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.