Monday, January 26, 2015

The Paper House by Lois Peterson

"Safiyah stodd ankle-deep in garbage near the top of the dump.   Below her lay the Kibera slum, a patchwork of rusty tin roofs.  A thick blanket of cloud and dirty smoke hid the concrete buildings and busy roads of nearby Nairobi. ... Safiyah sold most of the stuff she found at the dump.  It was the only way to make money for a pound of maize or some tea.  Sometimes a breadfruit for Cucu, her grandmother, who loved them so much."

The Paper House is another book that I found during our library stocktake. This is one of those slim volumes (108 pages) with a powerful story.

While Safiyah is digging through the rubbish dump she finds some magazines.  She takes them home and with her friend Pendo she pulls some of her favourite pictures out of the glossy magazines.  As Safiyah looks at these images she can see patterns and a picture forms in her mind.  The hut she shares with her beloved grandmother is draughty and cold.  Safiyah stuffs the cracks in the walls with torn pages from the magazines but then she has the idea of papering the outside.  Her friend borrows some scissors and glue from her school and Safiyah begins to create her murals but her work is suddenly interrupted when Cucu is taken ill and Safiyah moves into the hospital to stay by her side. 

You can read the full details of the plot here but this might spoil the story so I recommend reading this heart warming and evocative tale first.  There is an excellent little trailer here.  This blog will give you some teaching ideas and further links.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chance of safety by Henrietta Branford

Many years ago I discovered a blog called The Little library of rescued books.  My book today would be the perfect candidate for this collection.  Chance of Safety was first published in 1998 and is of course long out of print.  This is such a shame because this slim volume contains a powerful story with themes of love, family and determination. 

Chance of Safety is a book set in a dystopian future where people who are rich are of course powerful and people who are poor are left to suffer.  The government have set draconian rules for the population including travel restrictions and check points with armed police.  There is a culture of secrecy and corruption. 

Citizens who commit even small crimes are fitted with electronic tags and forced to work long hours in road building labour gangs.  Alex and Nelly, though, know nothing of this.  Their mother Ruth is a doctor and Rob their dad is an employee of a government agency called Motorways Incorporated.  Until now the family have enjoyed a comfortable life of privilege. Through the course of their work both parents discover that the government have covered up the real reason the road gang prisoners are dying.

"The prisoner had been in reasonable health, for a Beta Sector Juvenile, when arrested. A bit overweight.  Bad teeth. Poor muscle tone. Flat feet. Mildly anaemic. Nothing unusual. When she died, ten months later, she was suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea and her hair was falling out, though that was hard to tell with prisoners once their heads were shaved.  Also she was bleeding from everywhere."

The knowledge held by Rob and Ruth that the road building materials are filled with nuclear waste mean the family are now in danger so they load up their car and drive off towards Wales in the hope of safety with their grandmother.  The journey is fraught and very dangerous but they manage to get through several check points.  Finally they stop near a road gang and chaos ensues.  Rob and Ruth are captured and Alex and Nelly flee on foot hoping to reach their grandmother.

This is gripping story of survival.  Along the way Alex and Nelly meet some amazing people, aptly called Runners, who are living as outcasts from this regime.  They offer enormous support and care to the young children.  The best part of this book, which is only 138 pages, comes very close to the end when everyone is finally reunited and resting safely with their grandmother Kate.  You will sigh with relief that their long and dangerous journey is over and then read of a betrayal so awful you will be left gasping.

Our copy of Chance of safety is quite yellow but for now I am keeping this book in our library.  I adore books like this.  You might also like to read Toby Alone, Forbidden Memories,and the series Shadow Children which begins with Among the hidden.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Possibles by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

I had a little spare time this morning so I thought I would just start this book - planning to continue reading it later tonight. Have you guessed what happened? Yes in just over an hour I had read the whole book and YES it is that good!

This is another old book in our school library and another of the books I bought home to read this summer.  The cover of Possibles has always appealed to me but I am not sure why I had never picked it up to read.  I am putting an alternate cover below.

Sheppy (Mary Sheppard Lee) is grieving the recent loss of her beloved father who has died.  Instead of heading off to Summer camp, Sheepy needs to work to add to the meagre incomes of her mother and brother.  Sheppy goes to work "lady sitting" a young woman who has a badly broken leg and and a nasty temperament. Constance seems uncommunicative and is only interested in watching boring after television serials.  Sheppy, however, is a resourceful girl and she manages to break down the walls with delicious food and the sharing of a good book.

"Sheppy hummed to herself as she toasted two slices of wheat bread and spread one with mayonnaise.  She carefully put pieces of chicken on the mayonnaise side, then two slices of tomato, some lettuce, and the top piece of toasts.  She put the sandwich on a plate and cut it in half, point to point like her Mama always did.  It looked a little lonely all by itself. Needed something on the side."

Sheppy does have two very good friends but Tess has gone to camp and Parker has moved away. 

Her father gave Sheppy two terrific gifts - his poetry and a love of reading.  He has created the Everlasting Reading List.  They add new books and cross off the ones they have read.  It is a list that can go on forever but sadly Sheppy has not been able to add new titles since her father died.  Her mother and brother seem unable or unwilling to talk about Papa but this conversation is so vital if the family want to move on with their lives.

PossiblesPossibles opens with a moving poem by the late Shel Silverstein

Listen to the mustn'ts, child,
Listen to the don'ts
Listen to the shouldn'ts
The impossible, the won'ts
Listen to the never haves
Then listen close to me -
Anything can happen, child,
Anything can be.

Kirkus describe Possibles as poignant, lovely and lyrical.  You might also enjoy Bird.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Secrets in the fire by Henning Mankell

Secrets in the fire is one of the saddest, most heart-breaking books I have ever read.  It is certainly only suitable for our most mature senior Primary students.  That said I am glad I read this book and that for a moment in time I was able follow the life journey of this brave little girl in war torn Africa.

Sofia is living a peaceful and simple life in a small village in Mozambique :

"They had lived in that village, all their lives. What Sofia remembered most clearly was the village of round huts with their neatly flattened roofs of palm leaves.  That was where she had been born, and where Maria and Alfredo had been born.  When she was a baby, her father, Hapakatanda, had lifted her towards the sky to let her greet the sun."

Her life is shattered when the bandits arrive.  They murder all the village occupants and only a handful of people survive - including Sofia, her mother Lydia, her sister Maria and young brother.  On the run, the family become refugees moving from village to village and barely surviving.  Finally they reach safety and make a new home.  One day, the white priest, urges everyone to attend an important meeting where he explains the dangers of landmines.  Sofia knows she must stay on the path but when the path is muddy after the rain the boundary lines become  unclear. Sofia steps off the path while playing with her beloved older sister Maria.  Sofia is critically injured and her sister is killed.  Now Sofia must take on a new challenge adapting to her life with prosthetic legs. Her main comfort comes from the words of wisdom offered years ago by the village elder :

"It was old Muazena who told Sofia and Maria about the secrets in the fire.  Every flame has a secret.  If you sit at the right distance from the fire you can look so deeply into the dancing flames that you can foresee what is going to happen in the future."
"Every day is a plant that you should nurse and water, keep clear of weeks and one day harvest. Every plant represents a day in your life that you haven't lived yet."

Sofia experiences so much pain but her spirit is resilient.  She makes some generous friends (young, old rich and poor), she learns to walk again and with help she is able to find her place once again in the village with her family close by.  You can read more details of the plot here.

Secrets in the fire was originally published in Sweden under the title Eldens Hemlight (1995).  It was the winner of Sankei Children's Publishing Culture Award in 2002.

Secrets in the fire is based on a true story.  There are two sequels.  You should also look for A long walk to Water and Figgy in the world.  Here is a set of brief teaching notes from Amnesty International.

Grade Six reading list

Each year I share here on my blog a list of books recomened by our departing Grade Six students taken from their Year Book.  You might like to review past lists.

There are no real surprises on this list.  The list is not as inspirational as I would like but there are some gems.  Here are my general observations :

  • Many students listed a series name rather than an individual title
  • Eight students listed Hatchet by Gary Paulsen because this had been studied in class.  I have no problem with this choice but I am concerned that these students did not name a book read independently and of their own choice
  • Of 100 students only two listed very junior titles - Where is the Green sheep by Mem Fox and Where's Wally (I have not included these in the list below) and four Young Adult titles.
  • I have included the library call number used at our school
  • Two students named special authors - Jackie French and Isobelle Carmody

Year Six 2014 recommend …
Heroes of Olympus [F Rio]
Miss Understood [F Roy]
Shadow [F Mor]
Hatchet [F Pau]
The call of the wild [F Lon]
The Giver [F Low]
Finding Serendipity [F Ban]
The Hobbit [F Tol]
Mum in Love [F Shu]
Cherry Crush [F Cas]
Wonder  [F Pal]
Northern Lights [F Pul]
Waffle Hearts [F Par]
The puzzle ring [F For]
The quicksand pony [F Les]
Forgotten Pearl [F Mur]
The Snow Queen [QF And]
Junonia [F Hen]
Born to run [F Mor]
Unlikely Friendships [591.56 Hal]
Warriors by Erin Hunter
The Floods by Colin Thompson
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Tom Gates
The treehouse books by Andy Griffiths
Rangers Apprentice
Harry Potter
Three Doors by Emily Rodda
Brotherband by John Flanagan
Ruby Redford by Lauren Child
Cherub by Robert Muchamore
Spirit Animals
Grimstones by Asphyxia
Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Narnia CS Lewis
Don’t look now by Paul Jennings

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A home for Teasel by Margi McAllister

I am not a horse person and as a young child I did not read 'horse stories' unlike many in my peer group. I preferred stories about dogs.  Perhaps this means I don't arrive at A Home for Teasel with any huge expectations. 

This truly is a book for a young horse lover.  The beginning half is a little slow and the ending while satisfying is utterly predictable but I am sure girls especially will adore Teasel and admire the common sense and horse sense of her new friend Gwen. 

Gwen wants a pony.  Her family seem uninterested and firmly say no.  Gwen will not be defeated.  She takes on part time jobs in the hope she can save enough money to buy a horse of her own.  As the story opens she is about to start a new job shopping and doing small chores for an elderly local lady called Mrs Tilney (Arabella).  On her first visit, after buying a bag of organic carrots, Gwen discovers the beautiful Teasel is living in a paddock behind the house. Teasel is the horse and of course the carrots are for her.

"In the beam of torchlight stood a golden pony. With her pale coat and a fringe of mane above her dark eyes, she shone in the halo of light like a little horse in one of Gwen's long ago fairy stories. She was too wonderful to be true ... Gwen watched the large eyes in the elegant face .. she had never seen anything so lovely."

One aspect of this writing that I did enjoy was the inclusion of Teasel's own thoughts and insights into her human companions.   Teasel has been treated very roughly in the past and so needs the gentle care of Mrs Tilney and Gwen so she can regain her trust in humans.  Here is a review that explains a little more of the plot.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Snap by Alison McGhee

Before I begin to tell you about this book (which I read in one sitting this morning) I have to say sadly this book Snap is long out of print.

As we were working through our stocktake or inventory I picked up books I had read and enjoyed with copies that were looking tired and worn.  Four of these books are long out of print so I thought, before I start to investigate second hand copies, I should re-read them just to see if my memory is accurate and books like Snap are worth replacing.

My verdict is YES - Snap is terrific.  This is a short book at 135 pages and it has large print which is always welcome.  The main characters in this book are eleven and so this book is perfect for middle and senior primary readers (probably of more appeal to girls).

Eddie (Edwina Stiles Beckey) is the narrator and she introduces us to her best friend Sally (Sally Wilmarth Hobart) and her beautiful grandmother Willie (Wihelmina).  Willie reminded me of Nell from the Silk family books.

Are you a list person?  I certainly am.  I write lists all the time.  I adore crossing things off my lists.  I even have a special stash of paper squares in my kitchen that I use for my list writing.  Eddie also loves lists.  Eddie is a thoughtful girl, she asks lots of questions and thinks deeply about the people in her life.  She thinks a lot about her friend Sally.  They met in Grade Two and even though they are different in so many ways (Sally for example has no patience with lists and Sally has perfect hair) they have a wonderful close friendship.  Sally lives with her grandmother because her mum Jill was only 15 when Sally was born.  Jill works in a local supermarket but she seems unable to speak and communicates using smiles and head movements. 

Every Sunday the girls eat doughnuts with Willie.  Here is the first hint that something might be wrong with Willie :

"As long as I can remember, Willie has gotten up early on Sunday morning and walked into Sterns.  She brings back chocolate covered sprinkle doughnuts ... and Willie watches us. ... This has been our routine for years.  'Don't you want a doughnut?' I asked once, way in the beginning before I knew how she felt about sugar.  'Thank you, Eddie ... I'm not much of  a sugar person ... I do love a good doughnut hole, though. She reached over to my doughnut and pretended to pluck out the hole ... And she ate it.  I watched her as she rolled her eyes and smiled and pretended to chew."

Life is a journey and Willie is nearing the end of hers.  This book shows how love, insight and determination means Eddie can help Sally cope with this very difficult period of change.

Here is the author web site.  We have her funny picture book Countdown to Kindergarten in our school library.  Here is the Kirkus review.  You might also enjoy Missing May.  I am also excited to see my friend Mr K has a review of Snap.

The power of Poppy Pendle by Natasha Lowe

There is so much to enjoy about this book.  Poppy is a talented cook so her story is filled with delicious baking.  You already know how much I love this.  The Power of Poppy Pendle reminded me of Bliss which is a book I loved with a similar theme.  Poppy is also a talented witch. She is sent to Ruthersfield Academy where she excels at her studies mastering spells and broom flying with ease. Her parents are so proud of her.  But this is where the major conflict of the story arises.  Poppy may have highly developed magic skills but she does not want to be a witch - she wants to bake and one day own her own cake shop.  Finally, after some major struggles, Poppy is helped by one amazing friend.  I know there are so many books about friendship but Charlie is such a important and true friend to Poppy.  By the end of the story I wanted to give Charlie a big hug and say thanks for saving Poppy.

The story begins as Poppy is born :

"Poppy Pendle was born on the floor of a bakery. ... Poppy pushed her way out with the speed of an express train and was immediately wrapped up in a cake-scented tea towel by the kind lady who ran the shop.  The customers cheered, and someone handed Edith Pendle a bag of warm almond cakes.   Sitting up in her mother's arms, Poppy breathed in deeply and reached for the bag of cakes.  Then she did something quite unexpected.  She gobbled them all down."

Her parents, especially her mother, is so determined that Poppy should become a witch just like her Great Granny Mabel, that all other distractions are banned including her beloved cooking.  The final straw comes on the day her mother has the oven removed from their kitchen.  I highly recommend The Power of Poppy Pendle.

You might also enjoy Madame Pamplemousse and her incredible edibles and Pie.

Oddly the reviewers at Kirkus did not like this book.  Try this review which is more positive.  In fact I recommend exploring this blog (Kiss the Book) it is quite amazing.  Here is the author web site which includes details of the sequel which will be published this year.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One crazy summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

As you can see there are four huge award stickers on the front cover of One Crazy Summer.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book but I will say I am not sure how much understanding an Australian child would have of the experiences of Delphine in 1960s Southern America.

All that to one side I adore books that give me emotional highs and lows and One Crazy Summer certainly delivers this.  Delphine and her two young sisters called Vonetta and Fern fly from Brooklyn,  New York to Oakland, California.  They are going to spend one month with Cecile their mother.  She deserted the family when Fern was just two days old and so all three girls have huge questions to ask and strong emotions which need soothing.  What they find in Oakland is surprising and bruising.

This quote will give you a sense of this story.  The three girls go on an outing to San Francisco and thanks to Delphine they have a wonderful day until this incident unsettles them :

"We stopped in a gift shop on the wharf. The man behind the counter set his eyes on us really hard. At first I thought this was because we were there by ourselves, so I whispered to Vonetta and Fern to be extra well behaved. But then I heard Cecile's last words in my head. His hard stare was for the other reason store clerks' eyes never let up.  We were black kids, and he expected us to be in his gift shop to steal. "

Here is a very detailed review from the New York Times.  Here is a detailed set of teaching notes.