Monday, March 28, 2016

Dessert First by Hallie Durand illustrated by Christine Davenier

Dessert First is a terrific little story for fans of Clementine
Judy Moody, Daisy Dawson, Violet Mackerel, Junie B Jones and Gooney Bird Greene.

Here is Dessert's signature :

"You might want to know about the cherry.  I call it flair, It could be on top of a banana sundae, a cornflake-cream-cheese cookie, a hot fudge sundae, or even a freshly baked lemon square ... Also it shows my personal style."

Dessert (Donahue Penelope Schneider) is the daughter of restaurant owners.  The restaurant is called Fondue Paris.  The whole family love food and dinner each night at home and in the family restaurant is such a treat.  Dessert naturally loves to eat dessert and so she comes up with a plan to make her parents agree the family can eat dessert first at their evening meal.

Mummy makes a box of Double-Decker brownies.  The box sits in the refrigerator.  Dessert tries to resist temptation but - well you can guess what happens.  You won't guess, however, why mummy made these treats and just how Dessert makes amends.  Meanwhile at school every child has to make a pledge to give up something they love for two weeks as a fund raiser for a new school tree house.  How wonderful to raise money for something fun and not something utilitarian.

One delightful aspect of this book is the wonderful third grade teacher.  Her name is Mrs Normana Howdy Doody.  Each day children march around the classroom where they are encouraged to be 'happy learners'

"Wednesdays are one of my favourite days of the week, because you never know what you might learn by Friday."

There are three books in this series.  I think this first book would make a good family read-a-loud.  You might like to read this review which includes a recipe for those brownies.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Explore a series with your youngest classes

We are moving to a new library management system fairly soon.  Our old system was first introduced to NSW schools in 1988 so you can imagine it is a little outdated.

As a part of the migration process I have been looking at our book series.

Here are some of my favourite series to read to our Kindergarten and Year One students:

There are more than ten titles in this series and every book is a winner.  Frog discovers his identity, he finds strength from true friendships and Frog demonstrates his compassion for others. There are twelve books in this series.

I like to read this series to our Year One classes.  Frog is a Hero is my favourite.

Winnie is a wonderful character who we also enjoy meeting with our Year One classes.  The illustrations by Korky Paul are perfect. There are more than fifteen books in this series plus some chapter books and a joke book.

My favourite from this series is Winnie Flies again.

Late in the year we often explore the theme of dogs with our Kindergarten classes.  The Kipper books are always part of this unit. There are more than seven books in this series along with some tiny books called Little Kippers.

My favourite from this series is The Blue Balloon which is the book where we first meet Kipper.

We always start our year with this book.  It is a familiar text.  It allows the children to participate in the story telling because there is a repeated refrain.  I love using different voices and I keep a little hippo in my library bag.

There are five books in this series and my favourite is the first book There's a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake.

We read these books to our Kindergarten classes and we talk about circle stories.  I have a CD of these books and so the children enjoy dancing (If you give a pig a pancake), and filling in the blank words (If you give a mouse a cookie).  One book from this series is perfect for Christmas (If you take a mouse to the movies).

There are eight books in this series and also some small chapter books.  I have made a pinterest collection to support the topic of lighthouses.  We are lucky to have a wonderful lighthouse near our school.  This series is perfect for Year One and Year Two.

It is so interesting when we read this series aloud to see the children recognize their own reactions and behaviours reflected in the way Lily treats her precious kangaroo toy.  I like to read this series to Year One. There are ten books in this series.

My favourite from this series is It was you Blue Kangaroo.

This term we are reading the Tacky series with our Year One classes.  These books are always winners.  Tacky is such a special character and in spite of his odd behavior he always saves the day.  There are more than eight books in the series.

My favourite from this series is Three Cheers for Tacky.

Elmer is a little like Frog from the book Frog is Frog.  He is wise and kind to his friends.  We love to read the Elmer books with our Kindergarten classes.  There are twenty-seven books in the series and we own nearly all of them.

My favourite from this series is Elmer on Stilts.

This post about series came about because I was browsing the holdings of some other libraries in my area and one author I searched for in each school database was Frank Asch.  He is one of my most favourite writers.  Oddly nearly every school had no books from the Moonbear series.  There are twelve books in this series and we always start with Happy Birthday Moon.  There is a terrific little Weston Woods film that you can watch with the children this after reading this book.

My favourite from the series is Mooncake.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Peter Pan audio book read by Judy Dick

I recently read a review of Peter Pan and quite by coincidence I had been listening to the audio book each day driving to school.  In this review there were comments about the story being filled with stereotypes.  I disagree.  Peter Pan is a story written at a particular time and it is such a powerful adventure it seems silly to worry about whether Wendy is darning stockings or the way the boys expect Wendy to step into the role of mother and care for them.

The audio version bought this book to life for me.  Several times I had to stay sitting in my car so I could listen through to the end of a chapter.  I had forgotten about the devious ways of Tinkerbell and the long, hazardous journey to Neverland.  I had also forgotten the silly behaviour of Mr Darling and the heroism and insights of Nana.

One of the most interesting things that struck me as I listened to Peter Pan was the brilliant vocabulary employed by JM Barrie.  He absolutely does not talk down to his audience.  I adore words like :


Using the audio book of Peter Pan would be an easy way to introduce this classic story to your class. There are so many cross references in modern literature which rely on a knowledge of books like Peter Pan.  One example from our library reading this term is Jeremiah in the Dark woods by Alan Ahlberg. In this little junior novel we meet several fairy tale characters and a crocodile with a clock inside.

There is so much to discuss in Peter Pan.  Here is a unit of work.  This description of Hook, for example, could be used in so many ways with a class.

"In person he was cadaverous and blackavized, and his hair was dressed in long curls, which at a little distance looked like black candles, and gave singularly threatening expression to his handsome countenance.  His eyes were of the blue of the forget-me-not, and of a profound melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly. ... In dress he somewhat aped the attire associated with the name of Charles II ... "

Here is the cover of my edition of Peter Pan illustrated by Michael Foreman.  I have ordered some new copies of Peter Pan (the novel and some simpler picture book and junior editions) for our school library because oddly we only had an unappealing small paperback edition with tiny printing.  One of my treasured memories is of visiting the London statue of Peter in Hyde Park when I was travelling with my mum as a young teenager.

The mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

If you have watched the television series Mr Selfridge the you will immediately recognise the setting for this fast paced Victorian drama The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow.

"Through one archway was a rose-coloured room, in which elegant shop girls offered scent in pretty bottles. A display of coloured parasols dripped down from the ceiling like a waterfall of exotic hothouse flowers.  ...  There was so much to discover.  A pianist in a white waistcoat played a grand piano on the fourth floor landing ..."

Mr Sinclair sounds just like Mr Selfridge

"He was an American, a self-made man, renowned for this elegance, the single, perfect orchid he always worse in his buttonhole, for the ever-changing string of beautiful ladies on his arm and, most of all, for his wealth."

Sophie Taylor has moved from a life of privilege to that of a working girl employed by Sinclair's, a new and very grand department store which will open tomorrow.  Sophie's past life is only hinted at as we become swept up in the present and the major crime that occurs on the night before the store opening.  One part of the new store is a beautiful exhibition hall and Mr Sinclair has plans to display his collection of treasures including a jeweled clockwork sparrow "encrusted with pearls and pink, yellow and blue sapphires (and) each time it is wound it will play an entirely different song."

Sophie is one of the last people sighted in the store the night before this serious crime is committed and so suspicion falls on her.  What Sophie does not know is that this crime originates with one of the most notorious criminals living in London - the Baron. Sophie has been shunned by the other girls in the millinery department but she has found a true friend in Billy an apprentice porter.  Together with Lil (Lilian Rose) and Joe, a young man who is on the run from the Baron.  There are clues to unravel and codes to decipher.

Listen to the author talk about her inspiration for this book.  I think this is a book middle grade and upper primary students will really enjoy.  I would also suggest reading Withering-by-sea, The truth about Verity Sparks and Rooftoppers.  You will see Katherine Rundell (author of Rooftoppers) has endorsed The mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow on the back cover.  Click this quote below to read a review by Zoe at Playing by the Book.

Reading Picture books with children by Megan Dowd Lambert

Nurturing visual intelligence and opening up conversations while keeping it all FUN!

I don't usually talk about professional reading in this blog but I just have to tell you about this wonderful book.  With professional titles like this I usually skim the text and use the contents or index to pick out sections that interest me but with this book Reading Picture Books with Children I simply had to read the whole book over a couple of days.

I have been reading picture books with/to young children for over thirty years and while many of the techniques mentioned by Megan Dowd Lambert are second nature to me there are some really refreshing ideas in this book.

The subtitle is "How to shake up storytime and get kids talking about what they see."  This is the essence of our time in the library each week.  I love to talk to the children before we read any book moving them from the known to the unknown.  Preparing a scaffold for success so that all children are prepared for any new ideas, vocabulary or other content in a book.  Lambert looks at this process in a different way.  In NSW schools we have recently focused on the idea of visual literacy.  My difficulty with this comes from the complex metalanguage we are expected to use with even the youngest child.  Terms like salience and vectors don't come naturally to me.

Reading Picture books with children takes a more sensible approach.  Lambert shows, using fabulous examples, how you can direct children to see so much in a book from the cover, end papers, gutters, shape, orientation and type face without any need to include complex jargon.

For me this book is a breath of fresh air!   Let's take a closer look at one or two examples :

Take at look at the shape of Madeline.  Why is this book published in portrait  format?   Notice the Eiffel Tower on the cover.

"Because the orientation or layout of a picture book is one of the most immediate elements of book design that readers notice, welcoming children to notice how the layout choices inform their responses to picture books can feel rather like an intellectual hug ..."

Here is another example.  We put plastic over our library book covers but taking time to look under the dust jacket can lead to some interesting discussions. Lambert mentions Alan Say's Grandfather's Journey for example where there is a little origami boat embossed onto the cover.  This is not by chance.  I took a look at my own copy of Tree of Cranes also by Alan Say and found the same surprise.  I had no idea a little origami crane was hiding under the dust jacket.  Another example from my own read aloud favourites would be The Quilt Makers Gift which has the most wonderful fold out dust jacket where you can hunt for all the exotic gifts which have been given to the king.  Lambert also gives the example of books by Chris Van Allsburg.  My copy of Polar express sadly has no dust jacket (wish it did because there is a terrific surprise) but I did find something under the cover of The Stranger.   There is so much to explore and discuss here.

I am a huge fan of end papers when they add to the narrative as we see with Bob Graham here in Australia.  There is always plenty to discuss and discover here but Lambert also explores single colour end and patterned papers such as the myriad of ideas that come from the lines used by Eric Carle in his book Brown Bear Brown bear what do you see?

Have you thought about the type face used in books?  A great example are the series by Bonny Becker.  You just have to yell out the words when they are presented in capital letters and a large size.  I know children in the library are often shocked - no yelling in the library.

When you pick up Reading Picture books with Children don't skip straight to the end but the final chapters are filled with hints and questions you might use to develop conversations with children using the headings of :

  • Trim Size and Orientation
  • Jackets and Covers
  • End Papers
  • Front pages
  • Typography
  • Page design

I highly recommend this book for all picture book lovers - Teachers, Teacher-Librarians and even parents who want to discover so much more in the wonderful world of the picture book.

Dixie O'Day In the Fast Lane by Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy

The possible ingredients for a winning story are fairly easy to identify:

1.  The story makes you feel something - this little gem made me smile and cheer
2.  The story might contain echoes of other stories - with this book you will think of the Aesop story of the Hare and the Tortoise
3.  Action can help a story move along so the reader keeps turning the pages in order to discover the answer to an important question or two such as how will this all turn out?

In the fast Lane is the first in a series of three books about Dixie O'Day.  Every detail in this little book is a delight.  The patterned end papers, The chapter heading pages. The interview which opens the story which gives the reader insights into our story hero Dixie. The character introduction pages and most of all the map. I adore books with maps!

Dixie loves his old car.  His best friend Percy enjoys spending a day with Dixie driving in the country and perhaps enjoying a picnic. The car often breaks down but help is usually close by.  Dixie has an annoying neighbour called Lou Ella.  "Lou Ella bought a new car every year, always an expensive one.  It annoyed Dixie a lot when she drove past his house and tooted her horn."  One day our intrepid heroes see a sign announcing a car race from Didsworth to Dodsworth.  Dixie decides to enter the race with Percy as his co-river (he can't drive but this doesn't matter).  Everything goes wrong on the day of the race.  Meanwhile Lou Ella is also determined to win (at all costs).

The Dixie O'Day series is  little set of easy and colourful books from Clara Vulliamy.  Take a look at my review of Mango and Bambang which are  also illustrated by Clara who is the daughter of Shirley Hughes!  You might like to read this Library Mice review.   Here you can see some of the illustrations from this book.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Out of my mind by Sharon M Draper

My advice is Read this Book!

Last week I visited a new Children's and Young Adult bookshop in our suburb.  The owner and her enthusiastic assistant recommended heaps of new books and among them was Out of my mind. This is not a new book but I had somehow missed it.  First published in 2010 it was a NY Times best seller and short listed for several awards including The Black-Eyed Susan Book award, the Texas Blue Bonnet master list for 2012 and the Beehive book award plus many other listings.

On the front cover you can see a fish jumping out of its bowl.  The scene in the book where this actually happens might show you the emotional impact of this amazing book.

"I screamed again.  Louder, I cried out. I yelled. I screeched. Ollie continued to flop and gasp, looking more desperate. Ollie needed water. ... 'Melody! What have you done? Why did you knock over the fishbowl?' ... There was no way I could explain to Mom what had happened.  I really had tired to save Ollie's life.  ... She was angry, and I was too."

Melody has Cerebral Palsy and as a result she cannot speak or perform even the simplest of daily activities without assistance but in spite of this Melody is a highly intelligent girl who demonstrates enormous patience with her extremely difficult life circumstances.  I have to say I 'fell in love with this wonderful girl' and I especially admire the way she loves her little sister even when she sees Penny learning to do all the everyday things Melody herself will never be able to experience.

I am trying not to give away too much of the plot but you will be richly rewarded when you read this book right to the end.  There is a scene in chapter 29 which will linger with me forever.  One other thing I should mention - there are several heroes in this story.  Melody's mum and dad of course, her school aide Catherine and the most wonderful person of all, her neighbour Mrs Violet Valencia.

"From the very beginning, Mrs Valencia gave me no sympathy.  Instead of sitting me in the special little chair my parents had bought for me, she plopped me on my back in the middle of the floor on a large, soft quilt. ... I looked up at her like she was crazy.... (she) put my favourite toy a few inches from my head."

I don't often rate books but I give Out of my Mind ten out of ten.  It is even better than the other famous book dealing with disabilities - Wonder.

Take a minute to read the stared Kirkus review.   It would be good to continue your discussions of this topic with a class so here is a book list which might assist you and here is a Pinterest collection of Picture books on the topic of disabilities.  Take a look at the author web site for a Q&A with Sharon Draper and a very detailed study guide to assist your class study.

You might also enjoy So B. It by Sarah Weeks, Wonder, Waiting for Normal, and Counting by 7s.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Confessions of an imaginary friend A memoir by Jacques Papier as told to Michelle Cuevas

I am a huge fan of books about imaginary friends.  One of my most favourite books of all time is O'Diddy which is about a wonderful imaginary friend.

Confessions of an imaginary friend is a mixed story.  I did smile at times but I also found some parts of the plot quite confusing.

Jacques Papier is living happily with his twin 'sister' Fleur. Some aspects of life confuse Jacques.  Why doesn't he get picked for sport teams?  Why does the teacher ignore his waving hand when he clearly knows the answer to a question?  Why did a boy nearly sit on him at lunch? And

"On Thursday, I waited in line for the bus, and before I could get on, the drive shut the door.  Right in my face ... Fleur made the drive stop, got off, and walked home beside me."

The confusion continues when Jacques learns Fleur has an imaginary friend.  He decides he needs one too.  Are you following this?  Jacques is an imaginary friend (he discovers this on page 32) and now he wants his own imaginary friend.  An imaginary friend with an imaginary friend!

"If I am a genie, the you are the lamp.  I am the barnacle to your whale, the character to your novel, the tides pulled by your moon.  .... I am nothing more that a specimen in the Museum of Fleur's Imagination."

If you have read O'Diddy (please try to find this tiny, insignificant but brilliant book) and perhaps The Imaginary (not for young children) you will know Imaginary friends are assigned their humans from some central authority.  For reasons I did not really understand Fleur sets Jacques free.  Jacques finds himself at the Reassignment Office.  He rushes through the bureaucratic form and in his haste mentions his arch enemy - Fleur's wiener dog Francois.  He is assigned to a little girl called Merla yes he is now a wiener dog.  What follows are a series of failed assignments. Merla gets a real dog so next he goes to Bernard, a very shy but intellectual child with no friends.  Jacques sorts Bernard out and in a glorious moment Bernard and Jacques win the school talent quest.

Jacques story finally goes full circle when he finds himself back where he started.

Here is a funny description of the Office of Reassignment :

"The officer wore glasses on a chain that kept getting tangled in her arms, but she still seemed to be getting a large amount of work done.  This was most likely due to the fact that she had been imagined with not two but eight tentacles arms ... The Office of Reassignment was always moving.  I'd been told, and was currently located in a large cardboard box in a yard full of toys."

Kirkus says : The description of this hilariously inefficient bureaucracy would make most adults chuckle knowingly, but it seems unlikely that young readers will get the joke.   
This is at the heart of my problem with this book, which others have described as a classic.  I am not sure who is the intended audience.  The story is too complex for young readers and perhaps too farcical for Middle Primary.  Here is a review you could read. The School Library Journal also highly recommend this book. Jen Robinson has also reviewed this book.

Here is an alternate cover. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

On Track by Kathryn Apel

I have been looking forward to reading On Track.  We purchased this book last year for our library but it some how disappeared.  Last week it 'turned up' hidden under a shelf.

Why have I been looking forward to this book?
1.  It is a verse novel and I adore verse novels
2.  It is about sport and I am always looking for books which might appeal to my senior boys
3.  I read one glowing review and one less complimentary review and so I was curious - how could one book elicit such divergent views?

I read this book over two sessions.  I read the first 80 pages waiting for a take away order of fish and chips and the remaining 215 pages today.  I know this is an odd thing to say but if you read this book please stay with it until page 175 because that is when the action really kicks in.

Now don't panic.  You will reach page 175 before you realise because this is a verse novel and so each page can be read very quickly.

Shaun and Toby are brothers but they don't really know each other at all.  Each brother is wrapped up in his own worries and feelings of inadequacy.  Toby is doing well academically - A grades for everything and yet he feels like a failure in his parents eyes.  Shaun is not doing well at anything. School is hard, physical activities are hard and he knows he can never be as 'good' as his brother.

In these two extracts you can hear the voice of Toby.

is only
11 months.
9 days, 
4 hours and
22 minutes
older than me,
but that is enough
to make him

Toby : Not good enough
Sometimes it feels
like my body doesn't belong 
to me, like I tell it to do stuff
and it doesn't.  My feet stumble along
and trip over each other, my hands fumble
and drop, and it's almost like I'm wrapped in
invisible bubble wrap ...

This verse novel did have some emotional highs and lows as you would expect from this genre but not quite enough to satisfy me.  I also had some difficulty distinguishing the two boys 'voices' at first. Perhaps I was not concentrating.  This did pass after a while and I found there was a rhythm to the writing.  I think my early problem might relate to the way the voices do not always alternate. Later in the book I enjoyed this structure.  I am looking forward to putting this book into the hands of several of our Grade 6 boys - we read some verse novels last year and many of them enjoyed these books both for the way you can read them quite quickly and for their powerful storytelling.

You might like to think about the title with your students.  The boys compete in an athletics carnival on the track.  Toby has some major hurdles to over come and so he must stay 'on track' with his training.  Shaun wants to win the discus competition and so he works hard to also stay 'on track'.

After reading On Track I recommend look for Motormouth and Tom Jones saves the world by Steven Herrick.

Here are a set of very detailed teaching notes.

Perhaps you would enjoy reading a range of reviews of On Track book:

Kids Book Review
Aussie Reviews
Children's Books Daily
Reading Time

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Apple Pigs by Ruth Gary Orbach

Many years ago a Teacher Librarian friend and I were chatting about books perhaps books on a theme - I don't remember and the title Apple Pigs was mentioned.  I did not know this book but my friend exclaimed it was one of her favourites (and as a Teacher Librarian she has read thousands of books so this is a big call).  I knew we had this book in our school library but it was in very poor shape.  I am not sure how it had missed being culled.  I pulled it off the shelf and put it safely into my office planning to read it to classes but limit the actual loaning.  Later that year I gave it to one of our most talented Kindergarten teachers. She loved this little book and so did her class and YES they even made apple pigs.

While I was on holiday in January this year I visited  Deniliquin in NSW and I walked into the local newsagency.  They have a splendid book section and one of the first books I spied was Apple Pigs in a brand new edition and in hardcover.

This little book was originally published in 1976.  It is written in rhyme and it is a treasure.

Apple fritters,
apple custard
Father made.

Apple strudel,
apples dried,
apple pigs were
Mother's pride.

I would follow this book up with Jam by Margaret Mahy which is a huge favourite of mine, The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall and The Crooked Apple Tree by Eric Houghton.  Apples are a minor theme in our school for our Kindergarten classes so we have a good selection of stories about apples and non fiction books about this delicious fruit too.  Here is a collection of other books - we don't have all of these in our library but you might find some you can enjoy.

One of the things they mention in this book is an Apple Pan Dowdy.  I was curious so I looked for a recipe.  It sounds as delicious as the name.

Paul meets Bernadette A goldfish love story by Rosy Lamb

Paul meets Bernadette is an absolutely perfect picture book for all ages from Kindergarten right through to adults who need to be reminded we can view the world in so many different ways.

Paul, as you have seen in the trailer above, has only ever experienced life in his bowl.  Swimming around and around day after day. Then Bernadette arrives. She shows him a boat, a forest, a cactus, an elephant, the sun and the moon and so much more.

Paul finds a new world view, he finds Bernadette and he finds contentment.  Take a look at this link to read further glowing reviews of this special book.  Here is a set of teaching ideas from the publisher.  You might also enjoy Chester and Gill by Carol Faulkner illustrated by Ann James.