Monday, November 21, 2016

Firstborn by Tor Seidler

I am so glad Firstborn does not contain any illustrations apart from some maps, the cover and the title page - this is quite a blood thirsty tale at times as we read the gory details the details of wild animals killed for food by this small group of wolves living in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

"And it was Blue Boy who caught the scent and gave the cry of the chase: the same bone-chilling cry I'd first heard on that split-rail fence back on the triple Bar T ... he was standing over a deer stretched out on a platter of blood-soaked pine straw."

Not to mention the fights for supremacy of the wolf pack itself.

"When I could bring myself to look up the slope again, Raze's father lay on his side with blood gushing from his torn throat. Blue Boy lifted his bloody snout and let out what must have been an instinctive howl of triumph."

The heart of this book is about relationships - between Maggie the magpie and her 'family' of wolves, between the wolves themselves and also one special relationship firstborn son Lamar forms with a coyote called Artemis.  The tenderness these wolves show for one another and for Maggie and the way they look after each litter of new pups is very special.  I don't think this is a book everyone will enjoy but if you like survival stories and animals look for this book.  This quote from Chris Raschka really sums up my feelings about Firstborn.

"... there's lots of danger, excitement and beauty; but there are also things we know from human families like love and loyalty, bravery and honor.  You won't ever want to leave Blue Boy's wolf pack in the heart of the Rockies."

We also have A rat's tale by Tor Seidler in our library.  A very different book from Firstborn and a book I really enjoyed.

Readers among you will know the significance of the dedication of Firstborn:

In remembrance of
Jean Craighead George

You might like to read the New York Times review.  Click here to listen to an extract where you will hear the voice of Maggie the Magpie.  Here are a set of discussion questions.  Take a look at this review by my fellow blogger Mr K.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Mr Bear Branches and the cloud conundrum by Terri Rose Baynton

c o n u n d r u m

I do like this word.  I like the sound of it and I like the implication of a puzzle to solve.

Mr Bear Branches and the cloud conundrum is a book where science and imagination can meet. This is also a story about compassion and friendship and clouds.

Bear Branches is a scientist.  "he was reading - books on quantum physics, pterodactyls and the biology of amoebae."  Liftfrey Longfellow is a dreamer.  Together, though, they do enjoy watching clouds.  "They would lie on the soft, cool grass and watch as the clouds drifted by.  Bear Branches called it 'Cloud appreciation' and Lintfrey certainly appreciated them."

One day Liftfrey talks about sitting on a cloud.  Bear Branches offers a scientific explanation about why this would be impossible.  He mentions condensation and evaporation.  Lintfrey becomes sad. Bear Branches recognises his friend has a dream which he has, perhaps inadvertently, crushed so the pair pack supplies, including a flask of peppermint tea, and set off out of town.

There are some beautiful words and phrases in this book :
through gullies and grass
tender toes
cramped calves
buoyant clouds
cottony clouds

While the illustrations in this book seem quite simple I did like the retro pallet of cream, brown, black and red accents and I do like books about clouds. One of my all time favourites is a very old book called Clouds by Peggy Blakeley.

Make sure you take a look at the end papers of Mr Bear Branches and the cloud conundrum.  At the front there are lots of buttons - is this our scientific and man-made world? At the back are leaves and seeds - perhaps this represents nature.  Compare these with the end papers in the Anthony Browne book The Tunnel.  Here is a set of teaching notes.  This book also reminded me of Henry and Amy right-way-round and upside down by Stephen Michael King.

Are you curious about why I picked up this book?  Is was published in 2012 and so has been in our school library (undiscovered I imagine) for four years.  We have begun to cull our picture books. This is a difficult process but our shelves are too full.  I have begun pulling out older books and some of the very simple picture books which might not appeal to our students. Among them I found Mr Bear Branches and the cloud conundrum.  I picked it up to read and noticed it came from a trusted supplier. Naturally I bought it home to read and now I have shared it with you.  It won't go on our culling pile.

Terri Rose Baynton is from New Zealand and she is the daughter of the award winning author Martin Baynton.  You may have read his Jane and the Dragon series or seen the animated films.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The friendship riddle by Megan Fazer Blakemore


The Friendship Riddle is a very long book and at times the reading felt like a marathon but if you can put in the effort the final scenes are rewarding.  Oddly this is another book about spelling bees.  I seem to have read quite a few lately - perhaps this is a new genre.  It is also about solving cryptic puzzles and reminded me of Mr Lemoncello's library.  At the heart of this book though is our need for friendship and the importance of truthful communication as our friendships ebb and flow.

Here are a few books I have read recently with competitions including spelling bees :

Ruth had a best friend but now the girls have reached middle school Charlotte has made friends with one of the 'cool girls' called Melissa.  She no longer talks to Ruth.

"It's not like she ditched me or we had a fight.  It's like all this shifting and sorting out happened.  Like we were dumped into a colander, and all of us small, less interesting pieces fell through and left the big, juicy berries inside.  Charlotte is a berry.  Me, I'm a lone world.  I'm that hawk flying above it all, the quiet observer on the sidelines. And that's the way I like it."

Ruth is an avid reader of a book series called Taryn Greenbottom by Harriet Wexler.  This is a fictitious book series and I did like the way Megan Frazer Blakemore wove it through this book. Here is one of the riddles found by Ruth.  There are twelve in total.  They are found in a random order and this help keep the plot moving forward.

The Friendship Riddle will be added to our senior collection for our Grade Six students.  It does discuss issues of puberty and same sex relationships and probably will have more appeal to girls.

You can read a little more about this book on the author web site.  I agree with the comments here from Ms Yingling.  Jen Robinson liked this book and she makes some interesting observations in her review.

Skink no surrender by Carl Hiaasen

He was right.  Honestly, I wasn't too surprised that the hunt for Malley was playing out this way, that her rescue would depend on just the two of us - a one-eyed hermit with a mangled foot, and me.

This newest book by Carl Hiaasen will not disappoint his fans.

Richard is interested in the natural world. Turtles scoop out nests lay their eggs on the beach near his home. Richard goes down in the evenings to find the new nests and mark them out for protection against poachers.  As this story begins he finds a curious nest site with a straw sticking out.

"A full grown man shot upright in a spray of sand, ... Built like a grizzly ... on his chiselled block of his head he wore ... a flowered plastic shower cap.  Even weirder, his left eye and right eye were pointed in totally different directions."

This man, Clint Tyree, (he is one of the most eccentric characters you will ever meet) and Richard are about to become the closest of friends as they embark on a wild search to find Malley - Richard's cousin - who has run off with a man she met online.  Malley is a rebel but Richard knows she is in danger.

You can read the first three chapters here.  This is an action packed story and you won't put it down until Malley and Richard are safely back home.

In our Primary school library this book will be available only for our senior students as it does contain some violence and, while we do not discover what happened to Malley, the suggestion of what might have taken place when she joins an older man she meets online is not appropriate for our younger students.  We do have all of Carl Hiaasen's books.  I recommend starting with Hoot.

This review in the Guardian will give you further insights into the plot and themes of this book.  If you are using this book with a class in high school here is a set of teacher notes.  Here is a terrific little trailer made by Le Grande school library.  Here is the Kirkus review.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico

Feo shook her head: she couldn't speak.  The moments in which the world turns suddenly kind 
can feel like a punctured lung.  She stood in the marble hall and cried ...

We can take our fear back.  And I don't know if we'll win but we have the right to try.  
The adults, they want us to be quiet and careful, 
but we have a right to fight for the world we want to live in, 
and nobody has the right to tell use to be safe and sensible. I say, today, we fight!

The Wolf Wilder is one of those absolutely delicious books that is a true a feast for the reader.  This is also one of those books that I read late into the night, picked up over breakfast and raced home to finish.  This is a ten out of ten book.  You should rush out and grab a copy today.

This is the third book I have read by Katherine Rundell and I am now a confirmed fan of her work. Her writing gives a strong sense of place and you will fall in love with her central characters especially Feo or Feodora in this book.

Wolf Wilder is set in Russia.  A cruel General called Rakov is the commander of the Tsar's Imperial Army. He set to claim money for an elk owned by the Tsar and recently killed by wolves.

At this time in Russia wolves are taken as pets for the aristocrats.

"The captured wolves wear golden chains and are taught to sit still while people around them laugh and drink ... But a wolf cannot be tamed in the way a dog can be tamed, and it cannot be kept indoors."

Fedora and her mother are wilders.  It is their job to take rejected wolves, 'untame' them, teach them to survive in the wild. Feo has spent her whole life surrounded by wolves living with her mother in a remote cottage. Rakov arrives and he destroys everything.  Marina is taken to a prison in St Petersburg.  Feo is now on the run with three of her special wolves and a wolf pup.  It is cold and dangerous but she does enlist some loyal companions and you can be sure good will triumph over evil.

"We don't give them human names ... Wolves have their own names. They don't need ours.  So we call them by a colour, or description - like Tenderfoot."

The illustrations are a special feature of this book.  You can read more about their creation here.  You can hear Katherine Rundell reading from the beginning of her book.  You should also read this interview with Katherine about the inspiration for this book.  Here is the Kirkus review.

Here are some of the other covers.  Which one do you like?

I also love these descriptions of cold  :

"There were, in Feo's experience, five kids of cold.  There was wind cold, which Feo barely felt. ...There was snow cold, which plucked at your arms and chapped your lips ... it was Feo's favourite weather and good for making snow wolves. There was ice cold, which might take the skin off your palm ... Then there was hard cold. ... Hard cold could be cruel ... And there was blind cold. Blind cold smelt of metal and granite.  It took all the senses out of your brain ... "

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Somewhere else by Gus Gordon

Today my friend from Kinderbooks and I went to a local bookshop to meet Gus Gordon and hear about his new book Somewhere else.

I have been a Gus Gordon fan for a long time.  Wendy is such a terrific book but it is Herman and Rosie that made me really fall in love with his style.

It is always special when an author explains the inspiration for a book and the time with Gus was made even better when he showed us his sketches and story draft.  This little video is a 40 second preview.  Here is a radio Adelaide interview.  Here is another interview on the author web site.  Gus spent some time in Paris and while he was there he sketched a picture of a duck standing outside a patisserie. This is just one of the fragments of inspiration that led to the book we saw today.

George is too busy to go exploring the world.  He has cakes to bake, a full ironing basket (really - take a close look at this page) and a yoga class.  His friend Pascal arrives and, even though he is a well meaning friend, there seems to be no way he can help George then they see an amazing poster in the newspaper.

Take a look at this long list of books with illustrations by Gus Gordon including some terrific Aussie Bite titles such as A Home for Gnomes.  He also illustrated one edition of the ABC Sing book.  You can read more about the plot here in this review from Kids' book Review :

Somewhere Else is a joyful book, with lovable characters and a beautifully-crafted message about both the thrill of travel ... and the just-as-good delight to be found in returning home.

You might also enjoy A wish for Wings that work, Ducky's Nest, Flight of the Dodo by Peter Brown and Duck by Randy Cecil.

Other things to know

  • Gus loves end papers - so do I!
  • Look for tiny details such as the vicuna in the Andes mountains and the narwhal in the Arctic.  
  • There are little 'jokes' in this book to enjoy including one on the back cover but I won't spill the beans.
  • Leigh Hobbs endorsed this book because he is a friend.
  • Compare the Le Ballon poster colours with the page when George and Pascal begin their flight.
  • Gus was a fan of Richard Scary as a young child and he also admires books like Harry the Dirty Dog and the work of Julia Donaldson.

Finally Gus did not talk about this but I do like the way he includes stamps.  Wish I had thought to ask why?  There are postcards and stamps in Herman and Rosie too.  I will make the bold prediction that Somewhere Else will be short listed for the 2017 CBCA award.  Fingers crossed.

Clair de Lune by Cassandra Golds

Sorry to have to say this again but this treasure is out of print!  A couple of weeks ago a mum called into our library with her daughter.  Clair de Lune was selected by the child and I mentioned to the mum that I had loved this book.  I recommended she might read it.  Sadly I do not know if the mum took my advice but when Clair de Lune returned I noticed our copy is really worn out.  The paper has gone yellow and the cover is about to fall off.  I felt sad that I had recommended a book in such bad shape and then I worried that I had been too hasty.  I read this book 12 years ago.  Perhaps it was not really special.

I bought our worn copy home,  set about finding a second hand copy (more about that in a moment) and then I sat down to re-read Clair de Lune.  And YES I loved it all over again.

Here is the blurb :

"Clair de Lune has lived all her life with her grandmother at the top of a tall, very narrow, very old building.  Her mother, a great ballerina, died on stage when Clair-de-Lune was a baby.  Ever since that day, Clair-de-Lune has not uttered a word."

I have no connection to ballet but oddly I gasped out loud when I read this interview with Cassandra Golds by The Australia Ballet. Cassandra tells the interviewer that as a child she loved the Lorna Hill books about the Sadler's Wells ballet - me too!  I still think about the way the girls went to little cafes and ordered 'ices'.  They sounded delicious but I still have no idea what they were.

Clair de Lune meets a special mouse called Bonaventure.  He is a dancer too.  He is also astute, compassionate, kind and determined. He introduces Clair de Lune to a reclusive monk and these two unique friends help Clair de Lune find her 'voice'.  You can read more of the plot here.

You might also enjoy The Tale of Despereaux, Ballet shoes by Noel Streatfeild and  Secret letters from 0 to 10,   Take a minute to read my review of another book by Cassandra Golds  The three loves of Persimmon.

Finally back to the adventure of buying a second hand copy of this book.  Cassandra Golds is an Australian author but I have located a copy in Indiana.  The book is on its way and I know this because it wrote me a letter :

"Holy canasta! It's me... it's me! I can't believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I've got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can't believe I'm leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already - the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge - so many memories. I don't have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it's time to see the world!
I can't wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol' brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?
I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I've had, I'm ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn't take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I've found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana."

What is a child? by Beatrice Alemagna

One of the most important parts of this very special picture book is the dedication.  You probably mostly skip this part but here it is :

To every grown-up
who has never forgotten
their yellow dog.

Now watch this amazing animation by the author where she talks about her inspiration for this book.

Back to the dedication.  When you read page ten you can see the yellow dog.  I am an adult who has not forgotten her yellow dog.

My favourite page has these words :

"Children have little things, just like them: a little bed, bright little books, a little umbrella, a little chair. Yet they live in a very big world: so big that cities don't exist, buses to up into space and stairs never end."

Read this review to discover more about this very different, but important book.  It would be good to share this book with a group of older students and have them reflect on the meaning of each statement and then perhaps add their own wisdom.  This book would also inspire students to create art or portraits perhaps in the distinctive style of Beatrice Alemagna.