Friday, June 30, 2017

The truth of me by Patricia MacLachlan

The truth of me
About a boy, his grandmother,
a very good dog

There are so many aspects of this story that I loved. The boy, his dog, the grandmother, her neighbor, the music, the woods, the food and most off the powerful emotions which are explored here.  I just sighed with happiness when I was reading this slim (114pages) volume.  It was an easy decision to feature this book as my 1000 post.

Robbie is a young boy who possesses amazing wisdom especially about the adults in his life.  His mother is the leader of a string group called the Allegro Quartet.  I imagine they might look like this group who you will see here playing Schubert String Quartet 14 - Death and the Maiden.  This music is very well known by Robbie - it is a piece his mother regularly performs.

"My parents are musicians. My mother, I think, likes her violin better than she likes me. At least she spends more time with her violin than with me."

Robbie is really named Robert.  In his family all the men have been named Robert.  Thank goodness for his precious grandmother who calls him Robbie and her friend Henry who calls him Kiddo.  With his grandmother, Robbie finds the love he needs for himself and for his dog.  His mother seems cold and distant as though Robert is a issue or a nuisance to be dealt with and perhaps less important than replacing musicians in her quartet.

Robbie and his dog Ellie are sent to stay with Maddy (his grandmother) while his mother and father travel for a concert tour.

"Maddy's house is like the house in Little Bear, one of my favorite books when I was little. It is a cottage with whitewashed plaster walls, big colorful braided rugs, lots of bookshelves, a fireplace and overstuffed chairs."

Henry, the local doctor, lives nearby.  Henry watches over Maddy because she is becoming a little forgetful.  Henry seems to have taken over the cooking for Maddy.  Robbie knows she also tells stories about her relationship with the wild animals of the forest but he is wise enough not to share this with his parents.

"There are many things I don't tell my parents. Many things I don't say out loud. That means there are many things rolling around inside my head."

Henry explains to Robbie about small truths.  He tells Robbie he will have his own small truth by the end of the summer. "He reaches over to tap my hand.  It's only a small tap, but it's comforting."  This beautiful image will linger with me a long time.  The truth Robbie discovers is not small - it is important and it gives him a way to understand his mother.  In the final scene Robbie can finally tell his mother, out loud, that he loves her.

You can and should read a chapter sample here.  I don't usually talk about this but if you cannot find a print copy of The truth of me it is available on iTunes.

You might like to read other books by Patricia MacLachlan - I highly recommend all of them.

I would follow The truth of me with The boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech and Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

Robbie’s quietly affecting observations will feel like truth  Kirkus

This poignant story celebrates how our unique “small truths” make each of us magical and brave in our own ways.  Kids Reads

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Post 999 What I am reading

I excited to report that I have almost reached my goal of 1000 blog reviews.  In late 2008 when I started this blog I set a target of four reviews each month and thought I might reach 1000 by the end of 2018 - so you can see I am ahead of my target.

I am so glad I started this blog as a way to record my thoughts about the books I read, as a way to focus my reading, and as a way to gather associated resources to support teachers and students who might read a post and then want to explore a title a little further through audio samples, reviews or teaching ideas.  It is also a great memory jogger when I forget a title.

One exciting part of this blog (for me) has been the occasional comment from a real author - Sharon Creech, Barbara O'Connor, Elizabeth Winthrop, Kate Wilkinson, Uma Krishnaswami, Susan White, Raewyn Caisley, John Light, Frances Watts, Hazel Hutchins, Adam Selzer, Lian Tanner, Melissa Thomson and Pamela Freeman.

It is also very special when I meet a colleague or acquaintance and they tell me they enjoy reading this blog.  One special friend has greatly helped when she tells me I seem to have been a little quiet. This spurs me on to get writing.

My reading pile is always huge as I work in a well resourced school library here in Australia. The students and teachers in my school are also lucky to have access to an extensive and very rich library collection.  I was listening to Leigh Hobbs (Mr Chicken etc) today and he talked again about the vital importance of school libraries.

"I'm appalled at the continuing disappearance from schools of Libraries and Librarians as well the diminishing presence of art and music from the primary (in particular) school curriculum. As Australian Children's Laureate 2016-2017 I am passionate about, and convinced of, the value of School Libraries and fully trained Librarians, and art and music as being an invaluable part of a child's life at school." Leigh Hobbs

Here are a few of the titles on my current reading pile :

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I was so completely absorbed in the first installment The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  I have been waiting to open this sequel because I was a little worried it might not be quite as good but now I have read the first two chapters and I am once again immersed in the world of Callie Vee.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Kirkus say this is a page turning adventure.  It is a long book with small print so I will need a long stretch of time to tackle this one but luckily our school winter holiday is about to begin.

Here is a quote from the blurb "Twelve-year-old Katherine Bateson believes in a logical explanation for everything. But even she can't make sense of the strange goings-on at Rookskill Castle, the draft old Scottish castle-turned-school where she and her siblings have been sent to escape the London Blitz."

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr

I will confess this has been on my reading pile several times and then I feel guilty and take it back to school.  Now that it has been shortlisted for our CBCA awards for 2017 I do need to settled down and read this one.  I have started this book a few times but others tell me it is a gripping read.

Here is a quote from the blurb : "The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly."

When Friendship followed me home by Paul Griffin

Kirkus says magical and uplifting.  The covers of this book are covered in endorsements and it was featured on a number of prestigious reading lists in 2016.

Here is a quote from the blurb : "Ben Coffin has never felt like he fits in. ... All that changes when he finds a scruffy abandoned dog named Flip."

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L Holm

When I read Turtle in Paradise I wanted to stand at the top of a mountain and tell everyone about this wonderful story so I am looking forward to another book by Jennifer L Holm.

Here is a quote from the blurb : "Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He's bossy. He's cranky. And weirdly enough ... he looks a lot like Ellie;s grandfather, a scientist, who's always been slightly obsessed with immortality."

My 1000th post will feature a beautiful and heartwarming book by Patricia McLachlan - The truth of me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Beetle Queen by MG Leonard

I don't want to live an ordinary life. I'm not good at it.  ... 
Adventures are tough but that's the point of them isn't it?  - Virginia

It is absolutely essential to read the first installment Beetle Boy before you pick up Beetle Queen.  I read Beetle Boy in April but I did need to really concentrate and draw on my memory as I read this second book.  There is very little opportunity to recap the past because MG Leonard dives straight into the action.

Lucretia Cutter has a shocking plan to conquer the earth.  She will make her big announcement at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.  The attention of the crowd will be caught by two very special gowns she has made for two nominee actresses.  When you read about them, though, you will quite rightly be very suspicious.  These are not just glamorous dresses :

"I call my creation Snow White because it is made from the purest white substance to be found in the natural world. ... it's made of beetles ... The extreme whiteness comes from a thin layer of reflective photonic solid on its scales."

Have you guessed about these beetles? The actress leaves having agreed to tell no one about the gown she will be given on the day of the awards.  Read on :

"The dress, hanging in the open trunk, shimmered and vibrated like it was coming apart, suddenly exploding into a whirlwind of movement as thousands of specially bred Cyphochilus beetles flew out of their fastenings and swarmed around Lucretia ... "

The dress deception is only the beginning.  Lucretia has huge plans using the beetles she now controls.  Our heroes Darkus, Virginia, Bertolt and Uncle Max know Lucretia is up to no good.  They discover she is planning to burn down beetle mountain and they race to save their friends but sadly the friends are too late.   They arrive and witness the death of thousands of beetles.  These scenes will leave you as heart-broken as Darkus but this also makes them all the more determined to stop this evil 'woman'.

In this second book you will also discover more about Novak and again some of this is quite awful. When you pick up this book read pages 165-168.

You can read the first chapter here or listen to the author reading here. Here is a very detailed review.  Playing by the Book have some good ideas to take this book even further.

One of the things I loved about Beetle Boy was the edge of the pages which were covered with beetles. I now read the first 2000 copies of Beetle Queen had yellow ladybirds on the edge - wish my copy had this :

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The storm whale in winter by Benji Davies

Noi could not forget his friend.

My countdown has begun.  The Storm Whale in Winter is post 997!  I am close to my target of 1000 reviews.

The Storm Whale in Winter is the companion book to The Storm Whale so you might like to start by reading my thoughts.  Then find this first book so you understand the sequel.  I love the work of Benji Davies and this new book is just as perfect as the first.  We have nine books illustrated by Benji in our school library.  Read an interview here.

Winter has come. Noi's dad sets off on hist last trip of the season but he fails to return home. The sea is frozen hard so Noi walks out onto the ice holding only a tiny lantern with snow falling all around. It seems all is lost when he glimpses his father's boat but it is empty. Noi climbs on board and falls into an exhausted sleep. What Noi does not know is that his old friend is close by - under the sea. The storm whale and his friends work together to push Noi back to the safety of the harbour.

Something to discuss with a class.  Look at the little boat and then look at the changes that are made in the Summer.  This would be a great book for a father and son to share.  You can see more art from this book here.

The bookshop girl by Sylvia Bishop illustrated by Ashley Bishop

"You have in your hands the story of Property Jones. I hope your copy smells of something nice - like crisp paper, 
or that churchy second-hand-book smell ... "

Property Jones is The Bookshop Girl but how did she get such a strange name?  This little girl, with special talents, was left in a bookshop when she was five years old.  Michael Jones, who was ten at the time, found her and put her in the lost property cupboard. She ended up staying with Michael and his mother Netty - the owner of the bookshop and so this story begins.  Oh and yes the name stuck.

The biggest secret you need to know about Property is that, while she does love her family and her life in a bookshop, she cannot read.  Michael and Netty do not know about this.  The family enter a competition to win a new bookshop!  Amazing.  The prize shop is called Montgomery Book Emporium.  It is filled with rooms which reflect the books inside.  This is such a great idea.  Here is the space adventures room :

"painted all over in deep indigo, speckled with twinkling lights. The books hanging from fine threads to that they almost seemed to be floating in mid-air."

Here is the room of woodland tales :

"which had a pine needle floor, and kept its books in trees, where there were actual living mice and birds."

The mystery -  why has Albert Montgomery given away such an amazing shop.  The answer comes the very next day with the arrival of a criminal called Mr Gimble, his accomplice Eliot Pink and a group of henchmen called the Wollups.  It seems Mr Montgomery owes money them money, forty-three million pounds, for a play actually written by the hand of Shakespeare.  Property will need to get to the bottom of this.  It is true she cannot read but she has extremely well developed powers of observation.  Something is not quite right. The writing and ink look fine but the paper and smells are wrong.  This crime is just the tip of an iceberg.  Michael and Property uncover the whole scam and everyone spends a delightful evening modifying these supposedly original manuscripts.  Here is an example of their additions :

  • Sacred book of 12th Century monks containing the opening scene from Star Wars
  • Ancient philosopher Aristotle claims the meaning of life is a deep-pan pizza
  • Cleopatra had a pet T-Rex called Nigel

Here is a review from The Guardian and a five star review from Books for Keeps.  I also need to mention the illustrations in this book are perfect.  Here is a review by Ms Yingling.

You can see the US cover below.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

What do you do with an idea? Written by Kobi Yamada illustrated by Mae Besom

What do you do with an idea? Especially an idea that's different or daring, or just a little wild?  Do you hide it? Walk away from it? Do you pretend it isn't yours?

These are two very special books you could use with any class from the youngest to oldest children. In the first book What do you do with an idea? we see a little boy and his growing idea.

"I was afraid that if people saw it, they would laugh at it. I was afraid they would think it was silly."

This is a gentle book with themes of mindfulness, problem solving, resilience, perseverance, and the power of the individual.  Here is a set of excellent discussion questions.  This book is would also be useful for class work on visual literacy as we watch the colours gently progress from sepia to warm sunshine.

What do you do with a problem? is a more complex book.  You could pair this with Mr Huff.

"I worried about what would happen. I worried about what could happen. I worried about this and worried about that."

When the boy finally confronts his problem he discovers it was not what he thought.  He reverses his view and sees the problem as an opportunity and again the final pages are filled with warm colours.

Here is a detailed review and a video of What do you do with an idea?  and a Nerdy Book Club review. Here is the Kirkus review of the companion volume What do you do with a problem?

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Vegetable Thieves by Inga Moore

First off I do need to give a little warning here.  You probably won't find a copy of The Vegetable Thieves.  It is long out of print and unlikely to be held in a public library or even a school library.  All of this makes me sad but I do want to share this book with you.

One of the wonders of the Internet is book shopping and especially second hand book shopping. From time to time I have thought about The Vegetable Thieves (1983) which I first read and enjoyed in 1985. I decided to see if I could find a copy somewhere in the world.  Tonight my copy (in mint condition) arrived.  It even smells good.

Inga Moore was born in England, lived in Australia and then moved back to England.  A very popular book in our school library is Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore and I still read two of her earliest books occasionally - Aktil's big Swim and Aktil's bicycle ride.  I also really love The truffle hunter. More recently Inga Moore has illustrated Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden.

Des and Letty work very hard in their market garden.  It is successful but the personal price is high.  Every night they collapse exhausted - there isn't even time for a stroll home after the movies.

"Then one night, thieves came.  ... By the end of the week they'd taken two cauliflowers, six swedes, a string of onions, a sack of potatoes, leeks, parsley and a very large savoy cabbage."

Can you guess the recipe?  Can you imagine the identity of these thieves.  I do think you will get a surprise and since you probably won't be able to find this book I will tell you.  Des and Letty try to keep watch but after another hard day they fall asleep.  When they wake up they see a trail of empty broad bean pods.  They follow the trail and discover a group of mice eating broad beans, "done up nicely in leek and parsley sauce!"

Des and Letty are outraged.  They burst in with their sticks raised.  Only to discover the thieves are actually children.  They have no parents and they uncle has run off to join the circus.  The children's money has run out so they have been pinching things.

Letty makes a plan.  Rona, Reggie, Ronnie, Sid and Rita come to the market garden the next day after school.  They help with all the garden chores and Letty cooks a lovely dinner of pumpkin pie, bean hotpot and (I love the sound of this) steamed strawberry pudding.  The four little mice go home but the next day they turn up again on the doorstep with all their belongings.  The final illustration shows the whole group enjoying an evening game of shuttlecock - just charming.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The girl of glass by Holly Webb

The Girl of Glass is such a difficult book to categorize.  It is a story about the use of magic. Mariana's father is able to add magic to the glass pieces he makes.  This is also a story about family relationships and deep grief.  Some reviews I have seen say age 9+ but I think this book would suit a more mature senior primary student who is ready to cope with the final scenes which I won't spoil here.  It is also a story about loyalty, gifts and talents and family expectations.

Mariana lives with her father, step mother and little sister  Eliza. Sadly Eliza is gravely ill and no remedy, and they have tried so many, seems able to cure her.  Mariana loves her tiny fragile sister but one day she dies :

"Eliza smiled again, and then the awareness faded out of her eyes, leaving them lifeless, emptier than the shards of blue glass in the spoils bin downstairs.  Marina's father leaned over, and held the bubble of molten glass to Eliza's mouth, in time to catch her last faint sighing breath."

This breath is then used to give life to a glass doll made to look exactly like Eliza.  This doll, however, is not Eliza and so she is rejected by Mariana's mother.  There are several violent scenes where Bianca, in her grief, lashes out at this strange glass creature.  Mariana, however, loves her glass sister.  She is not really a copy of Eliza.  She is a creature with her own needs and opinions. Their father finally realizes he has been cruel when he made this creature and so he sells the glass doll to a wealthy neighbour.  Now it is up to Mariana to rescue her new sister.

I did enjoy The girl of glass but I also found it oddly disturbing.  It seemed difficult to imagine how this book might end.  Being made of glass means Eliza is surely destined to break.  Again I don't want to spoil the ending.  I do find books about dolls are often quite disturbing.  I am thinking of books like Doll Bones, The Doll (After Dark series) and Coraline.  The Girl of Glass reminded me of Tilt which is a book I read quite recently.  Mariana has huge artistic abilities but her father will not accept this.  In his view only boys can work with glass.  This issue of sex-role stereotypes was also a theme of Tilt but with a more positive outcome for Netta.

This book is one of four set in Magical Venice and I am now keen to read the other titles : The maskmaker's Daughter, The water horse and The mermaids sister.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Too many friends Kathryn Apel

Not for lunch

'Maybe Lucy
would like to sit
with us
for lunch today,'
I say 
as we collect lunch boxes
from our schoolbags.
'She always seems so

Yes Too many friends is a new verse novel (I adore them) but before I tell you about this brilliant book I am going to make a big call and say surely this book will be short listed for our CBCA awards in 2018.  Yes it really is that good.

Tahnee is in Year Two. She has lots of friends and enjoys school but she is also keenly aware of the different personalities in her class and is especially sensitive to the feelings of outsiders like Lucy.

The class have a most wonderful teacher with the perfect name Miss Darling.  "She smiles a lot and wears colourful clothes with spots and stripes and swirly patterns. ...  (She) smiles as she moves around the room like sunshine chasing rainbows. Miss Darling makes school exciting."

You will read about class relationships, projects, team work and a wonderful whole class writing idea. Meanwhile Tahnee has a birthday to plan and she hopes Lucy will come along.  The birthday theme is The Show.  Dad is such a good sport allowing the kids to throw wet sponges - Duck Dad.  The food is perfect too - hotdogs, pizza, fairy floss, slushies, hot chips, popcorn, corn on the cob and cupcakes along with little old fashioned party games like pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey.  Things are not perfect all the time, though.  Making new friends can mean old friends feel left out or worse they reject their friends. Tahnee has to find a way to bring everyone back together.

Read this review for more details.  I rarely give ratings but I give this book five stars out of five.  I would follow this book with Where I live by Eileen Spinelli, Sixth Grade Style Queen Not! by Sherryl Clark and Pookie Aleera is not my boyfriend by Steven Herrick.

Too Many Friends is realistic—a finely nuanced story that gently reminds us of the positive effects of openhearted kindness and compassion. A welcome addition to our Australian fiction, it is credible and uplifting with nary a trace of didacticism.  Gleebooks

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wisher and the runaway piglet Georgie Adams

I have just spent the last week listening to the audio book of Wisher and the Runaway piglet the first book in the series Railway Rabbits.  It was such a delight to listen to this story briefly each day. Kate O'Sullivan does an excellent narration and seems to easily change so many character voices. Listen to an audio sample here.

Last year one of our students read Wisher and the Runaway piglet and she recommended it to me. I love it when this happens.  The young reader wondered if there were more books in the series. Together we looked inside the back cover and discovered there are eight more books so we have now added them to our library.

As this first story opens Barley is anxiously waiting for the arrival of his new babies.  Mellow has sent him off and while he waits looking at the river various animals from the woodland community pass by and offer their advice and good wishes.  Barley returns home to the news five babies (3 boys and 2 girls) have arrived.  They name them Bramble, Bracken, Berry, Fern and Wisher.

Close to their burrow there is a terrifying beast - the Red Dragon.  It "roared along the valley every day - up and down, up and down - whistling loudly and belching clouds of smoke.  Although it looked a terrifying beast Barley had never once seen it stray from its tracks."  Have you guessed what this really is?

After several weeks spent in the safety of their burrow the five little rabbits are allowed to explore the world outside - but not stray to far.  Wisher keeps hearing a little song in her head :

I whisper a song like the wind in your ear
Wisher, beware. Wisher take care.

While she does take care, Wisher somehow manages to become caught up in a race to find a tiny runaway piglet. Luckily she has made a good friend Parsley the mole.  Together they find Foster the piglet and restore him to his family.  One fun aspect of this is watching the spread of rumours about the fate of Foster.  First it is one dog, then two or three, then a pack of wild dogs - five or six.  This aspect of the story would make for an interesting class discussion.

I have included the new and old covers.  Read an interview with the author here.  I am sure younger readers will eagerly seek out this whole series which would also make a good family read-aloud.

The chocolate touch II by Patrick Skene Catling

A teacher in my school returned The Chocolate Touch this week and happily explained how much her class had enjoyed this quirky little story first published in 1952 (yes it is based on the idea of the Midas touch).  I was quite amazed to discover this first installment even has a Wikipedia page. Begin by reading this so you can catch up on the story.

I mentioned to the class teacher that there was a sequel with a funny scene involving Mickey Mouse and then I discovered our copy was long gone. Thanks to the wonder of buying second hand books from around the world I have been able to find a copy of The Chocolate Touch II (1997) and it arrived tonight.

Here is the scene that made me laugh out loud.  Mary Midas and her family are visiting Disneyland.

"What's bothering you?' Mickey kindly enquired.  Although he was an international star of motion pictures, television and comic books, he had always remained a decent, down-to-earth, practical mouse. ...   'Well,' Mary said, looking from Mickey to Minnie. ... I turned the water in the pool at the hotel .. into chocolate.  ... Mickey put his arm round Mary's back and gave her a friendly Uncle Mickey sort of hug - and a quick kiss.  It all happened suddenly.  Somehow, Mary's lips brushed against his cheek. Mickey Mouse instantly turned into a chocolate statue."

This is a minor book and long out of print but I just wanted to share this funny section with you.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Daughter of Nomads by Rosanne Hawke

Daughter of Nomads is an epic journey and an epic read and while it is well worth the effort you should be warned nothing that will be resolved on the final page and so you will need to continue your journey with Jahani into the second book.

The date is 1622.  The setting is the Mughal Empire. In the opening scene Jahani is visiting a local market with her friend Sameela.  In a few says Sameela is to be married. The market is busy and crowded. Someone knocks Jahani over.

"Jahani lost her footing and was just regaining her balance when a man knocked her over. ... 'Sami?' Jahani shook Sameela's shoulders but her fingers came away sticky."

Her best friend is dead but it seems the assassin was actually after Jahani. A young man steps up and picks up Sameela and guides them home.  His name is Azhar.  On this same day Jahani discovers her precious mother Hafeezah is not really her mother.  Her parents, she is told, sent her away when she was four years old to a distant region to keep her safe.  Now Jahani and Hafeezah, accompanied by Azhar and a very special horse called Chandi will make the long and dangerous journey back to the home of her parents. There are, however, more surprises in store because when she arrives her father Baqir has betrothed her to a war lord called Muzahid Baig and this marriage will take place in just a few days.

Living with Baqir and his wife Zarah are several snow leopards.  One in particular called Yazan befriends Jahani.  In fact Jahani seems to have a very special affinity with animals. She has so many questions and while it does seem Azhar knows the answers he never seems to fully explain anything. Then comes another huge shock for Jahani.  Zarah and Baqir are not really her parents after all.  She is a nomad girl.  In the final scenes of this first book Jahani flees her marriage and joins the nomads. She is also pursued by the demon king Dagar Khan.  He has heard a prophesy about a girl with red hair.

Beware the woman with the leopard's heart
Crowned in flame beneath a bloodless sun
The wretched daughter of a broken king
Come to seal what was rightfully won.

Jahani is now on the run so it is important to change her appearance especially since she has very distinctive flame coloured hair.  I did enjoy the scene where the nomad women dye her hair and add extra piercings to her ears.  If you pick up this book have a read of pages 204-207 as a way to preview this story.  My other favourite scene comes when Azhar finally takes Jahani for a ride on his flying carpet. I found it quite exhilarating.

Here is a set of comprehensive teaching notes. This book would make an excellent novel study for a junior high school class. I also recommend this book for mature senior primary students.  I picked up this book myself after reading this review by Megan Daley.  I am a huge fan of Rosanne Hawke - my favourite book is Soraya the storyteller.  Daughter of Nomads was also listed as a CBCA notable title for 2017.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

If I had an elephant by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

Before you read this book with a class why not use the title as a writing stimulus?

If I had an elephant ...  

Or you could use one illustration - they are wild.  Or just one line :

"If I had an elephant, his name would be Clarence and we'd get matching jackets. We'd sure feel silly when we got them mixed up!"

I guarantee the twist at the end of this book will make everyone smile.

You can read about the author and illustrator (not to be confused with Terry Jones from UK) who come from New Zealand here.  Here is a video interview with the author.  We have three books by this team in our school library.

I would follow this tall tale with Alistair's time machine, Just another ordinary day and Billy Twitters and his Blue whale problem.

Waiting for the magic by Patricia MacLachlan illustrated by Amy June Bates

"What kind of dog are we getting?' I asked. ... 'Can we get a cat?' asked Elinor ... For a moment I thought about asking for a horse."

Papa leaves. Mama is sad. She puts William and Elinor into the car and sets off to get a dog.  At the shelter they fall in love with four dogs.  Mama says we will take all of them and so four dogs named Bryn, Grace, Bitty and Neo, along with one cat called Lula, move in with the family.

Papa does return but it is these special dogs who help to heal this broken family.  The dogs are magic and very young children and old people like the Grandparents are the first to hear their wisdom.

Don't wait for the magic - rush out and read this book Waiting for the magic it is simply perfect as are all books by Patricia MacLachlan who writes with quiet wisdom.

Here is an interview from 2008 with the illustrator Amy June Bates.

She balances some tough issues with sweetness and humor, and there’s a happy, satisfying and cathartic ending, proving that magic is closer than one thinks and is worth the wait.  Kirkus

Does a book ever make your day?  Like you are so happy that you were so lucky to have discovered it and to have read it?   A Year of Reading

... a captivating and charming book with just the right amount of magic, love and family bonding that will delight readers of all ages. KidsReads

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Footpath flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith

“Basically, I was walking with my daughter down an ugly street, Bathurst Street, in Toronto, not paying very close attention, when I noticed she was collecting little flowers along the way . . . What struck me was how unconscious the whole thing was. She wasn’t doing it for praise, she was just doing it.” Jon Arno Lawson  Horn Book 

This is a very important book and you may be surprised to discover it contains no words.  It does, however, contain a very powerful story which the School Library Journal reviewer Elizabeth Bird describes as a poem.

I am presenting two covers for this book because strangely in Australia and UK this book was changed to Footpath Flowers from the original Canadian title Sidewalk Flowers.

I recommend you set aside some quiet time to just sit and slowly turn the pages of this book.
One truly special thing you need to know comes from IBBY Canada who give this book to Syrian refugee children when they arrive in their new country - a perfect gift.

Here is a set of teaching notes.  We have a large collection of silent or wordless or textless books in our school library.  Take a look at this Pinterest collection.  Read this review where you can see many of the illustrations.  This trailer comes from the publisher Walker Books.

Almost Home by Joan Bauer

Yes begin with the cover!  Surely this will entice you to read this book.  This sweet little puppy called Shush really is as adorable as he looks.

Sugar Mae Cole is a girl with grit and heart.  Her life is in disarray.  Sugar and her mother Reba are evicted from their home after failing to pay their mortgage.  Reba finally collapses and is taken to hospital.  It is up to Sugar to find the way home.  Luckily she does have some help. Her English teacher is kind and encouraging, her grandfather has left her a book of wisdom, the couple in her temporary foster home are truly special people and of course there is little Shush.  He has been damaged by abuse but the way Sugar is able to understand him and give him courage is the perfect parallel for her own journey to healing.

I thought I might put a few text quotes here to give you an idea about this book.  One of the things I will miss when my job as a Teacher-Librarian comes to an end is thinking the students I want to read books like this one. All the way through Almost Home I kept thinking of one little girl in a senior primary class at my school who I know will fall in love with Sugar and little Shush.  For me this is a ten out of ten book.

"I've learned it's better to sleep in a car than with people who hate having you in their house and can't wait for you to leave."

"I wished I had someone in my life who knew about life."

"I've decided to collect adjectives, because they don't cost anything and they don't take up any room in my pack.  Glowing. That's my new favorite word. ... A person can be glowing."

"The thing people don't know, until they've been there themselves, is how tiring it is to be homeless ... It makes you look down when you walk.  You've go to work hard at looking up."

"I recommend crying in the shower because you can get two things done at once."

"I've learned some thing about sadness this last year. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just sit with someone who's hurting; you don't have to say anything or offer advice, you just sit there."

"Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a person is to have a puppy lick your face.  Remember, you heard it here first."

I should also mention Sugar is a writer.  All through the book you can read her exquisite, powerful, moving poems.  You can see one below or watch this trailer.  Reba is also a writer.  She writes thank you notes.  This is something I really like to do too.

Before all this happened
I wasn't brave like I am now.
I didn't know how to take care of my mother
Or pee by the side of the road
    and not get my underpants wet.
... I had my place in the world.
That was before.
Before is no more.

Take time to read the review in The New York Times. You can listen to an audio sample here.  Joan Bauer has a good web site too.

Following Almost Home I recommend you look for Hold Fast,  Paper things, How to steal a dog, and one of my all time favourite books Pictures of Hollis Woods.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A-Z of Endangered animals by Jennifer Cossins

I imagine it would have been so interesting completing research for this book A-Z of Endangered Animals but also quite frustrating have set yourself the parameter of only 26 endangered animals and using the 26 letters of the alphabet.

I wonder how Jennifer Cossins made her selection.  We have some excellent books in our school library which feature endangered and extinct animals.  In her introduction Jennifer Cossins the horrifying fact that over the the last 500 years over 800 species have become extinct. The reasons are clear - humans are responsible for changing environments, destroying habitats, introducing species, exploitation and climate change.

That is why a book like this and others I have put below are so important and why I am pleased to see this book short listed for our CBCA awards this year.  Young children need to know about and hopefully marvel at,the amazing diversity of life on our planet.  I always like to mention different animals to my classes - vicuna, tenrick, okapi and pangolin.  None of these are featured in A-Z of Endangered animals but you can read about these curious creatures :

Birds - Umbrella bird, Crested penguin, Yellow Cardinal, Kakapo, Xinjaing Ground Jay, Jocotoso Antipitta and Helmeted Hornbill.

Mammals - Zebra Duiker, Vaquita, Tasmanian Devil, Indian elephant,  Dugong, Blue Whale, Snow Leopard, Quokka, Pigmy Three-toed sloth, Mandrill, Amur Tiger and Orangutan.

The saddest story is probably the Vaquita - the world's smallest mammal and a member of the porpoise family. It was awful to read the estimated population is about 60.  The other aspect I enjoyed in this book in the inclusion of an "interesting fact" on each page.  This might be the way to begin a discussion with a class using this book along with listing all the important issues mentioned in the introduction.

Here are couple :

"Sloths come to forest floor only once a week to relieve themselves."
"Unlike other big cats, the snow leopard cannot roar."

The final pages have suggested web sites and a useful glossary.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Word of mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

"No team works without teamwork."  Isaiah

This book is officially f a b u l o u s !!  Rush out to your nearest library and borrow it now.  If you want a book to make you laugh because it is so clever, if you want a book to make you cheer because the hero is so wonderful and if you want a book with a happy ending, food and mice then this is the book for you.

I sat down today to read one chapter and lifted my head after reading this whole book in one sitting. No wonder this book was on the NY Times best seller list for over 12 weeks.   I loved, loved this book.

Each chapter begins with words of wisdom by Isaiah.  Here are few :

  • "God gave us acorns, but he doesn't crack them open for us."  Isaiah
  • "Be careful. The light at the end of the tunnel could be an oncoming train."  Isaiah
  • "Words have no muscles, but they are strong enough to break a heart."  Isaiah
  • "Be careful with your heart. Once it's broken it's hard to find spare parts."  Isaiah
  • "Given a challenge, be like the sun: rise to the occasion." Isaiah

In the opening chapter Isaiah, our clever blue mouse hero, escapes from the Horrible Place.  It is in fact a laboratory where they use mice for scientific testing.  It is an illegal and terrible place.  Isaiah is the youngest of 97 brightly colored mice who stage an escape.  Isaiah is the smallest and probably the most afraid of the group but he is the only one who manages to escape.

Isaiah makes two special friends. Mikayla, the mouse who takes him home to her mischief (a group of mice are known as a mischief) and Hailey, a human girl who also knows what it feels like to be different.  Isaiah is lucky to find himself living under a human home where food is plentiful (these people are truly slobs) but he also discovers it is the home of the man who worked as a cleaner in the Horrible Place.  It will take courage, problem solving and spectacular team work to set all his brothers and sisters free.  There are dangers everywhere - birds, cats, humans and mouse traps.

Here is another little piece of wisdom from Isaiah.  "Yes, cats are nocturnal creatures too. Mouse life would be so much easier if mice weren't on the same schedule as their primary predator."

You can read an extract from the book here.  I found this very cute television advertisement for Word of Mouse.  I wonder who paid for this - such fun.  Here is a review with more details about the story and its creators.  This book would make an excellent class or family read-a-loud book.

The illustrations in Word of Mouse are by Joe Sutphin and they are a joy (see below).  Listen to an audio sample here.

There are so many fabulous books about mice who are heroes I could now recommend.  Here are a few from this blog:

Bless this mouse
Mrs Frisby and the rats of NIMH
Song of the Winns
The tale of Despereaux
A mouse called Wolf
Time stops for no mouse

Iris and the tiger by Leanne Hall

"The piano was the big, glossy concert sort with a propped-up lid. A young woman was bent so far over its keys she appeared to have no head. Sheets of music were spread out in front of her  - and there were black specks swarming all over the cream paper. Iris took two steps forward, her mouth agape. What, what, what? The music notes were moving! ... they weren't notes at all but ants almost as big as her hand."

Iris is sent to visit her elderly relative in Spain - the eccentric and reclusive Aunt Ursula sister of the famous surreal artist James Freer.   Iris does not really understand why her parents are so desperate for her to spy on her aunt.  There is a promise of inheritance but this feels distant and distasteful to Iris.  Aunt Ursula is a larger than life character.  Her home is filled with very strange art and as the days unfold strange things start to appear.  Boots that look like feet pull her around the forest.  She sees the piano mentioned above and the tennis court with huge sunflowers but the thing that fascinates her the most is a painting which has her name - Iris and the Tiger.  Iris was the wife and true love of James Freer but when Iris eventually sees the painting in an art gallery in Barcelona there is no tiger.  This is a mystery she is determined to solve.

Meanwhile developers keep appearing.  They have white vans and surveying equipment and seem determined to turn the estate into a theme park.  Iris and her new Spanish friend Jordi, who lives on the estate with his father, begin their exploration of the special and magic places inside and outside of Bosque de Nubes.  There is also the mystery of Aunt Ursula herself - she keeps disappearing and when Iris looks at a photo taken thirty years ago it also seems Aunt Ursula is not aging.

Here is a review with more plot details.  Here is an interview with Leanne Hall.  Here are some very detailed teaching notes.  Before beginning this book I recommend you listen to an interview with the author on Radio National.  During the interview Leanne also reads one of the scenes that fascinated me - a disused tennis court where enormous sunflowers are engaged in a game of tennis using their huge leaves as rackets.

I took a long time to read Iris and the Tiger.  I did find some of the characters confusing - I wanted to know their motives and sort out who was good and who was bad.  While the descriptions of the paintings are good I also just wanted to see them.  I don't have any real experience of surreal art and I am sure some of my students may find this confusing too.  The illustrator site has a few larger versions of the images on the cover. James Freer is not a real artist but I desperately wanted him to be real.  This book demands some perseverance but the final pages are rewarding.  You might also enjoy The Billionaire's Curse.  If you like the idea of mysterious things arising from art take a look at The Medici Curse.

You can see below Iris and the Tiger won our NSW Premier's literary prize and this is one of the reasons I wanted to share this book with you.  I don't think it will appeal to all young readers but I do know some avid readers will find this book quite different, exciting and engrossing.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Malkin Moonlight by Emma Cox

Every journey begins with one paw step.

Malkin is a true hero.  He is a cat with nine lives, but early in his life one is lost.  He knows he has a destiny - he feels the tug of some unseen force.  The moon explains this :

"There is a kindness inside you, little cat, and peace.  ... You will be brave, even when those around you are afraid. And you will make great sacrifices for friendship - you will be a true friend."

As a young kitten he is nearly downed, along with his brothers and sister, by his owner.  Luckily Malkin escapes and finds his way to an inn where he meets Roux.

"Malkin has not seen a cat that looks like this before. She is the colour of cream and smoke. Her fur is longer than his and softer looking. ... She smells of wet grass and small flowers."

When the Inn is sold Roux and Malkin move to the recycling centre.  He finds a group of cats living there and while they welcome this new pair they warn of  danger over the wall.  Malkin knows, however, this is the place, over the wall, that he needs to go.  He must use his gifts to reunite this group of cats - the wild and the domestic, the clean and the unclean, but first come some terrible fights between this group of recycling cats and the Putrescibles.  These are the cats who have been exiled to live in the garbage dump beside the recycling centre.  It is a truly terrible place.  These cats, led by the aptly named Toxic, are starving and smell utterly putrid.

Some things you need to know about the cats in this book :

  • They have nine lives as you might expect but when a life is lost is quite harrowing
  • Their senses are very keen but can be 'turned off' which is lucky when Malkin ventures over the wall
  • Cats have a sixth sense which allows one cat to 'read' another
  • The moon is a special friend to all cats

There are a lot of themes in Malkin Moonlight but the love story between Malkin and Roux is especially beautiful.  The scenes at in the garbage dump are also well described and I almost needed to hold my breath so I would not smell the putrid environment.  The names used for each section in the recycling centre will make you smile - glass bottles and jars, mattresses, mixed textiles and clothes and my favourite section - Newspapers where the cats go to read the news each day.

Here is a set of writing ideas based on each chapter.  After reading Malkin Moonlight I recommend you look for Varjak Paw and The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly.  I am not really a cat person but I thoroughly enjoyed Malkin Moonlight.  If you pick up this book and you are not sure about reading it take a look at chapter 36 and 37 - they will give you an excellent idea of the emotions and action in this story.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The beast of Hushing wood by Gabrielle Wang

Life in the village Dell Hollow, which sits beside Hushing Wood, is an unhappy one.  Outsiders are shunned and everyone is deeply afraid of the woods which wrap around this isolated community. Prosperity and joy seem to be things of the past.

Ziggy Truegood lives in this town. She is different.  Her father was an outsider.  He has now left taking her two older brothers with him. Her momma has withdrawn into her house.  Ziggy is treated as an outsider by the people of the village but she is not fearful of the woods.  She often goes there alone and loves to spend time in her special place inside a huge Hollow Tree.

Ziggy has some true friends.  Pearl, Big Bobby Little and her faithful dog Mystic. Her precious grandfather has been moved in to a care home. His memory seems to be failing but Ziggy is sure he has important things to tell her.

A new boy called Raffi arrives at school. He seems to be watching Ziggy and she is immediately afraid of him.  The mystery deepens when Ziggy sees him with a leopard. Her friend Pearl cannot see this huge and beautiful wild creature but Ziggy is convinced the creature is real as is the animal with white fur she glimpses in the woods.  Then at school Ziggi is attacked by a golden eagle.

"Raffi is standing at the edge of the woods. He looks at me, then turns, shielding his eyes from the sun. At that moment, as it he's summoned it, a huge shadow swoops out of the trees and flies straight for us. ... I feel a wing brushing my hair and then a sudden sharp pain on my cheek."

Ziggy has been having dreams for weeks.  They seem to be predicting a series of terrifying events culminating in her own death on her birthday.

All the pieces of this complex puzzle begin to come together when Ziggy and the silent boy, Big Bobby uncover old books hidden behind the walls in the town library.  Ziggy reads about a trickster dragonfly who is really a jinn.  The jinn has taken a young girl and now her brother (Raffi) and his grandfather must find Kalila before it is too late.

This is a book filled with tension and a well crafted story that will keep your interest right to the end. I love the idea that your imagination can take you to other realms.

"When it becomes strong, your imagination can take you to incredible places. These are real places, although you cannot touch them with your hands ... But you can touch them with your heart."

We have fourteen books by the Australian author Gabrielle Wang in our school library. I was interested to read that she spent time in America to get the right feel for her small community in The beast of Hushing Wood. Here is a review of The beast of Hushing Wood.  I recommend you also read The Garden of the Empress of Cassia.  You might also enjoy The Stonekeeper's daughter by Linda McNabb.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Absolutely almost by Lisa Graff

My whole life I've been an almost. "Almost, Albie." "Almost."

"You can't get where  you're going without being where you've been." Mr Clifton maths teacher

If you plan to write a book about a kid with learning difficulties, a kid who doesn't fit in, a kid with difficult parents - please read this book and use the beautiful Calista as your model.  Albie is the main character in Absolutely Almost but Calista is the hero. Without her kindness, quiet wisdom, understanding and love of Albie this book would have been unbearable.

Albie is really just a normal kid who struggles with spelling, reading and maths. He also struggles with understanding 'cool kids'. Life is tough in Grade 5 at a new school.  His private school have rejected him due to low test scores. Mum is an overachiever, dad is distant and forgetful. Both of them love Albie but they work long hours and perhaps need to spend more time actually talking with their son.  This task is left to Calista his not-a-babysitter, babysitter.  You will know from the beginning that Calista is a special person. She has a little neon pink section in her hair. Albie knows his mum and dad would not approve of this. He knows they have not seen it.  It is clear Albie and Calista will share a lot of things that his parents might not allow him to do - that he will be allowed to take a few risks.

Albie lives in New York city.  If you know the city you will love all the references to the famous sights, parks, zoos and museums.  Albie is half Korean and lives in a high rise apartment building. Luckily his best friend, Erlan Kasteev, lives on the same floor.  Intriguingly Erlan is a triplet and he has a set of triplet sisters too and his family are participating in a reality television show.

Albie also has a special friend at school.  A girl named Betsy who has a terrible stutter.  Albie likes Betsy, she gives him gummy bears at lunch but really his kindness comes naturally.  "I didn't mind that Betsy didn't talk too much. Because it can be heard sometimes, saying what you mean. And I thought maybe I understood her most of the time anyway."  Albie has such deep authentic empathy.  This book might make you cry but you will also cheer when Albie stands up to the bullies and defends his true friend.

Now some advice.  Before you begin reading this book go out a grab a bag of donuts.  The story is full of donuts and you will find yourself wanting to munch them just as much as Albie.  I read this book all in one sitting.  Yes it is long with 288 pages, but the chapters are short (very short) and the pages will fly through your hands.

You can listen to the first chapter.  Lisa Graff has some teaching ideas and discussion questions on her web site.  You could also read my review of A Tangle of Knots also by Lisa Graff.   Here is an excellent audio interview with the author.

Younger readers might also enjoy Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie For middle primary I recommend Saraha Special, and My name is Will Thompson.   You might also look for books by Andrew Clements because he is also able to perfectly capture life in a Grade 5 class and Blue Balliett because she also has strong themes of empathy in her books especially in Hold Fast.

Other books to read about kids who face up to problems in real life:

Click these quotes to read some reviews :

Life is not going to be easy for Albie, but thanks to the lessons learned here, you’re confident that he’s gonna make it through. Let’s hope other average kids out there at least take heart from that. A hard book to write. An easy book to read.

In a tale about not being good enough, Graff introduces readers to a young hero who struggles to measure up.

... gentle story invokes evergreen themes of coming to appreciate one’s strengths (and weaknesses), and stands out for its thoughtful, moving portrait of a boy who learns to keep moving forward, taking on the world at his own speed.