Sunday, April 30, 2017

We're all wonders by RJ Palacio

Several years ago we had a disabled boy in our school. He had fingers missing on his right hand.  His school friends did not comment on this because they had known him since Kindergarten but children in other classes would often stare or ask questions or worse.  One day I read The Mouse with the too long tail to his class.  I will never forget the way this boy responded to this book.  For the mouse  his tail begins as a burden but then he changes his outlook and realises it is an asset. The little boy smiled at me and said he felt the same way about his hand.

I wish I could show We're all wonders to my student.  He would be all grown up now but I think it would make him smile.  Wonder by RJ Palacio is a moving book which is very popular with our senior students.  I feel it is a book that is the perfect way to demonstrate the importance of the saying "walk a mile in my shoes."

We're all wonders is written for a younger audience.  The boy is not named but it is Auggie from Wonder. even though the text is quite spare the power of the message is retained.   "Sometimes they stare at me. They point or laugh. They even say mean things behind my back."

This is the third book in the series which began with Wonder.  Here is a teaching idea.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

One photo by Ross Watkins illustrated by Liz Arbelli

Dad started doing more funny things, like putting things that belonged in the fridge in the cupboard, and things that belong in the cupboard in the fridge.

There are many difficult subjects that are explored through picture books.  Death of a parent or loved one would be one of the hardest followed closely by the subject of this book - dementia.

You can see some books from our library that deal with this topic but the difference with One Photo is that this is early onset dementia - a father not a grandfather.  The young boy who narrates this story watches as his dad takes photos on an old film camera.  The photos all seem to be of random objects and not the people in his life.

He displays the photos on the window of his study. The collection grows and grows.  Sadly "then, we lost Dad."

The boy and his mum take the final film to be developed - it is just one (important) photo.

I think the most poignant moment in the story comes when Dad has died and a box arrives in the mail with dad's handwriting on the label.  Inside is the camera.  Even through the fog of memory loss and dementia Dad has planned this special way to send a comforting message to the family he loves.  I also appreciate the honest of the emotions in this book for example when Mum becomes frustrated with the photo collection "she yelled at him".

One Photo has been shortlisted for our CBCA Awards.  You might like to read this review.  The illustrator Liz Anelli has made good use of the end papers.  The beginning images are all the usual family photos filled with people.  The final ones are the objects photographed by dad.  Another thing to notice is the tree outside their home.  At the beginning of the book it is covered in leaves - perhaps it is summer or spring.  By the end of the book the leaves have fallen and the garden is looking neglected but while this is a sad book is also a book about healing. There is a sense at the end that the boy and his mum will be okay - they will manage.

Here is an interview with the author Ross Watkins and here are a set of teacher notes.

When we explore this book with our students this term I plan to begin with the wonderful book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge as a way to talk about memories.

If you want to explore this complex topic with older students here are some other short novels to read.

Lofty's Mission by Krista Bell illustrated by David Miller

Today is ANZAC Day here in Australia and I have been reading books to share with my classes. I have decided to focus on winners of the Dickin Medal and in particular pigeons.  We have two splendid books which look at the war service of pigeons.  Lofty's Mission and Flapper, VC.

There are extensive notes at the end of this book and I have now done a lot of reading.  The Dickin Medal began in 1943 and is named after Maria Dickin.  It has now been awarded 67 times to 32 pigeons, 31 dogs, 4 horses and one cat.  The cat was called Simon and you can read more here.

Taking a close look at the medal.

The PDSA Dickin Medal is a large, bronze medallion bearing the words “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve” all within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and sky blue representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces.

Lofty's Mission begins with  the lines "No, Dad! Please don't take Lofty. I bred him to be a champion racer!' Tears trickled down Harley's cheeks."  Dad explains Lofty, or Number 371, is needed for war service in New Guinea. Lofty is taken to the jungle and given training. He is wounded but safely delivers his message across the battle lines.  Meanwhile little Harley contracts polio.  One day a parcel arrives containing the Dickin Medal.  Lofty is a hero. The ending of the book is so joyous as Lofty returns to his family in Australia and we see his son Nifty take flight.

Lofty's Mission has amazing paper sculpture illustrations by the talented David Miller.

Flapper, VC also explores the story of a brave Pigeon.

"Flapper, VC was inspired by the true story of Australian carrier pigeon D D43 Q879, who was awarded the Dickin Medal for 'Conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty'. It is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery."

Here are the teachers notes for Flapper, VC and Lofty's Mission.  You might also enjoy the movie Valiant.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

Connections ..

At the end of last term a number of my classes and I shared the wonderful book The Talking Eggs. Blanche, the hero of the story, goes to the house of the old woman and encounters multicoloured chickens that sing like nightingales.  I like finding connections like this.  We don't have nightingales here in Australia but I found this little film of one singing and it certainly is a beautiful sound.   The famous fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and in particular The Nightingale  is another interesting connection with The secret of Nightingale Wood.  On the 2nd April we celebrated the birthday of Hans Christian Anderson and copies of this fairly tale were part of my display.

"I had always been Henry, even though my full name was Henrietta Georgina Abbott. Maybe my parents wanted two boys.  Now that my brother Robert had gone, they had two girls. Just me and Piglet."

Listen to an audio sample read by the author herself from Chapter 8.  Here is a review well worth reading.  In this video the author talks about her book.

Lets start by looking at the names in this book :

Hope House - Little Henrietta does not stop hoping her mother will recover
Nightingale Wood - a place of mystery and magic
Helldon - the old lunatic asylum and a place that terrifies young Henry.

I read one review with the word atmospheric - the perfect word to describe this mysterious story. Henry with her mum, dad and new baby sister (nicknamed Piglet) have moved to Hope House - a long way from their original home in London.  Clearly there has been a tragedy.  Her brother Robert is dead but readers have to be patient to discover how this has happened. These events are slowly explained in a style reminiscent of The Secret Garden and Tom's Midnight Garden.  Almost as soon as they arrive at Hope House, Henry's father leaves.  The children are left in the care of Nanny Jane and a village lady called Mrs Berry who comes each day to cook their meals.  Father has also enlisted the help of the local doctor - Doctor Hardy.  Henry is immediately suspicious about his motives and methods and her fears are further confirmed when the doctor declares he intends to send Mrs Abbott to Helldon and carry off little baby Piglet to his own house.

"Dr Hardy's hands were fat and crushing, but his wife's were cold and scaly and her fingernails were thick, yellow claws.  I felt as if I had just shaken hands with a giant lizard."

Throughout this book there are references to classic children's stories, poetry and famous fairy tales.  Perhaps reading this book might inspire young readers to seek out these classics.

Here are a few :

  • The Railway Children
  • The Secret Garden
  • Wind in the Willows
  • The Owl and the Pussycat
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • Peter Pan
  • Treasure Island
  • Little Women

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Just about everything that happened to me that summer happened because of Winn-Dixie.

I am beyond excited that Kate KiCamillo will visit Sydney next month. And I am jumping up and down because twenty lucky students from my school will be able to hear her speak. I know I will be smiling right through the day just the way Winn-Dixie does in this book.

We are all reading (and in my case re-reading) as many of her books as we can squeeze in before this exciting Sydney Writer's Festival event.  If you cannot come to this event take a look at Kate's question and answers on her web site.

This morning I picked up Because of Winn-Dixie.  I first read this book 17 years ago and today I just loved it all over again.  This is a ten out of ten book!   I love books where lonely people are bought together and I can totally relate to Opal's relationship with her dog.  The name Winn-Dixie is so funny - I love to tell students in my library the origin of this name and I also mention the other funny American supermarket name The Piggly Wiggly which we read about when we talk about Rosa Parks.

There is so much quiet wisdom in this book.  Opal may be lonely and confused as to why her mother left when she was just three years old but her warmth, good humour, sense and gentle understanding of other people and herself work together to bring a group of other isolated people together.  In the end there is no need to be lonely any more and some true healing can begin.

Here are a few quotes from the book that I treasure :

"It's not hard to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor."

"All of a sudden, I felt happy. I had a dog. I had a job. I had Miss Franny Block for a friend. And I had my first invitation to a party in Naomi. It didn't matter that it came from a five-year-old and the party wasn't until September. I didn't feel so lonely anymore."

"Why don't you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so I can see you with my heart."

"He (the preacher) leaned way over and gave Winn-Dixie a kiss, too, right on top of his head."

Read some reviews
A 10-year old girl learns to adjust to a strange town, makes some fascinating friends, and fills the empty space in her heart thanks to a big old stray dog in this lyrical, moving, and enchanting book by a fresh new voice.

''Because of Winn-Dixie'' is a poignant and delicately told story of a dog as a child's much-needed best friend.
New York Times is almost impossible not to fall in love with Opal, a little girl who doesn’t understand why her mummy went away; a little girl with a heart that is big enough to fit everyone she meets, even if she doesn’t think so at first.
Kids Book Review

Here are a set of discussion questions.

I have talked about other Kate DiCamillo books on this blog - clearly I am a huge fan.

Here are alternate covers for Because of Winn Dixie and the movie jacket.  I also thoroughly recommend the movie - just perfect.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Loser by Jerry Spinelli

Books like Loser are very hard to read - emotionally - yet you will find yourself turning the pages perhaps, as I did, all in one sitting.  You will know early in the story, early in his life, Donald Zinkoff is destined to fail, to suffer awful bullying, to be utterly confused by other people. They even name him loser.  Zinkoff is almost oblivious to this pain but readers will feel it and feel it keenly.

"In many ways that teacher Biswell can see, the Z boy is a shambles.  ... He is even at odds with his own body. ... Hardly a day goes by when he does not fall flat on his face for no apparent reason."

Donald is not picked for sport teams, he accidentally ruins the class team's chance of winning on the school sport day, he is totally out of sync in the school band, he only scores low marks in class and he has nightmare handwriting but his parents love him unconditionally and, mostly, he does manage to embrace life despite the little chinks that appear from time to time.  I think many children should meet Zinkoff and perhaps walk a mile or two in his shoes - this might make our world a kinder place.

I think this is also an important book for teachers.  Spinelli paints a harsh picture of some teachers who cannot cope with this special boy but luckily in Year 4 he meets the wonderful Mr Yalowitz.

Loser is not a new book - it was first published in 2002.  I will share it with one of our teachers who is planning a unit of work around the book Wonder.  Loser seems better suited to her middle primary group.  You can read a sample of the story here.

I do like the honest writing style of Jerry Spinelli - especially Stargirl and Jake and Lilly.

Here are some reviews with more plot details :

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

All I want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke illustrated by Megan Forward

All I want for Christmas is Rain is so obviously an Australian story.  We have Christmas in the Summer. Australia is one of the driest continents. Our farmers have to cope with such weather extremes - drought, flood, fire but eventually rain does come and the landscape revives.  This book is a celebration of the renewal and relief rain can bring.  The CBCA have selected this book for the Early Childhood award short list.

The text is told as a rhyme :

My mission was clear - I had hatched a great plan:
I would ask for help from the great bearded man.

I love the perspective in the illustration where we see Jane talking with Santa.  She looks so small yet so self assured.  Santa looks huge but somehow also soft like a pillow.  Make sure you show a class the end papers. Brown at the beginning and green at the end - a celebration of the change wrought by rain.  The illustrations are the real strength of this book.

When rain does come on Christmas morning the presents can wait. It is time for the whole family to run outside and dance.

Cori Brooke and Megan Forward both have web sites worth exploring. Perhaps not coincidentally they both live in Queensland.  Cori has had two books published and Megan has three.  You can watch a video of Megan and Cori talking about the way they approached this book.  You might like to read this review.

We will also look at some other fabulous books about rain.

When you read this book with a class it would be good to compare the illustrations and story line with two other Australian books on the same theme of rain at Christmas time.

The patchwork bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke and Van T Rudd

I found learning to ride a bike was very difficult.  I know this was because I am so uncoordinated. Huge thanks to my patient dad who spent hours 'holding on' while I wobbled down a traffic-free and straight wide road near our house. My bike was brand new unlike this bike made from bits and pieces of found materials.  Patchwork seems to be the perfect name.  Riding this bike is such a joy for these children who ride under the stretching-out sky and live near the no-go desert.

  • Their bike can shicketty shake over sandhills.
  • The wood-cut wheels winketty wonk through fields.
  • It can bumpetty bump through the village.

It will be fun to act all this out with our younger children riding our imaginary bikes around the library landscape.  With older children we will have discussions about poverty, recycling, wealth, material possessions, drought and developing nations.

The Patchwork Bike has been short listed for our CBCA 2017 awards.

The illustrations in this book have been painted on cardboard and then photographed.  I know the children will think they can actually feel the corrugated bumps.  I especially like the paint smudges on the end papers - they give a sense of movement, racing those bikes as fast as they can go.

The setting for this book is gently revealed.

  • The narrator lives in a village.
  • His home has mud walls.
  • There is just one tree in the no-go desert.
  • His mum looks like this :

It will be a joy this term to read books about bikes and bike riding. We have a good collection and I have this little bike made in Africa and sold at a Oxfam shops.  It is about 10cm long.

You can see more books about bicycles on this Pinterest Collection made by my friend from Kinderbookswitheverything.

If I was reading The Patchwork bike with a senior class or even a High School group we might also explore The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al Mansour.  With a younger group you might dip into the series about the No. 1 Car spotter by Atinuke and compare the setting.  With all classes we will also look at Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams along with this video.

You can read more about the author in this article from The Australian newspaper.  Van T Rudd is a street artist - I wonder how he came to illustrate this book?  His web site would be good to explore with a High School class and yes he is related to our former PM Kevin Rudd.

Take a look at these reviews :

Kids Book Review
The Patchwork Bike is a keeper, not only for the sheer joy of story but also for the conversations it will trigger: about life in Africa, the irrepressible joy of children despite their lack of commercial possessions and the satisfaction of recycling.

Children's Books Daley
 the resolution of the printing is so sharp that after multiple readings I still run my fingers over the paint and corrugated card, sure that I’ll feel the texture.

Here are some of the books we will explore alongside The Patchwork Bike.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A most magical girl by Karen Foxlee

"the Morever Wand must be retrieved form its hidden resting place in Under London by the youngest and most able member of the society; preferably, a most magical girl."

A most magical girl is short listed for our CBCA Awards this year.  I am fairly sure it will receive a prize - yes it is that good.  You will feel at times that you are drowning in a cold underground river, crawling into tiny spaces, hiding from an enormous hungry dragon and smelling the rotting food hoarded by trolls.  You will also grimace as the evil maniac Mr. Angel feeds his Dark-Magic extracting machine all manner of sadness and horror from the fog filled streets of Victorian London.

You can read about the plot of this book on some of the links to reviews below.  I thought it might be more useful if I share some text quotes which will show you aspects of this writing.

Detailed character descriptions :

Kitty - "Her head was held low, a furious frown upon her face, and there was not an inch of tidiness to her. Her wet black curls were tied roughly with a piece of twine, and a brown leaf dangled on a strand beside her ear."

Mr. Angel the wizard - "He had very dark eyes, which were sad, probably the saddest eyes she had ever seen, with very long lashes. He had a largish nose and a mouth that was rather lopsided, one side sneering, one side melancholy. ... He was sad and lonely-looking. He was wicked-looking."

"three shadowlings ... dreadful things, made of nothing yet brimming with wickedness, sleeping shadows bought to life with his dark magic."

All manner of smells permeate this story :

"Hafwen smelled of the earth and unwashed clothes and deep dark places, and for reasons Annabel did not understand, this was comforting."

You can really see the scenes and I do think this book would make a fabulous movie :

"It was a mean street, the buildings leaning, holding each other up like a mouthful of rotten teeth."

"Outside, she could hear London : horses' hooves and carriage wheels, the lowing of cattle and ... somewhere, someone wailing."

"Then the broomstick stopped. ... Then it shot forward at great speed. ... It hurled through a church nave door and careered back out again. It skidded beneath a bridge. It fishtailed between factory smokestacks. ... It hit the window, and the glass fell apart in great shards around them ... "

Little touches of humor:

"Surely they shouldn't be outside in such weather.  She'd catch a cold and take ill. A physician would be called for, and he'd say that nothing could be done.  Her story would be serialized in the Illustrated London News ... There would be illustrations."

"Annabel had played shuttlecock with Isabelle Rutherford ... Surely hitting a light orb was no different."

Chapter Headings 

One of the parts of this book that I absolutely adore are the little chapter headings - quotes from Miss Finch's Little Blue Book (1855).

"A young lady rises early, opens her windows, and delights in the pleasures of an industrious day." Chapter 2

"In education, geography is harmless, but too much history and politics can lead to a quarrelsome nature." Chapter 5

"No matter the heat, a young lady shall not remove her gloves in the ballroom." Chapter 17

The idea of drawing the map of Under London on Annabel's skin is also ingenious.

Here is a little warning.  At about page 270 I realised everything was not going to be resolved for Annabel and her wonderful betwixter friend Kitty and that I was going to have to wait for the sequel. I do hope Karen Foxlee has a plan for this but I cannot find any details yet.

I have already talked about Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. I think A most magical girl is an even better book.  The tension is well maintained and the plot keeps moving swiftly. You will cheer for Annabel as she overcomes huge obstacles and shows great kindness especially towards the little troll Hafwen.

There are three double page illustrations in this book which mark the sections as the Dark Magic Gauge gains power.  I really like these dark illustrations and the front cover by Canadian Elly MacKay.

After reading A most magical girl I recommend you look for The book without Words, A very unusual pursuit, Barnaby Grimes and the curse of the night wolf, and Rooftoppers.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sparrow girl by Sara Pennypacker illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

In our library sessions last term my senior classes explored a number of picture books with an Asian setting.  With each book we looked in detail at the author's inspiration, other works by the author and illustrator, background information about the story (many of which were based around real events and people) and took time to talk about cover images and book design.

One of the books that elicited the most discussion was Sparrow Girl.  Just like my students, I had no idea Mao declared war on sparrows along with rats, flies and mosquitoes.  This time was called the four pests campaign.  It is easy to understand the science of why this had such terrible effect. Killing 30 billion sparrows led to a catastrophic famine leaving 30-40 million people dead.  Here are a set of lesson notes for this book.  For more information about this book read this review.

Before reading this book we talked briefly about Mao and his ideas and then watched this short. but disturbing film from Germany where you can see people beating drums and killing the sparrows.

"They're like teardrops. The sky is crying birds." - Ming-Li

The hero of this fictional account by Sara Penny Packer is little Ming-Li.  She cannot understand why the sparrows are considered bad.  With her brother's help she rescues just seven precious birds.  The crops fail.  Ming-Li tells her father her secret.  She has saved a handful of sparrows.

"Your daughter brings us a miracle!' ... From this day, sparrows will be safe in our village. And we will tell everyone we meet from other villages about the wisdom of the Sparrow Girl."

Sara Pennypacker is the author of the terrific junior series Clementine and also the books about Stuart along with the wonderful senior novel Pax.  Yoko Tanaka has done many books but one we are reading at the moment is The Magician's Elephant as we prepare for the visit by Kate DiCamillo to our city next month.

Over the next few days I will talk about some of the other books we explored this term.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Jolly Regina - The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters by Kara LaReau illustrated by Jen Hill

"After all, they left us alone for all these years.  Then they gave us to pirates, which was almost fun, until we almost died. I don't know much about parents, but I have a feeling ours aren't exemplary"

In this book you will meet twins Jaundice and Kale Bland.  They live in Dullsville.  Jaundice wears gray and Kale wears brown. Their daily routine is exactly the same each day.  Oatmeal and tea for breakfast, a ten minute lunch break to eat a cheese sandwich with a glass of flat soda and an evening spent reading the dictionary.

"Kale is seldom seen without her backpack, in which she currently carries Dr. Nathaniel Snoote's Illustrated Children's Dictionary ... (this) is the Bland sisters' favorite reading material, and their main source of education."

Along with word definitions (many of which appear as chapter headings in this tale of wild women pirates, high seas adventures and dangerous situations) the dictionary also has informative Sidebars with extra information such as how to sew.  The girls have set up a business of darning other people's socks.  Are you wondering about the parents?  Well they left on an errand and have not been seen for several years.

As the book opens a kidnapper arrives and the girls are caught in a burlap sack.  Kale loves burlap but after travelling in this sack she decides it is quite chafing. When the girls are finally released they find themselves on a pirate ship - The Jolly Regina with her all women crew - Deadly Delilah the Captain, Lefty the first mate with her hook hand, Peg who has one leg, Millie Mudd the lookout and Fatima the cook.

There are quite a few laughs in this book and some clever vocabulary.  It might be a good family read-a-loud but be warned adults will laugh (especially at all the puns) and this may leave a younger audience puzzled.   Chapters begin with words like tepid, predicament, paraphernalia, bereft and vehemence.

Here are some examples of the words you will encounter in the text -

  • left to run an errand of unspecified nature
  • relative peril
  • surmised
  • sundries
  • the distinct, briny aroma of the ocean

I recommend reading this detailed and thoughtful review by Jen Robinson and one from Kirkus.  This book is also available from iTunes and I may use this version with one of our classes this year so everyone can see the perfect little illustrations scattered throughout the text.

You can also read the inspiration for this book by Kara LaReau.  This is the first book in the series. The second which you can see here will be published next year.   A big thank you to my local bookshop for introducing me to this rollicking adventure.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Out by Angela May George and Owen Swan

Out is a very special book and it has been listed for our CBCA Book of the Year Awards.  The text of Out is both spare and profound.  Take a line like this :

"some days, when there's a loud bang, I drop to the floor."  You might like to compare this with a with The Long Journey which is a fabulous documentary which I use with our senior classes each year.  There is so much to discuss about why the little girl is so afraid.  We only know the little girl has "seen horrible things."

One of the things we will do this book is think about the title.


  • Feeling outside your new community
  • Moving out away from your home and friends
  • Surviving the journey out to a new land
  • Facing the fear of being out on the open deck of a boat
  • Time without her father
  • Camping outside while they hide from men with guns

Here is a set of teaching notes.  You might like to read this review in Reading Time.

We will read this book to our Grade 3-6 classes and with the older groups we will compare this text with My Two Blankets, Ziba came by Boat, the 2016 Picture Book Winner Flight by Nadia Wheatley and Stefiana's dancing slippers.  We will also look at our books illustrated by Owen Swan - Anzac Biscuits, Newspaper hats, Hide and seek, Lilli Pilli the Frog Princess and Mr friend Tertius.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Paper Faces by Rachel Anderson

I keep reading about school libraries where fiction collections are being heavily culled and yes we have done this at my school but I do worry about little treasures like this one - Paper Faces.  This book has been in our school library for 12 years but it was first published in 1991.  Our copy is printed on great paper and shows no signs of yellowing and the cover is in good shape too. I am glad it has not been culled.  Perhaps by writing about it here it will be saved into the future.

I recommended this book to a young student the other day and then when it was returned I thought I should re-read this book which I remembered enjoying many years ago.  I sat down, read and read and lifted my head when I reached the last page.  This is such a terrific book set in London just as the war ends.

This story is told through the eyes and with the voice of six year old Dorothy (Dot).  She is living with her mum in the basement of a boarding house.  Her father has not returned from the war.  To Dot he seems to be a strange and frightening figure.

As the story opens Dot and her mum are celebrating the end of the war.  On this day they break their daily routine and do not visit the hospital to see Dot's baby brother. A few weeks later the baby dies and Dot thinks this is because they missed their visit - really it is due to pneumonia.  Gloria takes Dot to the country to visit the home where they were evacuated at the beginning of the war.  Dot has no memory of the earlier visit.  It is in this home that Dot finds genuine warmth and love and some really good food.  Back in London she has only been fed twice a day on stale bread and dripping. Dot becomes ill and after a short stay in hospital, which she finds terrifying, she is sent back to the aptly named Mrs Hollidaye.  It is only Mrs Hollidaye who actually speaks to Dot and who tries to answer her questions.  Gloria is so preoccupied with her own life.

Food is such a comfort in this book.  Mrs Hollidaye offers Dot a delicious breakfast on her first morning :

"On the table was a vase of flowers, a square honeycomb oozing liquid honey from its wax holes onto the dish, three jars of jam, each one a different colour of dark red and a jug with a muslin cloth over the top."

Here is the Kirkus review. Paper Faces won the Guardian Children's book Award in 1992.

I would follow this book by reading Vinnie's War and The war that saved my life.

Take a look at all the different covers for this book.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Home in the rain by Bob Graham

Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
John Updike

I am so happy that Bob Graham has a book listed for our CBCA Awards.  Home in the Rain has been shortlisted in the Picture Book of the Year category.  I love exploring Bob Graham books with our classes and short listing gives me the perfect excuse to include all my favourite titles from his extensive book list.

I have talked about Bob Graham in previous posts

Take a minute to view this little film about Bob Graham.

In this new book Home in the Rain little Francie sets off with mum travelling home from Grandma's house in their old car and driving through torrential rain.  Here is a connection.  Frances was a name Bob used in his book First there was Frances (1985).  Bob also loves to include wild animals in his stories.  In this book you will find rabbits, ducks, a kestrel and a mouse. It reminded me of The Wild (1986). Bob Graham also enjoys exploring the minutiae of life and the things that happen in a short span of time - we saw this in his book How the sun got to Coco's house and also in Vanilla Ice-cream.  In this new book the whole action takes place over just a couple of hours - time it takes to drive home and stop for a little car picnic along the way.

I really like the way Bob Graham gives emotional qualities to the little red car.  My little blue car has these qualities.

"The little red car seemed to muster all of its courage as it waited outside, ready for the road."
"The little car, now full of courage, bumped off down the road, the windows rolled down and wind rushing through."

Bob Graham has won so many important awards.  You can see a list here.  Click here for Walker teacher notes for Home in the Rain.

When we read this book next term we will explore condensation, oil rainbows and also read some picture books about rain including these below.  My friend at Kinderbooks also has some great suggestions for this topic in response to all the rain we have had here recently.

It will also be good to explore some of books about waiting for a new baby such as these :

The quote at the top of this post is taken from the dedication and comes from "A soft night in Shillington" taken from Self-consciousness: Memoirs by John Updike 1989.

Here are extracts reviews you might like to read :

Bob Graham has a magical touch with his books - both with the delicate illustrations, his use of changing perspectives and his beautiful, measured use of just the right words.  Here is the part of the text I love :

"Perhaps it was something unremarkable, not to be seen by strangers passing in the rain. For it was just a mum lost in thought and a small girl dancing."

This is just as special and the famous quote from Max which might be applied to Bob Graham himself :

 ‘Let’s call him a small hero doing quiet deeds. The world needs more of those.’

The thing about jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

As humans we constantly seek answers.  When someone dies, especially a younger person, we want to know why and how and most importantly was there something we should have done to prevent this.

Franny and Suzy had been friends since elementary school.  One day her mum calls her inside and says "Franny Jackson drowned."  Suzy is obsessed by numbers.  These are just three words but these words begin a tumultuous internal dialogue which sees Suzy trying to make peace with her childhood 'friend' and her own mistakes of the past.

"None of it made sense. Not then, and not later that night when the Earth dipped toward the stars. Not the next morning when it rolled back around to sunlight again."

Suzy needs answers so she turns to science she also decides to become silent.  Her self imposed silence means finding the answer to this tragedy become very one sided.  There is no one to collaborate with - no other view points.  Suzy is utterly convinced the culprit is the Irukandji jellyfish and so her scientific mind sets about intensive research to find everything she can about this mysterious creature - hence the title 'The thing about jellyfish.'

The class have to present a science talk on a topic of their own choice.  Each chapter of The thing about Jellyfish begins with an aspect of the scientific method their teacher Mrs Turton expects them to use.  One day she shows the class a set of pictures of earth seen from space.

"Here I was, just one out of seven billion people, and people were just one species out of ten million and those ten million were just a tiny fraction of all the species that ever existed, and somehow all of fit onto that fleck of brown dust on the screen. And we were surrounded by nothingness."

There are three narratives in this story shown with different fonts. The present action where we read about Suzy, her family and her jellyfish research, childhood scenes in happier times when Suzy and Franny were best friends and the recent past when pressures of the peer group and feelings of alienation wrecked everything for Suzy.  The scenes where Franny's new friends reject Suzy and Suzy's own social confusions are quite confronting.

One of the bloggers I follow is Mrs Yingling and the part of her reviews I really appreciate is her final comment "What I really think".

So what do I really think about The thing about Jellyfish.   I knew I would cry in this book but really the tears were not a result of my deep emotional connection with Suzy and her terrible experience of the death of a close friend.  I admire her drive, her attention to detail and her deep research but I remain a little confused about Suzy.  I felt she may be on the autism spectrum because she was so obsessive about numbers and details and so confused by social situations but the final scenes made me revise this idea.  I am sure this is a book that readers over 12 will enjoy and perhaps relate to especially as they navigate their confusion with identity and peer expectations.

My big problem with this book, though,  is with the suggested readership. The New York Times says 9-12.  I totally disagree.  I think this is for very mature senior primary students but really it is even more suitable for junior High School students.  There are references in this book to same sex relationships and after an especially awful scene Suzy, who is twelve, finds her period has started. In contrast Kirkus say 12+ and I agree with this.

Here is an interview with the author.  You might also enjoy Counting by 7s and True (sort of).