Sunday, February 26, 2017

Henrietta and the perfect night by Martine Murray

This is the fourth book about Henrietta and it does not disappoint.  Inside Henrietta and the Perfect Night there are five interlinked stories beginning with The Waiting Game - waiting for the new baby to arrive and ending with The Arrival!

"Hello, I'm Henrietta the Great Go-Getter. I'm also a Big Thinker. And right now I'm thinking about my mum getting fat."

Henrietta goes to school for the first time, she makes a new friend, participates in the school play and survives her first sleep over.

There are perfect little illustrations scattered throughout this book and Martine Murray uses different fonts to express the meaning of words.  You can see this idea in the Geronimo Stilton books.

Other series to look for :

  • Judy Moody
  • Violet Mackrel
  • Clementine
  • Daisy Dawson
  • Anna Hibiscus
  • Billie B Brown

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe

"I looked at the huge, hairy feet of the horse."

"Every now and then I could feel her soft rubbery lips and whiskers just touch my ear."

"She needed to be loved, this great heavy-footed horse. And I could love her."

I am reading the NSW School Magazine Bookshelf titles. I have mentioned these in previous posts. These are always interesting lists and often lead me to discover some terrific books.  Mrs Whitlam is on the Touchdown list for this year.  It is the perfect book for young horse lovers.

Marnie is given this precious horse but at the same time she has to endure racial discrimination in her small town. This is a short book with 75 pages but along with care of the horse, Marnie rescues a small child from a raging river, makes a new unexpected friend and she learns the importance of staying true to yourself.

There are some teaching notes available from the publisher web site.

Strong themes of place, family and country pulse through the book. Marnie’s narrative voice is smooth and natural on the page. There’s not one affected word to be found throughout the prose. It’s a highly enjoyable adventure ideal for middle readers.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The fox and the ghost King by Michael Morpurgo illustrated by Michael Foreman

I found this book The fox and the ghost King in our last brochure from Scholastic Book Club.  I wonder why they didn't make a bigger feature of it - this is quite an engrossing story and one that will appeal to young soccer fans.  It is a short book with wonderful illustrations by Michael Foreman and it would make a good family read-aloud.

Take a look at this football team logo - Leicester City F.C.  It has a fox in the centre and the nickname for this team is The Foxes.  They were founded in 1884 and by 2008 the were at their lowest ever position. "Then ... in August 2012, King Richard III was found under a Leicester car park, and a right royal turnaround in the Foxes' fortunes began..."

That in essence is the story of The fox and the ghost King.  Narrated by a little fox cub we read that this pair make night visits to watch their beloved team.  Once again Leicester have been defeated but on the way home everything changes.  Our narrator and his dad hear the buried king.  He asks them to dig around his body so the archaeologists working on the site will finally discover his burial ground. Naturally foxes are very good at digging. The rest, as they say, is history!  There is even a touch of Shakespeare woven into the story.

"By his play of Richard III, that vile villain made a  villain of me, a traitor, a murderer... that dastardly dramatist, that William Shakespeare."

Here is a six minute video of Michael Morpurgo reading his book.  At the back of the book you can read about Leicester City FC, King Richard III and "newspaper" article about the change in fortune for this popular team.  You can read a review here.

I was quite excited to discover the London Underground have a series of posters promoting books and one featured The fox and the ghost King."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A necklace of raindrops by Joan Aiken illustrated by Jan Pienkowski

A necklace of raindrops is the oldest book in our school library. It still has the price tag of $5.25. This book was first published in 1968 but recently I saw the audio CD listed in an online catalogue so I quickly purchased it.  I have spent a delightful few days listening to these eight highly imaginative and satisfying stories.

The story titles are  :

  • A necklace of raindrops
  • The cat sat on the mat
  • There's some sky in this pie
  • The elves in the shelves
  • The three travellers
  • The bakers cat
  • A bed for the night
  • The patchwork quilt

I think my favourites are the first and last in the collection.  In the first the North Wind gives Laura a gift as a thank you to her parents.

"You must put it round the baby's neck, ... the raindrops will not wet her, and they will not come off. Every year on her birthday, I will bring her another drop. When she has four drops she will stay dry, even if she goes out in the hardest rainstorm."

The predictions go on and on all the way up to ten raindrops on the necklace but then comes a warning  the necklace must never be broken or it might bring bad luck.  Naturally there is a catastrophe involving a jealous girl called Meg who wants the necklace. After some wild adventures including a trip to meet the King of Arabia there is a very satisfying happy ending.

In the final story Mrs Noot makes a beautiful quilt as a gift for her grandson Nils.  "Mrs Noot sewed twelve pieces into a star. Then she sewed the stars together. She sewed them with gold thread and silver thread and white thread and black thread."  Meanwhile the wizard Ali Beg likes to fly around on his magic carpet stealing things that take his fancy.  His poor camels are starving so one night they eat the carpet - all except for a tiny square underneath Ali Beg. He is furious and so he tells the carpet to take him to a new carpet.  He eventually arrives at the home of Mrs Noot.

The good news you can still buy this book.  It now costs around $20 and still contains the very special illustrations from Jan Pienkowski.  You can see a couple here.

If you now have a taste for short stories you might like to look for The witch word by Margaret Mahy and The Puffin Book of Five Minute stories both of which you can find in our school library.

The poet's dog by Patricia MacLachlan


I felt quite poetic after reading this book and so I listed these words to describe the events in The Poet's Dog.

Dogs speak words
But only poets
And children

This is the poem on the first page.

As with many books to fully enjoy this simple story of love and loss you do need to be prepared to suspend disbelief.

"I found the boy at dusk."  Who found the boy? Patricia MacLachlan gently reveals her story narrator.  "I nosed his hand gently."   Teddy is a dog but he knows words because for years he lived with the poet Sylvan.  Teddy heard the words of Yeats, Shakespeare, James Joyce, Wordsworth and Natalie Babbitt. He listened to Charlotte's Web; The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and The Ox-Cart man.

Teddy finds two children huddled in the snow. He takes them back to the house he shared with Sylvan. Over several days he gently cares for the children as the heavy snow forces everyone to stay inside.  Eventually Ellie, a young friend and poet, who helped Sylvan through his last days, arrives. The ending gives a beautiful sense of completion and affirms the circle of life.

Patricia MacLachlan writes in such a way that you will feel you are really in this remote place and truly experiencing the bitter cold. This is a book adult readers will love and it would be good to share quietly with a sensitive young reader. With only 88 pages the old adage applies "good things come in small packages".

Cover art for this book is by the talented Kenard Pak. You can hear an audio sample here.  After reading The Poet's dog you might look for Love that dog by Sharon Creech and any other books by Patricia MacLachlan.

Here is The Ox-Cart Man which Sylvan read to Teddy.

Ox Cart Man

Related Poem Content Details

In October of the year, 
he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,   
counting the seed, counting   
the cellar’s portion out,   
and bags the rest on the cart’s floor. 

He packs wool sheared in April, honey 
in combs, linen, leather   
tanned from deerhide,   
and vinegar in a barrel 
hooped by hand at the forge’s fire. 

He walks by his ox’s head, ten days 
to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,   
and the bag that carried potatoes, 
flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose   
feathers, yarn. 

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.   
When the cart is sold he sells the ox,   
harness and yoke, and walks 
home, his pockets heavy 
with the year’s coin for salt and taxes, 

and at home by fire’s light in November cold   
stitches new harness 
for next year’s ox in the barn, 
and carves the yoke, and saws planks   
building the cart again.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

"Alice plucked a tulip from her pocket and bit off the top. She felt the petals pressing against her tongue; she could taste the velvet, the magenta of it all. She closed her eyes and licked her lips before biting in the stem. Not quite green but brighter, more vibrant; there was a song in that colour and she could feel it singing inside of her."

As the cover suggests this is a fantasy book and I think it is one fans of this genre will enjoy but you do need reading stamina.  If you loved the imaginative journey in The Phantom Tollbooth then this is also the book for you. On the down side this is a very long book (400 pages) and I did take more than a week to read it.  There are moments of delightful storytelling but I did want the action to move along a little more quickly.  When Oliver declares "We are currently at the entry of Slumber, which is just one of the sixty-eight villages we must travel through, and each village has its own very specific rules. We cannot break a single one if we are to find your father." My heart sank.  Sixty-eight villages.  I was not sure I had the fortitude to withstand the vagaries of so many different places and their different and hazardous rules.

The sentences I quoted at the beginning of this review come from very early in this story.  I missed the first page accidentally but when I read about Alice eating flowers I knew this was going to be a very different book. I went back and read that Alice herself has no colour.

"But then one day they realised that their baby, the one they'd named Alice, had no pigment at all. Her hair and skin were white as milk; her heart and soul were soft as silk. ... Ferenwood had been built on colour. Bursts of it, swaths of it, depths and breadths of it."

Alice thinks her father has left the family because of her disgrace.  Her mother has become unkind and so when Oliver Newbanks tells her he knows the location of her father and that she needs to come to his rescue her adventures truly begin.  Alice does not go to all sixty-eight villages but the ones she does visit are extremely odd such as Paper where her arm is bitten off by an origami fox.

I did enjoy watching Alice grow and gain self-acceptance as this book progressed but I wanted to know a little more about Oliver - his back story and motivation. Of course the ending is a happy one as you might predict and it was perhaps a little rushed but after all the turmoil of their journey across Furthermore it was good to reach the comfort of home.

After reading Furthermore you might like to read Wolf Wilder, Firegirl and for mature readers The Thickety.

You can listen to a five minute audio sample here.

Told in rich, luscious, clever prose by an omniscient narrator whose chatty asides warn and inform, Alice’s remarkable adventure transports her across bizarre landscapes where she eventually realizes how wonderful it is to be herself and to have a friend she can trust.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I don't like poetry by Joshua Seigal

This is a terrific little book filled with funny poems designed to do the opposite to the claim made by the title.  I am sure you will like poetry, once you read right though this 69 page book which has 53 poems, even though the title is I don't like Poetry. Here is the poem that inspired the title.  Here is the web site of the author where you will find more poems.

There are poems about dogs, funny haiku (great for teachers), zombies, Dracula, boys, girls, letters of the alphabet and goo!

Our Book Week slogan for 2017 is Escape to Everywhere.  I think this poem will be perfect to use during our celebrations in August.  It could even be set to music perhaps. Here is a video of the author reciting his poem.

Just a Book?

It’s a letter in a bottle
bobbing blindly in the sea,
it’s a verdant leaf in summer
hanging halfway up a tree,
it’s a pebble sleeping softly
in a gently flowing brook
but it’s never, no it’s never,
no it’s never just a book.

It’s the topping on your pizza
as it sits upon your plate,
it’s the fish that you’ve been after
as you hook it with your bait,
it’s a cupboard of ingredients
all waiting for the cook
but it’s never, no it’s never,
no it’s never just a book.

It’s a soldier in a battle
as he launches a grenade,
it’s a hunter in a forest
as she sharpens up her blade,
it’s a playmate, it’s a bully,
it’s a policeman, it’s a crook
but it’s never, no it’s never,
no it’s never just a book.

It’s a parcel of ideas,
it’s a package full of tools,
it’s a field full of freedom,
it’s a folder full of rules,
it’s a fancy flight of fantasy
so come and have a look - 
see it’s never, no it’s never,
no it’s never just a book!

Click this quote to read a review.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Nathan and the Ice Rockets by Debra Oswald illustrated by Matthew Martin

As you can see this is a little chapter - Nathan and the Ice Rockets is a book from the Aussie Bites series.  There are so many treasures among these books and also among their little cousins Aussie Nibbles. Sadly this one is out of print.

"Everyone at our school was going wild about the Ice Rockets competition.  Ice Rockets are these ice-blocks shaped like spaceships."

The competition involves collecting the ice block sticks. To win a fabulous bike you need all the letters R, O, C, K, E, T,  and !. Of course it is easy to find some letters but there are one or two that never appear.

The real strength of this book (first published in 1998) is the authentic Australian flavour.  We are going through a very hot summer, everyone has just come back to school and eating a cool ice-block is an essential treat for this time of year.  Nathan is a new kid.  He is an outsider but two terrific kids - Lewis and Frank make friends with Nathan and they form a team to try to win this prized bike.

"You would have to see this bike to really know how brilliant it was... The bike frame was shaped as much like a space rocket... The handlebars, brakes, bell and speedo were all made to look like the control panel of a spaceship."

The final scenes are filled with tension as the kids in Years 5 and 6, except for the bully James Dunphy, unite to eat forty-nine Ice Rockets before the competition ends the next day.  All they need is the letter 'K'.  Nathan is a winner but not in the way you might expect.

Listen to an audio sample here.  I would pair this book with There's a lion in my Cornflakes.

Fanny's dream by Caralyn Buehner illustrated by Mark Beuhner

I have made a plan for this year to bring home five or six picture books several times each week - books we have in our school library that I have not yet read.

Among my collection this week was Fanny's Dream. This is a book for all fairy tale fans.  I loved this book because I am a great believer in "they all lived happily ever after" just like Fanny and of course I did expect a prince would arrive!

Fanny is a sturdy girl living in Wyoming.  "She was going to marry a prince."  She hears the mayor is giving a grand ball.  She waits in the garden for the arrival of the fairy godmother but the fairy does not arrive instead along comes Herber Jensen. "Herber was cheerful and pleasant, and he had always liked Fanny, but heavens, he was so short!"

Fanny does not want to give up her dream but Herber talks things over with her.  He helps Fanny identify her skills.  She can harness a horse, cure a ham and even spread manure.

Fanny marries Herber and the routines of daily life on the farm take over.

"As for Herber, he figured that it hadn't been easy for Fanny to give up her dreams, so he made a point to wait on her at least once a day, as if she were a princess ... "

Babies are born, the house burns down but they rebuild and the farm prospers and then, many years later, the fairy godmother finally arrives.  Click the quotes below to read some reviews :