Sunday, August 30, 2015

Book Week 2015

I thought I might use this post to reflect on our :

2015 Book Week celebrations

Our week began last Friday with the announcement of the CBCA winners for this year and YES there were some huge surprises (or even shocks).  As one young reader commented - who are these judges?

Some of our favourites received prizes and others did not.  Happily some of my predictions came true.

Picture Book of the Year

We read The Stone Lion to nearly every Primary class and the response was wonderful. Margaret Wild is a national treasure.  Her books always resonate with truth and magic.  Sadly in this same category, The Duck and the Darklingswhich I adored did not receive any awards this time. Our senior classes had read and discussed the winner My Two blankets several weeks ago - it was one of the very best discussions I have had with any class this year.  I know this book will feature on in my program in the future especially when my senior students are examining our Multicultural nation as part of their HSIE class work.

Early Childhood Picture Book

Nearly every child in my school expected Pig the Pug to win.  Even before reading this book it was the popular choice.  This book did not receive any awards but I did read it to every class this week and much laughter was heard.  The winner and honour books in this category are for very young children but my Kindergarten and Grade One children did enjoy the familiar scenes in Go to Sleep Jessie and the rhymes and illustrations in Scary Night and Noni the pony goes to the Beach. Below you can see the cover painted by one of our classes many years ago of the first Noni title.  We have a spledid set of over 50 of these enormous posters in our library.

Younger Readers

I will begin by saying I think this section needs a new name and perhaps new criteria.  It seems odd to judge a splendid book like Withering by Sea against the eventual winner The Cleo Stories.  It was this section that elicited the comment above.  Sadly Figgy in the World did not feature among the winners either.  You can read about the other Honour book Two Wolves here.

Our School celebrations

Unlike many Australian schools - we do not hold book character parades in my school.  I feel they have little or no connection to reading and often become a competition between parents.  In other families the need to find or make costumes is, I feel, an unnecessary stress.  Instead we have activities for every single day of book week.  Our library hosts special lunch events including craft sessions with our youngest students (you might like to read about MakerSpaces).  For our older students every day we announce a thinking challenge.  These are completed during the school day and we present prize bags and merit awards for the best work.  You can see some examples above and below this post.  This year our challenges were

  • Puzzle me a puzzle - make a game or puzzle using the Book Week Slogan Books light up our world
  • Recycle recycle - three uses for a used light globe.  Go one step further and make a colourful poster to present your ideas in a hardware store
  • Light me a light - design a new light for our library foyer.  Go one step further and include instructions explaining how this light works
  • Making it personal - write a tweet (140 characters) to explain how one book lit up your world.  Go one step further and present this as a book mark.

We received hundreds of entries for each challenge.  I almost ran out of prizes!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis

Before I tell you about Scarlet Ibis - a book I read in one sitting and which I loved - can I ask you to take a minute to read my review of Wild Wings also called Sky Hawk and also by Gill Lewis.

Scarlet and her brother Red live with their mum in very precarious circumstances. Mum is unwell and care of the family falls to young Scarlet.  Her immediate concern is for the family to pass an inspection by the welfare lady Mrs Gideon.  "Mrs Gideon is the social worker who comes to spy on us.  Red calls them all penguins. I know what he means.  They're like the penguins at the zoo, the way they strut about, yabbering and poking their beaks into everything."

Aside from penguins, Red loves birds,  He is a boy with behaviour issues but contact with birds calms him.  Each month, Scarlet takes Red to the zoo so he can spend time with the birds  Red has a huge collection of feathers.  He can name the bird for every feather. Right now he is keen to find a feather from the Scarlet Ibis.

As Red reaches for the precious feather, which he has seen in the bird enclosure, he slips and falls and Scarlet knows bad things must surely follow :

"He is not looking at the bird any more. His eyes are fixed on the pool of green water. In the middle, slowly turning in the breeze, floats a single feather.  It's a long flight feather, bright scarlet and tipped with black.  ... He points to the door next to the scarlet ibis enclosure. No Entry. Staff Only....  I can see Red standing at the pond edge, staring at the feather. .. My heart is thumping inside my chest, because I know that we are now in deep, deep trouble."

I had to stop reading at this point and take a break.  I was so worried for Scarlet and Red but actually the kind zoo keeper saves the day and all is well - but only for a short time.  Trouble really comes in the form of a house fire and Scarlet finds herself in foster care, separated from her brother and with very conflicted feelings about her mother.

If you enjoy fast paced books, with strong characters who demonstrate compassion, resilience and determination - you will love Scarlet Ibis.  A big thank you goes to the Grade six student from my school who returned this book last week with the comment "I loved it."

You might like to read this review. Here is a video interview with the author.  Scarlet Ibis was awarded The Little Rebels prize in 2015. I now need to investigate some of the other titles short listed for this new social justice award.   You might also enjoy reading these reviews by students.

After reading Scarlet Ibis you could read The Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt, Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff and Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech.  An older student might like to read The Illustrated mum by Jacqueline Wilson which also deals with issues of mental illness.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reggie Queen of the street by Margaret Barbalet illustrated by Andrew McLean

I don't believe in using books to manipulate the thinking of children or to teach 'psychological lessons'.  I am happy, however, when a splendid piece of writing quite naturally gives young readers an insight into themselves or others especially when it relates to emotional intelligence.

Recently a teacher asked me for books that could help a class with resilience.  I found quite a few lists of these on the Internet but when these books were presented to the teacher she did not find any that quite met her expectations.  The problem here probably relates to knowledge of these stories.

One book that appears on many of these lists is Reggie Queen of the street.  I think it would make an excellent discussion starter if you wanted to talk about resilience.

Reggie has a happy life with Doug and Helen and the children who live in her street until one day every thing changes.

Here are two definitions of resilience - one from Merriam-Webster and one from the Oxford Dictionary :

an ability to recover from or adjust easily to 
misfortune or change

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

Reggie's family move to a new part of town so Reggie leaves home. "Around midnight, Reggie began to smell her street.  She bounced along, past all the houses, to the best one. Home!"  Sadly, though, it is no longer home.  The demolition team have moved in.  Reggie sadly has to retrace her steps and make the long journey back to the house where Helen and Doug now live.  It is in the final scenes of this book that we see Reggie's resilience.  She could easily decide that life will never been fun ever again but instead she picks up her ball - literally, and goes outside to await the arrival of a new set of neighborhood children.

Here are some other books which I think could be used with students - preferably one on one or in very small groups.  I also have a pinterest list for this topic.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Molly and Pim and the millions of stars by Martine Murray

As Book Week approaches in Australia - the big announcement from the CBCA will happen on Friday - I am going to make a bold prediction for 2016.  Molly and Pim and the millions of stars will surely reach the CBCA short list next year.

Molly lives with her mum.  Her father has disappeared to Cuba and her older brothers have also departed to look for him.  Molly lives a conflicted life.  She loves her mum but she finds her unconventional behaviour and interest in healing plants embarrassing.  Molly looks with longing at the seemingly ordinary and conventional life of her friend best Ellen.

Molly and her mum are having trouble with their awful neighbours.  "Prudence Grimshaw had a long narrow head and short colourless hair, which rose upward and hovered above two stabbing eyes and a short line of lip."  There are so many teaching opportunities that could be teased out from this description and the equally unflattering one of Ernest Grimshaw.

Mum decides they need a tree to block their garden from these complaining neighbours. Mum can work magic and so she collects an acorn from a nearby park.  Mum plans to soak the acorn in a special "decoction" which will mean the full tree will grow in a week.

When you pick up your copy of Molly and Pim and the millions of stars please keep reading because the gasp aloud moment does not happen until page 51.  I guarantee once you reach this point in the story you absolutely will not be able to put this book down as it races towards a very satisfying conclusion.

I am not going to tell you more about these events but I do need to talk about the aptly named Pim Wilder.  Pim is a very different boy and so he is a mystery to Molly but he also a boy she would like to understand. As their friendship develops Molly asks Pim :

"What do you want to learn at school?'
'Not footy, that's for sure.  And not multiplication tables  I want to know how stuff works. And how to make one thing become something else.  Light, for instance, or sound.  What does it feel like to fly? How does an albatross guide itself as it flies across the ocean? What is a star?"

I do hope Martine Murray has plans to write a book about Pim.  He is such an interesting character.

Take a minute to look at this video where you can meet Martine Murray.  You might also like to read this review.  We have several books in our library by Martine Murray including The Slightly True Story of Cedar B Hartley which was short listed back in 2003.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The duck and the darklings by Glenda Millard illustrated by Steven Michael King

Readers of this blog will know I adore the work of Glenda Millard.  I need to say this again I adore every word Glenda Millard writes and The Duck and the Darklings shows how her writing just gets better and better.

The Duck and the Darklings is short listed for the CBCA awards for 2015.  It is a tough competition but I do hope this book receives an honour at the very least.

Why do I love The Duck and the Darklings?  First of there are the magical words - real and invented - which perfectly convey life in an underground world.  Something has happened to the world above ground.  Many years have passed.  We do not need to know what has happened. Peterboy and his grandfather have carved out a warm and loving home and even though life is a daily struggle they have each other.  One day Peterboy finds a duck.  This new family member could disturb the precarious balance of their lives but instead the duck helps to bring Peterboy's grandfather back to life.  His depression lifts and in turn their lives lift, quite literally back to the world above where everyone (including the reader) makes a startling discovery.

Now onto some of those wonderful words.  Here is a list.  You, do however, need to find this book to fully appreciate each of these writing gems.

"almost everything had been disremembered"
"only when the heavenlies were deepest indigo and earth was darkest violet"
"Peterboy found Idaduck"
"in return she cosied his toes"
"Grandpa played oompapas on his curly brass tootle"
"rusty latchkey of his magnificent remembery"

And here is my favourite line :
"gathering fiddlesticks for firewood, filling billies with trickle"
I think trickle the most perfect word for water - especially scarce water.

There is so much to talk about with this book.  Even a simple sentence such as the opening one "In the land of dark great a child called Peterboy".  Where is the land of dark?  Has this child always lived in this place?  How do you know?  Why would his name be the combination of Peter and boy?

One very clever device in this book is the use of different sizes of type.  I found when reading this book aloud several times this week that this sizing helped me to pace my reading as well as making me become quieter as the words grew smaller.

When you look closely at the illustrations in this glorious book you can see all the little trade mark favourites of Steven Michael King - teapots, umbrellas, red fabric with yellow polka-dots and those little dot eyes which are some how so very expressive.  Make sure you spend time talking about the possibilities depicted in the final illustration.

The Duck and the Darklings is a book to treasure.  Here is a set of teaching notes.  It is difficult to give you an exact audience for this book.  We will share it with our students in Grade Three right up to Grade Six.  If you need to know more try this review.  Here is a quote from Inside a Dog :

This is the most extraordinary book – 
it is a tale of hope, and triumph and resilience; 
of love and friendship and family; of connection and belonging. 

But what sets it apart is the most magnificent language that Glenda Millard has used – language that is so evocative and imaginative and expressive that you are just absorbed into the story 
as it wraps around you.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Finding Monkey Moon by Elizabeth Pulford illustrated by Kate Wilkinson

Every now and then a book reaches our library that is just so very special it makes me gasp out loud. Once again Bloomin Books have sent us a truly wonderful book.  Finding Monkey Moon is the perfect book for a young child.  It has a story young children will relate to, a moment of tension and a warm affirming resolution all captured through stunning illustrations.

It is bedtime.  Every night Michael and Monkey Moon head upstairs to bed but tonight his precious friend is missing.  Dad and Michael conduct an extensive search and then dad realizes Monkey Moon is probably down at the park so they put on their coats and head off into the dark night.

Here are some writing gems from this book

"their breath fluttering like moths in the cold air"
"His cry carried through the darkness and fell into the fold of quiet"

You might also enjoy Can't you sleep little bear by Martin Waddell, Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems and Sleep Tight Baboon bear by Bette Westera.  This might also give you the opportunity to revisit classic books like Corduroy, Ducky's nest and Where are you Blue Kangaroo?

Here is the web site for Elizabeth Pulford where you can see the impressive body of work by this New Zealand author.

Here is an illustration from this book which is the first by Kate Wilkinson.  You can find her web site here. I am also including an alternate cover which comes from the US.  I think it spoils the story - don't you?