Saturday, April 30, 2016

The golden sandal : A Middle Eastern Cinderella story by Rebecca Hickox illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

"Maha worked from sunup to sunset but each day increased her beauty inside and out.  Her stepsister, on the other hand, grew selfish and mean ... "

Later this year I am planning to read some fairy tales with our classes and I hope to include fairy tale stories from other cultures.  The Golden Sandal is a perfect example. This is not a new book.  It was originally published in 1998 but we have a new copy for our library.

This Cinderella story comes from Iraq.  Maha's widowed fisherman father marries a neighbour.  She is kind to begin with but soon turns nasty.  Early in the story Maha rescues a small red fish from the basket she has collected from her father.

"Allah says a kindness never goes unrewarded. 
Call for me anytime and ask what you will."

You may have guessed it is this fish that takes the role of fairy godmother.  Maha longs to go to a special party for the bride of the merchant.  The fish gives Maha a silken gown, a pearl comb and pair of golden sandals. As she rushes home one sandal falls into the river.  It is found by Tariq, brother of the bride.  Tariq does find Maha but the stepmother has other plans.  She buys oil which will make Maha's hair fall out and give off a foul smell but the plan backfires.  "When at last he lifted the veil, the scent of roses filled the room and her hair was so  beautiful he could not stop stroking it."  The stepmother now uses this oil on hr own daughter - perhaps you can guess the disastrous results.

You might like to read this review.  Follow your reading of The golden sandal with some other Cinderella stories (thanks to my friend for her brilliant Pinterest collection) and perhaps The Talking eggs which has a similar theme. Here is a web site which lists 365 Cinderella Stories.  This short video will give you close look at the beautiful illustrations in this book.

Here is a slide share of the whole book which might be a useful way to share the illustrations with a larger group.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Suri's wall by Lucy Estela illustrated by Matt Ottley

The poignancy of this story comes from phrases such as

"The wall was Suri's only friend"
"She watched the other children playing in the courtyard.  
She was different to them."
"Her heart ached to join them."
"For a while Suri let herself cry."

One day Suri discovers she is now tall enough to look over the wall.  A little child asks Suri what she can see.  At this point in the book I am sure your students will gasp but I suggest you stop and ask for ideas from the class before turning the page. One thing to notice is the way Matt Ottley beautifully changes the colour palette as Suri describes the scene she 'sees'.

Read more about Matt Ottley.  Here is a comprehensive set of teaching notes with questions for each page of the book.  If you have a subscription you can view this book on The Storybox Library.

Take some time to read the author web site and view the video of her book launch which explores the idea of walls.  Here is a detailed review.

Suri's Wall is a title from our CBCA 2016 Notables list. I am certain it will be among the six short listed titles which will be announced in May.

This book would be a useful addition to an ethics class.  It raises questions about truth versus deception.  You might also like to compare Suri's wall with Journey by Aaron Becker.

The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack by Jen Storer illustrated by Lucinda Gifford

The spooky music of this trailer by Jen Storer for The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack matches perfectly with the tone of this complex fantasy.  As the blurb says : this book is funny, exhilarating and a little bit scary.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this book comes from trying to work out who are the good characters and who are the evil ones.  This does get sorted out but not until quite close to the final battle scene.  If you need to select an extract from this book this scene would be a good one to read aloud - Chapter 48 and 49.

There is a veil between our human world and the Old Realm - the world of goblins, witches and magick. Some humans have worked out how to move between the worlds.  Two little goblin girls have come to our human world in search of a narrare.  The hope to retrieve this precious globe shaped object and thus gain the status of the elite Guardian Class back in their own world.  Two human children are caught up in this drama when their grieving father moves them, once again, this time to live beside the beach and beside a very odd old lady, Reafen, who has an intriguing shop.  It is in this shop where the children see and learn about the narrare.

"It holds memories of the goblins .. each tiny snowflake stores memories of their customs, their music, their stories, their comings and goings. Their knowledge of the earth - its mountains, its land, its subterranean treasures.  To own the narrare is to own the power.  In the Old Realm they are guarded with great reverence."

One of my favourite scenes in this book comes when the carnival man Barney (a minor character), who is love with The Donut Lady, tries to take the boat which belongs to the goblin girls.

Graini explains "It is an awe-inspiring vessel and that Barney person tried to steal it.  When our boat would not allow him on board, he became angry. He tried to take a slice of our boat's timber ... so our boat bit him ... And hurled him aside.  ... You do not want to get bitten by one of our boats. They have an exceptional grip. .. Our boat blasted him with flames from its mouth . Whoosh!"

Here is a terrific description of Reafen : "The new neighbour was not much taller than Martha, and slightly hunched.  But the way she was dressed! evening gown.  It was lurid red like squashed pomegranates ... the top bit was layered with heavy black lace and studded with large red beads that twinkled in the sun.  A lolly-pink feather boa trailed from her throat.  Her hair was blue-black, piled in glossy loops like curled licorice straps."

Character list
Angus Jack - age fourteen trying to make sense of his father, cope with the grief of losing his mother and take care of his sister

Martha Jack - Sister to Angus, in a rage against the world and especially against her father

The Professor - father of Angus and Martha

The Donut Lady - a traveller between Realms, her motivations are slowly revealed

Reafen - the eccentric old lady who has a cluttered junk shop called Frozen in Time which is next door to Angus and Martha.  She wears outrageous clothes and has very large feet.  Her main diet consists of very sugary treats.

Graini and Ava - the goblin girls. They are loyal and brave become very good friends to Angus and Martha whom they recognise as "kind and truth-speaking ... gentle and peace-loving humans."

Varla - the witch from the Old Realm who is desperate to get her hands on the narrare that Reafen has on display in her shop.  She uses mirrors to spy on our world.

Lynch - he is also after the narrare and will stop at nothing to get it.

The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack has a web site where you will find answers to some of your questions about this book.  I should also mention the illustrations by Lucinda Gifford are perfect.

Jen Storer has several books in our school library the Truly Tan series, Tensy Farlow and the home for mislaid children, and The accidental princess.

I read The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack because it is another title from our CBCA 2016 Notables list.  There are some excellent titles in this category - Younger Readers - but I think this book is certain to reach the final short list of six.

You might also enjoy The Emerald Atlas.

Frog find a place by Sally Morgan and Kzekiel Kwaymullina illustrated by Dub Leffler

Who am I?
What are my talents?
Can I fly?
Is life better over there?
Where do I fit in?

There are so many children's picture books that explore these questions especially the question about flying.  My favourite also features a frog - Frog is Frog by Max Velthuijs.  Here are some other books that explore this theme and the theme of identity :

"When frog was a tadpole, a moonbeam sliced through the murky water of his pool and lit up his tiny tadpole face."

Thus begins a quest by Frog to reach the moon.  He enlists the help of three others who live near his pond. Firstly Spider who suggests making a ladder of ferns. Next Possum who suggests swinging from a vine and lastly Crow who suggests making a set of wings.

After each of these suggestions fail to work the wise old Owl returns.  Frog feels utterly defeated. "Sad and tired, Frog perched on a branch in the middle of his pool. " Owl advises him to look again.  Frog looks into the water. At last he can be with the moon and the stars.  Sometimes the things we are looking for are much closer than we realise.

Frog finds a place is another book from our CBCA 2016 Notable list.

Here is a set of detailed teaching notes.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Here they come A day to remember by Jennet Cole-Adams and Judy Cauld illustrated by Warren Brown

Here they come - A day to remember is a perfect addition to our collection for ANZAC Day.  It is in the format of a big book and so not available for loan to our students but I know it will be used extensively by our teachers especially in the junior primary grades.

As this book opens we see Bert, an old man, sitting on his bed in his pyjamas.  His medals are already pinned to his jacket.  His photo sits on his bedside table showing Bert as a young man in the navy. Now flip to the last page. The Anzac day ceremony is over for another year.  Bert has caught up with his mate Stan. they are the only ones left from their mates who served at Kokoda.  Now Bert returns to his room.  He is holding a precious photo showing four very young sailors and his smile shows he is remembering.

On the second spread of this book we see a group of people standing beside a war memorial.  Each of these people feature in the following pages.  There is a child called Will who has come along with his dad.  Caitlyn a young soldier who served in Afghanistan. Roslyn, now an old lady, who remembers ANZAC day with her dad when she was a tiny girl. Col who remembers his companions from Vietnam - his medals feel heavy on his chest. Samir who has come to Australia as a refugee from Sudan.  Libby who stands with her little daughter.

"This part of the ceremony was always hard.  Thoughts of Luke crowded her mind.  Luke in his uniform, Luke at the beach, Luke cradling their baby girl.  Libby took a deep breath.  She was proud of Luke.  He loved being an army officer and he died serving his country. It was hard without him."

Here are the comprehensive teaching notes.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bogtrotter by Margaret Wild illustrated by Judith Rossell

Bogtrotter is good fun but at the same time it raises some interesting questions.  It has been selected for the CBCA Notable list for 2016.  Take a look at some of the subjects I have listed for this book :


Bogtrotter lives a life defined by routine.  Every day is exactly the same as the one before until one day frog asks the first of a series of profound questions :

Question One
"Why do you run all day long?"

Question Two
"Don't you ever do anything new and different?"

And much later possibly the most important, even life changing, question :
Question Three
"Do you ever run outside the bog?"

After the first two questions Bogtotter sees new things in his environment - flowers, a family of muskrats, a tree branch just perfect for swinging, a family of ducks and even the delight of a dance in the summer rain.  Sadly though something is missing from his life.  Take some time now to look in his little home.  There are pictures of other bogtrotters on his wall or are they of this bogtrotter?

Our friend the bogtrotter is quite an endearing character.  Look at his eyes - these beautifully reflect his emotions. Now look at the way he moves. Judith Rossell shows such lively movement through her joyous illustrations.

Here is a review in our magazine Reading Time.  Here are a set of very useful teaching notes from the publisher.  Judith Rossell's book Withering-by-sea is a firm favourite in our school library.

It might be good to pair Bogtrotter with The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek - this is a delightful book to read aloud and also deals with isolation, identity and important philosophical questions.

We always enjoy sharing books by Margaret Wild with the students in our school.  In fact she has one whole shelf in our library.  With our youngest students I especially love to read Lucy Goosey, Puffling, Little Humpty and Miss Lilly's fabulous pink feather boa.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Run, Pip, run by JC Jones

Run, Pip, run is a book on the CBCA Notable list for 2016.  It has been in our school library for a while but until last night I had not read it.  I thought I would just dip in and read a chapter or two.  A couple of hours later I lifted my head having read the whole book in one sitting.  This is always a good sign - a story so well paced you just become totally absorbed.

Pip lives with Sully. She is named by Sully after he finds an apple crate containing a baby on the door step of Number 3 Greene Lane, Spring Hill.  At the beginning of the story, which is Pip's tenth birthday,  Sully has a stroke so we never hear from him directly except through some very slurred speech in the hospital and yet a real strength of the story telling by JC Jones is the way she gives us little glimpses into the past life and character of this old man.  He smokes - Pip disapproves.  He drinks too much - Pip tries to reduce this by helping him with his choices at the track. He is quite poor but survives on money from gambling at the races .  He uses words like skinny squawker, call a spade a blasted shovel, grousing about bludgers and drongos.  He deeply loved his wife Em and in happier times Archibald Sullivan known as Sully and Em had taken in foster kids in the past.  This is why Pip is left on their doorstep.  It is also clear that he loves Pip.

When Sully is admitted to hospital, Pip is left to fend for herself.  She is in fear of 'the welfare people' and runs away from the hospital giving the police officer the slip.  I wonder why do many children's books demonize foster carers and welfare people. Eventually the authorities do catch up with her and she is taken in to care late at night.  The section in this book where we meet the foster mum is quite harrowing.

"A bulky woman with greying frizzy hair came towards them, drying her hands on a towel ... she could see the flickering TV and hear Sandie talking on the phone. 'Welfare just dropped off that kid from the news ... it's only for a day or two, worse luck ... Could do with the cash."

There are brilliant moments of real tension in this story.  Early on Pip goes into a fast food place. As she goes to leave she sees some teenagers and she knows this will mean trouble.  I actually gasped out loud when these kids took her precious pack but Pip has something clever up her sleeve.  Actually Pip is a very smart kid.  She excels at school and seems wise beyond her years but there is one thing she does not really know about.  The hospital explains Sully will need to go into rehab.  Pip assumes this will cost a huge amount of money.  How can she raise such a large amount?  She is too young to be given a paid job but she does know how to pick winners at the track.

I should give a little warning.  If you are thinking of reading this book to a class make sure you read it yourself first.  There is a disturbing scene early on in the story where a strange man tries to pick Pip up in his car.  Teachers need to be prepared to re-visit the issues surround stranger danger.  I think this makes this book more suitable for students in Grade 5 and older.

Run, Pip, run is up against two books which I have previously blogged.  Sister Heart (which I actually hope will win this category) and Molly and Pim and the millions of stars.

Run, Pip, run reminded me of a long out of print title Time to go by Jenny Pausacker. You might also enjoy Don't Breathe a word by Marianne Musgrove, Pictures of Hollis Woods and Looking for X by Deborah Ellis.

I have not yet read all of the Younger Readers Notables but, based on the books I have read, I do hope Run, Pip, Run makes the short list.  The quote below links to a review you might like to read.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

In the evening by Edwina Wyatt illustrated by Gaye Chapman

Yesterday here in Australia our Children's Book Council announced the Notable books for 2016. From this list a short list will be announced in May and then during Book Week in August the winners will be revealed.  This is quite a different process from past years and means I have an enormous pile of books to read.

Early Childhood 23 titles
Younger Readers 14 titles
Information books 15 titles
Picture Book of the Year 22 titles

I probably won't talk about all of these books.  Some are for a younger audience and some don't especially appeal to me but I did pick up a selection from school today.

In the evening is on the Picture Book of the Year list. At first glance this book seems better suited to the Early Childhood category but on further reading I have changed my mind about this.  The lyrical language, emotional arc and relationship of the artwork to this Emily Dickinson poem mean I am sure to find great discussion points for our middle primary students.

There's a certain Slant of light, (320)

Related Poem Content Details

There's a certain Slant of light, 
Winter Afternoons – 
That oppresses, like the Heft 
Of Cathedral Tunes – 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – 
We can find no scar, 
But internal difference – 
Where the Meanings, are – 

None may teach it – Any – 
'Tis the seal Despair – 
An imperial affliction 
Sent us of the Air – 

When it comes, the Landscape listens – 
Shadows – hold their breath – 
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance 
On the look of Death –

In this story we meet two squirrels.  Oscar is shy, cautious and house bound.  Charlie is lively, gregarious and outgoing.  Charlie approaches Oscar offering friendship but Oscar does not know what to do, he is overcome by his shyness and so rejects each overture. Every day Charlie tries to reach out to Oscar but each time Oscar hides or pretends to be asleep and finally in his confusion and fear he makes a big mistake

"On Friday evening, when Oscar was sipping his tea, a face appeared at the front window 'Hello!'. Oscar leapt to his feet.  His cup and saucer smashed to pieces. Oscar didn't know what to do. So he shouted 'Leave me alone!'

Now it is Charlie who retreats into his home and when Oscar looks out in the evening the chair on the verandah is empty.  It takes enormous courage for Oscar to step outside and make his own overture of friendship.  Oscar "opened the door. Counted to ten. And stepped outside."

At its heart In the evening is about our need for connection
The opening words of this book are written like a poem.

"In the evening, cars rumbled into driveways.
In the evening, windows lit up.
In the evening, chimney tops puffed.
In the evening, the clouds were purple and pink."

When you turn to the final page you will see an echo of these opening lines including one line which lingers with me "That evening, spoons went back for thirds."

Another thing to notice in this book is the use of longer and very short sentences (see the example above) and the lyrical language.  Here is an example to savour and read slowly "the shapes and shades and shadows of the evening floated by."

There are some wonderful books in this section - Picture book of the Year and only six will make up the short list but I do hope In the evening will be selected because it deals with issues which at time confront all of us - the need for connection and the confusion of shyness.  Over the next few days I will discuss some of the other books in this category.  Here is a review of In the evening and another with some extra details about the art found in this book.  Here is the web site for Edwina Wyatt.  
You can see the covers of two other books in our library with beautiful illustrations by Gaye Chapman.

If you share this book with a younger audience you might compare it with the series of books about Bear and Mouse by Bonnie Becker, the books about Mouse and Mole, Those Pesky rabbits, and the Bear and Chook books.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The red pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney illustrated by Shane W Evans

The Red Pencil is a verse novel. I adore verse novels.  Reading this one I knew I would be taken on a hugely emotional journey.  It is a long book at 308 pages and yet I read it all in one sitting.  I will recommend this text to senior primary students and to teachers exploring the topic of refugees.

The Red Pencil is a beautifully crafted and very important story especially right now with so many people from around the world forced to move from their home and seek refuge often in distant places.
Amira has just turned twelve. Her life is a happy one but she has one desperate desire - to go to school, to learn, to enjoy a life of possibilities beyond those offered in her small Sudanese village. In part one, Our farm South Darfur, Africa September 2003 - March 2004 we read about daily life - the struggles and love in this family.  Every family in the village watched the moon.

"A hiding moon is a curse
it means
the worst
luck is sure to fall


That is why we wake the moon.
Tradition tells us
to make the waking loud.
To rouse that moon.
To scare it out,
             to full sight."

Little sister Leila is born on a night when the moon stays hidden.  She is born with oddly shaped legs and a crooked spine but she will grow into a girl with inspirational determination.

There is a threat hanging over this small community.  The Janjaweed are a group of militia. The word janaweed means devils on horseback.  They attack Amira's village, her father is killed and so the remaining villagers including Amira, her mother and little sister must flee.  The journey is dangerous and terrifying.

"Our weary feet
keep moving
across vast sheets of sand,
spreading wide
for miles,
rolled out like a rippling carpet,
leading to uncertainty"

Eventually the group reach a displaced persons camp and so the story moves to Part 2 Kalma April 2004 - June 2004.  It is in this camp that Amira is given her precious red pencil by a aid worker.  She also begins important, but secret lessons, with Old Anwar.  It is these two things which rekindle her dreams of education and a different life path.

Here is a detailed review.  You can read the author's experience and listen to a podcast. Here is a video where Andrea Davis Pinkney talks about her book.

You might also like to read the Horn Book review.  Our copy of The red pencil  contains a discussion guide, Sudanese word list and author notes.

I would recommend you also read A long walk to water, Inside out and back again, Secrets in the fire, and the picture book Four feet two sandals.

The road to Ratenburg by Joy Cowley illustrated by Gavin Bishop

The world is a dangerous place especially if you are a rat and you need to make a journey across the world of humming beans in order to reach utopia - or Ratenburg.

Ratenburg is the place all rats want to live and so we have the book The road to Ratenburg.

"Ratenburg! Oh, what a glorious place! Descriptions of its splendour had come down through history. Walls of marble lined with silk! Granaries full of corn and peas, dairies stocked with cream, butter and large round cheeses! Storehouses of German sausages and French pastries ... and the only humming bean ever to set two feet in that valley was the friendly piper of ancient times."

When their home is, quite literally, blown up Spinnaker, his wife Retsina and their four young children Alpha (girl), Beta (girl), Gamma (boy) and Delta (boy) set off with their basement neighbour Jolly Roger on a journey so hazardous you will at times gasp out loud.  Luckily Spinnaker explains right from the beginning "I beg you, do not allow our story to bring you fear.  This book has in it much danger and some moments of sheer terror, but all of it is history, meaning it is in the past and therefore of no threat to you."  I took this to mean our little family would arrive safely at their destination since this story is being written retrospectively.  Don't let this stop you reading though as the destination is a huge surprise for all concerned including the reader!

Now onto some of the dangers they face.  Before embarking on their journey the family visit a group of railway rats.  Retsina has had some past relationship with their leader who is named Signal. Spinnaker longs to know about this but Retsina will not go into the details.  Signal shows the family a precious map of the road to Ratenburg and since they cannot take this ancient map with them each family member memorizes one section.

The first part of their journey is by train and this is made more dangerous when Alpha is nearly caught and in her fright she jumps off the train.  Spinnaker finds her but in the process a whisker length of his tail is crushed. The next danger involves crossing a lake which is teeming with giant eels. The little travelers make a boat from a pot but have forgotten dogs can swim. "The terrier made a determined leap into the water and came after us with strong sure strokes."  Perhaps you can guess the fate of the dog.

By far the most horrifying mishap involves a vat of milk and curious Spinnaker, who having observed the milking process in a barn where the family are resting, now decides to taste the fresh liquid for himself.

Other adventures involve hawks, poison baits, a trap with the most delicious cheese and a terrible bog.

The road to Ratenburg would make a terrific family read-a-loud and the lively illustrations add to the fun.  Here is the web site for Joy Cowley - she is a very famous New Zealand author and we have eighty-six of her books in our school library!  You can read Joy's thoughts about this book here.

You might also enjoy A rats tale by Tor Seidler, The Song of the Winns, Mrs Frisby and the rats of NIMH, and Abels Island by William Steig.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

An A to Z of Australian bush creatures by Myke Mollard

First of all this is not a new book.  An A to Z of Australian bush creatures was first published in 2008 but this is a new edition released in 2016.

In 2016 our CBCA Book Week slogan is

Australia : Story Country

I plan to feature picture books about Australian animals such as A house for Wombats, Koala Lou, and Edward the Emu.  I have been hunting for a book that covered some of our less famous, but no less fabulous, Australian Animals.

An A to Z of Australian bush creatures will be a terrific jumping off point.  Yes it does contain detailed illustrations of our famous fauna - koala, kangaroo, kookaburra, wallaby, wombat, platypus, numbat, bilby, cockatoo and even the wonderful Christmas beetle but it has so many which you may not know including one that doesn't even really exist - the bunyip!

I would like our older students, during Book Week, to adopt a Australian animal.  I want them to find one that is not featured in lots of picture books and perhaps write a short story or a poem.

Here are some possibilities but there are so many others in this book :

  • bettong
  • blue tongued lizard
  • spotted cuscus
  • dusky hopping mouse
  • jabiru
  • witchetty grub
  • rosella
  • lorikeet
  • lyrebird
  • kowari
  • kultarr

You can see every page from this richly illustrated book on the author web site.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Raymie Nightingale by Kate Di Camillo

I have been hearing about Raymie Nightingale for many months.  I was so excited when our copy arrived at school.  I knew it would be fabulous because, like so many children's literature people, I adore the writing of Kate DiCamillo.  Raymie Nightingale is actually such a brilliant book I just don't know how to tell you about it but I will try because I want to encourage you to run into your local library and grab this book.  This is absolutely a ten out of ten book!

Raymie Clarke has a plan.  She needs to convince her dad to return to his family.  Two days ago he ran off with a dental hygienist. The plan means winning the Little Miss Central Florida Tire (in Australia we spell this tyre) competition. Raymie is sure this will make him come home. She knows she can win if she can learn baton twirling.  Raymie meets two girls at her baton twirling class.  Louisiana Elefante who also desperately needs to win this competition.

"I'm going to win that one thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars and save myself from the county home and get Archie back from the Very Friendly Animal Centre and never be terrified again."

Beverley Tapinski, the other girl Raymie meets at baton twirling, does not need to win this competition.  In fact she has a plan to sabotage the event.

This is a story of healing.  All three girls have complex lives.  It is Louisiana who realises, early on, that the three girls need to work together.

"We're the Three Rancheros!  We're bound to each other through thick and thin ...We'll rescue each other."

Different adventures bring the girls together.  Raymie tries to complete a good deed by visiting an elderly resident in a local nursing home.  She drops her precious library book when a different resident frightens her.  The book is important because it is a library book and so it must be returned.  The book is called A bright and shining path : The life of Florence Nightingale.

I love this description of Mr Option the librarian :

"Mr Option looked too young and uncertain to be a librarian.  Also, his ties were too wide, and they were all painted with strange and lonely pictures of deserted beaches, haunted-looking forests or UFOs."

In their first adventure the girls band together to retrieve the precious book.  Then Louisiana needs help to retrieve her precious cat from the animal centre and this involves a visit in the middle of the night.  Beverley needs help to resolve her anger and perhaps find friendship and compassion.

Our Magpies Magazine featured Raymie Nightingale in their latest issue March, 2016.  The reviewer, Helen Purdie, opens her review with these words - I heartily agree :

"Every once in a while a lucky reader will discover a story that is so entertaining, magical and poignant that closing the book at the end produces a genuine feeling of loss."

Mr Schu talks to Kate and you can also watch some video interviews.  Here is a beautiful review. Here is another interview which gives excellent insights into Kate and how her own experiences link with Raymie. Listen to a story extract.

School Library Journal
Her story unfolds in uncomplicated prose, even as the themes explored are complex.

Once again, DiCamillo demonstrates the power of simple words in a beautiful and wise tale.

Waking Brain Cells
The language pulls you in, embraces you and you happily immerse yourself in the world that a master storyteller has built for you. It’s a world filled with three girls who are vibrantly human and each completely distinct from one another

Monday, April 11, 2016

Millie's marvellous hat by Satoshi Kitamura

I am making a collection of books about hats because next term we will celebrate National Simultaneous storytime and this year the featured book is I got this hat.

The NSS book this year is fairly simple and I will have an 'audience' of 150 excited Kindergarten students so I am planning on a hat celebration.

I have selected Millie's Marvellous Hat as one of the extra books we will feature at our school event. Millie sees a wonderful hat in a store but then discovers it costs 'five hundred and ninety-nine pounds and ninety-nine pence."  All Millie has is an empty purse.  The wonderful shop keeper comes to her rescue.  He has the most marvellous hat which can be any "size, shape or colour you wish.  All you have to do is imagine it."  Imagination is the key word here.  Millie sets off and her hat becomes a feather extravaganza, a tower of cakes, a bouquet of flowers and a joyous celebration of her happy thoughts.  On the final pages mum and dad join in too creating their own marvellous hats.  I really want to celebrate the adults in this book who are so affirming of Millie and her imagination.

I adore the art of Satoshi Kitamura.  You can read a review of another one of his books here.  Here is an amazing Pinterest collection of picture books about hats.

I plan to give each of my Kindergarten teachers a book about hats.  Here are some of my favourites:

Sebastian lives in a hat
More Caps for Sale
Clara Button and the magical hat day
Jennie's Hat
This is not my hat by Jon Klassen
I want my hat back by Jon Klassen
The Kinder hat by Morag Loh
Rosie's hat by Julia Donaldson

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A soldier, a dog and a boy by Libby Hathorn illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Here is another important book to add to your collection for ANZAC Day.

When you open this book take time to think about and talk about the very first page - the opening end paper.  Here you can see a solitary soldier walking across a grassy landscape  He has his rifle.  His focus is on moving forward.  In the foreground there are some red poppies.  The sky is cloudy and a flock of birds are flying overhead.  The scene looks oddly peaceful  but is this possible if this is a soldier going to war? Now turn the page.  This is the half title page and here you will see a little brown and white dog.  He looks sad,and slightly disheveled.  He is surrounded by red splotches - is this blood?  Now turn to the title page (see below).  This is a double spread.  Added to our characters of a solder and a dog we now see a small boy.  All three figures are moving forward.  On this page the red splotches look more like the poppies moving in the wind.  The solider looks happy, the dog is focused and moving with a purpose and the boy - well he looks sad.  His shoulders and arms suggest a sense of resignation.

The story opens with the solider.  He has found a lost dog.  He thinks this dog would make a good mascot for his troop.  He tries to give the dog some simple instructions - sit, roll over etc.  The dog takes no notice of him.  He names the dog Flanders and they set off toward the camp but a boy comes running across the grass.  "Bonjour, soldier.  Monsieur, that is my dog."

I am not going to tell you what happens next it is too important and emotional.  You need to read this book to find out.

The final end papers show a very different scene with fireworks and a happy family - boy, wife, young man and not just one dog but two!

This book was inspired by Libby' search for details of her uncle who was killed at the Somme in 1917.  You can read more about this in her book Eventual Poppy Day.  While completing her research Libby found a photograph of a "returned Australian solider holding open a sack revealing a young orphaned French boy who had been smuggled out of France."

You can read about the illustrator here.  He is talking about another book Once a Shepherd but this interview gives you a sense of his commitment to his work.  A solider, a dog and a boy is an excellent example of how perfect picture books really are the marriage of text and illustration.

Speechless by Jennifer Mook-Sang

I started Speechless yesterday afternoon.  I finished reading Speechless yesterday afternoon.  I read the whole 160 pages in one sitting. This is not an earth shattering book but it is a very satisfying read.

At our school each year students present speeches.  Our students are given a topic or open idea such as "I wonder...".  In Speechless the students also participate in a similar speech competition but there is free choice for their topic.

Joseph Alton Miles (Jelly) has no real interest in this speech event ... "every year, I've mumbled mine as fast as I could and got it over with."  What is the difference this year?  Well on offer is a wonderful prize pack of a tablet computer with accessories.  Jelly's dad does own a computer store but Jelly can only use it for homework and does not own any video games.  The initial stages of this competition happen in each classroom. Jelly has a best friend called Parker (PB).    "When we were little our mums said we stuck together like the insides of a sandwich.  Since Parker Brown's initials are P.B. and mine spell J.A.M. ... well that's why everyone calls me Jelly."

Parker, who this year is in a different class,  is convinced Jelly can win the competition and defeat a school bully called Victoria.  Jelly works hard with his speech and when the big day comes Victoria makes a very fancy presentation about the conservation of biodiversity in South America.  Jelly almost trumps her with his funny and well researched speech about the value of video games.  The teacher declares it is a tie.

Meanwhile Jelly has begun some volunteer work at a local food bank. He gradually learns about the people who use and work for this important service and he is able to apply his computer skills to sort out their equipment and spread sheets.  Jelly is also trying to cope with Victoria who seems determined to ruin his life and perhaps even have him expelled from school.

For the final round of the speech competition new topics must be selected.  I felt certain Jelly would talk about the food bank.  I hope you enjoy the surprise ending.  If you need to read more about the plot here is a Canadian review.  You can read an extract of the book here.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Beetle Boy by M G Leonard

This book became my obsession last week.  I actually raced home to keep reading it.  Yes Beetle Boy is that good!

Darkus lives with his dad and life is okay.  Sadly his mum has died but after some hard times dad seems to be coming round. Then one day Bartholomew Cuttle disappears.  It is a total mystery because his dad was working inside a basement room in the Natural History museum.  The door was locked from the inside and there appears to be no way this hard working Director of Science could have left the room.  All that the police find is a cold cup of coffee, some papers and open drawers. This room houses the largest Coleoptera (or beetle) collection in the world.  The drawers hold beetle specimens.

Here are some of the beetles mentioned in this story.

"Dung beetles, jewel beetles, giraffe-necked weevils, Goliath, stags, bombardiers, fireflies, lavender beetles, ladybirds, Atlas, Hercules and titan beetles, tiger beetles, rhinoceros beetles, carpet beetles, deathwatch and tok-tokies."

You might like to research some of them especially in preparation for the final battle scene.  There are beetles who make dung balls, beetles who can chew through concrete and wood and beetles with very painful stings.

Darkus knows his dad is still alive even though the authorities are convinced he is dead..  Luckily his uncle agrees and so Darkus moves in with Uncle Max, who is an archeologist, and together they set about solving this mystery.  Living next door to Uncle Max are two very strange, ugly and angry brothers. In the house where these men live there is a room filled with every type of beetle you can imagine and many that you probably have never heard of.  One of these beetles has adopted Darkus - his name is Baxter.  He is a rhinoceros beetle. There is a wonderful scene near the beginning of the book when these brothers, Pickering and Humphrey, capture Darkus.  The tie him to a chair.  Smother his clothes and face with cranberry sauce and gag him.  You will cheer when you read how the beetles help free Darkus and you laugh at the stupidity of using cranberry sauce!

The brothers live in an old emporium and behind the building is a treasure trove of old discarded furniture.  This makes the perfect hiding place for Darkus and his special friends Virginia and Bertolt.

"It looked as if a mob of brawling furniture had been frozen with a ray gun.  Table and chair legs stuck out, their feet like clenched fists about to land a punch.  A brave hatstand was making break for it at the south side of the yard ."

Adding to all this tension we also meet an evil woman named Lucretia Cutter.  "Two sparkling black sticks appeared, and then a woman's head. Jet-black hair, gold lips, and then her body came lurching into view, leaning on the sticks.  She wore a white laboratory coat over a long black dress, and every jarring movement of her body screamed out how angry she was."  I recommend you read page 260 for an even more stomach turning description of Lucretia and her method of eating! Lucretia is obsessed by beetles she even has a live one as a broach on her coat.

If  I have not convinced you that Beetle Boy is fabulous click here to read the first sixteen pages. You might also enjoy this detailed review.  Following this book I would read Masterpiece which features an equally heroic beetle.  It is also worth watching the video of MG Leonard talking about her book (see below) and I have included a couple of alternate covers including one from Sweden.  This book also reminded me of Caleb by Gary Crew which is a book I enjoy reading to our Grade Four classes.

Ahmed and the feather girl by Jane Ray

Once each term I need to go right through all our picture books in the library.  We have more than 8000 of them.  I do this for several reasons.  I need to pull out books for classes to use next term - so this time I was looking for stories about food for Kindergarten, books about colour for Year One, the topic of Wet and Dry environments for Year Two and people and beliefs for Year Three.

As I do this process I put away all the books we have had on our various display stands and refresh them with books that need to be re-discovered.  I also find books that I want to share with classes and books to pop into the hands of teachers.

One book I 'discovered' today is Ahmed and the feather girl.  I adore the work of Jay Ray. We have a good collection of her illustrated fairy tales.

Ahmed and the Feather Girl is a simple story and perhaps it is predicable but it is also truly magical and it is adorned with exquisite illustrations. Ahmed is an orphan who is forced to work for a cruel old woman who owns a circus.  One day Ahmed fins a golden egg.  He makes it a nest and keeps it warm but Madame Saleem snatches it from him and places the egg in a cage.  Over time the egg hatches and a little girl appears.  They name her Aurelia.  This means golden.  Ahmed does his best to care for Aurelia even though she is kept in a cage and is now used a circus attraction.  "The little girl began to change and grow.  Tiny points appeared on her back and began to sprout fine silken feathers."  An adult reader will know Aurelia must one day fly away. Of course Ahmed will set her free.  Madame Saleem punishes Ahmed. "Now he had only crusts and scraps to eat and he slept huddled under a caravan.  He was cold and hungry and he missed Aurelia."  You may have guessed the ending but I am sure it will be a wonderful discovery for a young reader.  The final page sparkles.

The Thickety : A Path begins by J.A. White

I have a huge dilemma here.  I am not sure how to tell you about this book.  It is both a disturbing book to read and yet somehow also quite compelling.  It is a book filled with witches, magic, murder, truly horrid creatures, deep pain, extraordinary levels of betrayal and truly loyal friends.

Before you read my thoughts I recommend reading this chapter sample from the publisher.

One of the problems I have with shopping for books is knowing if books at the upper end of our collection for students in Grade 6 will be suitable.  It not possible to read every book nor it is possible read every book review.

The Thickety is a series aimed at very mature primary students. According to the publisher and back cover this is a book series for children aged 10+.  Kirkus say 11+.   I agree with Kirkus and so we will restrict the borrowing of this book to our Grade Six students but we will still keep it in our library. It does have 488 pages and some of the really gruesome moments do come right near the end so many of our students would not select this book or perhaps not have the reading stamina to reach the end.

I was interested to read this review in the School Library Journal where the reviewer Robin Willis admitted he/she did not finish this book because it was so harrowing.  Here is a trailer from the publisher.

You can read the reviews above for all the plot details.  This book reminded me of Fearless by Tim Lott, The Spooks Apprentice by Joseph Delaney and Fire Girl.  I do have plans to read the next installment.