Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Paper things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles? Louisa May Alcott

I have mentioned  this in the past.  People often ask me why I only read 'kids' books.  I reply with two answers - I don't have time with all the books on my reading pile and yes they are 'kids books' and when I do finally pick up an adult book that someone has told me is fabulous I am usually so disappointed.

Here is a book I need to give to every adult who has ever thought 'kids books' are a lesser species. Paper Things is a breathtaking book.  It is emotional, raw and utterly honest.  Start by listening to this audio sample which takes up the story from about page 4.

Ari and Gage have lost both their mum and dad.  Janna, a family friend, has become their guardian but she and Gage, now aged nineteen keep clashing and so Gage has decided to leave.  He takes eleven year old Ari with him and promises he has already set up an apartment where they will live. But "we didn't have an apartment. Not yet. We didn't have a home of any kind.  That was the beginning of February This is almost the end of March. We still don't."

Gage organises a different place to sleep each night and Ari learns to keep her most important possessions in her back pack. Some places where they stay offer a shower and laundry and food, others do not but through it all Ari stays so optimistic.  There are some truly heart breaking moments when you just wonder how she can keep going and some incredibly kind people who offer help, sometimes without knowing the real situation.  One of my favourites  relates to Ari's shoes :

"I was running as fast as I could, but my shoes has started to flap where the stitching is coming out, and it falls of easily."

"We head over to the door to get my shoes. ... and my finger pokes through the hole in the stitching. Gage ... doesn't want Janna to notice what sorry shape they're in."

"Ms Finch was giving me a free pair of shoes - of really cute shoes.  Why me? .... And suddenly I'm crying."

The quote above from Louisa May Alcott comes from an assignment Ari is working on.  She discovers she has some things in common with the famous author and so does Janna who introduced her to the book Little Women.

There is also so much that resonates in the title of this book.  Ari cuts paper people and furniture from junk mail catalogs.  She uses them in a comforting game of make-believe.  These paper things are so precious to Ari.  To get in to assisted housing Ari and Gage need to complete official paperwork - more paper things.  Ari wants to fulfill her mother's dying wish and attend Carter Middle School but she needs to fill in an application form and for that she needs an address - more paper things that all seem too hard.

If you have questions after reading this book Jennifer Jacobson has recorded a long and informative video where she talks to students.  Here is a review with more plot details.  Kirkus also have a good review but oddly did not give this book a star. I would give it FIVE stars!

Here is a brief set of teaching ideas.

Following this book I would recommend How to Steal a dog, Crenshaw, and Hold fast.  I also found a book list with a range of titles from Picture books through to YA on the themes of empathy and homelessness.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Book of Bees by Piotr Socha text by Wojciech Grajkowski

In a word this is a splendid book!  It is huge, easy to read, fascinating and each page has the most delicious illustrations.  I especially like the way some illustrations are numbered - it reminds of science books from my childhood and those special botanical books with glossy colour plates.

I read this whole book in one sitting and I discovered so many new and important facts about this curious, hardworking and essential little insect.

Did you know? (I could go on and on with this list)

  • Bees were around in the times of dinosaurs
  • An adult bee lives for about five weeks and during this time it may work as a cleaner, feeding the larvae, receiving the nectar, guarding the hive entrance and finally becoming a forager responsible for collecting nectar, pollen and water.
  • Bees are the only insects who practice flower consistency which means the pollen ends up where it is meant to be.
  • Emperor Bonaparte and his wife Josephine embroidered their capes with bees in gold thread and added bees to their flags, emblems and seals.

Now that I know how hard the bees work and how many flowers they have to visit I have a new respect for honey.  Here are some statistics which might amaze you :

  • A bee can visit 15 -20 single flowers in one minute
  • A bee can carry up to 1/3 of its body weight in nectar inside its honey stomach
  • To make one kilo of honey bees "must visit over four million flowers flying about 110,000 miles in the process. This is the same distance as flying around the world four times!"

You can also read about honey in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and cave pictures of bees believed to be 8,000 years old.

The latest copy of The Literature Base features a series of lessons about bees.  This is why I bought The book of bees and The flight of the Honey Bee home to read.  I have now started a little Pinterest collection of non fiction books in our school library about bees.  Now I just need to plant some bee attracting flowers on my balcony.

I recommend you take some time to explore the web site of Piotr Socha.  We are so lucky Thames and Hudson selected this book to publish and translated it from Polish so many more children around the world can learn about the precious bee.

Return to the secret garden by Holly Webb

"Emmie stopped, rubbing her fingers over the smooth metal.  would it open?  Would she be able to get inside without the key? She stood hesitating, trails of ivy draped over and around her, not quite daring to turn the handle in case she was still shut out."

I read a few reviews of Return to the secret garden and some admitted they had not read the original book.  I guess Return to the secret garden can stand alone but really the reading of this 'sequel' is so much richer with a good knowledge of the original book by Frances Hodgson Burnett published in 1911.

Holly Webb sets up all sort of parallels in her book that match with the original story not the least is Misselthwaite Manor itself.

Mary is an orphan so is Emmie.  While we do know what happened to Mary in India Holly Webb never reveals why Emmie is an orphan or how she came to be living in a London children's home.

Mary is lonely and bad tempered and confused.  Emmie is evacuated from London to Misselthwaite Manor.  She is one of the older children from the home but the two boys who are of a similar age are not her 'friends.' They tease her and call her names.  Emmie is always getting into trouble and it seems grown ups will never answer her questions.  Her only friend is a little black cat but he has been left behind in London. Emmie is so worried he will be killed either by gas or bombs or even the adults who are putting animals down.

Mary makes friends with a little robin and he shows her the key and the way into the secret garden. Another robin (perhaps the great grandfather of the first) also shows Emmie how to find the door to the garden.

Mary hears a boy crying in the night and discovers Colin - they boy who will become her friend. Emmie also hears crying.  It is a boy called Jack, he is the son of Mrs Craven who owns Misselthwaite Manor.

Mary is helped in the garden by a local boy called Dickon.  Emmie is helped by one of the garden staff - a man called Mr Sowerby.  He has been wounded in WWI and his face and legs are damaged but in spite of his gruff manner he understands little Emmie is in need of love and gentle care.

Holly Webb does capture the moment of discovery in the same magical way of the original :

"She wandered breathlessly under the arches, reaching up every so often to touch a rose, laughing as they shed their petals on her face and shoulders. The summer had been long and hot and many of the roses had finished flowering already, with just the odd late blossom left here and there, but Emmie found it hard to believe there could be more flowers ... a great mass of lilies, so strongly scented that she could almost see the perfume in the air."

Emmie knows about Mary, Colin and Dickon because she finds three diaries in her room.  Over the course of the next months she reads these diaries and gradually discovers the true identity of Mrs Craven, her husband Lieutenant Craven and old Mr Sowerby and just like in the original she comes to a better understanding of herself, her place in the world and the important ways to show you are a true friend.

At the back of my copy of Return to the Secret garden there is an interview with Holly Webb  and she mentions The Painted garden by Noel Stretfeild - this is long out of print but I think I will try to find a copy.

I also recommend you read The Humming Room as another way to explore the themes and plot of the classic book The Secret Garden.  You might also enjoy Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, Vinnie's war, and  Children of the King.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Belle and Sebastien The child of the mountains by Cecile Aubry illustrated by Helen Stephens

I mentioned in a previous post that I loved the movie based on this book and television series.

Belle and Sebastien was first written in French in 1965.  This edition is an English translation published in 2014.  At times the writing style is a little complex so I would recommend older Primary students might watch the movie before reading this book.  Originally there were thirteen episodes of the television series.  This book introduces the little boy Sebastien who is found as a newborn baby lying with his dying mother and adopted by the kind and wise Cesar.  We are also introduced to Belle and discover why she has become 'wild'.  The movie goes further into the story exploring the heroism of the French resistance.

Here is the scene where Sebastien sees Belle for the first time :

"Sebastien wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.  There she was standing tall, motionless save for the plume of her tail as it beat the air. Vapour came our of the half-open chops with their long black outline; two more back lines made her eyes stand out in the golden whiteness of her fur. ... He called out to her very softly : 'Belle ... "

The people in the village are sure Belle has become a dangerous beast.  Sebastien seems to have few allies.  The authorities are set to destroy Belle but this little boy is determined to save his best friend.

Through kindness, perseverance and love Belle is gradually tamed. Sebastien runs through the mountains trying to find Belle because he overhears the adults who are planning setting out to capture him. Exhausted he falls into a deep snow drift.  It is Belle who rescues her new friend but there will need to be two more rescues before the authorities are convinced Belle is not dangerous.

"It was in this moment that a dog's passion for man was truly born in Belle.  In a few agile bounds she was next to him, lifting him with her muzzle, breathing her strength into the child, forcing him to hang on to the long frozen locks of her fur."

You might like to listen to the beautiful song if you have a memory of the television series.  You can read the first pages of this book here.  Dog lovers might also enjoy Shiloh by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds, A dog's life by Ann M Martin or Stone Fox.

There is also a second movie about Belle and Sebastien which I hope to see soon.

Grade Six students recommend 2016

A book I enjoyed reading ... Grade Six 2016

Each year I use our student Year Book to list here on my blog the favourite books named by our Grade Six students.

Below are links to some past lists. .  There were a lot of new choices this year and not so many of the obvious popular titles which I find quite exciting.


It is interesting this year to see such a huge variety of titles.  Only a few titles were mentioned more than once.  Hatchet (3), Rain Reign (4), Alex Rider (2), Harry Potter (2) and Wonder (6).

I have linked to my reviews so you can read a little more about some of these choices.

Series listed by students :

A series of Unfortunate events Lemony Snickett
Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel Michael Scott
Tom Gates Liz Pichon
Harry Potter JK Rowling
How to train your dragon Cressida Cowell
Friday Barnes RA Spratt
Heartland Lauren Brooke
Alice Miranda Jacqueline Harvey
Stuff Happens various authors
Storey Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths
WeirDo by Ahn Do
Kaboom Kid David Warner
Once, After, Now, Soon Morris Gleitzman

Novels I also read and loved :

Cartwheeling in thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell
The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Out of the dust by Karen Hesse
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Rain Reign Ann M Martin
Bird Crystal Chan
The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Floors Patrick Carmen

Other titles :

Blueback Tim Winton
Stay Well soon by Penny Tangey
Too small to fail Morris Gleitzman
Matilda Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
Gangsta Granny David Walliams
Mr Stink David Walliams
Just Shocking Andy Griffiths
A room full of chocolate Jane Elson
Meet Grace (Our Australian girl series) by Sofie Laguna
Hatchet Gary Paulsen
I survived the shark attacks of 1916 Lauren Tarshis
Half a man Michael Morpurgo
Wonder struck Brian Selznick
George's secret key to the universe Stephen Hawking
Magnus Chase and the sword of Summer Rick Riordan
Alex Rider Anthony Horowitz
Fly away girls Julia Lawrinson
The Hobbit JRR Tolkein
Nick Riley's ninth life Bronwyn Blake
Magic Thief Sarah Prineas
Caro was here Elizabeth Farrelly
Quest of the Sunfish Mardie McConnochie
Extra Time Morris Gleitzman

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M Draper

"Red fire. Black cross. White hoods. They're here. Now,' ... It was 1932, in the little town ... Every negro family in Bumblebee knew the unwritten rules."

I love the name Bumblebee North Carolina - there is no such town but I felt compelled to check - when you read Stella by Starlight you will feel as though you have visited this small community in 1932 so vivid is the writing of Sharon M Draper.

Every aspect of Stella's life is affected by the racial discrimination of this time.  There is only one Negro doctor for example.  Tony, the son of Dr Hawkins, observers : "It's hard to live like there's a boot in your back every second of your life." The white doctor even has a sign on his door WHITE PATIENTS ONLY.  When Stella's mother, Georgia, is bitten by a snake he refuses to help and Stella's mother almost dies.  These are scenes towards the end of the book and I actually had to stop reading because I was so afraid for Stella's precious mum.

Stella loves to read and wants to write but feels she lacks the skill.  Another unfair aspect of life in 1932, Stella is not allowed to visit the public library but she does have writing all over her house.  Her mother papers the walls with newspaper articles.  Her father reads three newspapers each day "Gotta know what's goin' on in the world,' he reminded Stella when she'd ask why one paper wasn't enough." But Stella is an observant child and she notices "colored people were rarely mentioned in those ... newspapers."  When she and a friend look through the Sears and Roebuck catalog she says "Did you notice - I don't see eve one single person who looks like us in this big old book."

Apart from the horror of the Klan and the extreme fear felt by the citizens of color in this community another aspect of this book relates to rights and in particular the right to vote.  If you are working on a unit about democracy you might like to use chapter 22.  Three men from the town, including Stella's father, travel to Amherst to register to vote.  Stella goes along with them.  The men are ridiculed by the town official and then told to take a fifteen minute written test. They even have to pay for this privilege.  Meanwhile some white men walk into the same office and all that is required a simple signature on a form.  Stella is enraged. Then the men from Bumblebee are told to come back in a week.

"Mr Spencer sat down on the floor. After a moment, Stella's father and Pastor Patton joined him." They sit on the floor of the office until their test is graded.  The consequence of this action is truly awful - the Klan burn down the Spencer home and endanger their thirteen children.  You will cheer, though, when you read how the whole town including some of the white citizens unite to assist the family.  Stella is called a hero when finds six year old Hazel who has run away in fear and the Spencer's give her a typewriter which came with the donations given to the family after the fire. Using a typewriter gives Stella the motivation to keep working on her writing.

All through this book we see Stella's writing progress but she is full of self doubt. I love the words of encouragement from Stella's mother :

"I'm a dunce?' Stella said, fear clutching her chest.
'Quite the opposite. You are an amazing thinker - a gemstone hiding inside a rock."

Stella is a very talented writer.  Here are some samples from her work :

"I've got thick black hair, and bushy caterpillar-looking eyebrows. When I look in the mirror, I don't see pretty, I just see me."

"At the mill ... they take sawdust and turn that into paper. Those big old trees become books and notebooks and newspapers. Dust becomes words. I like that."

"My papa voted. He is a pebble. Lots of pebbles make a landslide, right? His vote counted."

Watch this video where Sharon explains her family inspiration for this important story which is a snapshot of history.  Click here to listen to an audio sample from Chapter 17.  Here is a thoughtful review which will give you more plot details.  The author web site will give you further insight into this important and award winning book.  Here are a set of teaching notes.  If I have not convinced you that Stella by Starlight is a special and important book - read this review from the Nerdy Book Club - now!!

After or even before reading Stella by Starlight I recommend you read the picture book Goin' someplace special by Patricia McKissack and the novels Kissy Ann Stamps, Mississippi bridge by Mildred D Taylor and Walking to the bus rider blues by Harriet Robinet.

Stella by Starlight is not at all like Sharon's earlier book Out of my mind but you will want to read this one too I am sure. It was one of my top books this year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Half a chance by Cynthia Lord

Lucy has moved to an old house on a lake in New Hampshire - an area where people usually just visit for Summer holidays. Lucy has moved so many times but she still finds making new friends can be hard.  She is also missing her dad who is a photographer.  Lucy herself loves to take photos. She discovers her father is about to judge a photo competition and she knows he has very high standards but she would love him to acknowledge her talent. Her new friend Nate, who is visiting the lake for the summer with his family and grandmother, agrees to help.  The challenge is to take 26 different photos using a list with words such as :

  • Three feet
  • Holding on
  • Lines
  • Out of Place
  • Hope
  • Beyond Reach
  • Wonder
  • Unexpected
  • At the Crossroads

Lucy takes amazing photos - creative and moving. While she explores her new environment and neighbours she realizes, perhaps before the family will admit this themselves, that Nate's grandmother Lilah is loosing her memory. One photo especially captures Lilah's bewilderment but Nate becomes angry and Lucy is not sure what to do.

When an Australian child reads this book they should probably read about Loons and hear the amazing sounds they make.  I have been fascinated by these special birds ever since I heard about them when I lived in Canada. I did enjoy Half a Chance.  It is an easy book to read but with a strong sense of place and even though you may predict the ending, it is still completely heartwarming.  Here is a detailed review of Half a Chance.

You might also enjoy Millie and the Night Heron by Catherine Bateson or Return to Gone-away by Elizabeth Enright.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My reading pile - more titles

This is part two of my post about my holiday reading pile.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk has an interesting cover.
The prologue says :
"The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered.  So much, sometimes, that I wasn't sure I wanted such a burden. But I took it anyway, and I carried it as best I could."

The shark caller by Dainne Wolfer
Dianne Wolfer is the author of the senior picture book Photographs in the mud which is a moving account of events from World War II when Australia and Japan were at war. She also wrote the short listed book Granny Grommet and me.

" ... there is a tragic reason for the trip.  Her twin brother, Ray, died in a freak diving accident, and Izzy and her mum and are taking his ashes home. ... Izzy's cousin Noah explains that the clan needs someone to undertake a traditional diving ritual. The person must be a twin from the shark-calling lineage. The dive will be perilous. And Izzy is the last twin."

Nooks and crannies by Jessica Lawson
Kirkus call this one a 'swell mystery'.
Here is an extract from the blurb :

"Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, though her parents think her only talent is being a nuisance."

Oddly I am not a huge fan of Michael Morpurgo but many of my students are avid readers of his books and we have a full shelf of them in our library.  An Eagle in the snow was a title selected for our NSW School Magazine bookshelf list in 2016. You can listen to an audio sample here.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Here is the blurb :

"In a world brimming with colour and magic. Alice's pale skin and milk-white hair mark her as an outcast. For the people of Ferenwood, colour and magic are one and the same. Alice is determined to prove her magical abilities and solve the mystery of her father's disappearance. To do so she'll have to  travel into the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore. But nothing there is as it seems and Alice may never find her way home."

Kirkus describe this as a 'smashing fantasy.'

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Christmas holiday reading pile

Here is a small selection of the books on my huge pile of holiday reading. I have selected five of the newer titles for tonight and I will list another five tomorrow.  I am also planning to read some older books which I pulled out of our library as we were packing our shelves in preparation for new carpet. My pile, as you may have guessed, is huge.

In 2009 I talked about Rules by Cynthia Lord so I am quite excited to read Half a chance.  Here is an extract from the blurb :

" ...slowly  her camera reveals what her new friend doesn't want to see: His family is changing in ways that threaten what he treasures most."
Kirkus says : Lord brings the same sensitivity to the subject of dementia that she bought to autism in her Newbery Honor book Rules.

If you have been following this blog you will know I have talked about the classic book The secret Garden in the past. I talked about the audio book and The Humming Room which is based on The Secret Garden.  Now we have Return to the Secret Garden.  One of my students read this book last month and told me it was terrific.
Here is the blurb :

"It's 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Manor. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion. But soon she starts discovering the mysteries of the house: a boy crying in the night, a diary written by a girl names Mary, and a garden.  A very secret garden."

A few years ago a friend recommended a beautiful film Belle and Sebastien.  Last month I was standing in a bookshop looking at their 'classics' shelf when I spied the book of Belle and Sebastien.  I adored the film.  I had no idea this book was written in 1965 and has its origins in a French television series.
Here is the blurb :

"There she was, standing tall, motionless save for the plume of her tail as it beat the air.  She saw him. She bent her head towards him. Was she going to jump? He no longer felt any fear, and it he too stood still it was because an unknown force compelled him to hold his ground before the animal now watching him  He called to her very softly " 'Belle ..."

When I started to list Paper Things here I thought I should check the author.  I am happy to discover Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the author of the little Andy Shane series.  These are for a much younger audience but I did enjoy Andy Shane and the Barn Sale mystery and I often recommend. I do like the cover of this book but reading the blurb it sound like it will be a difficult and emotional book to read.
Here is an extract from the blurb :

"When Ari's mother died four years ago, she made Ari promise that she and her older brother, Gage would stay together always. So when Gage decides he can no longer live with their bossy guardian, Janna, Ari knows she has to go with him, even though they don't have an apartment yet. Instead, Gage and Ari 'couch surf' crashing with friends or sneaking into shelters to escape the cold Maine nights."

You may know I loved Out of my Mind also by Sharon M Draper so I am looking forward to Stella by Starlight. This book opens with two children watching the Klan "Nine robed figures dressed all in white. Heads covered with softly pointed hoods. Against the black of night, a single wooden cross blazed." Our grade five classes talk about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks so I will be interested to read another account of life during segregation in America.
I found an interview with Sharon M Draper talking about her inspiration for this book.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wish upon a unicorn by Karen Hesse

"Hannie and I were walking home from school when we saw a unicorn in Newell's field. It wasn't a real unicorn. There's no such thing as a real unicorn.  It was just a stuffed thing, propped up against the fence post."

When they find the unicorn Mags knows it cannot really grant wishes but then oddly two wishes (fairly simple ones) do come true so perhaps it is time to make the biggest wish of all.

"I just wanted to be like everyone else, living in a house big enough so we wouldn't be tiptoeing around Mama sleeping on the living room couch in the middle of the day. ... I wanted to look and act and be just like the other kids at school and not be embarrassed about who I am."

Wish on a Unicorn is a very short book with just over 100 pages but it is an emotional story about a life in poverty, the struggles of living with a disabled sibling, the desperate need to fit in with your peer group and the need to protect the ones you love. Mags also has to contend with a bully, her mother's moods and trying to keep her brother Mooch out of trouble.

Mama works all night and sleeps through the day which means younger brother Mooch is left to roam the neighborhood - he is not yet old enough to attend school.  Little sister Hannie is eight.  "She looks normal enough ... Mama's says she's slow on account of she didn't get enough air to breathe when she was being born."

There were moments in this book when I simply had to stop reading.  One of the first wishes by Mags is for new clothes.  Perhaps coincidentally a bag of almost new clothes arrives from her aunt.  Among the collection is a special sweater with a penguin on the front.  Mags wears it to school hoping this will make Alice and Patty Jo might notice her. I just hoped they would like it and not ridicule her. There is another scene late in the story when Mags tries to cross a busy highway - it is truly terrifying.

Karen Hesse really captures the right tone with her expressions in this book :

"I wasn't moving my skinny self over there in any hurry."
"Hannie runs slower than cold gravy"
"Hannie's as stubborn as boot leather"
"Even if you're turned inside-out hungry"
"he was clinging like an old bean creeper to a pole"
"her mouth sweet and round like a pink-iced doughnut"
"It felt worse than sour milk on an empty stomach"

Karen Hesse really did see a unicorn toy in a field and this incident inspired the book Wish upon a Unicorn. Our copy of this book has a question and answer section at the back where you can read more about this talented writer and award winning writer.

I am a huge fan of Karen Hesse.  Read my reviews of Out of the Dust, Sable and Lavender.   You might also like to read Waiting for Normal it has a similar theme, tone and setting.

Here are two other covers - which one do you prefer?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Some Writer The story of EB White by Melissa Sweet

When I read a pretty line
A little flame goes down my spine,
That when I see the morning sun
I laugh to think the world's begun

Extract from a poem by EB White published in 1922.

Melissa Sweet has collected a wealth of information about EB White from his writing as a little boy right through to the famous children's books, his work for the New Yorker magazine and through collected letters which were published in 1976.

Martha White granddaughter of EB White "My grandfather once wrote about letters, 'The visitor to the attic knows the risk he runs when he lifts the lid from a box of old letters. Words out of the past have the power to detain."

This book Some Writer (have you made a connection from the title and Charlotte's Web?) certainly had the power to detain me.  I sat and read the whole book in an afternoon and I think I smiled the whole way through.  Of course we know EB White through his children's books such as my favourite The trumpet of the swan.

"Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting he time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick and generally congenial readers on earth  ...  I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net."

EB White did so much more writing over his life time in magazines, adult books, poetry and newspaper articles.

"A sentence should contain on unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences ... This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

Melissa Sweet : "The thing about White that comforts and fascinates me (and challenges me) is how he manages to make his words matter more.  It is is as if he is able to make one word do the work of ten."

On reading for the audio book of Charlotte's Web EB White said "It's ridiculous, ... a grown man reading a book that he wrote and being unable to read it aloud because of tears."

Charlotte's Web - the inspiration was his own barn and farm in Maine.  EB White also saw a spider spinning an egg sac and deposit her eggs.  He put the sac in a box and several days later his office in New York was swarming with tiny spiders.
Stuart Little - EB White had a dream on a train about a mouse who was 'fully dressed in dapper clothing with a hat and cane."
Trumpet of the Swan sprang from an article in the NY Times about trumpeter swans.  EB White wondered what if one of these rare swans was born without a voice.

Melissa Sweet chronicles the life of EB White from birth to his death in 1985.  As a young man he and a friend decided to set off in an old Model T roadster.  Earning money while on his grand trip west across America was not easy but two items caught my eye "Supplied the last line in a limerick contest and won $25."  He also picked peas in an orchard for 30 cents an hour!  Somehow Melissa even prints a copy of the winning limerick.

The letters of EB White published in 1976 are quoted throughout the book. In one he described skating with a friend in 1917.  He wrote "We didn't talk much ... we just skated for the ecstasy of skating - a magical glide. ... I remember what it was like to be in love before any of love's complexities or realities or disturbances had entered in, to dilute its splendor and challenge its perfection."

This is a book for all ages.  For children who have enjoyed his classic books and for adults who remember the books and wonder about their creator.  It is also a perfect book for teachers and teacher-librarians who love sharing these classic stories with their classes.  Using Some Writer your lessons will be so much richer.

One of the things that fascinated me was the way EB White had so many different names.

Elwyn Brooks White
En - his name as a young boy
Andy - his college nickname based on the name of Cornell's first president Andrew Dickson White
EB White the name he put on all his writing from a very young age

You will also see his handwriting and editing and you can read how White struggled to find the perfect beginning for Charlotte's Web.

Here are some lines I love (from the end) of this famous book :

"You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you.  ... By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

Listen to an interview from NPR "All things Considered" with Melissa Sweet and see some of the wonderful illustrations.  Read the Kirkus review - it has a star!  Here is the Nerdy Book Club review and you can also see more pages from this book. View a trailer with Melissa. I heartily agree with the School Library Journal reviewer who says:

"Drop everything and share widely."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The gift of Christmas by Christine Leeson illustrated by Gaby Hansen

"During the night the animals had all added more decorations to the tree.  The frost had come and touched everything with glitter. The little tree sparkled and shone and even stars seemed to be caught in its branches with the biggest and brightest star right at the very top."

Molly Mouse sees a beautiful tree in the window of a human house and her mother explains it is a Christmas tree.  Molly sets off to find her own tree in the woods to decorate.  Molly finds a doll in the barn.  She thinks it would look perfect on top of her tree but the doll already has an owner - the old farm dog. Molly is frightened the dog will chase her and her brothers and sisters away.

"But maybe because it was Christmas, or maybe because he was remembering the time when he'd played with the children by the farmhouse Christmas tree, he said the mice could borrow his toy."

Then she find a silver ribbon but it belongs to a magpie. "But maybe because it was Christmas ... " Molly is allowed to take the ribbon.  The pattern continues when she finds red shiny things lying on the ground (crab apples belonging to a fox) and a shining star and tiny lights (the collar on a cat). Molly carefully places all her treasures onto the tree but she is disappointed.  The tree doesn't look like the one she saw in the house window.  During the night, while the little mice sleep, the forest animals add decorations to the tree. It now looks magical.  Little children will adore the silver foil sparkles on this final page. Adults will appreciate the gentle message of kindness.

Look for this book in a library.  Perhaps read it by candle light.  This is an old book, first published in 2000, but you might be lucky and find a copy like the one we have in our school library.

I would pair this book with The Silver Christmas Tree by Pat Hutchins.

You can see the second book about Molly here.  I have discovered Christine Leeson is really the artist Catherine Walters.  She was born in UK but now lives in New Zealand. If you click on the link you can see some of her books and very impressive art.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How many sleeps till Christmas? by Mark Sperring illustrated by Sebastien Braun

We are celebrating Christmas in my school by giving book parcels to our youngest classes.  Each day we announce a 'winner' and send along a picture book for the class to read.

Yesterday one of our Kindergarten classes enjoyed How many sleeps till Christmas?

This book came to our library from Bloomin' Books.  Kate always has a good eye for terrific stories. Her parcels of books which arrive each term never disappoint.

Pip wakes up early.  He prods his dad.  "I think it's Christmas Day!" Daddy Grizzle explains - not yet four whole sleeps to wait.

So what will they do :
They "searched until they found the perfect tree, waiting quietly in the frost woods."
They "went for a brisk chilly walk" to deliver their Christmas cards.
"They both sat themselves down, and (without looking over their shoulders once) wrapped two 'No Peeking' presents to be opened first thing on Christmas morning."
"They made two snowmen - one big, one small"

Finally the special day arrives. As an adult you might predict this ending but a young child won't and that for me is the magic of sharing books with children.  They joy of a surprise ending.  I also love the idea of 'No Peeking' presents.

I would pair this book with Can't you sleep little bear by Martin Waddell, What do you wish for?, Worried Arthur Countdown to Christmas and  The smallest gift of Christmas by Peter Reynolds.

Now I just need to add the other book about Pip and his dad to my library shopping list.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

All of these books are in our library and all are illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.  Great Joy is by the wonderful Kate DiCamillo and along with the gentle illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline this is a book that will bring you great joy this Christmas.

Great Joy is not a new book.  It was published in 2007 but oddly today was the first time I had read this important story and I am so glad I did.  Did I tell you Kate DiCamillo will visit Australia (Sydney) in 2017?  Read my review of Flora and Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale.

The adults don't seem to notice the man on the corner, an organ grinder with a monkey but Frances is a caring child.  She is intrigued by the man, the monkey and the sad songs he plays.  She wonders where they go at night as the streets fill with snow. Her mother cannot or will not answer her questions so Frances stays awake and at midnight she looks out through their living room window.

"It was the organ grinder who looked up.  He took his cap from his head and raised it to her."

As Frances and her mother rush to the church for the Christmas pageant Frances stops to invite the man.  "The organ grinder smiled at her. But his eyes looked sad."  Frances stands on the stage ready to say her line in the play but she finds she simply cannot speak.

I do hope you can find this book to read for Christmas.  Here is a treat you can listen to the first four pages of this book.  I would pair this book with A Christmas star called Hazel and The Stone Lion by Margaret Wild. Kate explains the inspiration for her first picture book.  You can see a video of the whole book here with an excellent narration.

Wormwood Mire : A Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell

mire : a stretch of swampy or boggy ground
wormwooda woody shrub with a bitter aromatic taste, 
used in medicine.

In this picture you can see Stella reading a book.  There are two books which feature in Wormwood Mire and while the one you see here is quite important (the journal of the reclusive original owner of Wormwood Mire) the other is simply awful - a book about behaviour and the dire consequences of misbehaviour - a book favoured by the aunts.

Do you remember the final scene in the first book?  Stella was heading back into the hotel with her austere aunts.  

"And I'm going to find out who I am,' she said. ... Stella hesitated for a moment.  She waved one last time. Then she turned and walked up the steps to the front door of the hotel."

As this second book begins Stella has been sent away to Wormwood Mire the home of a distant cousin. His two children are living in Wormwood Mire with a governess. Uncle Frederick is travelling abroad, the house is rumored to be haunted and so Stella finds herself living with her cousins Strideforth and Hortense and Miss Araminter their distracted governess.  The house is huge and mysterious, the gardens are filled with exotic plants and there are creatures from around the world originally collected by Wilberforce Montgomery.  Some are taxidermy but others are alive. One of these creatures seems to be living in the lake.  It is a monster and it may have killed some of the local sheep and possibly a child. Stella, Strideforth and the silent Hortense set off to unravel this mystery and help Stella make sense of a photo she treasures of her mother and twin babies in a pram. One of the babies is Stella herself but who is the other, her twin, and where is she now?

One real strength of the writing by Judith Rossell is the way she creates a strong sense of place :

"They hurried across the yard and made their way around the long row of empty stables, through the orchard and across the terrace to reach the overgrown path that led to the lake They climbed down the mossy steps, ducking under overhanging branches and pushing through the dripping, jungly garden. The lake stretched away into the mist, covered with water-lilies."

This is the second installment in the series about Stella Montgomery.  I adored Withering-by-sea so perhaps begin by reading my review.  Here is a detailed review of Wormwood Mire.

Wormwood Mire can stand alone but I do recommend you try to read Withering-by-sea if you can.

Below I have included the US cover.  It is only slightly different which makes me ask why?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mayfly Day by Jeanne Willis illustrated by Tony Ross

I am going to quote some sections from this exquisite book :

Here is Mayfly.
It is her first day on earth.
It is also her last.

Mayflies only live for one day.
But is she sad? Not at all.
She is happy to be alive!

This isn't any old day.
This is the best of days.
She lives for each moment.

We talk about mindfulness and mediation.  Mayfly Day is the perfect book to share for an understanding of these abstract ideas.

This is another of those little treasured books I lifted off our shelves as we work our way through our large picture book collection.

Here are the final lines :

Mayfly lays her eggs
It is a peaceful night.
The best of nights.

She makes one last wish:
'Little ones, may all your tomorrows
be as perfect as my yesterday!'

Mayfly watches the moon come up
and the stars go out.
And is thankful for her wonderful life.

Tony Ross has done gentle pastel illustrations for this book. He has worked with Jeanne Willis on several books including Tadpole's promise and Caterpillar dreams.  Here is one page from Mayfly Day :

You could pair this book with Silence or Someday by Eileen Spinelli.

One more interesting thing to share with you.  Inside many of our books we have little presentation stickers because we hold an annual donate-a-book event each year.  Recently some older students returned to our school for work experience and one was the girl who donated this book. Wish I had found it in time to show her.  It was donated in 2007 when she was in Year One.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A single pearl by Donna Jo Napoli illustrated by Jim LaMarche

This story begins with a simple grain of sand and ends with a pearl.  A diver finds the pearl and sells it to a prince.

"The prince, in turn, gave it to his beloved wife, who said it glowed like the moon.
She saved it on a slip of velvet in a gold cup until she had a daughter who laughter was as light and whose face was as lovely as the moon."

Why am I selecting these seemingly random books for my blog?  Over the next few weeks we are working our way through our picture book and junior novel collections - culling out our older titles. It is always a joy to 'rediscover' books I have read in the past and that is how I came to talk about A single pearl.

I have discovered that this story was inspired by a Persian poem.  I wish I could find it but I don't know the title.

I especially like the emotional arc in this story.  At first the grain of sand feels hopeless and insignificant and then despair as it is trapped in the oyster but all this changes with the pearl.

"The grain of sand sat in the center of the pearl. And it mattered."

The illustrations in this book are especially beautiful.  Jim LaMarche makes the pearl look luminous.

Here is a review from Publishers Weekly.  Donna Jo Napoli writes amazing novels for Young Adults.  Check out this list.

You might like to look for these other books about pearls in our school library.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Marguerite's fountain by Rachel Elliot illustrated by Petra Brown

"Every day Benjamin watched Marguerite dancing 
around the fountain. He longed to be friends with her 
but Benjamin was shy and didn't dare."

Marguerite dances alone but one day Randolph arrives.  He wants exclusive rights to the fountain so first he flatters and flirts with Marguerite and then he banishes her to the sewer.  Benjamin is distraught.  He knows he must take a stand and rescue Marguerite. He may not he brave but Benjamin is a problem solver.  He finds a way to turn off the fountain then he tells Randolph :

"The fountain is missing Marguerite."
"The fountain is unhappy because Marguerite is unhappy."

Randolph goes underground to investigate the problem but emerges dirty and unsuccessful. Benjamin then steps into the drain and when he emerges not only has he 'fixed' the fountain but he has found his voice.  He declares to Randolph :

"You are a coward! ... your heart is stony as the cathedral and as tiny as a single drop of water ... Leave now."

I have read some criticism of Marguerite's Fountain.  Yes Marguerite is a white mouse, Randolph is black and Benjamin is brown and perhaps this is a cliche but the illustrations (here is Petra Brown's web site) are very special and I think the message is too - bullies should not be allowed to 'win'.