Friday, September 29, 2017

What do senior girls enjoy reading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

First Test by Tamora Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A different dog by Paul Jennings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some news for readers of this blog :

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A plague of unicorns by Jane Yolen

The making of the Unicorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James asks questions like these :

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Ice flowers by Jutta Goetze illustrated by Patricia Mullins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little library cookbook by Kate Young

Eating and reading are two pleasures 
that combine admirably  CS Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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

 How do you know you love someone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Appleblossom the possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan

There are lots of possums in my neighborhood and they are quite noisy at times and of course leave their little deposits on my veranda but after reading Appleblossom the Possum I have new insights into this little fury survivor and the ways they have adapted to life in the suburbs.

As this story opens Appleblossom is born - yes she is actually inside her mum.  "And then push comes to shove and she's out."  She makes the long journey up to the pouch.  All first born possum babies have names beginning with the letter A.  Subsequent litters will use B then C and so on. "Mama Possum is a free thinker and she encourages her babies to find their own names."  So we have Antonio, Alisa, Abdul, Alberta, Ajax, Angie, Allan, Alphonse, Atticus, Alejandro, Augusta, Amlet and finally Appleblossom - the last born.  At seventy-seven days the thirteen possums begin their acting lessons especially death scenes.

Eventually Mama Possum leaves the youngsters to find their own way and food.  Appleblossom, Amlet and Antonio decide to forage alone but come back together each evening.  Appleblossom finds herself in a tree above a human home. Her mother has warned her about these monsters and to make things worse there is also a dog in their yard but the tree where she shelters is full of delicious treats and so the next night Appleblossom heads back to the same yard but this time she climbs onto the roof and accidentally falls down the chimney.  Now her adventures can truly begin and she will need to call on all her acting talents to survive.

There are so many funny moments in this book especially towards the end when the three young possums confront the dog using quotes from Shakespeare.

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!"
"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none!"
"All's well that ends well!"
"Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow!  And dart not scornful glances from those eyes!"

Appleblossom the Possum has 275 pages but it is a very quick book to read partly due to the rapid plot but also the large print size (I appreciate this) and the use of white space.  The action really ramps up from Chapter 19. There are perfect full page illustrations drawn by the author's husband.

Here is an interview with the author.  Read the Kirkus review.  You can read Chapter 2 on the publisher web site.  Listen to an audio sample here read by Dustin Hoffman.  You can see some pages from the book here.  You might also like to read my review of Counting by 7s also by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

One word of caution - Australian children will pick up the error when Mama Possum is explaining marsupials and she uses the term koala bear.  All Australian children know our koala is not a bear but this is a very minor quibble and will not take away from your enjoyment of this sweet story.

Michele Shaw  School Library Journal

Friday, September 15, 2017

Picture day perfection by Deborah Diesen illustrated by Dan Santat

The funniest book in our school library about class photo day is Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg but now I have a perfect book to read alongside it - Picture Day Perfection.

I think of all my school photos and only one really pleased me. It was the one taken in my first year of teaching.  I even remember every detail of what I wore that day even though I am not a person who likes photos at all.

Our hero, on the other hand, loves picture day.  He has been marking off the days on the calendar, he has plans to wear his favorite shirt and the family even have a pancake breakfast tradition especially for photo day.

Of course everything goes wrong. He has the worst case of bedhead, his shirt is stained and wrinkled, there are syrup and paint disasters and the word cheese makes him turn pea green.

Yes the photo is a disaster but not in the way you might think.  This book has the perfect twist in the tale and I certainly did not see it coming.

Here is a trailer from the illustrator Dan Santat.  Here are some comprehensive teaching notes and questions. Read this blog post for ideas about how to use your ipad to create your own funny class photos.  I should also mention the end papers are a real treat.  If you have your own copy of this book there is a photo frame at the back where you can paste in your own photo.  Here is the Kirkus review.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sir Tony Robinson's Worst Children's jobs in History illustrated by Mike Phillips

If you follow this blog you will know I rarely talk about non fiction.  Taking this one step further if I AM talking about a non fiction title it must be really GOOD - and yes it is.

If you have students or children who enjoy the Horrible History series rush out and grab a copy of this book which won the Blue Peter Best Book with Facts award in 2007.

There are six chapters in this book each with an intriguing heading :

  • First get yourself some training
  • The great outdoors
  • No hiding place
  • Mean streets
  • Service without a smile
  • Slave to the machine

You can get a feel for the colloquial style found in this book from the very first page.

"Stop reading this book right now! Put it down, walk slowly to the kitchen and open the door of the cupboard under the kitchen sink.  Off you go!  Don't touch anything just look. Are you back yet? Did you see lots of plastic bottles ... they make jobs like cleaning ... quick and easy."

Of course if you'd been alive in the Middle Ages you would not have had access to any of these products and every job would be ten times harder than it is now.

What jobs are we talking about?  Here is a list of some that you may never have heard of and there are lots more too.

  • mudlark
  • costermonger
  • link boy
  • fuller's apprentice
  • jigger-turner
Here is the picture for a fuller's apprentice.  "You had to take off your shoes and socks and climb into a barrel full of other people's wee."  This was the way they processed woven wool.

Each job has an easy to read description and a little job score scroll.  Here are the details for a stepper - a young orphan girl sent from a charity home to scrub doorsteps for a penny each.

Job Score
steps all look the same
Hard Slog
work till your hands and knees are red
very little
nobody notices you

Each chapter ends with a detailed timeline and there is an excellent index.  This is a book you can read quickly or linger over ... you can dip in or read from the first page to the last.  What ever way you read this book you are sure to learn something new and fascinating and perhaps slightly gruesome.  Watch this little film where Tony Robinson visits an exhibition about the worst jobs.

I would pair this book with some fiction titles such as A very unusual PursuitBarnaby Crimes Curse of the Night Wolf, Midnight is a place and Lydie by Katherine Paterson.

I have discovered there are other titles in this series such as these books about World War I and World War II which are popular topics in our library.  These should go on the library shopping list.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The legend of rock, paper, scissors by Drew Daywalt illustrated by Adam Rex

Start with this publisher trailer for The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors - it will give you a good idea about the tone and humour of this story.

I was slightly amazed to read that the origins of this game can be traced back to Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).  

In this 'legend' rock, paper and scissors are looking for a worthy opponent.  Each player in turn proclaims their challenge beginning with Rock.

Rock lives in the Kingdom of Backgarden
Rock versus Clothespeg
Rock versus Apricot

"And yet, smooshing you has brought me no joy."

Paper lives in the Empire of mum's study
Paper versus computer printer
Paper versus a half eaten pack of trail mix

Both are defeated "And so, with heavy heart, Paper departed the Empire of mum's study."

Scissors lives in the tiny village of Junk Drawer
Scissors versus roll of tape
Scissors versus chicken nuggets

Then one day our three heroes meet in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage.  Who will win?  Will each find happiness? How can a friendship be forged?

This is an interesting book.  On one level it is quite violent in a cartoon sense but it is also very funny and the final resolution is very satisfying.  Here is a set of teaching notes.  I would also make use of the the Wikipedia page with older students.   Playing by the book has a set of songs you could use with this book too.  Watch this video to hear the author talking about his book.

You might recognize the illustrator Adam Rex from one of my favourite books Billy Twitters and his blue whale problem.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Robber Girl by Margaret Wild illustrated by Donna Rawlins

First off this is not a new book and yes sadly it is out of print but it will be in most school libraries. We are exploring the writing of Margaret Wild with our classes over the next couple of weeks.  The youngest groups will explore Puffling, Little Humpty and Lucy Goosey. Our senior students are reading Robber Girl, Tanglewood, The Stone Lion and The Treasure Box.

One of the very special aspects of Robber Girl is the rich vocabulary used by Margaret Wild.  We will need to explore words such as :
ate sparingly

The robber girl is hungry so she ventures down to a nearby farm.  Her animal companions warn her to be careful.  On her first visit she takes a couple of eggs and leaves a rock crystal as payment.  On the second night she takes a little corn from the bin near the pigs and leaves a leaf fossil.  On the third night the animals entreat her not to enter the house but she has a plan. "Stealthily, the robber girl opened the door and slipped into the kitchen."  She takes a slab of bread and a hunk of cheese and leaves a glowing piece of amber as payment.

The farmer's wife is now very angry but her youngest child Josiah loves the beautiful gifts.   The house is firmly locked but the robber girl is able to look in the window and late at night Josiah sees her. There seems to be a bond between them.

The final scenes are so special and would give you some great discussion points with a class for example talking about the way we can choose how to react even in very stressful situations.  This is a beautiful book to read aloud and the illustrations are so rich and evocative.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer

Just over a year ago I read Little Dog Lost and while I was reading some reviews I discovered the companion volume - Little Cat's Luck.  I wanted to buy it for my school library straight away but the hardcover was quite expensive so I decided to wait.  Today the paperback copy arrived in our library and I have just read it.


I have just let out a huge sigh of happiness.  This little book is epitomizes why I adore reading books for young children.  Reading Little Cat's Luck you will also discover why verse novels are so very special.

Patches, the little cat, is looking out the window of her home when she sees a leaf fall from a tree. She reaches out to to catch the leaf and finds herself outside when the window screen gives way. Patches is not frightened of the sudden freedom.  She has in fact been searching for a special place.

But if she didn't know
what her special place was for,
she knew exactly
what it would be like.
Hidden away,
quiet ...
very, very quiet.

Not far from her home there is a dog.  His name is Gus and he is living a lonely life behind a high fence. He barks at everyone and this makes him feel powerful but deep inside he misses his boy and his former life inside the house.

Patches hears Gus barking.  She goes to investigate and discovers her special place is in his yard - it is his kennel.  Very late that night she sneaks under the wire fence and snuggles into the empty dog house very aware that Gus could wake up from his spot on the porch.  Patches feels some odd little movements deep inside and she calls for help.  Gus arrives just as the first kitten is born.

Gus was gazing at her baby
as though at a miracle,
so she said
'Perhaps you would like
to name him."

And so three kittens are born that night - named Moonshadow (Gus choose that one), Little Thomas (Patches choose that one) and Gustina (a friendly squirrel thought of this name).

There are three endings to this story.  The babies are born and everyone is safe but Patches misses her girl.  When she finds her girl Patches becomes trapped again in her house.  She does escape but when the cat and kittens are bought home it is Gus who is in despair. With a very light touch and a perfect colloquial style Marion Dane Bauer settles everything neatly for a perfect (happy) ending.

Here is my favourite quote from this book :

You see,
the main ingredient
for happiness -
for dogs
as well as for humans - 
is having someone
to love.

I would follow Little Cat's Luck with an old Aussie Nibble title Crusher Kevin by Penny Matthews.  Here is a brief teaching guide.  Listen to the author.  The Texas Blue Bonnet award page has other useful links.

Bauer is a master of that skill and crafts, with remarkably little text, memorable, fully understandable characters with achingly real worries and sorrows.  Kirkus Star review

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Eddie Frogbert by Sue deGennaro

"This,'  he said to himself, 'is something I would like to try."

About a week ago I was talking to one of the teachers in my school about the book The Pros and Cons of being a frog also by Sue DeGennaro and the very next day I spied Eddie Frogbert also by Sue.  There seems to be a theme here around frogs.  In the earlier book the little boy adopts a frog costume but he also learns important things about himself and about the complexities of friendships.

In Eddie Frogbert the main character is a frog.  Surely frogs can easily jump and dive but Eddie is a frog with a problem.  He is terrified of diving.  He watches the others until one day he decides to take his fear in hand and climb to the top of the diving tower.  Sadly this is all too much and he forced to shuffle back down the ladder.

This could be the end for Eddie but it is not because he is a problem solver.  I adore problem solvers. He devises a plan - small steps towards his goal.

"Eddie was sure there was a little leap inside him."

Then comes the big day.  He arrives at the competition.  He almost runs away but he musters his courage, tries a little 'self talk' and dives!

"as light as a feather, Eddie Frogbert ... leapt into the air."

Make sure you also notice the little snail moving slowly across the graph-paper end papers.  He starts on the left, moves nearly to the middle on the next page and by the end of the book he has nearly reached the end of the page - slow and steady 'wins the race'.

There are universal messages here about patience, perseverance, and practice along with goal setting and overcoming fear.   I would follow Eddie Frogbert with Puffling by Margaret Wild and Leonardo's Dream by Hans DeBeer.  You might also take a look at an old but important book - Leo the late Bloomer by Robert Kraus.

A big leap for a little frog

Once upon a small rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay illustrated by Leila Rudge

Over the last few weeks the children in my school library have been talking about Gary by Leila Rudge - short listed for our 2017 CBCA award and an Honour Book.  We even have a little knitted Gary in our library so I was excited to see a new book illustrated by Leila.

Once upon a small Rhinoceros follows a well established story line of following your dream just like little Gary.  Take the time to re-visit Louise the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo, Daisy by Brian Wildsmith, The snail and the whale by Julia Donaldson, The trip to Panama by Janosch and Wendy by Gus Gordon.

Our small rhinoceros wants to see the world.  She has seen boats sailing down the river with their sounds, sights and smells of faraway lands.The other rhinos are all contented with life in the mud by the river but small rhinoceros has dreams.  She is warned of all the dangers but she sets off anyway.

"It's dangerous!  You'll get lost!"  
"Perhaps," said the small rhinoceros.

I love the power of that one word 'perhaps'.  When the small rhinoceros returns the others ask questions and she explains that yes it was strange and scary but one tiny voice asks :

"Was it wonderful?"

This is a gentle book with soft illustrations perfect to read aloud and offering plenty of scope for discussion over the final scenes.  Since this book is brand new and Australian I will once again predict we have another book that surely will make the CBCA short list for 2018.

We do not find out the name of the small rhino but you might like to read Meg McKinlay's thoughts here about her gender.