Monday, February 29, 2016

More caps for sale another tale of mischievous monkeys by Esphyr Slobodkina

One of the books we enjoy reading with our Kindergarten groups early in the school year is Caps for Sale.  I love books for this age with a repeated refrain.  The children love the way the monkeys copy the peddler and then are 'tricked' into tossing down those caps.  This classic book is now 75 years old.

I have a small collection of caps and we all practice the refrain "caps, caps for sale, fifty cents a cap."

All of this means I was quite excited when More Caps for Sale arrived in our standing order parcel from Bloomin' books this week.

Now take a minute to look at this video taken from Caps for Sale The Musical.  Anne Marie Mulhearn Sayer worked with Esphyr Slobodkina for many years and from this collaboration Sayer was able to use Slobodkina's work (she died in 2002) to create this new installment.

This newest book opens with the same first page as the original.  Over the page the action continues.  "While the peddler traveled home that day he thought about the bunch of monkeys who had taken his caps."  The peddler does not look back so he does not see these same pesky monkeys are now following him.

Here are some text extracts you could compare

"He looked to the left of him. No caps.
He looked to the right of him. No caps.
He looked behind him. No caps"

"He turned on his right side.  No sleep
He turned on his left side. No sleep
He lay on his back. No sleep."

I think Esphyr Slobodkina would absolutely approve of this new story.  It has been carefully crafted, it is faithful to the original, it is funny and it continues this story in a very satisfying way.

After reading Caps for Sale and More Caps for sale take a look at Fifty Red nightcaps.  With a class of older students you could compare these texts and discuss the strengths and perhaps weaknesses of Fifty Red nightcaps which innovates on the original text.

Finally take a little time to read this review in the New York Times.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mango and Bambang Tapir all at sea by Polly Faber illustrated by Clara Vulliamy

You might remember I was so excited to tell you about the first installment of Mango and Bambang at few months ago.  The second book arrived in our library last week and I rushed home to read it.

Mango and Bambang Tapir all at sea is also a collection of four short stories and it absolutely will not disappoint you but I need to say that it is quite essential to read the first installment especially because the first story - A hobby for Bambang -assumes you know all about this special tapir and his wonderful friend Mango.

Once again we are treated to some delicious little stories all with perfect energetic and joyous illustrations this time in red.  Bambang gets into a series of scrapes and Mango rescues him - except in the final story - but I will leave this for you to discover yourself.

In the second story called A Run in the Park, Mango and her friend George are sitting in a tree.  They try to encourage Bambang to join them :

"Put one back foot on the sticky out bit and heave!'
'Wrap your whole body around the trunk and shimmy!'
'Hang on to that low branch with your snout, push off and swing."

I love those words - shimmy, heave, swing.

Actually it is the incentive of sticky ginger cake that motivates Bambang and he suddenly appears in the tree beside his friends.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Here is the cover  - every detail here is important

Now watch the trailer!!

Okay here we go again.  The meaning of Maggie is my new favourite book or at least goes into my top twenty (which is probably really about a thousand books by now).

Here are a few points to start with :
1.  I ADORE the cover
2.  I want to meet Maggie and be her friend
3.  I read this book at night, at breakfast, for ten minutes before leaving for work and again when I arrived home.  I read and read and read almost without stopping (except to go to school) because I just had keep listening to Maggie.  This writing is so strong you will feel as though you are having a conversation with this witty and resilient young girl.
4.  This book has the perfect balance of humour and poignancy.

The Meaning of Maggie covers one year of Maggie's life - the year she turns eleven.  Over the course of this eventful year Maggie changes from a self absorbed child into a young girl who has begun to see the world through the eyes of others.

Maggie's dad is very ill.  Everyone in the family helps out but at first Maggie doesn't see this.  As this gentle story unfolds we discover (with Maggie) the true strengths of each family member, including dad.

So much happens over the year.  A new school.  New friends.  New feelings about boys!  Festivals such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentines Day.  Towards the middle of the year Maggie decides to study Multiple Sclerosis for her Science Fair project.  Maggie is an outstanding student and she expects to win the fair again this year.  Her project is complex and personal.  You will easily see why I love this quote as she arrives at the library ready to begin her research :

"I opened the library door and the smell of knowledge and dust hit me in the face.  I loved everything about the library.  I loved the rows and rows of books. I loved the cranky old ladies who read about knitting while knitting.  I loved the book alarm that caught book thieves.  I loved that while technology progressed, I could still depend on books because no-on every lied in books.  And I loved that the librarian loved books just as much as I did ..."

Here is a set questions for this text.  Please take time to read the Kirkus review quoted below.

One tiny warning for an Australian reader.  There are a few reference to foods, especially sweets, in The Meaning of Maggie which I certainly did not know.  I don't think these matter too much but here is one example from the prologue :

"I'm kind of hoping (dad will) wake up soon so we can split this Little Debbie".  The context tells you this must be food.  When I explored further it is a brand of cake.

Maggie writes of a book that “[b]y the time you reach the end of the chapter, you realize you’ve highlighted every single word because every single word was really important.” Smart, sensitive, sad and funny, Maggie’s memoir reads the same way.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate DeGoldi illustrated by Gregory O'Brien

This is a fascinating book because I am not sure who The ACB with Honora Lee will appeal too.  I enjoyed it as an adult but I think only a very sensitive upper Primary reader will appreciate this gentle story.  I hope to put this book into the hands of a reader this term and we will see their reaction.

If you have read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge then this book might extend your discussion of this important issue with an older child.  I also recommend Penny Pollard's Diary which explores the theme of visiting older residents in a care facility.  You could also read Heartbeat by Sharon Creech, Pearl verses the world by Sally Murphy and Don't Breathe a word by Marianne Musgrove.  For a different picture book on this theme try Newspaper Hats by Phil Cummings.  I also recommend you take a dip into the Silk family books which have a similar feeling of community to the one Perry creates within the nursing home where her grandmother Honora Lee resides.

Perry is a very special girl.  She is the only child of busy parents who have quite rigid ideas about child rearing.  Every day (except Friday) Perry is sent to an after school activity.  Most of these are actually torture for Perry who has an inquiring mind but no aptitude for music (piano Monday, clarinet Wednesday) or movement (Thursday).  She "found it almost impossible to read the music and count and make her hands do different things at more or less the same time."

Luckily she does like writing (Tuesday with Haruka Holme) and she is reward with origami animals "fashioned from washi paper which was delicate and beautifully patterned."

One weekend Perry and her dad visit her grandmother, Honora Lee, in a nursing home.  When Perry's Thursday movement class is cancelled Perry makes the perfect suggestion.  She will visit her grandmother each Thursday. The parents agree (thank goodness).  Each week Perry walks to Santa Lucia with her babysitter Nina and Nina's son Claude.  They take a container of home baking and it is through the sharing of these treats each week that Perry comes to know some of the other residents. Honora herself is a mystery but every now and then she makes a pithy comment or quotes a classic text and gradually a special relationship between Perry and Honora grows.

"See how the fates their gifts allot" The Mikado Gilbert and Sullivan
"Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend"  Henry V Shakespeare.

Perry decides to make a gift for Honora Lee - an ABC book.  As with all plans this one will need some modification along the way.  Trying to be systematic and work through from A to Z is impossible and so the book becomes the ACB as Perry jumps around the alphabet filling her book with words, concepts, people, thoughts and emotions that she hopes her precious grandmother will appreciate. Perry herself is a beautiful character.  Wise beyond her years, patient and persistent.

Here is a little sample of this writing - Perry recites the alphabet.

"Eh Bee See Dee Eee Eff Gee .. Cue Are Ess Tee You Vee"

One of the most interesting aspects of this book are the illustrations.  I cannot think of any books with a similar style.  Take a look at a video about the illustrator Gregory O'Brien.  If you are reading this blog from New Zealand you might be able to see the stage adaption of this book.  You can read about the author Kate De Goldi here.  Here is an interview with a bookseller who will give you some more details about this very special book.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Violet and the Pearl of the Orient by Harriet Whitehorn illustrated by Becka Moor

Well it has happened again.  I have found another fabulous book.  Violet and the Pearl of the Orient is perfect.  Firstly take a look at the cover.  The image here doesn't really show you but each window is edged with gold which makes the cover and spine sparkle.

Now turn inside.  One the first double spread you will see a map of Violet's neighbourhood.  Her house faces a courtyard garden which is shared by several houses and flats. "They live in a very stylish and incredibly tidy flat and there is a large garden at the back of Violet's flat that she shares with all the other children and grown-ups who live around it."

Now let's take a close look at the names of the characters in this book - they will give an astute reader an easy way to identify the 'badies' in this story :

Violet Remy-Robinson
Camille Remy - Violet's mum
Benedict Robinson - Violet's dad
Rose - Violet's best friend
Norma - their housekeeper
Dee Dee Derota - Neighbour and friend to Violet.  Dee Dee was once a Hollywood starlet.

The Count Du Plicitous - his first name is Renard and he has orangey-brown eyes
The Countess Du Plicitous - her first name is Coraline
Isabella - their daughter who is an excellent climber

Here are a few more references worth exploring.  Camille works as a jewellery designer for Smartier. The Countess, who wears a huge ruby necklace, declares she never wears fake jewels.  She gives Camille and Benedict the business card of her jeweller - Mr Frederick Orger, Master Costume Jeweller.

The Count and Countess Du Plicitous move into Violet's neighbourhood and at the same time a major crime is committed against Dee Dee Derota.  Her precious Pearl of the Orient which is "one of the most valuable pieces of jewellery in the world." is stolen.  On the night of the crime Violet sees "a small, dark figure climbing up the drainpipe at the back of the Count's house."  As you may have guessed it is Violet with the help of her friend Rose and a mysterious ally who solve this crime and save the day.

When you talk with class about this book (it would make a brilliant read-a-loud) you might look at this picture which shows the French word for fox - renard.  Then you might think about the qualities of a fox - sneaky and perhaps stalking.

Take a look at Becka Moor's web site where you can see more of the illustrations from this book.

Further good news.  I have just ordered the two sequels to Violet and the Pearl of the Orient.  You can see their covers below.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels illustrated by Emma Block


These are some of the words I would use to describe The adventures of Miss Petitfour.  This book is a set of five adventures.  As you can see from the cover, Miss Petitfour travels with her cats in tow using different tablecloths to fly into her special little town.

I just knew I would enjoy this book when I read this sentence :

"She was especially fond of pockets, paisley, playful patterns and anything hand-knitted."

Miss Petitfour lives with fifteen special cats.  As her name implies she loves to cook cakes. (I am a huge cake fan as you probably know). You can see a selection of her delicious creations on the end papers.  She also has a collection of tablecloths perfect for every type of weather.  "A sunny day called for a starched white cloth, so she would seem to be floating gracefully from a cloud.   ... in autumn, when the sky was a deep shade of plum or grey, Miss Petitfour bought out her brightest, most colourful cloth, so that the reds, oranges and gold would glow against the dark sky."

One special feature of this book is the use of colour to highlight particular words in the text - words that are perhaps complex or simply need emphasis.  Another charming feature is the inclusion of little digressions and throughout the  whole book the voice of the author shines through : "If you've been reading about Miss Petitfour's adventures - and of course you have since you're reading this sentence".

Here are some of the special words which you will encounter in this book - propitious, perambulator, gesticulate, quaggy, eccentricity, debonair and my favourite festoon.  You will also notice each little story concludes with the words THE END.  This is worth mentioning because Anne Michaels makes sure these words fit perfectly into the final sentence of each tale.

In town each shop has a special sign.  The bookshop sounds wonderful. There are two sides. One for adventure books and the other for books in which nothing ever happens.  "Miss Petitfour and Mrs Collarwaller spent many enjoyable hours drinking tea together ... and playing a game  ... thinking up titles for books too silly ever to be written."  This would be a fun game for a family of book lovers.

I think this little volume would make a terrific family read-a-loud - perhaps one story each day.  Here is a detailed review.  Take a minute to click through some of the pretty  illustrations.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Daisy's perfect world

Fans of the Clementine series here is a new book for you.  This book would also appeal to fans of Violet Mackerel.

Daisy loves her teacher and it is easy to see why.  Here are just a few of the special things she does for her class :

Dance breaks and the teacher dances too!
A beach excursion where they were able to just sit and watch the ocean.
She made a cake to explain the layers of the earth.
Saying a kind thing to every student while taking attendance.
Hanging two dozen little crystals on strings from the ceiling when they were talking about prisms.

Daisy has a dilemma.  Her teacher Miss Goldner annouces she is getting married.  Daisy loves words and so she decides she will give the most perfect word to Miss Goldner.  Her problem is finding the perfect word.  She thinks of so many but none seem quite right.


The perfect word will surprise you!

This is a book that will make you smile especially the final pages where you will find Daisy's word lists.

You might like to dip into the author web site.  There are three books in this series so we will need to add the other two to our growing shopping list.  Here is an interview with the author.

Victor's Quest by Pamela Freeman illustrated by Kim Gamble

I have been recommending Victor's Quest for years (actually I just discovered this book is 20 years old in 2016) so last week I thought I should do a little re-reading.

This is a perfect little fantasy story for a young reader.  Victor is sent away from the castle by his mother.  He must go on a quest to find a princess to marry.  Marigold, the palace gardener, supplies three natural magic potions.

1.  Woundwort - a very good antiseptic
2.  Feverfew - make this into a tea and drink it sweetened with honey
3.  Eye Balm - for when your eyes are tired.  It should be rubbed on the eyelids.

Victor and his faithful old horse Quince set out riding through the Dark Forest of Nevermore. Along the way there are three incidents. Each time Victor is able to use one of the potions and thus make some very good friends who in turn are able to help him when he does find the right girl (even though she is not a Princess!)

Victor's quest would be a terrific little book to read aloud to a class.  The illustrations by Kim Gamble are perfect.

You might also enjoy The Pea and the Princess which features a special palace gardener.  I adore this illustration from the end papers.

There is a sequel to this book called Victor's Challenge and the character Victor himself comes from an earlier book series by Pamela Freeman called The Floramonde books and beginning with The Willow tree's daughter.  We have these in our school library too.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

This is a big call but I think Crenshaw will prove to be my book of the year!  YES!! I did love it THAT much.

I have long had a love affair with books about imaginary friends. A tiny, old, out print book called O'Diddy has been part of my literature repertoire in our school library for over twenty years.

Of course Crenshaw has a much deeper story - the terrible implications of homelessness on a young child and the desperate need to understand the 'adult' problems of his parents and this why I adore this book.  The combination of humour and deep family pain.

The narrative of Crenshaw is not linear.  The chapters jump back and forth across time.  The story opens with Jackson meeting Crenshaw at the beach.  "His coat was black and white, penguin style.  He looked like he was heading somewhere fancy in a hairy tuxedo.  He also looked awfully familiar."  Jackson has a scientific mind.  This huge cat on a surf board with an umbrella, that no one else seems to see, cannot be real.

Jackson and and his sister live with their parents and early on we know life is tough.  Food is very scarce, it is almost impossible for the family to pay their rent and Jackson's dad has MS.  "Sometimes I want to ask my parents if my dad is going to be OK or why we don't always have enough food in the house or why they've been arguing so much."

As first grade ends the family is forced to move into their mini van.  His parents explain this will be temporary but they end up living in the van for fourteen weeks.

You might like to read an extract from Chapter five.  Here is a Q&A with Katherine Applegate author of another brilliant book The One and Only Ivan.

If you enjoy Crenshaw (wait a minute you will enjoy Crenshaw) the next book to look for is Hold Fast by Blue Balliett followed by How to Steal a dog.  You might also enjoy The Imaginary by AF Harrold but be warned this one is not suitable for young readers.  Read this review in Horn Book if you still need convincing that Crenshaw is fabulous.

Another book which would link very well with a study of Crenshaw is Farm Kid by Sherryl Clark - especially her poem about the clearing sale.  Jackson explains this experience is such a poignant way. "It's like walking around with your clothes on inside out.  Underwear on top of jeans, socks on top of sneakers."

Here is an extract from Farm Kid and the poem Clearing Sale

“us kids poking prying
someone else’s life
on show
for sale

who could sleep in a bed
that hard? …
what would people think
of our lives
spread out

across the grass?"

There are some really innovative teaching ideas here.  You might also like to look at the teaching notes provided by the US publisher.

I do enjoy books that cross reference other books.  Jackson loves the book A hole is to Dig by Maurice Sendak and his sister Robin constantly requests re-readings of The House on East 88th Street.  Sadly we don't have either of these books in our school library but we do have a copy of Lyle at the office which is one of the sequels to The house on East 88th Street.