Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pippo the fool by Tracey E Fern illustrated by Pau Estrada

If you are taking a holiday to far away destinations in Europe consider reading this book first.  It will give a child in grades 2-5 a better appreciation of the amazing architecture they will encounter on your travels.

Pippo lives in Florence.  A competition is announced - "To design a dome for the cathedral".

Little Pippo - who is known as Pippo the fool loves to sketch amazing structures and intricate machines.  Pippo knows if he can win this competition it will mean he can loose his awful nickname but he has a serious rival - Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Pippo shows that hard work, self belief, determination and above all creative thinking are the best ways to solve a problem.  While Lorenzo struts around the city boasting and taunting Pippo, he simply gets on with the job.

Pippo the fool is based on the true story of the man who designed and built the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore.  There are details at the back of this book about his life and also notes from the illustrator which are well worth reading. If you need to know a little more about the plot for Pippo the Fool take a look at this detailed review. The author also has a web site.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The small aventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor

Think of Tom Sawyer with a small dash of  Pippi Longstocking and you have The small adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

I read this book in one sitting.  I picked up this book because I recently watched the movie of How to Steal a dog.  I was keen to read another story by Barbara O'Connor.  I am smiling right now because I am so happy I read this book - it is fabulous.

Popeye lives with grandmother Valma in South Carolina.  Life is dull and boring.

Popeye is so named because he has one good eye and one bad eye - the result of an accident back when he was three. Valma holds onto her fragile sanity by reciting the kings and queens of England in alphabetical order.  She has a lot to contend with.  Popeye's father lives far away, his mother comes and goes and her other son Dooley is unemployed and constantly in trouble with the law.

"Everyday the same
So what if the rain stopped? Popeye thought.
It would still be boring.
It would always be boring in Fayette, South Carolina.
Every day would always be the same.
Popeye was certain about that.
But Popeye was wrong."

One day a large motor home arrives.  It has become bogged in the gloppy red mud and the giant wheels are sunk deep down.

Life has been so dull for Popeye but now the adventures can begin because living in this motor home is the most amazing family including Elvis - the oldest boy.  Popeye and Elvis set out to find adventures.

Valma teaches Popeye a new word each week.  Barbara O'Connor uses these as a story device and she includes a dictionary definition as each word helps Popeye make sense of the excitement that comes from meeting this family and of making a new friend.

"Popeye couldn't help but notice how different Elvis was from all the others. 
Elvis was taciturn
taciturn: adjective; reserved or uncommunicative in speech, staying little
All the others were loquacious
loquacious: adjective; talkative."

There are so many delights in the language of this book.  I adore words like : bajillion, qualm, whoop and dang.

You can watch a brilliant trailer for this book on the author web site.  Here is a comprehensive set of teaching notes.  Here is a detailed review from the School Library Journal which is well worth reading.

There are boats in this book made from Yoo-Hoo milk cartons - see below. I have also included an alternate cover.  This book would be an excellent read-aloud for a middle primary class.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Dragon loves penguin by Debi Gliori

The best stories of all are the ones we share with our loved ones.  Stories that relate to your own family such as the story of the day you were born. Dragon loves penguin is a story just like this. It is warm and affirming and has a most surprising twist at the end.

"Please ...' says Bib, 'can I have a story? The one about the dragons?'
'Oh, Bib,' sighs his mummy, 'just one story, and then it's night, night, sleep tight.'
'Don't let the frost bite' says Bib, snuggling in."

Perhaps these will become your new night time words...

What do penguins and dragons have in common?  They both lay eggs. At the end of winter one dragon has no egg.  The others have eggs of all sizes and colours.  The She Dragon flies away to the land of ice and snow where she discovers an egg but when it hatches this little one is quite different from all the others.

We have fifteen books by Debi Gliori in our school library.  I am not sure why I haven't included at least one in this blog.  I especially enjoy reading Penguin Post to our Grade One students.

You might also enjoy Fey Mouse by Hazel Edwards or Are you my mother? by PD Eastman or The Ugly Duckling.

Here is the author web site.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The name at the end of the ladder by Elena De Roo

I always enjoy books set in the future involving draconian controls imposed by a corrupt government. The name at the end of the ladder only hints at this but I did enjoy the premise that names are dangerous and so children have to wait until they turn twelve when they can 'choose' a name.  I say 'choose' because it seems there really is no choice.  The authorities or Investigators have created a safe name list and even though they give lip service to the idea of matching the name with the child this clearly is not really their practice.

"Here at the Name Bank we pride ourselves on our efficiency.  We'll have a name chosen for you in no time at all... He sounded friendly enough but September's gut told her otherwise. The words 'chosen for you' and 'assigned' didn't sound promising."

Until the age of twelve children are named by the month of their birth and so as this story opens September has just turned twelve and so she has an appointment with The Name Bank.  This appointment does not go well but as she is leaving, September, opens a lolly wrapper and reveals the words :

Play the game to choose your name!
Collect your prize from basement level 4, room 449."

September does indeed have to play the game. She plays the game using herself as a counter.  It is a game like snakes and ladders and after each turn the player is presented with a tuning fork and a new name.  Each of these names has severe consequences for September and then she realizes to reach the final square, where the perfect name awaits her,  the player must throw the exact number.  She hears the voices of other children and realizes they are trapped in the game.  Time is running out.  She has some help from a boy called August who is also playing this game but so much depends on that final roll of the dice.  Her father would be a brilliant ally after all he works for the Council of Knowledge but she is afraid to tell him the truth.

Here is a set of teaching notes from the publisher.  Here is the author web site.  You might also enjoy The Museum of Thieves, Finding Serendipity, Among the Hidden or Forbidden Memories.

If you enjoy fast paced action, board games, solving puzzles, the triumph of good over evil and strong-minded characters like September you will enjoy The Name at the end of the Ladder.

Little Mist by Angela McAllister illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies

Little Mist - this is the perfect name of our new baby snow leopard. His mother takes him out of the den and together they explore the world.

"Just now you are a little heartbeat of the mountain .. a tiny smudge in the snow .. but one day... "

This is a simple story about the wonders of our world and the wonders of growing up.  You can almost touch the snow leopards in these beautiful illustrations by Sarah Fox-Davies.  This is a book to share with a very young child but it also a book for everyone who has a fascination for the natural world.

I have included other books you can find in our library illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies.  One I especially recommend is Little Beaver and the echo - a magical picture book.

Fiddlesticks by Sean Taylor illustrated by Sally Anne Garland

Have you ever been so frustrated you just needed to YELL!  Poor little mouse. His house is almost perfect but one window just needs a tiny adjustment.  Unfortunately this tiny movement of the window leads to a chain reaction of disasters.

Before you read any words in this book why not simply go through the whole story looking at the pictures - especially mouse's face which perfectly reflects each disaster.


His friends try to so hard to help but, with his house almost totally destroyed, mouse simply has to walk away in despair.  Luckily the end of the story will give everyone a huge reason to smile again.

Here is the author web site.  If you need to read more of the plot dip into this review.  You might also enjoy No Place like home.

Friday, July 10, 2015

There's a lion in my cornflakes by Michelle Robinson illustrated by Jim Field

A friend a I recently visited a museum display of the theme of toys from the past. One area that caught our eye was a collection of the little toys that came in cereal boxes.  My friend pointed out how much breakfast conflict these little plastic objects created but luckily in There's a lion in my cornflakes there is no time for arguments because our two intrepid siblings desperately need 100 tokens to claim their FREE lion! And of course there is only one token in each box.

After weeks of munching cornflakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner the boys send in their tokens. Alas this is a case of buyer beware.  The boys have not read the 'small print'. While all their friends are enjoying their lions, Dan and his brother arrive home to find quite a different animal has been delivered.  Mr Flaky Ltd sends a letter of apology and the promise of a different reward but once again no lion.  The disasters continue until we reach the wonderful twist at the end.

You could play a great game with this book - the publisher has kindly supplied 100 free lion coupons.

The illustrator web site includes a terrific book trailer (listen at the end for the 'buyer beware' warning) and some original sketches plus excellent insights into the creative processes Jim Field went through when designing this book. You can also find some activities on the author web site.

This book made me think of a title from the Aussie Bites series called Nathan and the ice rockets.

Silence by Lemniscates

In our busy world it is good to find a book that demands quiet thought.  We have several books in our school library that fulfill this need and here is a new one Silence.

In the silence
I can hear waves crashing

My favourite lines are In Spring, I can hear bees loving flowers.

This book was created by Lemniscates which is an artist co-operative in Barcelona.  They aim to spark curiosity in children and encourage them to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.

You might share this book at night when as a way to reflect on the day.  I also like What the Sky knows, What does Peace Feel like?, The Sound of Colors, If you listen by Charlotte Zolotow, The quiet book and How to by Julie Morstad.

We talk about mindfulness as an important strategy for mental health.  Books like Silence might be a good starting point with your young child.  Put away all devices and enjoy the special moments that come from sharing a special book.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A piece of string is a wonderful thing by Judy Hindley illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain

A piece of string is a wonderful thing comes from an excellent non fiction series published by Walker Books called Read and Wonder (the original cover is the one below).  We have quite a few in our library so I was excited to see this one on a book sale recently.  I think the series is now called Read and Discover and luckily many of the titles have been reprinted.

In our library we have :
All Pigs are Beautiful
Apple Green and Runner Bean
Chameleons are cool
I love Guinea Pigs
What is a wall after all?
This bowl of Earth
A ruined House

A piece of string is a wonderful thing is told as a rhyme but, as with all the books from this series, it also includes extra facts in this case about string.

"Let us sing a song about string
what a wonderful thing it is!"

No one really knows the origin of string but like all wonderful human inventions it is sure to have arisen out of necessity such as cave men needing to haul a mammoth or a line for their fishing.  As the cave men huddled in their caves they must have pondered the need for something to hold their trousers up.  "They must have said, 'Oh, a piece of string would be SUCH a fine thing to have around the cave!" You can also read about the Egyptians and their ways of making rope from flax which might then have been used as the first plumb-line and for pulling water from a well.

This book is a joy to read aloud and has lively illustrations by Margaret Chamberlain.  She is the illustrator of The man whose mother was a pirate by Margaret Mahy.

There is so much to talk about with this book and it certainly would lead to some fun string projects. You might also like to look for these books about string.  The end papers show ancient and modern uses of string - so many ideas to explore.  Here are some further ideas.

When I think about rope I think of this quote I like to use with my senior students when we begin our discussions about Multiculturalism.  This comes from an old book in our library called Australopedia which was published in 1988.

"Like the strands of a rope, which woven together make a whole that is stronger than its parts, the different kinds of people in Australia make a country which has more variety, energy, imagination and strength because of all the backgrounds and ideas which are combined together as the Australia people."

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen

Here is a list of things you need to know :

  • The Blue Balloon is not a new book (first published in 1989)
  • The Blue Balloon is near the top of my favourite picture books of all time!
  • The Blue Balloon review is number 700 for my little blog and today is the 7th day of the 7th month I am such a fan of number sequences like this
  • The Blue Balloon is a book for all ages.  It is a book to treasure and read over and over again.
  • If The Blue Balloon is a book you have not yet discovered rush out right now and grab a copy - you will not be disappointed.
  • The Blue Balloon is the first book which features the cute dog Kipper - he went on to star in a whole series of books nearly all of which you can find in our school library.

"One day after my birthday party Kipper found a soggy blue balloon in the garden." This is the opening sentence.  Perhaps this balloon is nothing too special but the next sentence tells us "the balloons at my party were red and white." And so a day of pure balloon fun begins.  Featuring flaps and fold outs this balloon is subjected to all sorts of rough treatment but it always survives and as an added delight changes in the most marvellous and truly magical ways.

I am so happy The Blue Balloon emerged on the top of my reading pile in time to celebrate review number 700.

You might also like to read my review of another Mick Inkpen gem - Nothing.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The birthday ball by Lois Lowry illustrated by Jules Feiffer

I picked up this book, The Birthday Ball,  last week because it was written by the talented Lois Lowry.  Sadly I would not have picked this book up from the hundreds of new titles we have ready for our library based on the cover which I do not like.  Do you?

Luckily the cover did not sway me.  This is a terrific read for a middle primary student and could be useful for teachers looking for detailed, if somewhat vile, character descriptions.  There are three or perhaps four suitors all vying for the hand of Princess Patricia Priscilla.  The Princess, meanwhile, is bored with life at court and so she decides to dress as a peasant girl and attend the local school.

Duke Desmond of Dyspepsia had "huge, crooked, brown-spotted teeth, and a tuft of coarse copper-coloured hair."  You can see the illustration of him below.

Prince Percival of Pustula "dressed entirely in black, always.  Even his underclothing was black. His hair had once been a nondescript brown, but he kept it dyed jet black and thickly oiled.  His mustache, as well."

Count Colin and Count Cuthbert the Counts of Coagulatia wore clothing "specially made, with four arms and four legs and two neck-holes, and a very wide waist." They are conjoint twins who are determined to annoy each other.

Lois Lowry uses a rich vocabulary in this fairy tale style romp.  The Princess has a cat called Delicious.

"It's nutritious, Delicious."
"Stop looking avaricious, Delicious"
"Your size is ambitious, Delicious"
"The size of your tummy was suspicious, Delicious!"

Here is a review from the New York Times and another with quite a detailed description of the plot and characters I mentioned previously.  I highly recommend reading any book by Lois Lowry - you will not be disappointed.  Back to that cover.  I think it makes the Princess look ugly and perhaps frivolous and she is neither of these things.  She is a special girl.  This is especially borne out in the care an attention she gives to a little orphan girl who is also attending the school in the village. The ugly repulsive prince suitors on the other hand are perfectly depicted.  Jules Feiffer is the illustrator of the classic book The Phantom Tollbooth.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Blown away by Rob Biddulph

Stories told in rhyme always hold special appeal for young children.  Blown Away is a terrific example.  It is also a wonderful celebration of co-operation and team work.

A windy day.
A brand new kite.
For Penguin Blue
a maiden flight.

Needless to say Penguin Blue is blown away along with some wonderful friends who try to stop his kite.

The other joy you will find in Blown Away are all the visual jokes. On first reading you might miss the little stowaway from the jungle who joins the voyage back to Antarctica. Similarly the gorilla on the last page will provide a good discussion point.  Make sure you also take time to read all the little signs too - such as "You are leaving the Antarctic. Please swim carefully."

Blown Away is the winner of Waterstones Children's Book Prize for 2015.

Here is a set of puzzles based on this book and some drawing ideas from the author.  Here is an interview with Rob Biddulph.  Make sure you read the Kirkus review too.

You might also enjoy A wish for wings that work by Berkeley Breathed which is another splendid example of team work.

Ducky's nest by Gillian Rubinstein illustrated by Terry Denton

In this blog I talk quite often about books that have long been out of print.  For today I have a good news story.  Ducky's nest was first published in 1999 and our old school copy is in a very poor state so I was excited to see a new copy in a bookshop recently. This book is a true gem. In fact Walker have reprinted a good selection of their past titles including the wonderful Murgatroyd's Garden by Judy Zavos and Louise builds a House and the partner book Louise builds a boat by Louise Pfanner.

As a special addition, the back of Ducky's nest has extra information about this book from the original publisher Mark MacLeod along with Gillian Rubinstein and Terry Denton. These will add to your understanding of the themes in this book and the creative process.

Ducky is a special toy loved by Claudie.  Ducky goes everywhere with Claudie during the day and is an essential companion at night.  Luckily mum knows all the hiding places and so Claudie never goes to bed without her precious friend.  Grandma, however, does not know that Ducky is regularly misplaced.  A new baby is coming and grandma has come to look after Claudie.  They enjoy a lovely outing to the park but Ducky is left behind. "She put Ducky in the reeds by the water's edge so he could watch the ducks as they paddled across the lake to eat the bread."

Living in the lake are a group of ducks.  Once they establish Ducky is a toy and not a tadpole they decide to help him find his way back home.  All through the night the new friends fly Ducky across the city.  Terry Denton gives the reader a splendid panorama of the surrounding fields and landmarks. Ducky's home cannot be found so the ducks go back to the park.

"Each of the birds took a feather of down and they made Ducky a cost nest and tucked him in it. The black duck told him stories about famous ducks of history until he fell asleep."

This is a simple sentence and yet it shows such deep love and comfort. There are many nests in this story including the one that will now be made for the new baby.

Here is a set of teaching notes.  This is a book to treasure and own.  I am including the original cover.  After reading this book make sure you look for one of my all time favourite books Felix and Alexander also illustrated by Terry Denton.  You might also enjoy Ruby by Alison Lester.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A library book for bear by Bonny Becker illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

"Bear had never been to the library
He had seven very nice books at home:
three about kings and queens, three about honeybees,
and one about pickles.
Bear was quite sure he had
all the books he would ever need."

You might well imagine that I love this book A library book for bear.  Bear has books.  Why does he need to visit a library! He has made a promise to mouse and so he puts on his roller skates and this unlikely pair set off to the huge public library.

Mouse is the happy optimist.  Bear is sure this will all be a huge waste of time.

I love all the little expressions in this book.  Such a rich vocabulary to talk about with young readers. Here are some examples :

"a happy wag of his whiskers"
"the wind rippling nicely through their fur"
"most excessive"
"terribly extravagant"

Bear decides the one book he would like is a book about pickles.  He only has one of these in his home library.  Bear does not know about library voices and he does not want a book about any other topic.  Mouse tries to explain but bear just gets louder and louder - perfect for reading aloud.  I also love the way the illustrator gives bear such wonderful expressions mostly through the eyes.

Every book in this series is a true gem make sure you look for every one of them today.  Here is the web site for Bonny Becker  and here is a set of teaching notes.