Sunday, July 31, 2016

On my reading pile

I will be rushing to complete these books but I need to try to read as many as I can before Thursday which is our annual library donate-a-book day.

I am listing this as the first in my pile but it will be the last one I read because the setting is very similar to The war that saved my life.  I find I need to mix my reading to make it easier to recall a plot line.

I have selected Close to the wind because it was the title explored at my local bookshop discussion group.

Here is part of the blurb :
"In a war-torn country a town is burning.  The last ship to leave has a few places left, but it you don't have the money, or know the right people, you won't get a ticket."

First off this book has 381 pages so I may only be able to read a few chapters before my deadline but Peter Nimble and his fantastic eyes does sound excellent.  Kirkus use words like Dickensian and Tolkienesque.

The blurb says :
" ... the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher - a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes."

A new Australian title by comedian Alan Brough.

The opening lines of Charlie and the war against the Grannies are very promising :

"Seventeen grannies were hurt (just a little bit) during the making of this book."

The first chapter :
The Truth - "I didn't want Mrs Cyclopolos to explode.  I just wanted a paper round."

The Friendship Riddle was sent to use by Kate Colley from Bloomin' books so I know it will be a winner.   With over 350 pages I may only be able to dip in before Thursday.

Here is part of the blurb :
"If there is one thing Ruth Mudd-O'Flaherty can't resist, it's a quest.  So when she finds a riddle hidden in an old library book, she gladly accepts the mission. "

I have often thought it would be fun to hide messages inside library books!

I have started The Green Bicycle and so far it is excellent.  I am sure this will prove to be a powerful and important story.

Here is part of the blurb :
"Wadjda has one simple wish - to ride her very own bicycle in a race with her friend Abdullah, But in Saudi Arabia it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes, and her parents forbid her from having one. Sick of playing by the rules, Wadjda invents different schemes to make money to buy the bike herself. But freedom comes at a high price."

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

If I could walk, maybe Mam wouldn't be so ashamed of me.  Maybe we could disguise my crippled foot.  
Maybe I could leave the room ... 
That's what happened, though not in the way I thought it would. 

This book is really only suitable for the most mature readers at my school but I do hope I can put in into the hands of a senior student who finds this poignant tale as engrossing as I did.

This is another one of those books that I started one night and almost finished in one sitting - not bad for 314 pages.

Perhaps you have read the classic story Goodnight Mister Tom.  The war that saved my life follows the same historical period and evacuation experience of children sent from London to stay in rural England.

Ada has been born with a club foot.  Her ignorant and abusive mother did not allow any medical intervention when Ada was a tiny baby.  She regards Ada as a cripple and stupid.  Children are being evacuated all over London.  Ada decides she and her younger brother Jamie must leave.  They board a train filled with children bound for Kent.  Reluctantly a lady called Susan Smith takes in the two children.  Very, very gradually the three form a strong bond but for Ada the most special part of her new life is the pony in the field beside the house.  Ada's care of Butter and her determination to learn how to ride and jump mirror the persistence and care of Susan and gradually Ada, Jamie and Susan form a little family unit.

There are several very violent scenes in this book especially early in the story when Ada is locked in a small cupboard by her abusive mother.  While I do highly recommend this book I feel it is only suitable for mature students.

It is very easy to tell the author adores horses.  This is the scene when Ada meets Butter for the first time :

"I toddled and stumbled.  Everything hurt.  The pony watched me.  When I reached the stone wall I sat on it and swung my legs over to the other side.  The pony stepped toward me, lowered his head, sniffed my hands, and pressed his neck against me. I put my arms around him.  I understood how he go his name.  He smelled like butter in the hot sun."

Here is the Kirkus review.  Here is a video interview with the author.  Here is a detailed review in the School Library Journal.  Here is an excellent set of teaching notes from the publisher.  I also found a sample of the audio book which runs for ten minutes.

You might also enjoy Carrie's war, An elephant in the garden, Children of the King or Vinnie's war by David McRobbie.  Mosst importantly though, when you have read The war that saved my life you must read Goodnight Mr Tom.

The Doldrums : A badly planned adventure by Nicholas Gannon

"Out of the thousands of children born every single day, at least one of them will turn out to be a dreamer."

This is book is utterly scrumptious.  Start here with a dip into the very impressive author web site.  You can see the wonderful illustrations, meet the characters, view videos and generally get a feeling for the look, tone and feel of this book.

Archer B Helmsley must be destined to follow in the footsteps of his adventurous explorer grandparents but his mother, and to a lesser extent his father, are determined to prevent this.  Archer has become a prisoner in his own home.  And what a home it is.  Every room is filled with artefacts and taxidermy gathered by Grandpa and Grandma Helmsley.  When news reaches the family that the grandparents have been lost while exploring an iceberg Antarctica things become even worse for Archer.  Luckily he has a wonderful friend living next door.  Oliver Glub has a very different temperament but he is a loyal friend.  A new girl moves into their neighbourhood - Adelaide L Belmont.  She has had her own life tragedy but she is a strong, fearless and wonderful friend.  Now the three of them must find a way to travel to Antarctica and rescue the Helmsley elders.

The adults are determined to prevent this. They range from despicable to indifferent except for the wonderful school librarian!

Things become especially difficult for our friends when the new teacher - Mrs Murkley - arrives.

"Mrs Murkley, a rather bulbous woman with little neck to spare ..."

Read this Canadian review.

You might also enjoy Secret Letters from 0-10, Withering by Sea, Rooftoppers and The Danger Box by Blue Balliett

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Yours sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa illustrated by Jun Takabatake

How do I judge a book?

  • The cover - yes this one is bright and appealing
  • The author and illustrator - no I had never heard of these Japanese book creators but I do enjoy books that have been translated from other languages
  • The publisher - YES! Gecko Press always select fabulous, intriguing and very different books

I also enjoy books with letters - especially where we can see the actual hand written letters as you can in Yours sincerely, Giraffe.

Dear You, Whoever you are,
Who lives on the other side of the horizon
I am Giraffe. I live in Africa. 
I'm famous for my long neck. 
Please tell me about yourself.

Yours sincerely

There are three reasons for writing this letter.  Giraffe is lonely and would like a friend, Giraffe is bored and every day seems to be the same as the one before.  Giraffe sees a sign announcing a new mail service.  A Bored Pelican is offering his services (Fee : up to you) to deliver anything, anytime, anywhere.

Pelican flies off towards the horizon.  He eventually returns with a letter from Penguin.  Penguin has never heard of a neck.  He asks the only whale left at Whale Point, Professor Whale but the answer is far from satisfactory.  So the correspondence begins culminating in a visit by Giraffe over the ocean on a raft.  The meeting is joyous and surprising.

This little gem will make you smile.  Yours sincerely, Giraffe would be an excellent book to read aloud to a young class and there is so much to discuss such as perception of self and others, misinformation, asking the right questions and acceptance of difference.

This book reminded me of Run Hare, Run by John Winch because it explored the work of Albrecht Durer who is famous for his drawings of a rhinoceros which were based on a written description.

The story of Snowflake and Inkdrop

We have two books in our library where the stories are presented like these in The story of Snowflake and Inkdrop - where in the middle of the book you flip the book over so you can read the other half of the story - allowing the two characters or events to collide.  Kirkus call this 'dos-a-dos'. You will see what I mean from the German cover.

This book  was originally written in Italian so there are a number of people involved in the production. Authors - Alessandro Gatti and Pierdomenico Baccalario, Illustrator Simona Mulazzani and translator Brenda Porster.  Simona Mullazzani has illustrated more than 90 books.  I need to search these out and add some more to our library - her work is very special.

It is a challenge to decide where to start but I think the 'front' might be The story of Snowflake.  He drifts across the winder sky looking for somewhere to land.  As you turn the page you will see an intricate die cut pages with a hint of colour.  Here you need to stop and try to guess what lies beneath - a town, a circus, a playground. Meanwhile at the other end of the story a tiny inkdrop, sitting on a table in an artist's studio, longs for freedom.  The wind blows in and the ink drop is thrown out of the window so now the two hearts can collide.

Here is a detailed review with some examples of pages.  The image below comes from a teaching idea on this blog.

The two stories, bound dos-à-dos, meet in the middle on a climactic (in every sense of the word) double gatefold in which images of stars and rolling ocean, animals and people, 
light and dark whirl together: 

You might also look at this book by Cresent Dragonwagon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Serafina and the black cloak by Robert Beatty

Start with the trailer for this book - it is fabulous.

Now read this book - Yes!! you must read this book you will understand what I am about to share. I started this book last night thinking (as usual I would read a few pages).  I read over 100.  Today I took the book to a meeting.  I sat in the car and grabbed a few reading minutes. At chapter 24 something truly terrifying happens and I had to stop reading to get to my meeting!  Waiting to get back to this book was agony.

Serafina works with her Pa at the Biltmore Estate owned by the Vanderbilt family.  Serafina seems not quite human : "She had a skinny little body, nothing but muscle and bone .. Her long hair wasn't a single color like normal people had, but varying shades of gold and light brown. ... She had large, steady amber eyes. She could see at night as well as she could during the day."  This last skill is important because it is her job to catch rats around the house.  She is the CRC - Chief Rat Catcher although the Valerbilts don't even know she exists.

One night Serafina witnesses some thing truly frightening.  She sees a little girl in a yellow dress being chased through the dark corridors of the house by a man in a huge black silk cloak.  "He tangled her in his arms. She flailed and struck him in the face with her tiny fists .... the folds of the cloak slithered around her like the tentacles of a hungry serpent ... Then the fold closed over her, the scream went silent and the girl disappeared, leaving nothing but the blackness of the cloak."

This little girl, who is now missing, is called Clara.  She is the first of many missing children. Together with her new ally and friend Braeden Vanderbilt, nephew to Mrs and Mrs Vanderbilt, Serafina knows this is a mystery which must be solved but at what cost?  The final scenes will leave you gasping.

Read this review by my fellow blogger Mr K.  This is how I discovered this gem.  You can read  part of the first chapter on the Disney web site.  Good news there is a sequel - it is now on my shopping list.  Here is a set of teaching notes and a set about the vocabulary used in the book which is set in the Southern United States.

After reading Serafina and the black cloak I suggest TheThickety series, Fire girl or Fearless by Tim Lott.  All of these books are for very mature Primary readers.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lord and Lady Bunny - almost royalty translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath

Polly Horvath must have had so much fun writing this book - sequel to Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives extraordinary. I suggest reading these books in order so you can fully appreciate this hilarious bunny couple.  I kept thinking about the BBC television series Keeping up Appearances.  I do think  Mrs Bunny and Hyacinth would be such great friends.

"It was several hours after Mrs. Bunny's great recovery that she finally spilled the beans about her plans for herself and Mr Bunny. Mr Bunny had said many times that he was all ears, but Mrs Bunny said she was awaiting the perfect stellar moment.  It came one lovely summer's eve with butterflies flitting about the hollyhocks, a freshly baked carrot cake (Mrs Bunny was no novice when it came to springing plans on Mr Bunny), some just squeezed beet juice and the pleasant burble of the water feature Mrs Bunny had installed in the flower garden."

In this installment Mrs Bunny hits upon a terrific plan to become Queen.  Never mind that England already has a queen - surely there is room for another.  Meanwhile Madeline along with her best friend Katherine and her very odd parents are also on their way to England.  Everyone is travelling on the same ship.

"Then, perhaps because of champagne had caused them to throw caution to the winds, Mr and Mrs Bunny, instead of dancing discreetly under the table, hopped out to the dance floor."

Read a little more about the plot by clicking the link below or reading this review.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Somewhere in Australia by Marcello Pennacchio illustrated by Danny Snell

Do you know this little song?

Over in the meadow in a pond in the sun,
Lived an old mother duck and her little duck one,
Quack said the mother,
Quack said the one,
And they quacked and were happy in their pond in the sun.

Somewhere in Australia is an innovation on this classic text adding a decidedly Australian flavour.

I am making a collection of picture books to read to our youngest classes as we explore the CBCA slogan of 2016

Australia: Story Country

Here is the text for the first verse of this version :

Somewhere in Australia, in a land of scorching sun,
Lived a mother kangaroo and her little joey one.
'Hop,' said the mother. 'I hop,' said the one,
as they hopped over land scorched by the hot sun.

Next we meet two kookaburra chicks, three platypus babies (platy-pups), four Tassie devils, five dingo pups and so on all the way to ten red-back spiders.

Teachers could make excellent use of the verbs in this book :
hop, laugh, swim, growl, howl, slither, bask, run, jump and hunt.

You could also make a list of other Australian animals and write more verses for the song perhaps.

For international readers baby platypus are not called platy-pups - they are called puggles but in this story Marcello Pennacchio needed to maintain his rhyming scheme and I do like the idea of platy-pups.

Danny Snell adds fabulous illustrations to this book.  Take a look at my previous review of his book Seagull.  Jeremy was a popular book during Book Week in 2014.

The final lines of this book match perfectly with our 2016 slogan :

All across Australia, in the dreams of sleepy little ones,
Are sand and sea, bush and desert, the land of the scorching sun.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The BFG by Roald Dahl

The BFG is, of course, such a famous book.  I won't go into all the plot details, inventive and amazing words or the very special relationship between this brave little girl and her gentle giant friend. Read here for some ideas to use with a class.  Next item on my school shopping list is the audio book read by David Walliams.

Instead I just thought I might quote a couple of my favourite passages :

"The butler, an imposing personage named Mr Tibbs, was in supreme command of all the palace servants and he did the best he could in the short time available.  A man does not rise to become the Queen's butler unless he is gifted with extraordinary cunning, sophistication, sagacity, discretion and a host of other talents that neither you nor I possess."

"Sophie, still wearing only her nightie, was reclining comfortably in a crevice of the BFG's right ear. She was actually in the outer rim of the ear, near the top, where the edge of the ear folds over, and this fold-over bit made a sort of roof for her and gave her wonderful protection against the rushing wind. What is more, she was lying on skin that was soft and warm and almost velvety. Nobody, she told herself, had ever travelled in greater comfort."

"Then out he came!
Twenty-four feet tall, wearing his back cloak with the grace of a nobleman, still carrying his long trumpet in one hand, he strode magnificently across the Palace lawn toward the window .. he stopped and made a graceful bow ... 'Your Majester ... I is your humbug servant."

I re-read The BFG today in preparation for seeing the new movie. I do hope it has the same magic (and marvelous words) that make the book so special for every generation.

Home Now by Lesley Beake illustrated by Karin Littlewood

I have been looking for books to link with the CBCA short listed titles.  I do like to extend our reading of these books with an exploration of the author or illustrator or perhaps the topic.

Home now links quite nicely with One step at a time.   Listen to an interview with Jane Jolley and Sally Heinrich.  They talk about the horror of land mines and their impact on the people and animals in Thailand.

In Home now we meet Sieta, has recently become an orphan in South Africa, and read how a special baby elephant is able to help her as she adjusts to her new life.

"Sieta remembered a green garden in a dry land. ... Sieta remembered when she and Ma and Pa went to church on Sundays."

Sieta goes on a school excursion to an elephant park.  She meets orphan elephants and forms an immediate bond with Satara - the baby. "Sieta smelled his elephant smell and it smelled like wild places far, far away."  The next day, straight after school,  Sieta goes back to visit Satara.  Back in her village she looks on the scene with new eyes.  This is a new and strange place but perhaps it can become her new home - a place for new memories and new pictures in her mind.

After reading Home Now you might compare this with The colour of home which has the same illustrator - Karin Littlewood.  For class reading you could also use Tua and the elephant and Elephant Mountain from the Aussie Bites series.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Hello from nowhere by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

Our Book Week slogan for 2016 is 
Australia : Story Country

My friends and I have been talking about Australian themed books we can use to explore this slogan. Hello from nowhere was mentioned in our discussion so I bought it home to read.

This is a very special book and a great way to give city children a little insight into life in a remote corner of Australia.  Read more about the inspiration for this book.

Eve lives at a roadhouse. The map on the final end paper shows the exact remote location somewhere in south western South Australia in the Nullabor desert.

Eve is a very self sufficient child but she desperately misses her grandmother and hopes one day she might come out to Nowhere for a visit.  Eve has her animal friends, her cat called Livestock, and the regular visitors to the roadhouse - tourists, truck drivers and grey nomads. Eve writes to her Nan and the day she arrives (after such a long wait) is utterly joyous. Eve shares all the good things of her environment.  Nan does have to leave at the end but she gives the promise of returning again very soon.

Take a look here for some teaching ideas to use with this book.  You might like to look at my review of With Nan also illustrated by Karen Blair.

Other books we will explore this term include Are we there yet? by Alison Lester, Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Tom the outback mailman by Kristin Wiedenbach.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The cow tripped over the moon by Tony Wilson illustrated by Laura Wood

The cow tripped over the moon is short listed for the 2016 CBCA Early Childhood Picture book of the year.  I personally don't see it as the major prize winner but it will be fun to explore this book and others which follow a similar theme with our youngest students this term.

In this version the poor cow makes eight attempts at jumping over the moon.  The fiddle, dish, spoon and little dog all have a part to play not the least as a cheer squad.  You can see some of the pages on the illustrator web site.

"The whole group together
Said 'Cow, now or never!
We know that you'll make it this time.
And as of this night
We'll remember your flight
In a hay diddle-diddly rhyme."

Before reading The cow tripped over the moon you might revisit the actual rhyme :

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such fun
And the dish ran away with the spoon!

Here is a simple video version.  Older children will laugh over this version by Michael Rosen from this wonderful book Hairy Tales and Nursery Crimes.

Following this you might compare this version by Tony Wilson with Over the Moon by Libby Hathorn, The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster by David Conway, Hey Diddle Diddle by Kate Toms, The adventures of the dish and spoon by Mini Grey and a book with the same title The Cow jumped over the moon by Jeanne Willis.

Class teachers could also look at some Nursery Rhyme anthologies and the wonderful series of books called Urgency Emergency.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Little dog, lost by Marion Dane Bauer illustrated by Jennifer A Bell

By the end of this little verse novel every one has huge smiles on their faces - the kids, the adults and the reader!  The words gem, joy, delight, charming, sweet, honest and exquisite are all words I would use to describe Little Dog, Lost.

I was browsing a list of verse novels when I saw the cover of this little book.  I adore verse novels but I had not seen Little Dog, Lost on any previous lists.  It is not a new book first published in 2012.

I read the Kirkus review and knew I would adore this book.

Mark longs for a dog.  A boy in another town has a dog he adores. This boy is moving to an apartment and his dog is given away to a lady (who has no understanding of dogs) who lives in the same town as Mark.  The little dog is called Buddy.  She is confused and desperate to find her boy again.  Meanwhile, Mark decides he needs a campaign to lobby his mum - who is the mayor - for a dog park. Mum won't let Mark have a dog but perhaps a park will give him space to connect with the special dogs owned by all of his friends. Living in this town, called Erthly, is an old man grieving for the loss of his mistress - he is now the reclusive owner of a mansion in the middle of town. How can these three lives be bought together?

In the night dark
he could make out a small dog
with airplane ears
that drooped
just at the tips.
Such sweet ears!


Charles Larue watched the boy,
watched the dog.
Both boy and dog
were coiled springs,
waiting to be released.

Buddy stretched toward the reaching hand.
She touched it,
just lightly
with her cool, damp nose.
A boy hand.
A good boy hand.
She breathed it in.

Here is a discussion guide.  You can hear the author read a small section of this book on her web site.  I would link the reading of this book with Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten by Bob Graham, One dog and his boy by Eva Ibbotson and Everything for a dog by Ann M Martin.  This book also reminded me of Happy Mouseday.

I am delighted to see another book by Marion Dane Bauer this time featuring a cat.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief by Catherine Jinks

Some books are a sprint while others are a marathon.  Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief is certainly a marathon read but the rewards are truly great.

Catherine Jinks is a modern day Charles Dickens.  Her turn of phrase, colourful character names, vivid descriptions of life in eighteenth century London and her ability to recreate the sights, disgusting smells and night terrors of the city are breathtaking.

"Philo hurried along Turnstile Alley, heading for the George Inn.  It was past midnight. Recent showers had turned the street into a swamp, so Philo took care to avoid the drain that ran down its centre.  Instead he stayed close to the mean little shops on his left which were full of second-hand furniture and household goods. .. Then a shuttered door slammed open, and someone dumped the contents of a chamber-pot out of a second-storey window."

Theophilus is better known as Philo.  He is an orphan in the tradition of the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist fame.  Philo works for a cunning man called Garnet Hooke.  Philo and his gang of linkboys report each day to Garnet who gathers information like Fagan.  Garnet uses information about thefts in London to bribe officials and claim rewards.

A linkboy is a boy who carries a light at night to show the way to people in the city at night.  This story is set before the advent of street lighting and this activity alone greatly adds to the tension of the story.  The city is such a dangerous place and lately it has become even more dangerous as several notorious criminals are struck with a mystery malady causing them to fall into unconsciousness. Rumors are rife that a monster, a demon, called a spriggan is the cause.

This is a complex book to read but Catherine Jinks offers help in the form of a map, insightful chapter headings and a glossary.  Readers will encounter so many new and unfamiliar words in this book but the context helps you glean the meaning and because the story is so engrossing.  I mentioned previously Catherine Jinks skill with words.

"will you peach on 'em or no?"
"Val was rolling up his palliasse"
"In the past, Garnet had always been shielded from rebuke"
"It was quite busy thanks to a hurdy-gurdy player stationed near the livery stables."
"his leather breeches had to be cinched in at the waist with a piece of rope."

The descriptions in this book are excellent and could be used as a writing model with a senior primary class.  Here is a description of Susannah.  Philo will need all his courage and problem solving skills to save her from a dreadful imprisonment later in the story.

"She was nine years old and as frail as a cobweb, with bleached skin, hands like a chicken' s claws, and pale, silky hair.  It seemed to Philo that she must have been born in her draggled blue skirt and oversized stays, for he had never seen her in anything else.  During summer she sold fresh rosemary for a penny a bunch; in winter, the rosemary was dried."

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief is the first in a series of two books.  I am now keen to begin book two.

Here is a review in Reading Time.  Teacher notes are available from the publisher web site.

After reading Thophilus Grey and the Demon Thief I recommend The City of Orphans series which begins with A Very Unusual Pursuit (also by Catherine Jinks), Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman and Barnaby Grimes by Paul Stewart.