Saturday, October 14, 2017

Wing and Claw Book One Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park

"For as long as Raffa could remember, he had possessed a keen instinct for apothecary. At times, combining botanicals felt to him like mixing colour, adding ingredients until the hues in his mind matched or complemented each other."


Forest of Wonders is on my reading list for the USBBY conference and I am so happy because this book is utterly engrossing and I am so excited to be meeting Linda Sue Park at the conference. 

I have mentioned in previous posts that I enjoy books with political threads.  In Forest of Wonders the city ruler summons two apothecaries to come and work for her and she will provide a well equipped laboratory and comfortable lodgings. Of course this offer is not as good as it seems but to Raffa it seems like a dream job.  He has found an injured bat which he names Echo.  Raffa is able to nurse the little bat back to health using a rare red vine that he finds in the forest.  An interesting side effect of using this means Echo can now speak but there are also other more dangerous effects.  Raffa realises his cousin Garith has taken some of the plant to the city called Gilden and so he decides to run away to the city so he can warn his fun loving and impetuous cousin. 
 
Arriving in the city he is swept up into the chaos, he is nearly imprisoned and he makes two new and important friends.  He also discovers the truth about the work of his Uncle and Chancellor. By the end of this first book all four new friends are on the run accompanied by Echo (he has such a great sense of humour) and a huge bear.  This cliff hanger ending means you will be desperate to find book 2. 

Another very important and appealing aspect of Forest of Wonders is the rich vocabulary used by Linda Sue Park.  Here are some examples :

capricious
arcane
tendrils
slovenly
stanched
besiege
epithet

There are also some beautiful invented words like sunpeak, sleepydeep, and sunfall along with sayings like "steady morning".

Here is the trailer from Harper Collins.  The second book in the trilogy is called Cavern of Secrets.  You can see a longer interview with Linda Sue Park here.  You can read a sample and listen to a audio excerpt here.

Take time to read my thoughts about other wonderful books by Linda Sue Park she is such a talent!



With its engaging hero, talking animals, arcane magic, moral issues, and unresolved plot, this first of a proposed trilogy promises more exciting forest wonders. Kirkus

As in life, the choices are never black and white as Park’s realistically flawed characters struggle between looking out for the greater good or for themselves.   Publishers Weekly

It is a fantasy novel, yes, but it is also a provocative moral tale about the relationship between humans and animals. An Aesop’s fable turned ­inside out. New York Times

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Everything I need to know I learned from a Children's book by Anita Silvey



I have enormous respect for Anita Silvey ever since I found her Book-a-day almanac.  Recently a friend found this book - Everything I need to know I learned form a children's book - in a second hand store and he very kindly bought it for me.

Even though many of the 'notable people from all walks of life' were unfamiliar to me I thoroughly enjoyed reading each personal and heart-felt memory of a loved children's book.

Anita says in her introduction you "can read (this book) straight through, it is also ideal for browsing." I have done both and the book lists at the end by age and subject are also very useful.

In this book Anita talked with 110 significant people from science, politics, sport and the arts. You can read more details in this review. Here are a few names and their books  I have listed the people or books which are familiar to me and included links to pages in this blog.

Katherine Paterson - The Secret Garden
Gail Carson Levine - Peter Pan
Karen Hesse - Horton Hatches the Egg
Linda Sue Park - The Saturdays
Jim Trelease - The call of the wild
Judy Blume - Madeline
Nick Clark - My Father's Dragon
Barbara Elleman - Strega Nona
Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg - Harold and the purple crayon
Eden Ross Lipson - Little House on the Prairie
Marc Brown - Where the wild things are
Jon Scieszka - Go, dog, go!
Kathy Bates - Impunity Jane
Anita Silvey - The tale of Squirrel Nutkin
Louis Sachar - Charlotte's Web
Peter Sis - The little Prince
Ann M Martin - Roll of Thunder hear my cry
Lucy Mangan - Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH


All of this made me think which book would I choose and in just one blink I thought about Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden.  I sat down last night to read this treasured book all over again and I emerged one hour later totally satisfied and so if Anita Silvey had asked me about the book I remembered from childhood it would be this one.



Thinking about the main question everything I need to know I learned from a children's book.  Miss Happiness and Miss Flower showed me the power of team work, the importance of problem solving, the happiness that comes from kindness, the need for self forgiveness and even a solution to loneliness.

Loneliness - little Nona has arrived in England having spent her whole life in India.  She is just like Mary in The Secret Garden.  Nona is unable to understand her new life, she does not recognise the kindness offered by her new family and her refuge comes from hiding away from everyone and reading her books.  Gradually Nona reaches out to the family and she gradually finds her voice and forms relationships with each person in the house.

Problem Solving and team work - Nona and Belinda are sent two Japanese dolls.  Nona can see they need a proper Japanese house.  She is terrified to venture out alone but she visits a nearby bookshop and the owner (who is not really as fierce as he looks) lends her books about Japanese houses, culture, gardens and ceremonies.  Nona now needs to enlist the help of Tom, the oldest boy in the family, and others to build the perfect house and add comfortable furnishings.

One of my favourite scenes is when she is given the perfect fabric to use :

Melly's mum makes hats.  She gives a bundle to Nona "wrapped in a piece of soft paper. Inside were scraps and pieces and snippets of silks, satin and taffeta in pink and scarlet, blue and lemon colour, white, green, purple and mauve."

The need for self forgiveness - Belinda, the youngest child, rages with jealousy over the attention the family are giving to Nona. In a final moment of fury she snatches back 'her doll' ruining the very special day when the dolls were to move into their beautiful new dolls house. That night Belinda cannot sleep.  "As the tears soaked into Belinda's pillow the hard angry feeling seemed to melt away ... "  Belinda reunites Miss Flower and Miss Happiness and in the morning everything is forgiven and better still Belinda and Nona can now move forward as friends.

Happiness from Kindness - Nona is so very kind to Miss Happiness and Miss Flower.  She handles them gently, she includes them in all the decisons about the house plans and she even provides them with a special meal.  As she performs each of these actions her sadness lifts and her confidence grows.  Nona is able to talk to  Mr Twilfit the bookseller, her teacher Miss Lane and the little girl who sits beside her at school called Melly.



I loved the inclusion of very detailed plans in the back of this book.  The whole idea of dolls houses has long intrigued me especially those with electric lights which Tom installs for the dolls.  The beautiful textiles and the little bonsai garden are also memories to treasure.

After reading Miss Happiness and Miss Flower when I was very young - it was a generous gift from a family friend - I then wanted to read about Little Plum of course but I also sought out other books by Rumer Godden. So you can see reading this book introduced me to the idea of following an author at a very early age, gave me a little book character to admire in Nona, a fascination with all things Japanese and started my love of dolls houses.

There is a Rumer Godden book in Everything I need to know - it is Impunity Jane which I will confess I have not read but I will seek it out now.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower comes with several covers.  Not sure I like them as much as the original and I do wonder if the magic of the illustrations is conveyed by each of these illustrators.



Monday, October 9, 2017

The Dream Dog by Enid Richemont

"The dog from his dream was sitting beside the bed, its front paws stretched out, and its sorrowful eyes fixed on Josh's face."

Josh wants a dog and his parents have promised he can have one now that they have moved into a new house but somehow they don't seem to be getting around to actually doing this.  On his first night in the new house Josh sees a dog - is this dog really a ghost.  He gradually discovers details about the dog who once lived in their new house, he sees a photo, finds an old ball hidden under a bush in the garden and learns his name was Gyp.

Meanwhile a dog is living in a high rise apartment desperately missing his lady.

"But his new basket smelt of nothing, and he longed for his old one. He tried out the smooth sofa that smelt of skin, but they shouted and slapped him. Oh, where was his lady."

"One day, she'd smelt wrong, she'd felt wrong, He'd tried to make her better, but she'd been so very tired ... "

This is another slim novel and yes it is very old but the poignant ending makes this book well worth hunting for especially if you are a dog lover or you could buy the Kindle version.

You could pair The Dream dog with The Time Tree.

There are so many books about children who long for a dog.  Look for  My dog Sunday, One dog and his boy, Little dog lost, and one of my favourite books Too Small to Fail by Morris Gleitzman.  I can't believe I have not yet talked about this on this blog.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The time tree by Enid Richemont

The Time Tree is a tiny and very old book (1989) which we recently culled from our school library.  I had fond memories of reading this little time slip story so I picked it up yesterday.

Joanna and Rachel are best friends on the brink of starting High School.  They visit a tree near their home and feel a 'presence' but the girls are fearful of confessing this to each other and so this disturbing sensation threatens to ruin their long standing friendship.  Finally it all becomes too much and the girls, independently, decide to share this peculiar feeling that comes when they sit in their tree.

"Listen," said Joanna boldly, 'I think someone was watching us - yesterday after noon, when we were up in the tree. I mean there wasn't anyone around but I could sort of - feel it.' ... It was out at last, and they both felt better."

The girls have somehow connected with Anne who lives in 16th Century London.  She is treated so badly by her family because she is deaf but Anne is a clever girl.  Joanna and Rachel teach her to read and write and so her destiny changes.

Things change from this :

"She knew that she was a freak. She knew that her presence offended people, that her shadow falling on the wooden pails might sour the milk ... "

Her literacy skills now mean :

"Her father, somewhat unwillingly, tried teaching her to add figures together.  In future years he would turn more and more towards this once rejected daughter, even asking for help when his accounts would not make sense."

Anne sews a sampler with a surprising image - one she had seen in the junior alphabet book Joanna and Rachel used with Anne in their tree.  You will smile at the end of this book when the girls find this curious sampler in a museum.  I enjoyed the way this story gives the reader small and personal insights into life in Elizabethan times.  It does not seem important to know how or why Anne meets these modern girls - the meeting is just important for all three girls in ways none would have imagined.

Here is a review with more plot details.  You might like to look for some other Enid Richemont books in your library.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

My Library - time to say goodbye

My School Library  
Read only on the Days you Eat!

I mentioned recently that after 21 years I have left my school library.  Actually I have worked in school libraries for 32 years.  I am proud of all the changes we made to this library over the years and I wish I had some before and after photos.  I visited another school library recently I realised my library really does look very inviting.  The red sign was hanging in the door way when I arrived all those years ago - I do love it!

Here are a few photos :

















In my next post I will quote  few of the beautiful heartfelt letters I received from students, teachers and parents.  A very humbling experience.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

Sunflower knew in her heart that this boy would rescue her.  She hadn't called out to him.  She hadn't made any gestures asking for help.  She had just stood on the boat, watching him.  
The look in her eyes was enough.





Life in rural China in the early 1970s was hard.  The cultural revolution bought so much change.  Peasant farmers endure a daily struggle against weather and plague.  Reading Bronze and Sunflower felt, at times, like riding roller coaster.  The are moments of happiness and joy and then things seem to change in an instant for example just as their crops are almost ready to harvest disaster strikes :

"Soon the shouts and screams woke the whole village. People leapt out of bed, ran outside and looked up at the sky. But there was no sky, just a seething mass of screeching locusts blocking out the early morning light.  ... Down they poured, like rain from a rain cloud."

Intellectuals are sent to be re-educated in the country.  Sunflower and her father are sent to Cadre School which is set up across the river from Damaidi. Her father loves her but he is forced to work long hours and attend meetings each evening so often they only see each other for a few precious minutes late at night.  Sadly her father dies.  Sunflower is taken across the river and sits in a rock in the village waiting for a new family to take her.  Bronze and his family are so poor but they are drawn to this little girl.  These scenes are so tense.  Another cruel father and his equally cruel son are also considering claiming this girl.

Bronze is the only son of one of the poorest families in Damaidi.  An accident as a young child has left him mute and so he has become isolated from the other village children. He spends his days assisting with growing and finding food for his family - mother, father and grandmother - Nainai - the Chinese word for Grandmother.  In one chapter you will read how the whole family work to make shoes from reeds and how this brave boy goes to the larger town to sell one hundred pairs.

Sunflower does go to live with Bronze and his family.  They sacrifice everything to send her to school and the two children become inseparable finding a special way to communicate then one day a message arrives that city officials are coming to take Sunflower away.

When you pick up Bronze and Sunflower be prepared to slow yourself right down.  The pace of this story feels like the plodding of the buffalo you see on the cover.  It may take you a chapter or two to 'get into the rhythm' of this writing but be patient - you will be richly rewarded with a beautifully crafted story.  Click on some of the review quotes below to read more.

Next month I am lucky to be attending the 12th Regional USBBY Conference.  The conference is entitled Radical Change Beyond Borders - The transforming power of Children's Literature in a Digital Age.  Bronze and Sunflower is one of the books on their reading list.

Thank goodness Walker Books saw value in having this Chinese book translated so that, yes, while it can be enjoyed by millions of Chinese children, now it can also travel across the world to be enjoyed by children in Australia, USA, UK along with France, Italy and Germany (see covers below).

Listen to an audio sample hereCao Wenxuan was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen medal at the IBBY congress in Auckland in 2016.  I was in the audience at this ceremony and Cao Wenxuan made an inspirational speech.  There are some interesting teaching ideas here.


The landscape Cao describes is beautiful — reed marshes stretching as far as the eye can see, a meandering river, a pretty village on the opposite bank — but Sunflower is alone and lonely, “like a solitary bird in a vast blue sky with nothing for company but the sound of its own beating wings.”  New York Times

It’s bold and unfamiliar. Touching and terrifying. Historical but somehow also timeless. It’s one of the best dang novels I’ve read for kids in a long time. Do you truly want your kids to be citizens of the world? Then hand that world to them. Give them this book.  Elizabeth Bird School Library Journal

Although not without times of grief and real hardship, Bronze and Sunflower’s lives are full of so much loveliness, happiness and kindness that this book, this story came as a welcome breath of fresh air, full of hope and a reminder that warmth and generosity can make for powerful storytelling just as much as angst and dystopia.   Zoe Playing by the Book

Readers of all ages should be prepared to laugh, cry, and sigh with satisfaction Kirkus









“That’s what I’m interested in, the continuity,” he added. “It doesn’t matter what the setting is; universal values and humanity always show through.”  Cao Wenxuan

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Old titles worth finding - great to Read-aloud



Read-aloud Classics

I am sorting through 33 years of teaching papers.  It will take me a very long time. I came across a set of lists today that I made in about 1986 (typed not on a computer) of books for K-2.

Here are a few old books which are gems - many will be out of print but you might find them in a school or public library. 

For Kindergarten

Peace at Last by Jill Murphy
Humphrey's Bear by Jan Wahl
The Kinder Hat by Morag Loh
Bear Hunt by Anthony Browne
Stickybeak by Hazel Edwards
Dreadful David by Sally Odgers
Moon Cake by Frank Asch

For Year One

The Silver Christmas Tree by Pat Hutchins
My dog's a scaredy cat by Duncan Ball
I'll always love you by Hans Wilhelm
The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Lord
The boy who was followed home by Margaret Mahy
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
Five minutes peace by Jill Murphy
Arthur by Amanda Graham
Felix and Alexander by Terry Denton

For Year Two

On the way home by Jill Murphy
Where's Julius by John Burningham
The man whose mother was a pirate by Margaret Mahy
A house for Wombats by Jane Burrell
Sloppy Kisses by Elizabeth Winthrop
I'm coming to get you by Tony Ross
A rabbit named Harris by Nan Hunt
Fey Mouse by Hazel Edwards
The mice next door by Anthony Knowles
Herbert and Harry by Pamela Allen
The pain and the great one by Judy Blume
Murgatroyd's garden by Judy Zavos

I don't usually do many lists but I was looking for a way to keep a copy of this one and using my blog seemed the perfect solution.  I did not list here every book I noted back in 1986 just some that I know really do work as read-aloud titles.  Making this list will also give me some ideas about books I need to talk about on this blog over the coming months.

Friday, September 29, 2017

What do senior girls enjoy reading?



I decided while I still have access to the data to to a look at the loan history of two avid readers from my school - girls in Year 5 and Year 6.  It will not be a surprise that I have blogged many of them. Here are some highlights :

Year Five Girl
Septimus Heap series beginning with Magyk - there are seven books in this series


The girl who drank the moon by Kelly Barnhill
Dragonfly song by Wendy Orr
Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs and the sequel
The Skulduggery series - there are nine books in the first series
Ivy Pocket - there are three books in the series
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Auggie and Me by RJ Palacio




Year Six Girl
The bookshop girl by Sylvia Bishop
Parvana series by Deborah Ellis  (watch this blog am about to re-read this one)




Firstborn by Tom Seidler
Daughter of Nomads by Rosanne Hawke
Figgy series by Tamsin Janu - there are three titles
SeeSaw girl by Linda Sue Park
When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
Ruby Redfort series by Lauren Child - there are six books in this series
True (... sort of) by Katherine Hannigan
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L Holm
One dog and his boy by Eva Ibbotson
Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs
The magicians elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli




Wonder by RJ Palacio
The three loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson
The paper house by Lois Peterson
Looking for X by Deborah Ellis




Hope this list might give you some inspiration for different books to find in a school or public library.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

First Test by Tamora Pierce


I first read this book in 2000 and fell in love with the characters and in particular the feisty and determined Keladry who has applied to train as a knight following in the footsteps of Alanna, lioness of Tortall, who completed her training ten years earlier by disguising herself as a boy.  I have been recommending this book ever since but sadly no one seems to have continued reading beyond the first book.  I do wonder why.  This is a splendid series and would suit fans of books like Skulduggery Pleasant (a very popular series in my school library) and Rangers Apprentice.

In one sitting I read First Test again today.  This is a book where you become totally involved with the characters and their activities.  Tamora Pierce completely transports you into her medieval fantasy world.  Here is the cover of our library copy



The story opens with a meeting between King Jonathan and Lord Wyldon the training master. A letter has come from Keladry of Mindelan, a ten year old girl who is requesting to train as a knight.  Sitting in the room is Alanna the Lioness, the King's Champion.  Wyldon is incensed :

"Girls are fragile, more emotional, easier to frighten. They are not as strong in their arms and shoulders as men They tire easily. This girl would get any warriors who served with her killed o some dark night."

The King will not be swayed, however, and Kel is allowed to begin her training but unlike all the boys, her time is to be a trial - a probation AND Alanna, who had thought to mentor the girl, is forbidden all contact.

Kel arrives and she is so excited to begin her training but the bullies have other ideas and they will not give in until she gives up.

"Entering her room, Kel shut the door. When she turned, a gasp escaped before she locked her lips. She surveyed the damage. ... The drapes lay on the floor ... her packs were opened and their contents had been tumbled out. Someone had used her practice glaive to slash and pull down the wall hangings. On the plaster wall she saw written 'No Girls!', 'Go Home!', 'You Won't Last.' "

The boys fight her physically and mentally. One of the worst things is the way they tamper with her lance and fill it with lead.  Kel eventually discovers this trickery but not before she has spent months doing extra arm strength exercises determined to master this huge weapon.  On the positive side Kel does have friends.  The servants are on her side and so is her sponsor Nealan of Queenscove who by luck is also a healer and her horse, even though he has been badly treated previously, becomes a wonderful ally.

One of the aspects of this book that I enjoyed is that while Kel is strong and intelligent and very disciplined she does have one weakness.  She cannot cope with heights.

"Kel's ears roared; she could not catch her breath. The broad moat that passed in front of the wall was a long drop below. She heard nothing, she did not feel hands prying her grip from the stone .. 'I'll fall' she whispered."

You can read more about the whole series here and also in this Wikipedia entry.

When you read First Test you will realise it is part of a series of books which intertwine.


The Alanna series are written for an older audience so senior primary students can start with Protector of the small.



One of my favourite Canadian bookshops Woozles in Halifax recently featured the newest book in the Tortall series.  Tamora Pierce visited Halifax and so many of their Facebook posts featured her books.

Here is the cover of the newest book in this series which now number 18 books.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A different dog by Paul Jennings

This is a story of need, and whether dog or human, the importance of finding your own voice and redemption in a world of chaos and cruelty.  Kids Book Review





Well here is a very different book from the much loved Australian author Paul Jennings.  I read my first Paul Jennings story in 1985 - it was published in a little magazine that used to be produced by Puffin called Puffinalia.  One shot toothpaste is a Paul Jennings story I continue to read over thirty years later.

Someone mentioned A different dog. It arrived in our library a couple of months ago and I finally saw it on the shelf and bought it home.

Yes this is a different book.  It has Paul's trademark short sentences and easy reading style but this slim volume (81 pages) has a serious and urgent tone.  This is a poignant story which does not need the humour we usually associate with other books and short stories by Paul Jennings and you need to know this book truly is a gem.

We talk to the students about the concept of 'show don't tell' and in this book Paul Jennings shows he is a master of this technique. As the story opens the boy prepares to enter a running competition.  Without explaining his dire circumstances in so many words we know things are very tough for this boy and his mum.  His bed has collapsed to the floor because they used the wood to keep warm.

"Today I will win some money ... And then mum can buy two beds. ... And we can fix the broken window. And she won't have to work in the orchard in the winter."

He sets off for the race.  A car stops and offers him a lift.  A boy called Skinny Luke leers at him and says "It's talk or walk."  This is our first clue that this boy cannot speak.  He shakes his head and continues on foot.  A van speeds past him and crashes down into a steep gully.  The driver is dead but there is a dog.  The final chapter will utterly astonish you.

With only 82 pages this book would be perfect for a reluctant reader in senior primary and coincidentally these readers were/are the intended audience for all those short stories penned by Paul over many years beginning with his collection Unreal.

I would follow this book with some titles from a very old series called Surfers.  They are not about surfing but are instead about boys who find themselves in difficult and sometimes quite frightening situations where they need to draw on inner resources to survive.  Look for books like Last Bus Robert Swindells, Deep Water by Ann Turnbull and Forbidden Game by Malorie Blackman.  All of these need to be republished.



Some news for readers of this blog :

This is the last book I am able to borrow from my school library but I will continue to blog as I now explore the public library and other school libraries.  This may mean I sometimes talk about books that are not found in our school library but I am sure you will be able to find them somewhere.  I have been so lucky to work in a very well resourced school library and I know I will miss my collection and all the book shopping but my 'need to read' means I will still find all those great books - just in a different place.

I am happy that I found A Different Dog to share for this significant post - it is perfect in so many ways.  Quick to read, Australian, is has an unpredictable plot, ideal for reluctant boys and it felt good to read a book linked to my first library back in 1985 - a perfect circle of experience.

Once again, Jennings proves himself to be a master of engagement from start to finish – and leaves us wanting more.  Reading Time


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A plague of unicorns by Jane Yolen

The making of the Unicorn

Take this bone, this ivory,
This slender pyramid, this spear,
This walking stick, this cornucopia,
This twisted instrument of fear,
This mammoth tusk, this pearly thorn,
This mythic spike, this maiden's bier,
This denticle, this rib of time,
This alabaster harrow - here
We start the beast, we give it name.
The world will never be the same.



When you read a book by Jane Yolen author of over 300 books (Owl Moon) you are immediately in the safe hands of a wonderful storyteller.  How can you go wrong with a book about unicorns?  One of my childhood favourites was The Little White horse by Elizabeth Gouge - and on a more recent re-reading it has certainly stood the test of time.



I love the chapter headings in this book A Plague of Unicorns :

1.  In which we are introduced to a short history of the unicorn plague
2. The short history of the unicorn plague part two
4.  In which James asks too many questions and gets too few answers

The plague is happening in the orchards of Cranford Abbey.  There are five different varieties of apple trees but the unicorns have discovered the prized golden Hosannah apples.  Each year, on their fall migration, they stop at the Abbey and feast on these precious apples - taking all but the few growing on the highest branches.

Abbot Aelian decides to send for the heroes but sadly, even though hundreds turn up, they all fail because none were prepared for the actual battle.

"You did not say it was a herd of unicorns.  ... A single hero cannot possibly face all of them."

Meanwhile little James is living in Castle Callander about fifty miles from the Abbey.  His is a curious boy and his constant questions frustrate every adult and most remain unanswered.  It is only his older sister Alexandria who will take the time to either answer him or take him to explore the castle library which is a fabulous place.

James asks questions like these :

Why does the sun rise in the morning?
Why do some babies sleep all the time and others not at all?
How can a country change its name?  Can I change my name?
Do roses come in black for funerals?
Why do maids dust things when it's dust they should be removing?

His uncle decides (even though James is very young) to send him to the Abbey where he might learn the value of silence.  Luckily for the Abbot, James is able to hold back a little on his questions and even though he his desperately homesick he listens to the discussions regarding the unicorn problem and he comes up with the perfect solution.

This is a slim book but I really enjoyed the setting, heroism and ingenious solution to the unicorn problem. After reading A plague of Unicorns an older reader might enjoy books by Tamora Pierce or John Flanagan.  We also have a little series of books by Jane Yolen about Merlin as a young boy.

After no success, the abbot finally calls upon the most unlikely of heroes, one suggested by no other than young James. That hero is small and unprepossessing but possesses the skill to tame the beasts. Though wildly skeptical, Abbot Aelian must risk everything and believe in this recommended stranger or risk the fall of Cranford Abbey.  KidsReads

Monday, September 25, 2017

Ice flowers by Jutta Goetze illustrated by Patricia Mullins

I first read this book in 1992 and fell in love.  Ice Flowers was part of a television series called Lift Off so the cover is not really appealing sadly.  You can see a little of the episode here and as you have guessed this book is out of print.  My friend and I wish we could give a shout out to a generous Australian book publisher and convince them to reprint this book (with a different cover).


Lisa needs a daffodil bulb for a school project.  All of the children are growing bulbs.  Lisa lives high on a snow covered mountain.

"So her father dug through the snow into the hard, dark earth ... But his spade bit the bulb and a piece was chipped off."


The children watch and wait over the coming weeks.  Eventually spring comes and "everyone had a flower to welcome it.  Everyone one except Lisa."

High in the mountains winter is going on and on.  Then one evening "Lisa woke to all the colours of the rainbow."

The most special feature of this book are the tissue paper collage illustrations by Patrica Mullins.  I have talked about Sea Breeze hotel, Jerry and Lightning Jack on this blog and her Christmas book The Magic Saddle is a treasured book in my school library and another book that most certainly needs to be reprinted.



You might also enjoy You can do it Stanley by Irena Green - a little book where the class all grow sunflowers but one girl has a plan to 'cheat' so she can win a prize for the tallest plant.  I recently went to an exhibition in Canberra by the National Centre for Australian Children's literature and they had a display showing the creation of this book.  I was amazed and thrilled.  I always thought this was such an obscure little title but clearly others love it too.


The little library cookbook by Kate Young

Eating and reading are two pleasures 
that combine admirably  CS Lewis


Well here is a first for this blog - an adult book and yes it is a cooking book or as the library term would say a cookery book.

On Friday I said goodbye to my school library and received an avalanche of gifts, hugs, events and even some poetry.  Our local bookseller presented me with this book The little library cookbook.  I am not sure how she knew this would be such an utterly perfect, unexpected and generous gift.  If you have been reading this blog for a long time you will know if a book mentions food I will mention the food they mention!  Also I am a cake nut.  In fact when students borrow 'cookery' books from the school library I often flip the pages and show them the recipes I think would be delicious.  I as they move off I say remember Miss L loves chocolate cake!

I don't think I have ever read a 'cookery' book from front to back but I read every word on every page yesterday of this book.  There are some things I would like to cook but more importantly there are references to books I have read and loved.  I smiled on every page.  If you are a reader and a cook you should hunt out this book.

To begin with I read contents list which is divided into before noon, around noon, after noon, the dinner table, midnight feasts, parties and celebrations and Christmas.  Reading this I discovered references to Australian children's and I was puzzled because the author Kate Young lives in London and has an award winning food blog.  It was in the introduction that I discovered Kate grew up in Australia - in Queensland and this is where she read and heard books like Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman, Wombat's don't have Christmas by Jane Burrell and of course Possum Magic by Mem Fox - no food book could miss that one and I imagine you can easily guess which recipes she has featured.

Kate Young had me hooked when she mentioned honey cake.  I have talked about this delight in several of my posts.   She says "the scent of a honey cake transported me to the back seat of our old car, listening to Alan Bennett read Winnie-the-Pooh on audiotape as we drove to Canberra."

Here are some of my favourite books/recipes from this book - I was especially excited to see the reference to Redwall by Brian Jacques - his books are filled with an abundance of delicious sounding foods. I am only listing the children's book references - of course there are adult books listed by Kate Young too.

Pippi Longstocking - Tunna Pannkakor
"they thought it was a very good pancake."

Redwall - Fruity nutbread -
"Matthias seated himself to an early breakfast ... nutbread, apples and a bowl of fresh goatsmilk."

Little House on the Prairie - Baked Beans
"Ma was busy all day long cooking things for Christmas ..."

Charlotte's Web - Blueberry Pie "Just in time for a piece of blueberry pie' said Mrs Zuckerman."
The tale of Peter Rabbit - Currant buns "She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns."

There are also recipes from The Little White Horse (I adored that book when I was about 10 and still have my copy), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone, Danny the Champion of the world and The Secret Garden.

Where to now?  Well I have a jar of honey given to me by a student last week from their own backyard hives so I will make the Fruity Nutbread which has honey and another favourite ingredient - walnuts.  I might also try the crumpets from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and apple pie from The Railway Children.



Sunday, September 17, 2017

The big question by Leen van den Berg and illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire

 How do you know you love someone?


I love making connections between books and life.  A good friend and fellow Teacher-Librarian gave me this book a long while ago. I finally sat down to read it today. Meanwhile I had been reading and researching versions of Snow White for one of my classes this week.

The class celebrated Roald Dahl day last week and had enjoyed reading the famous book Revolting Rhymes.  As a part of this unit the teacher took the time to read a few versions of the traditional fairy tales including Snow White.  She mentioned one edition had worked especially well because the retelling included beautiful language and descriptions.  I mentioned my favourite Snow White version Snow White in New York.  On Friday this class and I explored this intelligent and inventive retelling.

In The Big Question the shy elephant raises the question "How do you know you love someone?" at the annual meeting which is usually chaired by Turtle but this year his wife is ill so Ant has taken over. Ant is impatient and dismissive but elephant gathers her courage and asks her important question.

Everyone has something to say using personal examples including Snow White (hence my connection) who responds :

"When I kiss my prince," said Snow White, "I forget all my troubles: wicked stepmothers, quarrels, sour apples ... Don't ask me why. That's what love does to you,  I think."

Various participants at the gathering answer Elephant :
Mouse "I felt as big and strong as an elephant."
Clouds "We always float in the same direction."
Apple "When I see my love, I start to blush."
Grandma "I pick out a beautiful poem. Then I read it in our favourite spot."
Child "I write my own poems and slip them into his pocket..." (illustration here on the left)
Stars "We don't need words ... We can be silent together for a thousand years."

We are not told how elephant feels about all the answers she receives but as the meeting closes she rushes away - I hope into the arms of her true love.  Meanwhile the grumbling Ant drops the meeting notes off for Turtle and then she rushes off to her carrying work "unable to understand why she suddenly felt so alone."

Here is another connection.  Recently a young bride asked for advice about a picture book to read at her wedding.  She had intended to use Dr Seuss Oh, the places you'll go but then it appeared as part of a television commercial and the magic was lost. I hunted around and asked a few people and settled on Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney.  If only I had read The Big Question this would be a completely perfect book to share at a wedding.  Yes I am a tragic romantic.

You can read an interview with the illustrator here and a detailed review here.

This book comes from the publisher Book Island.  They certainly have an eye for wonderful titles such as The Lion and the Bird - a truly special book.  We do have another book illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire in our library - Maia and what matters.  This was also a gift from my colleague.