Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bleakboy and Hunter stand out in the rain by Steven Herrick

There are two main characters in Bleakboy and Hunter out in the rain.  One is Hunter.  Here is a little extract that might help you understand his emotional turmoil.

"Hunter remembers when he was five years old, being caught in a thunderstorm with his dad.  How his dad lifted a newspaper above their heads as they scurried for cover.  They were soaked before reaching the safety of a bus shelter. While he watched the rain gush down the gutters and turn potholes into puddles, his father read the wet newspaper, peeling each page away from the other.  Hunter marvelled at the sky, amazed that clouds could hold that much water.  With one of his father's discarded sheets of newspaper, Hunter fashioned a boat; a newsprint canoe.  He stepped from the shelter and launched it in the gutter.  It swept away, riding the stormwater waves.  Hunter knelt on the footpath and laughed.  His father told him to come out of the rain."

Some things to notice here.  Hunter is only five.  There is little or no interaction between father and son. Hunter is obviously highly intelligent.  He thinks about the sky and the rain and the clouds and he is able to make a newspaper canoe.  None of these things rate praise or even a comment from his father.

By age eleven and in Year 6 Hunter is still highly intelligent but his intelligence is now used for less than desirable behaviours. He has become the class 'smart alec'.  "Hunter is the class anarchist, lawbreaker and boy most likely to set the record for continuous lunchtime detentions." He loves to bait the teacher and taunt his school mates one of whom is a boy named Jesse James Jones.  "Don't call me triple j. I'm not a radio station, I'm an eleven-year-old boy."  Hunter names Jesse Badboy, Emo the Emu, Rainman, and Bleakboy - hence the title.

I do love Steven Herrick books and so I was really looking forward to Bleakboy and Hunter stand out in the rain.  Herrick is a master of the tantalizing title - isn't he.  Remember Pookie Aleera is not my boyfriend.and Tom Jones saves the world.  I do love Steven Herrick but I prefer his verse novels. Bleakboy and Hunter stand out in the rain did not go deeply enough into the emotions of these characters in the same way as these previous titles.

Hunter has serous life problems - his dad has deserted the family and moved to New Zealand - I did feel sad but I wanted a closer connection.  Jesse is trying to understand his place in the world and form his own beliefs while he navigates new friendships at his new school but one character I did really like was Les.  He is an old man of eighty who becomes a very wise friend to Hunter.  The scene where Les invites Hunter to test out his mobility scooter is fabulous.  It would also be interesting to discuss some of the practices of the alternate school that Hunter, Jesse and their friends attend.

Here is a review from Reading Time.  Here is a set of teaching notes.  You might also enjoy Problem child which has similar themes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Prince's breakfast by Joanne Oppenhein illustrated by Miriam Latimer

This might seem odd but the real reason I choose The Prince's breakfast out on a recent shopping expedition was the promise of Hugh Bonneville reading the story on the enclosed CD.  You will not be disappointed.  His voice is splendid.

Our Kindergarten classes are reading books this term about food so The Prince's Breakfast will be a welcome addition to our collection of books on this theme.

The little Prince has turned mealtimes in to a game of 'No!'.  His constant refrain, when offered delicious and exotic foods is 'No, not I."  Foods range from ideels and dahl in Agra, tortillas and salsa in Mexico and congee with pickles in China. Having tried everything on their journey around the world, the queen declares the family should now go home and perhaps admit defeat but just as they turn to climb into their royal carriage an old man pulls a bright red bottle from his case.  He sprinkles a few drops of this magical red substance straight onto the Prince's tongue.  Can you guess what this is?  From now on our boy will eat and eat.

"He poured it on pancakes; he spread it on bread."

Books told in rhyme are always such fun and I especially like the way this book does not talk down to the young reader.  Children who are curious about the exotic foods and lands mentioned in this book are free to explore for themselves.  Perhaps a visit to a restaurant or a little family cooking might be the order of the day not to mention taking time to look at an atlas.

Here is the web page from the publisher Barefoot Books.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Two wolves by Tristan Bancks

"Ben ran at his dad and tackled him to the sandy ground near the smoldering fire pit.  He wanted to stop but he couldn't.  He grabbed at the notebook like a wild animal, screaming as Dad tried to get away but Ben wouldn't let him. That notebook was the one place Ben could be himself."

In his notebook Ben has written :
Grey nylon bag, Black handles
The new old car

Ben and his sister are on the run with their parents April and Ray Silver.  Ben is full of questions most of which are unanswered and even unspoken as his father's short fuse and nasty bad temper leave him feeling deep fear, sadness and confusion.   Tristan Bancks, through his main character Ben, slowly reveals the full story of why the family have abandoned their home and fled to a remote bush cabin.

Two Wolves has been short listed for the 2015 CBCA Younger Readers Award.  This story is an action packed thriller and with an interesting moral dilemma but I feel it is best suited to Grade Six students because at times the violence by Ben's father is quite distressing.

Review with the Trailer here.  It is amazing - so realistic!  I also recommend you dip into the Reading Time Review.   Here is the Author web site and a comprehensive set of Teacher notes.

You might also enjoy Chance of Safety, Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce or Toby Alone.  I also hope to re-read Toby's Millions by Morris Lurie first published in 1982 and by coincidence a CBCA honor book in 1983 and My side of the Mountain which was an inspiration for Two Wolves.

I especially loved little seven year old Olive.  "She was small, white blonde, seven years old, one of the smartest kids Ben knew.  She had already read The Hobbit by herself.  For three weeks afterwards she refused to speak unless people called her Gandalf."

At the end of Two Wolves I am left with some unanswered questions especially about Ben's mum and I do wish the wisdom of the quote from the first page had actually informed Ben and his actions but overall this is a fast paced book which will be popular with my senior students.

An old man tells his grandson
One evening that there is a
battle raging inside him, inside
all of us.  A terrible battle
between two wolves.

One wolf is bad - pride, envy, jealousy,
greed, guild, self-pity, the other wolf is
good - kindness, hope, love, service
truth, humility.

The child asks 'Who will win?'
The Grandfather answers simply,
'The one you feed.'

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

In our busy and noisy world a quiet and poignant picture book like The Lion and the Bird is a special joy.  The story begins in Autumn and as bear is raking leaves he hears a sound and discovers a small bird lying hurt beside a felled tree.  He gently bandages the little bird and carries his new friend home using the warmth of his mane.

Lion brings bird into his cosy living room and gradually they adopt a new daily routine of shared meals, bedtime stories, personal care and sleep. As time moves on winter begins and the world outside is covered with snow. Bird joins in with tobogganing, ice fishing and pleasant evenings by their warm fire.  "... winter doesn't feel all that cold with a friend."

Spring is heralded with a beautiful image of a small crocus flower popping up through the snow. With the coming of spring bird explains (using sign language) that it is time to rejoin his flock.  Bird flies away and  you can just feel Lion's heart breaking. Lion tries to follow his daily routine but nothing feels right now Bird has gone.  "Summer passes slowly, softly. Then one day, autumn returns."

Turn the final pages of this precious book slowly. There is even one completely blank page that perfectly conveys the mood.

You can see nearly every picture from this book here.  If you discuss this book with an older group of children you might like to use this set of review comments.  Here is the web site for Marianne Dubuc.  If you are looking for a very special book to share with one child or a group I highly recommend The Lion and the Bird.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

CBCA short listed books for 2015

Today is always so special as we wait to hear the big announcement after nearly a year of reading by our seven national judges.  To be eligible for this award a book has to be Australian and published in the previous calendar year - in this case 2014.

Here is a link to the full short list of thirty titles.  It is also terrific to be able to report that we have nearly all of these books (not the Older Readers Category) in our school library.  You might also like to look at the Notables list.

I thought it might be useful to look at a few of the titles tonight and also list other books by the same illustrator or author or mention a theme.

Early Childhood Picture book

Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes illustrated by Steven Michael King
Our school recently hosted a visit by Lesley Gibbes where she talked about her book Scary Night. You might like to dip into my review.  Lelsey is a local author from my part of Sydney so her selection is even more exciting.  Steven Michael King has a wealth of picture books.  Favourites include : Leaf, The Man who loved boxes and Where does Thursday go.

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey
This one is sure to be popular with our students and I am happy there are so many other terrific books by Aaron Blabey which we will explore over the coming weeks.
Favourites include : Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, Sunday Chutney, Stanley Paste and the new book Thelma the unicorn.

A house of her own by Jenny Hughes illustrated by Jonathan Bentley
I plan to compare this with A house for Wombats which is a favourite book of mine and also Sharon Keep your Hair on.  We have a small collection of books about architecture and also a terrific book about building a cubby house A Kids guide to Cubby houses.  I have also discovered this book has a different title and cover in Canada.  Here is a Q&A with the illustrator.

Go to sleep Jessie by Libby Gleeson illustrated by Freya Blackwood
We have quite a few books about bedtime but one favourite which links perfectly with Go to Sleep Jessie is Are you ready for Bed, Cornelius P Mud? by Barney Saltzberg and  Sleep Well, Little Bear.  This book is also about siblings and there are so many books on this theme.  My library catalogue lists 399 books with this subject!

Younger Readers

I am happy to say two of my predictions were selected:

Withering by sea by Judith Rossell

Figgy in the world by Tamsin Janu

Watch my blog for comments about the other titles in the coming weeks especially those in the Younger Readers Category and Picture Book of the Year.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose illustrated by Stephanie Yue

I thoroughly enjoy books where the author creates and maintains an alternate reality.  I love discovering all the little inventions and strategies he or she develops so that as a reader I can believe something so entirely I start to wonder if it might in fact even be true,  Mousenet is a perfect example of this.  Think of Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Borrowers, Masterpiece and Tumtum and Nutmeg.

Megan helps her uncle invent a tiny computer which she then names a Thumbtop.  What Megan does not realise is she is being watched - by mice!  The Mouse Nation immediately realise this tiny computer will revolutionize the lives of all mice.  Unknown to humans mice have evolved and they can now use computers and some have even been trained to speak to humans.

Here is a detailed review by Jen Robinson.  My blogger friend Mr K has also written an excellent review.

Here is a picture to show you how mice use human computers and why the Thumbtop will change their lives.

Mousenet is a long book (389 pages) but I read it over two days because it was such fun.  The mice are especially endearing and each has its own quirky personality. This book might make a good family read-a-loud.  I now need to find the sequel Mousemobile.

Here is a little extract to make you smile - three mice will travel with Megan when she is sent to stay with her father and his new wife in Oregon.

"Next, a supply team gathered what was needed for the journey.  They gave each of the mice two small plastic bags, one full of cheese crackers,and the other empty, for poop.  As all mice know, few things in nature disturb humans as much as mouse poop, and a disturbed human can be the most danger mammal on the planet."

The honest truth by Dan Gemeinhart

If you are looking for a fast paced survival adventure book that deals with issues of life and death then The Honest Truth is a book you should grab.

There are many examples I could give you from the text that show how highly improbable this story really is but I don't want to do this.  A young reader will be swept up in the journey Mark has undertaken and the extreme dangers he encounters.  It seems churlish to say a ten year old boy surely did not think of all these amazing things to put in his pack.  Not to mention how excruciatingly heavy this pack would be carried on his thin frame along with a small dog in his duffle bag!

Mark has suffered endless hospital visits since his cancer diagnosis when he was a tiny boy.  All through these tough times his special friend Jessie has stood by him.  Visiting for hours at the hospital and supporting him when he was able to attend school but now the final verdict is in and the cancer has returned.

Mark sets off on one last journey to the mountain loved by his Grandfather - Mount Rainier.  He takes his loyal dog Beau but does leave a note for Jessie.

"To my truest friend,
I'm so sorry. And goodbye.
Hold my secret now."

There are two things to notice about this letter.  It is a haiku.  Mark explains this to a young girl that he meets on a bus :

"It's Haiku .. My best friend and I love them.  Our favourite teacher, in third grade, taught us about them.  We use them like a kind of .. code, I guess.  We write notes in Haiku.  We even talk in Haiku sometimes."

The second thing to notice here is the enormous moral dilemma that Jessie must now grapple with.  She knows why Mark has run away and she is pretty sure she knows exactly where he is headed.  As she sits with his distraught mum and dad over the following days she must decide - to tell or not to tell.

This book is written in alternate chapters - we experience Mark's reality followed by Jessie memories of their friendship.

Dan Gemeinhart gently reveals the truths mentioned in the title and this is a real strength of this storytelling.  If you need to read more of the plot (spoiler alert) take a look at this review.

You might also enjoy Hatchet or Wolf Brother.

Here is a set of teaching notes.  The advance copy came with some interesting additions.  There are some excellent videos of the author here on Mr Schu's web site. These would be perfect to use if you are reading The Honest Truth with a Grade 5 or 6 class.  Here is a terrific trailer.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

My holiday reading pile

I may not blog each of these but I thought you might be curious about the pile of books I bought home to read over the Easter break.  These books will all be part of our annual library donate-a-book display in August.  I wonder which one I will read first.

Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose
It is odd but I do enjoy books about mice, especially mice who attempt to fit into our human world.
Here is a little quote from page 4.
"After months of watching, the mouse minds sprang to life, recognizing first one word on a screen, then another, then more, until in time these first mice learned to read and write well enough to use computers themselves. ... soon mice throughout the world had their own version of the Internet carefully protected by passwords from prying human eyes.  Now mice could e-mail each other, and their their opinions in mouse blogs, and post news about themselves on MouseBook, and check facts in Whiskerpedia .."

The House of Puzzles by Richard Newsome
I really did enjoy The Billionaire's curse and The Emerald Casket from this series. The House of Puzzles is book 5.

My big fat Zombie Goldfish - Any Fin is possible by Mo O'Hara
I have bought four books from this series based solely on the title!

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
The back cover of this book has an interesting gimmick.  It tells you to "Try it! Read page 100" It also says "This book in three words - Exciting, Inspiring, Heartbreaking."
As a further intriguing idea there are 13 1/2 chapters in this book and the chapters are all marked with the number of miles for the journey.

The skull in the wood by Sandra Greaves
Not sure about this one.  The title and cover will certainly appeal to my students.  I generally enjoy books published by Chicken House.

The Great Kitten cake off by Anna Wilson
This came to use as part of a selection from Bloomin' Books so I know it will be fun. I did enjoy the British television show The Great British Bake off.

Loot - how to steal a fortune by Jude Watson
I just read as far as page three and this feels like a real page turner.
The cover certainly appeals to me.
Here is a quote from the text just after they have stolen some jewels :
"The clasp breaks, the gold links falling away, and the moonstones seem to hover in the air - how is that possible? - before falling onto the rocky beach.  The stones form a perfect circle.  It's as though drops of moonlight have frozen on the ground.  .. It is the most beautiful sight the three thieves have ever seen.  So beautiful that they cannot move."
Now come the three prophecies - capture, death and an awful fate for the children of the first thief - twins.

Birrung the secret friend by Jackie French
By chance I seem to have picked books from a range of genres.  Here we have a historic novel - one that will be thoroughly researched by our amazing Children's Laureate Jackie French.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I know it is April 1st but I am going to make a huge call and say this is my book of the month. Well to be truthful I read it last week when it was still March but since I am blogging this one here tonight I have decided to grab your interest by declaring Counting by 7s is my book of the month!

How do I measure a book?  One way is via my compulsion to keep reading.  I read Counting by 7s late into the night.  When I woke around 2am I turned on the light and read on.  Over breakfast I kept reading and while I was at school I couldn't wait to arrive home so I could get stuck in and finish reading Counting by 7s.

Willow Chance is a twelve year old girl. Willow Chance is a special girl.  Willow Chance has been orphaned twice.  Willow Chance loves the number 7.  Willow Chance needs a break.

Life has thrown some hard things her way.  Her adoptive parents have died.  The school authorities have no idea about her gifted brilliance and have accused her of cheating.  The school counselor, who is supposed to help her, is himself a total loser with no skills or training to work with young students especially students like Willow.

On the other hand, through this counselor called Dell Duke, Willow meets three very special people - Nguyen Thi Mai who is fourteen and from Vietnam, her brother Nguyen Quang-ha who is fifteen and considered a delinquent and their mum called "Pattie".  Willow also meets a wonderful taxi driver. She changes his life.

On the author web site you can read Chapter One.  I am sure this will convince you that this is a splendid book.  Here is a video interview with the author.  I even found a Readers Theatre Script. Here is a set of teaching notes with links and further reading ideas.

If you enjoyed My life as an alphabet, Counting by 7s is even better. You might also enjoy The view from the 32nd floor, Liar and Spy and Signed by Zelda.  I highly, highly recommend Counting by 7s for senior Primary students.

Here is the scene where the Kindergarten teacher has been reading to the class (perhaps you can guess the name of this book?)

"I had not uttered a single syllable in my five sessions as a student, and I had no intention of doing so. 

But after days of hearing more lies from an adult than I'd been exposed to in my whole lifetime - everything from how fairies cleaned up the classroom at night to insane explanations for earthquake preparedness kits - I was at some kind of breaking point.  

So when the teacher specifically said 'Willow, how does this book make you feel?' I had to tell the truth.

'It makes me feel really bad. The moon can't hear someone say good night; it is two hundred thirty-five thousand miles away. And bunnies don't live in houses. Also, I don't think that the artwork is very interesting."

If you still need convincing read the review by the Nerdy Bookclub and here is a quote from the School Library Journal from the review by Cheryl Ashton :  Willow’s story is one of renewal, and her journey of rebuilding the ties that unite people as a family will stay in readers’ hearts long after the last page.