney, and this week they celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary.  All those years mean both of them have enormous stores of memory.

Lest We forget is about memories.  I shared this book with a Grade 3 teacher just prior to Remembrance Day November 11 and she found it was an excellent way to link this important commemoration with the experiences of young children.  While we do have many titles which classes can use for ANZAC Day we do not have so many books which explicitly mention Remembrance Day.

 "In 1997, Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation formally declaring 11 November to be Remembrance Day, urging all Australians to observe one minute’s silence at 11 am on 11 November each year to remember those who died or suffered for Australia’s cause in all wars and armed conflicts."   (from the teacher notes by Elaine Smith)

One of the most powerful parts of this book is the use of textless pages to tell the story of the young soldier. As he leaves in his smart new uniform it is clear his young wife is expecting a baby.  Moving over two scenes we see a letter has arrived with a photo of the new baby and perhaps significantly she is not a new born.  There are so many discussion points for this one page.

There are 27 pages of teaching notes available which give you excellent strategies for using this important book with a class.   Here is another set of notes with additional activities.

I discovered this book by accident.  I had arranged to meet a friend at a local shopping mall.  Just before we met she had found this book in a discount department store.  Luckily she showed it to me and so I was able to pick up a copy for our school library.

Here is a review from the Sydney Morning Herald.

My ganddad says there are two types of days:
those you want to remember and those you want to forget

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Here is another one of my midnight reads.  I simply could not postpone my reading until today so late into the night I finished this amazing book.

The theme and motto of this book is

Never ignore a possible

I actually hardly know where to begin with this book.  Sophie survives a shipwreck and is rescued by the wonderful Charles.

"On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel."

"Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, ... give those things a narrow face with hooked eyebrows, and long arms and legs, and that is what the  baby saw as she was lifted out of her cello case and up into safety.  His name was Charles Maxim, and he determined ... he would keep her."

Naturally the authorities do not approve of these arrangements.

"The child is your ward.  She is not your daughter.' This was the sort of woman who spoke in italics.  You would be willing to lay bets her hobby was organising people."

Sophie lives a happy, if somewhat odd life, with Charles until she turns twelve.  At this time the aforementioned authorities arrive this time with plans to move Sophie into more suitable accommodation - an orphanage.

Sophie has a deep longing in her heart.  She knows her precious mother is still alive somewhere in the world.  She is certain, absolutely certain, that her mother was a musician who played the cello. Sophie is a resilient, intrepid and daring young girl with extraordinary climbing skills. When she discovers the name of the cello maker hidden inside her cello case her course is set.  She and Charles now need to move quickly, run away to Paris, find the cello maker and in turn find Sophie's mother.

While in Paris, Charles and Sophie stay in a run down hotel. Sophie climbs onto the roof and there she meets a young Rooftopper - a boy called Matteo.

Here are a few more quotes to demonstrate the beauty of this writing.

For their train trip to Paris Sophie travels in a small carriage usually reserved for the children of the Duke of Kent.  "The carriage was beautiful. Everything was child-sized and made with the delicacy and detail of witch-craft."

Sophie and Charles race across Paris to the cello maker.  "It was ten minutes' walk; ten minutes through cobbled streets, and window boxes full of red carnations, ... ten minutes in which Sophie's heart looped the loop and danced a jitterbug".

Matteo and Sophie share a feast provided by Charles (who perhaps knows more than he is letting on).

"The pack was full of parcels wrapped in greaseproof paper. ... bread rolls, four of them, soft in the middle and dusted with flour at the top.  They were still warm from the oven and they smelt of blue skies.  The bread had been spread by someone with strong opinions about butter - it was as thick as the first joint on Sophie's thumb."

If you enjoy Rooftoppers - actually when you read Rooftoppers - please read this book - you should also look for The three loves of Persimmon, The invention of Hugo Cabret, The truth about Verity Sparks, Secret letters from 0-10 and Withering by Sea.  I also thought of Journey to the River Sea and Tensy Farlow.

There is a musical score right through Rooftoppers.  Perhaps you could listen to a little of it to set the mood.  You can read a more detailed description of the plot here.  Here is a video with the author.

I held my breath through most of this book and then I held my breath when I clicked on the Kirkus review. YES!!! They loved this book too.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Floors by Patrick Carman

Floors has an extra message on the cover - Welcome to the wildest hotel in the world.  This is so true. The Whippet Hotel is crazy, surprising and wild!

The hero of this story, and of the hotel, is Leo, a young boy who lives with his dad at the Whippet Hotel.  Leo's dad is the hotel fix-it-man and right now he and his son are totally run off their feet as everything in the hotel seems to be breaking down.  The Whippet Hotel is the creation of the eccentric and reclusive Merganzer D Whippet but he has disappeared.  He has been gone for one hundred days.

If I list some of the crazy aspects of this hotel it might give you a small insight into the mayhem contained in this intriguing book.

A family of ducks live on the hotel roof.  Each day they need to be brought down to street level in a special duck elevator.

"The duck elevator was a contraption very much like an ordinary elevator, only shorter, narrower, shower and bursting with the aroma of wet feathers."

On the third floor there is a room that is actually designed to be a giant pinball machine.

"The slanted floor was covered with lights and arrows and circled numbers, just like a real pinball machine. At the far end of the room was a hole as big as a tyre, which had a flipper on each side."

On an upper floor where things are even crazier there is the Flying Farm Room.  This room is filled with goats and sheep and even a bull but actually they are holograms.

Interspersed between chapters, where Leo and his friends explore the hotel and follow an intriguing set of clues and instructions, we read about Merganzer Whippet and the plan by someone unknown to acquire this valuable hotel for an especially low price as it seems to be falling into ruin.

You might like to explore the web site for this book which includes videos, picture and an author Q&A.  I have reviewed another book by Patrick Carman - Skeleton Creek.  It seems there might even be a movie of this amazing book one day.  You can read a little more of the plot here.  I have included an alternate cover.  Floors is the first book in a trilogy - we urgently need to add the other two tiles to our library collection.

What do you wish for by Jane Godwin illustrated by Anna Walker


I wish I could write this heading in gold just as it appears on the cover and title page of 
What do you wish for?

Here are a few wishes (from the end papers see below):

I wish we could have pink lemonade
I wish I could drive a bus
I wish I would get taller
I wish my teddy would talk to me
I wish I was able to fly
I wish I had sparkly shoes
I wish stories could come true

The children in this special Christmas book have some magical rituals.

"Every year there was a Christmas party in the park at the end of the street.  Ruby and her friends put on a show, with songs and costumes and real curtains.  But first, each of them wrote a Christmas wish to hang on the tree."

Everyone writes their wishes for the tree except for Ruby.  Her wish seems too big to fit on a little piece of paper. Ruby thinks about all the things that make Christmas special.  My favourite is when she mentions the smell of baking.  This is a strong memory for me, especially of mince pies and special Christmas biscuits with silver decorations.  We do discover Ruby's wish but you need to read this book because it really is too big to explain here.

This is a truly Australian Christmas book - we see the family enjoying an ocean swim on Christmas day and lunch outside in the sunshine.

I am really looking forward to sharing this magical book with our youngest students over the next few weeks as we lead up to Christmas.  You can see a few of my other seasonal favourites below all of which can be found in this blog and a review of Peggy which was also illustrated by the talented Anna Walker.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

Here is the perfect book for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and the Catherine Jinks series which began with A very unusual Pursuit.

Before reading this review take a look at the trailer.  It is utterly enthralling as is this book.

Hazel watches as her precious mother is kidnapped by a demon. Her anger brings her own powerful magic to life - the magic of fire.  With the help of her familiar - a dormouse named Bramwell, Hazel sets out on an extremely dangerous journey to find and free her mother.  The world is an especially dangerous place because witches are being caught and killed all over England.

One of the ways I can explain this book is by quoting some of the chapter headings :

"After the Witch War, England's witches fled to the wild parts of the land. It is best to avoid such places, unless travelling with adequate protection."

"Demons are unholy creatures in endless forms most foul."

"When prosecuting a witch, Witch Hunters are encouraged to use fear and intimidation to extract information."

 Fire Girl is not a book for the fainthearted.  There are some really gruesome scenes in this book especially when the demon consumes the woodsman.  I read this book quickly but I did need to stop when the action became quite harrowing.  On the other hand, characters like Bramwell will give you plenty to smile about and the bravery of Hazel will make you cheer.

Here is an extract from the scene with the demon :

"The tentacles whipped round, and in the time it took for a heart to beat twice they were on him. ... The fifth tentacle - thicker than the others - reared up like a cobra and swayed hypnotically from side to side.  There was a wet tearing sound as its tip peeled open like a flower, revealing a round, toothless throat.  The woodman wen rigid as it descended towards his head."

Here is an interview with the author.  Here is a review by an eleven-year old.

After reading this book - and I really do recommend you read it -  especially if you are a fan of this horror fantasy genre, you might also like the Chain of Charms series of books by Kate Forsyth which have the same setting of Cromwell's England for a slightly younger audience.

I should warn you this book is the first in a series, many things remain unresolved at the end and the second installment is not yet published.

Rain Reign by Ann M Martin

"If you can read, you'll love this book."  

This is the claim on the front cover and it is so true as are the words in the quotes below.

I have wanted to read Rain Reign for months so I was excited on Friday when it was returned by the student who donated it to our school library.  I wonder if she read it?  I certainly did.  I read this whole book in one sitting very late into the night.

Rose is a very special girl.  She lives with her Dad but she needs to be careful of his moods and temper.  One night he brings home a stray dog.  Rose names him Rain because it is raining when he arrives and because Rose loves homonyms.  Rain, reign and rein.

"I am the only student in my class who's interested in homonyms.  ... Homonyms can be surprising and fun, and that's why I started a list of them."

Rose relies on routines and rules.  She loves her dog Rain and her wonderful uncle Weldon who lives on the other side of their town but the balance of her life changes with the arrival of Hurricane Susan.

"In our yard two trees have fallen, the birch and the elm... the water is so deep that it's flowed over its banks and flooded both the road and the lower part of our yard. ...I turn around wondering whether it's okay to wake my father... I'm about to knock on his door when I realize that I haven't seen (scene) Rain."

This is a heart-breaking and affirming story.  Ann M Martin has written a wonderful book.  Rose is a truly memorable and special girl.  I give this book ten out of ten.

You might like to use this simple trailer.

You might also enjoy So. Be. It., Wonder, Rules by Cynthia Lord, My life as an alphabetCounting by 7s and Looking for X by Deborah Ellis.

Rain is a wonderful friend to Rose.  If you love books about dogs you could try Because of Winn Dixie, One dog and his boy and Shiloh.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ivan the remarkable true story of the shoppping mall gorilla by Katherine Applegate

I found The One and Only Ivan such a moving story. I was a little worried about opening this new picture book.  The treatment of Ivan over 27 years is so hard to accept.  How could people be so cruel to a wonderful wild creature.

This book is aimed at a younger audience but since it is a true account of what happened to Ivan you can find it in the non fiction section of our school library.  After reading this book make sure you also read the final three pages which add in all the factual details about Ivan.

"The jungle, green with life was gone.
The gorillas had traveled halfway around the world to Tacoma, Washington. A man who owned a shopping mall had ordered and paid for them, like a couple of pizzas, like a pair of shoes."

I think this quote demonstrates the heart break you will feel when you read about Ivan.

Here is an interview with Katherine Applegate.  Take a minute to watch the trailer from the publisher.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My reading pile

Just thought I might share a few of the titles of  books on my reading pile right now. We have had some huge book deliveries over the last two weeks and my reading pile is growing taller and taller.

Several weeks ago a young boy greeted me at the school gate.  It was 8am and he was on his way to band practice but he stopped to tell me about two books he thought should be added to our school library.  Luckily I was right in the middle of a big book order so just ten minutes later I added these two books.

Loki's Wolves by KL Armstrong and the sequel Odin's Ravens
Here is a little extract from the blurb:
"In Viking times, Norse myths predicted the end of the world, an event called Ragnarok that only the gods can stop.  But the gods died a long time ago...."

The following week a Grade Six teacher sent a message to the library requesting this book.  His class had enjoyed the trailer and were keen to read the book.

Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs
Here is a little extract from the blurb:
"Perfectly ordinary Hazel Hooper has spent her whole life trapped in an isolated forest with her magic mother.  But everything changes when her mother is kidnapped - by a demon."

We have several very, very keen readers in our school library as you would expect but one boy in particular stands out.  He is in Grade 4 and often borrows a book one day and returns for a different one the next day.  Last week he borrowed this book and so I was curious.

Floors by Patrick Carman
I have read about 100 pages of the 276 and hope to finish this one tonight so I will tell you a little more soon.  Here is a extract from the blurb :
"There's no place on earth like the Whippet Hotel.  Every floor has its surprises and secrets. Guests are either mad or mysterious.  And ducks are everywhere."

In 2011 I read a funny little book called Small Change for Stuart.  I see now that I did not include it here in this blog so I will quickly re-read this first volume before opening the second.

Big Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans
"Ten year-old Stuart Horten has just learned that he's the owner of an incredible magician's workshop.  A workshop full of magnificent illusions.  Each one the gateway to a magical adventure."

This one has been on my pile for a few weeks and even though the beginning seems quite promising I am a little bit daunted by the length of 378 pages of very small print.  James O'Loghlin is a well known broadcaster here in Australia and I am sure he has written a terrific book I just need to settle down and read.

The adventures of Sir Roderick the not-very Brave by James O'Loghlin
"In a land where peace is threatened by assassin, invading armies and unhappy peasants, one knight must be brave enough to journey forth on  a great quest."

Finally this book is already famous even though it was only published very recently.  All children's literature fans know about Brian Selznick and his superb books The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.

The Marvels by Brian Selzick