Saturday, October 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Dream Dog by Enid Richemont

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

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

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

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

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

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

You could pair The Dream dog with The Time Tree.

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The time tree by Enid Richemont

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

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

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

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

Things change from this :

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

Her literacy skills now mean :

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

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

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

My Library - time to say goodbye

My School Library  
Read only on the Days you Eat!

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

Here are a few photos :

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

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Old titles worth finding - great to Read-aloud

Read-aloud Classics

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

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

For Kindergarten

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

For Year One

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

For Year Two

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

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