Sunday, June 26, 2016

The secrets we keep by Nova Weetman

An astute reader will pick up the early hints about the truth of Clem's life circumstances in this book The Secrets we keep.  You might not completely guess the truth but you may be suspicious that all is not quite as it seems.  Do not flip to the back of the book.  It is worth taking the journey with Clem as she comes to terms with her complex family life and recent tragedy.

"My mum died,' I say, causing Ellie to stop in the middle of the basketball courts.  ... I have a yucky metallic taste in my mouth.  Why did I have to start here?  Why did Mum have to come into my story now?"

Clem (Clementine) is the narrator.  Her house has burned down.  She and her dad have moved into a drab and tiny flat in a new area and Clem has to begin at a new school.  It is near the end of Year Six and she has left behind her best friend and lost all her precious possessions in the fire.  Dad will not talk about mum.  The reasons are complex.  Clem needs to face her fear and find forgiveness.

This is a book about fitting in.  It is also about truth.  Here is the author web site.  For more information read this review.  Older students might like to compare The secrets we keep with The Illustrated mum by Jacqueline Wilson and Starry Nights by Judith Clarke.

Tales for very picky eaters by Josh Schneider

This is a book you should read just for the fun of the storytelling.

Tales for very picky eaters has five simple stories with tantalizing titles:

  • The tale of the disgusting broccoli
  • The tale of the smelling lasagna
  • The tale of the repulsive milk
  • The tale of the lumpy oatmeal
  • The tale of the slimy eggs

James does not want to eat these food but through good humour and wild storytelling his father is able, each time, to change his mind.

James asks about an alternative to broccoli. (Personally I adore broccoli and I feel sad that brussels sprouts and broccoli receive such bad press.)  His father offers dirt, used chewing gum or a sweaty sock flavoured with apple and cinnamon.  James changes his mind!

James complains the lasagna smells funny. His father explains he will now have to fire the troll who labours hard to make this lasagna down in their basement.  The troll  will have to return to his old job working for the rat circus.  James feels sorry for the troll and decides to eat the lasagna.

"Milk is repulsive and I won't drink it.' 'That's probably a good idea,' said James's father.  "Milk give growing children strong, hard bones.  Think of all the great things you could do with nice soft bones." It is easy to imagine what happens next when James thinks about all the sports he loves to play.

This little book was the winner of the 2012 Theodore Geisel Award. We have nearly all the past winners in our library.  Here is the review in Kirkus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

Oddly I am going to tell you to begin by reading the back cover of this utterly exquisite picture book Ida, Always.

"I am in awe of this wise, endearing, tender, and beautiful - so very beautiful - book, which is sure to become a classic of children's literature ... the words and pictures meld perfectly to explore the emotional journey of love and loss, 
breaking your heart and then beginning to mend it."
Judith Viorst

Read this comment slowly again.  Meld is the perfect word to describe the way the gentle illustrations and text work together.  The emotional journey of Gus is the heart of this tender story.  The way a broken heart can mend is the important message of hope you will find at the end.

Gus and Ida live in the zoo in Central Park in the busy New York city. The story is based on two real polar bears who did really live in this zoo.  One day Ida does not emerge from her night den.  The keeper explains to Gus that Ida is ill and may die soon.

I love this moment of humour in the face of their deep sadness :

"Wherever I go' said Ida, 'I  bet I'll always smell your fishy breath.'  That made Gus smile.  He wasn't sure if he should. But Ida was giggling, too."

The topic of this book is a difficult one.  Here is a pinterest collection of other books to explore from my friend at Kinderbooks.  Here is a teaching guide from the author web site.

This is a difficult story to tell for both children and adults, but “Ida, Always” does it with simplicity and grace.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Series - The World in Infographics by Jon Richards and Ed Simkins

I don't talk about Non Fiction very often but this series has really caught my eye.  I must be a visual learner because I enjoy pouring over the infographic format as a way to present statistics and other general knowledge.

There are 12 books in this series. Topics include Planet Earth, Natural resources, Countries and Machines/Vehicles.  Each book has an index and a comprehensive glossary.  At a time when students and teachers make extensive use of 'Google' style searches I think books like this are especially useful.  Information is presented as graphs and comparisons.  In each book students can make sense of statistics and percentages and some of the content could be used for further research.

Here are a few facts from the Human World :

The Digital World
In 2010 107,000,000,000,00 emails were sent!

Staying in touch
The first call made from a mobile phone was made on 3rd April, 1973

Work Rest and Play
Annual Public Holidays - China 16, India 15, Australia 8

Dwindling resources
Years remaining of mineral reserves measured from 2011
Copper 61 years, Gold 45 Years, Tin 40 years, Phosphorus 345 Years

What a waste
New York produces 11,000 tones of trash a day or enough to cover the USA with a layer 2.5cm deep.

This page is from the Animal Kingdom.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Cartwheeling in thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

After reading Rooftoppers I knew I wanted to pick up another book by Katherine Rundell.  I started Cartwheeling in thunderstorms early this afternoon and finished it before the sunset.  This is a fabulous book and as Philip Pullman says on the back cover Katherine Rundell has a 'distinctive voice and a wild imagination.'

Will (Wilhelmina) has a blissfully free life in Zimbabwe.  Her friends are the wild animals, her horse and the neighbourhood boys especially her best friend Simon. The farm where she has lived her whole life is owned by Captain Browne and Will's dad is the foreman.  Wills' mum, Lilibet, was a very special lady who also embraced life in the wilds of Africa but sadly she died when Will was only five.

"Seven years after his wife's death, William Silver started running a temperature.  The next day he collapsed on the packed earth floor of the stable."

The story now references Cinderella.  Captain Browne takes a wife. She immediately plots to get rid of little Will.  She organises to send this wild child to an English boarding school.

I love this description of Cynthia (Captain Browne's new wife).  "Cynthia Vincy was well-dressed, strong jawed, long-legged, conscious of her power over men: formidable. ... Cynthia smiled down at Will.  The smile marred the woman's perfect poise; it was a square smile, like a letter box. Cynthia was aware of this and rarely smiled."

Everything about the school is horrid.  The food, the tiny room she has to share with one of the school bullies, the bitter cold and the endless rules.

"She discovered that times tables had nothing to do with time, not in fact with tables; that history was not a thousand stories building up into the colossal, strange, heart-stoppingly beautiful present; that knowing about cows and snake bites and birth and umbilical cords was irrelevant in science class.  She also learned that shorts were wrong and she had gypsy hair and she wasn't funny, wasn't clever, and looked like a mad tramp in her thick socks and muddy boots."

Will finally escapes after an especially distressing incident where a gang of girls force her into a cold bath.  She wanders the streets of London.  It is Winter and she is only wearing shorts.  She spends a night at the zoo, a night in Hyde Park and tries to hide in a corner of Harrods department store.

While at the zoo she has a chance meeting with a young boy.  He shares his Mars bar and gives her half of his comic book.  Later she sees an address scribbled on a corner of this comic.  Perhaps she can at last find somewhere to feel safe and take refuge.

After reading Cartwheels in thunderstorms you might look for Duck for Danger (sadly long out of print), Callie and the Prince (also out of print) and Figgy in the world.

Take a minute to watch this video with Katherine Rundell where she describes her own childhood in Zimbabwe.  You could also read the beautiful speech she gave at the Horn Book awards.

I do need to mention the title - Cartwheeling in thunderstorms.  After her journey, both physical and emotional, Will now accepts that for now she needs to learn how to cartwheel in thunderstorms.

Kirkus have given this book a star!  Here is an extract from their review :

Monday, June 13, 2016

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel

In Fortune Falls jade costs more than diamonds and so do four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and rabbits' feet.  Birthday wishes should not be wasted and the child care center is called Pot-of-Gold.

Luck - good and bad - this is an elusive thing.  Don't step on a crack, don't walk under a ladder, look for four leaf clovers and of course an apple a day will keep the doctor away.

All of these ideas about staying lucky are included in Fortune Falls and I did enjoy this premise.  The idea that your propensity to good luck or bad luck could determine your future path in life was also a good one but could have been explored in a little more depth especially the final idea - the one that the story had hinted at all along - that we make our own luck by our attitude.

In Fortune Falls every life incident is attributed to luck.  Sadie seems to be plagued by bad luck and her brand of bad luck has been catastrophic for the family perhaps causing the death of her father when is path is crossed by a black cat.

Sadie is about to turn twelve and inauspiciously this will happen on a Friday and yes the date of her birthday is the 13th. When students turn 12 they have to participate in a Spring Luck Test.  This takes them from Undetermined to either Lucky or Unlucky and then determines which school they can attend.

The description of life for Unluckies is quite telling :

"I remembered Dad taking me on a trip downtown ... 'These are the luckless that have given up.' We drove by windows that had been broken out with baseball bats, ... On the streets were people with unkempt hair and beards and expressionless faces.  The worst were those staring off into space as they sat immobile on curbs or behind blowing curtains,"

The actual Spring Luck Test was intriguing.  The school hall is set up with a number of games of chance - a roulette spinner, a dice game and a ball drop game.  You might be able to use this scene with a class and make connections with the maths strand of chance and data.

The Spelling Bee is also a chapter that could be used with a class if you are preparing for a bee at school.  Compare Sadie's words with those given to the lucky but awful Felicia.

dearth gem
debauchery sugar
treacherous lilac
mercurial diary

Fans of books about dogs will also enjoy Fortune Falls.  Sadie has a very special dog :

"Wink makes people feel uncomfortable.  She makes them especially uncomfortable when her missing eye takes them by surprise. I'll be taking Wink for a walk and someone will come up to her at just the right angle, but when she turns to greet the person - her tail wagging so hard it shakes her entire backside - giving whoever it is a full view of her one-eyed, pirate-y face, the stranger usually flips."

Here is a detailed review which includes some of the issues I have raised here.

You might also enjoy A snicker of Magic and Three times lucky.

Fizz and the Police dog tryouts by Lesley Gibbes illustrated by Steven Michael King

One important section in our school library contains our short chapter books which we call Fast Fiction. These are little books which contain easy to read stories suitable for our students in Grades 1-4 but which also have very satisfying story lines.  I love hunting for new titles to add to this collection.

Fizz and the Police Dog tryouts has all the right ingredients.

1. It is part of a series - we do have the second book Fizz and the Dog Academy rescue and the next two will arrive soon.
2. It has a fast pace and very satisfying story. You will cheer for little Fizz who is trying so hard to become a police dog against all stereotypes.
3. With eight short chapters this book could easily be read in one or two nights and I do enjoy chapters with names - this can be a good way to predict the plot
4. There are illustrations on every page and these add to the fun.  Steven Michael King certainly knows how to capture the personality of a range of dog breeds
5. Fizz is a special little hero who demonstrates determination and problem solving

When you look at the cover of Fizz you might see a resemblance to Mutt Dog also illustrated by Steven Michael King.

Fizz turns up for the tryouts but so do a huge number of other dogs.  One of these is Amadeus, an enormous German Shepherd from the Wolfgang family.  Here is a description of Amadeus.  "His neck was thick and strong, and his massive chest was set between two muscular sloping shoulders.  His dense fur was as black as midnight, and his eyes were cold and cruel."

Here is a description of Fizz "a small cute ball of white, fizzy, fuzzy fur."

Amadeus looks like a police dog but he is a bully. He wants to win at all costs but it is his cheating and mean behaviour that nearly sees him disqualified.  Fizz passes the first two tests - The Bark Test (Amadeus steps on his paw and Fizz screams at just the right moment), and the Scare Test (Fizz uses his anger against Amadeus flashing his teeth and shooting his fluffy hair into wild hackles).

The third test, however, the Chase-and-catch test, proves too much of a challenge for little Fizz but all is not lost.  Fizz is offered a place in the Undercover Dog Division and the stage is now set for book two.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Rabbit & Bear by Julian Gough and Jim Field

There are many books now that cite comments or reviews by other distinguished authors on their covers.  Rabbit & Bear cites two quotes on the back - one from Neil Gaiman and the other by Eoin Colfer.  This is esteemed company indeed.

Neil Gaiman says this "is the sort of story that makes you want to send your children to bed early, so you can read it to them."

Eoin Colfer says this "should become an instant modern classic .. Cheeky, delightful and hilarious."

Bear is hibernating.  It is the middle of winter.  He wakes up when a robber stands on his nose, having just stolen his honey, salmon and beetles eggs.  Bear has never been awake in the winter.  He forgets about the missing food when he sees the snow and decides to make his first snowman. His snowball comes to rest on a rabbit hole. Rabbit is wise to the ways of gravity but he is also a cantankerous character who has no time for making snowmen with bear until something makes him change his mind.

This is the first book in a new series.  The subtitle is Rabbit's bad habits.  You need to read this terrific little book to discover exactly what these bad habits are.  You might find them disgusting but I guarantee every child will be laughing long after the book is finished.

Here is an interview with the author.  In this blog Julian Gough explains how he discovered this story. We do have several books in our library illustrated by Jim Field including the wonderful There's a lion in my cornflakes.

Rabbit & Bear is a compact little book about the size of a Ladybird book.  The illustrations are fabulous as you can see below. I am certain every young child will adore this special gem.

Lifetime : The amazing numbers in animal lives by Lola M Schaefer illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

When I read a book like Lifetime I just want to rush to a teacher and beg them to use this book because there is just so much to discover here.

Lifetime is so much more than a simple counting book of even an exploration of numbers.  "Lifetime shows how many times one particular animal performs one behavior or grows one feature in a lifetime."

The book begins with a spider and her fragile egg sac. As you turn each page you will find so many fascinating facts in this book.  Did you know caribou shed 10 sets of antlers and a rattlesnake will add 40 beads to its rattle.
Every part of the animal kingdom is explored from seahorses to kangaroos, dolphins to butterflies.

The final pages are an excellent additional resource.  Lola M Schaefer explains how averages work and then explains in great detail how she arrived at the actual average she used for each creature.  For example the Red Kangaroo will birth 2 or 3 joeys every year and their lifespan is about 21.5 years. The maths of averages means after 20 years of having joeys the Red Kangaroo will have 50 joeys in her lifetime.

Here is the author web site.  We do have several of her books in our school library but I plan to add more.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A seven letter word by Kim Slater

This book, A Seven Letter Word,  completely grabs the reader right from the opening lines as we read a letter Finlay is writing to his absent mum.  This sets up the mystery.  Where is his mum?  Why did she leave?  Why is his dad angry and silent?  You will never anticipate the set of events that meant his mother had to leave and you will never guess the ending.  But you need to stick with this book because it takes a while for the action to really heat up.  By page 215 you will be gasping for air as the plot begins to twist in unpredictable directions.

You can see from the cover this book is about Scrabble but it about so much more.  Confusion, friendships and terrible, unrelenting bullying.  Finlay has a terrible stutter and this makes him a target for one of the thugs from his school a boy called Oliver.

"I don't expect the blow that sends me careering head first into the steel pole. A sharp pain bounces around the inside of my skull.  I can feel Oliver pulling at my rucksack and all I can think is that my Scrabble tile bag is in there, the one mum made me before she left."

There are two heroes in this story - Finlay himself and his Scrabble mentor a girl called Maryam. She is an older girl in her final year of High School and her wise counsel to Finlay along with excellent Scrabble strategies make her the sort of character you wish you could meet in real life.

Here is the web site for the author who has also written Smart which is on my to read list.  You can read some reviews by young readers here and here is a terrific review.  I don't usually state an age for readers but A Seven Letter word is a book best suited to mature senior Primary students. This book came to our library from Bloomin' Books - they always send us terrific titles in our monthly book package.

I would recommend reading Tiger Rising after A Seven Letter Word.  Readers who enjoy books about games and competitions might also enjoy Chess Nuts  and Speechless

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Olive of Groves and the great slurp of time by Katrina Nannestad illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

Olive of Groves and the great slurp of time follows on from the riotous Olive of Groves.  This new installment can stand alone but to fully appreciate this crazy school and especially the diabolical Pigg McKenzie and the batty school headmistress Mrs Groves I do recommend reading the first book if you can.

As this story opens Basil Heffenhuffenheimer arrives at Mrs Groves School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers. What a wonderful name!

"Olive continued to stare.  She took in the lederhosen, the collarless white shirt, the big brown hiking boots with woolly white socks, the canvas rucksack and the green felt hat.  The hat was decorated with a beautiful tan and black feather that might well have been plucked from the tail of a pheasant."

Who is Basil?  He is a time traveler.  He has just been taking a hike in the Black Forest in Germany in 1857 and now he has arrived at this crazy school. Mrs Groves explains this is perfectly acceptable because the school is also for time travellers and she used to have some textbooks about this one of which she eventually locates - "The concise guide to Time Travel". Time travel is a two way process achieved using clocks - one running forwards and one running backwards.  Olive has the perfect backwards running clock so it seems everything is set for some time travelling adventures. Unfortunately (you knew I was going to say that!) Pig McKenzie has returned.  He has disguised himself as Pigg McKenzie and convinces Mrs Groves he is a different fellow but Olive is very suspicious.

"Anyone can see that he is the same Wicked Pig as Ever He Was.  Placing an extra g in his name does nothing to change the fact that he is a Nasty, Vile Creature Who Thinks of Nobody but Himself. Why, this very minute, he is probably Scheming and Plotting to Get Rid of Me."

This book contains all the elements I enjoyed in the first.  Wordsworth and his thesaurus style of talking.  "How annoying ... frustrating, irritating, infuriating and exasperating", The boys who like to blow everything up (you will gasp at some of their timing and the ensuing chaos), Chester the rat who loves buttons along with some new friends such as Basil himself and Num Num the dinosaur, not to forget the consistently devious Pig or Pigg McKenzie.

As for the time travel you will find yourself in the Jurassic era, Elizabethan England and even the Black Forest in 1857.  The word slurp in the title is something I will leave you to discover for yourself but you might have guessed something is not quite right when I mentioned Num Num the dinosaur.

You know from the start all will be well for Olive and her friends, of course, but the true enjoyment comes from the mayhem, crazy disasters and fun you will experience with our intrepid heroes in this rocket fueled adventure.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Books on my reading pile

My reading pile seems very high right now so I thought I would share some of the titles with you here.  If I don't end up doing a longer review you can probably assume the book didn't really grab me but right now all of these look excellent.  I just need time to sit and read and read.

Mr Lemoncello's library Olympics 
by Chris Grabenstein

I read the first Mr Lemoncello installment in one sitting so I am very keen to meet these characters again and also dip into the intriguing mind of Mr Lemoncello himself.  The blurb for this one says :

"Kyle and his teammates are back, and the world famous game-maker, Luigi Lemoncello is at it again! This time Mr Lemoncello has invited teams from across America to compete in the first-ever Library Olympics. ... But some thing suspicious is going on - books are missing from Mr Lemoncello's library."

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms 
by Katherine Rundell

I picked this book because I absolutely adored Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell and so I am very excited to read Cartwheels in Thunderstorms which Katherine wrote in 2011 under the different title The Girl Savage.  The blurb for this book says :

"Living half wild on an African farm with her horse, her monkey and her best friend, Will feels that every day is beautiful.  But when her home is sold and Will is sent away to boarding school in England the world becomes impossibly difficult.  Lions and hyenas are nothing compare to packs of schoolgirls.  Where can a girl run to in London?"

Olive of Groves and the great slurp of time 
by Katrina Nannestad.

I am a huge fan of Katrina Nannestad and I thoroughly enjoyed the first book about Olive of Groves. I actually expected it to be short listed for our CBCA 2016 awards but alas it missed this selection. I have started this second book (at the time of writing I am up to page 115) and it is another wild, riotous, madcap romp.

"Olive was brave and clever and practical.  She had a great capacity for solving problems and making the best of almost any situation.  If life handed her lemons, not only would she make lemonade, she would juggle the skins, compost the pulp and play a game with the seeds."

A seven letter word by Kim Slater

This book arrived in our library in a book parcel which is sent to us each term by Bloomin' Books.  Kate Colley always makes excellent choices for her book packs so I know this one will be good.

Here is a quote from the blurb :

"Scrabble genius Finlay McIntosh is a different lad to the one his mother left behind.  One day she was there, the next she was gone. And his dad won't even mention her name.  All Finlay has to remember by is a bag of letter tiles and an empty journal."

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel

This book appeared on a recent brochure from Scholastic Book Club. There is an excellent endorsement on the back cover of Fortune Falls from Natalie Lloyd.  She wrote the wonderful book A Snicker of Magic.  She says : "The town of Fortune Falls is exciting, twisted, and wonderfully strange, and Sadie's adventures there are heart-squeezingly lovely."

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief 
by Catherine Jinks

If you have been following this blog for a while you will know I adore Catherine Jinks. I first read her Pagan series over 25 years ago.  More recently I loved A very unusual pursuit and the sequels.

On a quick glance this book has some ingredients I really appreciate.  Maps, a huge cast of characters listed with annotations at the beginning of the book and a glossary to assist the reader with words/phrases such as "hop the twig", "stubble it" and "gull".

The weird and wonderful world of words by Charles Hope

Do you know what 'crutch' words are?  I didn't until I read this book!

I really enjoy reading books like this.  Finding this is also perfect timing as my school staff will begin to explore different ways to develop the vocabularies of our students.  Perhaps in this age of 'devices' there is less talking but I know many teachers are finding children often ask questions about quite simple words.  Here are a few recent examples from books we read in our library oval (Poor Fish by Jane Godwin ) meaning a sports ground, coward (Elmer on stilts by David McKee) and shawl (My name is Lizzie Flynn by Claire Saxby).  In a National test from last month our Grade Three students encountered the word limb as it applies to your arms and legs - nearly every child had no idea about this word.

Here are a few facts from The weird world of words :

  • An average person will speak 123,205,750 words in their lifetime
  • The longest word in the world has over 189,000 letters (it is the name of a chemical)
  • The average adult knows 20,000-35,000 words
  • Children know about 10,000 words
As teachers I think it is our role (along with parents of course) to 'bridge' this gap.

Having a large vocabulary is important for developing your reading and writing skills and communicating with other people.

Using and learning words should be done in context but it should also be fun.  I love the page in this book which lists four great words from other languages :

GUGRA - Arabic word for the amount of water than can be held in a hand
LUFTMENSCH - Yiddish for a dreamer who lives with their head in the clouds
AGE-OTORI - Japanese to style your hair and end up making it look worse than before
PALEGG - Norwegian for in addition to for example adding extras to your sandwich

This makes me think of Frindle by Andrew Clements which is a book every Grade 5 or 6 child should hear.

You might also enjoy these books :

The weird and wonderful world of words touches on so many topics which could be explored further in a Primary classroom : spoonerisms, word origins, rebus, oxymorons, portmanteau words, isograms, malapropisms and kangaroo words.

Today I have been reading Olive of Groves and the slurp of time by Katrina Nannestad.  One of the characters in this second book about Olive is a rat called Wordsworth.  He is a walking thesaurus.  I adore the way he expounds on words.

Using books like The weird and wonderful world of words along with all the wonderful books in our school library is, I think, one of the best ways to introduce and enrich the vocabulary of children and even adults.  Make sure you take a look at the web site for Charles Hope.  We have 16 of his books in our school library.

Here is another interesting collection of word books (collective nouns) you can find in our library :