Saturday, December 30, 2017

Miss Mae's Saturday by Justine Flynn illustrated by J Yi

In one of the first school libraries where I worked there was a wonderful book about imaginative play with cardboard boxes and ever since I have loved stories which incorporate this idea. 

Mae enjoys Saturday's because her grandmother comes to visit and they spend their days together at the zoo, ballet or having a picnic but on this Saturday it is raining. Mae is dismayed but grandma has a large cardboard box and says "we will have our adventure right here at home with this."

And what an adventure they have travelling to Africa to see lions, Korea to watch a tea ceremony and finally up into space!  You can see the cherry blossoms from Korea on the cover.

Here is a set of teachers notes from the publisher for Miss Mae's Saturday.  I would link this book with On Sudden Hill, The terrible suitcase, A box can be many things, Harry's Box, The man who loved boxes, The gift and Not a box.  I would also read Grandma's Surprise - a very special book about imaginative play with a loved grandmother.  Take a look at this Pinterest of other books on the theme of boxes complied by my friend at Kinderbookswitheverything.

The illustrator of this book is J Li or Anne Li as she is sometimes known.  She is also the illustrator of the Alice-Miranda series and Clementine series.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Detective Gordon : The first case by Ulf Nilsson illustrated by Gitte Spee

Here is an absolutely brilliant little book with all the ingredients I enjoy in a junior story - cake, colour illustrations, cake, lots of laugh aloud moments, cake, kindness, cake, problem solving, memorable characters, cake and a very happy ever after ending. 

Let's talk about the cake.  For every meal Detective Gordon opens a cake tin or two.  I love the idea that behind the scenes someone is filling these tins.

"These are the evening and night cakes," he said. They were chocolate cakes with blackcurrant jam."

"Good morning. Now we're going to have a little morning cake. They're kept in the second big tin, the morning tin.' He opened the lid and set out four cakes. Vanilla cakes with strawberry jam."

"It's time for warm milk and lunch cakes.' He took four cakes from the final tin. Oat cakes with bits of candied orange. The lunchtime cakes were very good, they agreed."

Back to the case at hand.  Someone has taken 204 nuts from Vladimir the squirrel.  He does have 15704 nuts stored in various hiding places but each individual nut is very precious to Vladimir and he is desperate to find the thief.  Detective Gordon listens carefully to the details of the case.  He then uses his important stamp to make everything official. 

"The detective took out the big old-fashioned stamp, placed it on the paper, moved it a little to the right and then a little to the left. Then he pressed, Kla-dunk, it went."

Detective Gordon sets off into the snow to look for clues.  He meets a little mouse who is holding one nut but she is not the thief.  She has no name, no home and no occupation so Detective Gordon gives her the name Buffy and offers her a job as his assistant. 

"Is it really true that I'm a policewoman, chief?' ... Buffy heard the chair squeak. And then she heard the big stamp being placed on paper, moved a little, and then moved back again. Kla-dunk. Buffy bubbled over inside."

This newly formed team work together to quickly solve the crime and Vladimir thanks them with the special gift of a double hazelnut - the kind you can use to make wishes.  Detective Gordon wishes for  a community free from all crime - such a timely sentiment.  Buffy does keep asking to use his pistol but Gordon explains "To take the pistol one must be very wise and very careful. It's dangerous ... "

This little book arrived in our school library in 2015 - how silly am I not to have picked it up to read until today!  This is a ten out of ten book and it would make a terrific read-aloud with a Grade 1 or 2 class. I would follow this with the Frog and Toad series, Pigsticks and Harold and The Nut map by Susanna Gretz.

Ulf Nilsson is the author of over 100 books but as far as I can discover only a handful are available in English. Huge thanks go again to Gecko Press for this translation.  Take a look at this review.  I should also mention the art work by Gitte Spee and the fabulous map on the last page.

Here are the next two books in this series and comments from the School Library Journal about the second book.

Once again, Nilsson (Detective Gordon: The First Case, [Gecko, 2015]) delivers a rare gem of a book with age-appropriate content for precocious young readers. Full of droll asides and an emphasis on the importance of kindness, this is also an excellent read-aloud selection for classrooms or families.  Amy Nolan SLJ

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Princess and the Suffragette by Holly Webb

Library Girl and Book Boy

I picked this book - The Princess and the Suffragette -  in a bookshop recently for two reasons.  Firstly the title - I am fascinated by the suffragette movement in England prior to WWI and secondly I liked the cover but when I sat down to read it a couple of days ago I made an odd discovery.  On the cover it says "A sequel to the much loved classic A little Princess."  I had no idea about the book A Little Princess and wrongly assumed it was also by Holly Webb.  I searched all over this new book for a clue.  I looked at some bookseller sites and eventually I discovered A Little Princess is a book written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1905.  I wonder why the publisher didn't put this detail somewhere on the book.

This is the second 'sequel' book I have read by Holly Webb.  About a year ago I read Return to the Secret Garden - a sequel to another book by Frances Hodgson Burnett - The Secret Garden.  Holly Webb is not the first person to pen a sequel to A little Princess - I have also found a book by Hilary McKay called Wishing for Tomorrow.

Knowing this was a sequel I needed to find A little Princess.  Luckily it is available through Project Gutenberg.  I will say I do think it is essential to read this classic first or as a short cut you could read this plot outline from Wikipedia..  I found the early chapters of The Princess and the Suffragette very confusing before I realised this was a special kind of sequel.

At the end of A little Princess, Sara is rescued by her father's business partner and moves in to the house next to Miss Minchin's school and it seems her life will now be perfect.  The Princess and the Suffragette picks up the story nine years later.  In this story the main character is Lottie who was left at the school aged 4.  Now aged eleven Lottie has begun to question her situation.  Why won't her father come to visit?  Would he have abandoned her if she was a born a boy? What does her future hold?  Then she sees the school's scullery maid wearing a mysterious badge.  She demands to know the truth.  Living a sheltered life in the school Lottie knows nothing of the Suffragettes but Sally has newspapers and pamphlets and over the coming year Lottie learns about the struggle, the suffering of Suffragettes who have been imprisoned and the movement of 'deeds not words'.  She is invited to the races by Sara. It is the Derby where Emily Davison runs onto the track and is killed.  In the final fast-paced scenes Lottie discovers the truth about her mother, who she had been told was dead, and she is able to confront her absent father.

Older Primary students who enjoy historical fiction should look for this book.  I really appreciate the research done by Holly Webb.  For example she mentions this slogan.  From Prison to Citizenship.

Sally has this poster in her attic room but Lottie has no idea what it means.  Factory Acts Regulations for Women - They have a cheek. I've never been asked.

One more connection.  I have long had a memory of a Shirley Temple film where two little children are sleeping in an attic.  Someone comes in the night and transforms the space providing floor rugs, furniture and a soft beautiful bedding.  I now discover this scene is from is the movie of A little Princess. Actually there have been many movie and television adaptions of this famous book.

Holly Webb is such a prolific author.  She has written over 90 books.  Here is a review with more story details.  You can listen to an audio sample which begins from page 4.

Here are some covers for A little Princess.  It is fascinating to see the different ways illustrators and publishers have presented this book. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Fairy Doll by Rumer Godden

"She was six inches high and dressed in a white gauze dress with beads that sparkled; she had silver wings, and a arrow silver crown on her dark hair, with a glass dewdrop in front that sparkled too; in one of her hands she had a silver wand, 
and her her feet were silver shoes"  stitched by fairies.

This is the cover of my old copy given to me by a family friend when I was in Kindergarten.

This is the new cover left for me to read today.

There are lots of reasons to talk about The Fairy Doll today!

  • YES it is really Christmas Day
  • YES this is a Christmas book  - a perfect one to read aloud to a young child
  • YES this book was put on the bedside table by a friend because I am house/cat sitting for her over the Christmas season - she left me The Story of Holly and Ivy too!
  • YES I did read this book as a child
  • YES I adore Rumer Godden

Another connection with this book - there is an online petition circulating at the moment because Oxford have removed some words from their junior dictionary.  I imagine there are lots of words in this book that Oxford would dismiss as too old but sure that adds to the charm of the story and also allows a modern child to gain a little insight into family life and Christmas celebrations of the past - and this past is really not so long ago.  The Fairy Doll is only a little older than me! 

Little Elizabeth is just that, little.  She is too little to join in with her brother and sister's games, she is too little to ride a 'proper' bicycle and she is too little to put high decorations on the Christmas tree.  No one seems to be on her side until the visit by Great Grandmother - a woman of magic and understanding.  Elizabeth keeps the Fairy Doll from the Christmas tree long after all the decorations have been put away for another year.  Elizabeth then spends the whole year creating a magical home for the fairy doll using her bicycle basket and moss. Each time she 'forgets' something she hears a ting and magically knows the answer to a school problem, or remembers the complex shopping list and even conquers her new bicycle.

Back to those special words I mentioned earlier. Nearly of these would be unfamiliar to an Australian child but knowing about them surely adds a special richness to our lives.


I thrilled to find some of the original illustrations by US illustrator Adrienne Adams.  She illustrated more than 30 books including several by Rumer Godden.

"There were toadstools for stools ... on the table were acorn cups and bowls and small leaf plates. Over the writing desk was a piece of dried-out honeycomb; it was exactly like the rack of pigeonholes over her fathers desk. Fairy Doll could keep her letters there."

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Black Cats and Butlers - Rose Raventhorpe investigates by Janine Beacham

I am sure Janine Beacham had fun deciding on the names for the characters, many of whom (you won't be surprised to discover) are butlers, in this book Black Cats and Butlers.

Rose Raventhorpe
Her father Lord Frederick
Her mother Lady Constance

Argyle - Butler to the Raventhorpe family - now sadly deceased
Arundel - Butler to the Archbishop
Spillwell - Butler to Emily Proops - she is a good friend to Rose
Herrick - once a Butler now homeless and later sadly deceased
Bronson - Butler at Silvercrest Hall
Charlie Malone - injured by a rapier now works at Silvercrest Hall
Miss Regemont - head of the school for butlers in York called Silvercrest Hall
Tremayne and Guillame sadly both murdered
Harry Dodge - former Butler now a magician

Grave robbers
Miss Deacon

When Rose's beloved butler Argyle is murdered (he is the third victim) she is determined to discover the truth.  Meanwhile cats are also disappearing.  Yorke is famous for the cat statues scattered around the city.  There is a legend :

While all the Cats of Yorke keep watch
On enemy and foe
The city is protected
By the Guardians below.
But if the cats are taken
Then the Guardians will fall
The dead will rise up from their graves
And ruin will come to all.

With such a huge cast of characters the reader, along with Rose, must sort out who has an alibi and who has a motive.  As more butlers are attacked and cats continue to disappear the action races along to a very satisfactory conclusion that I guarantee you will never anticipate.  As a bonus the graveyard scenes and descriptions of the magic show are especially well written.  You can read more plot details here.

Click here to read up to page 28.  I would follow this book with The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, A Most Magical Girl and The case of the Missing Moonstone.

There are three books in this series.  I do like their covers.

... this is a sprightly told tale of murder and trickery with a twisty plot and a cast of unlikely characters led by the smart and determined Rose Raventhorpe.   Julia Eccleshare Lovereading4Kids

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Race to the end of the world - Mapmaker Chronicles Book 1 by A.L. Tait

I am not sure why it took me so long to pick up this book (the first in a series of four) but I am so glad I have finally read Race to the End of the World and yes I read it all in one sitting.   I am now quite desperate to pick up the second installment as by the end of book one our intrepid team are still facing great danger, they are possibly not even half way through their voyage and that all important map is not yet complete.

Why are they making a map. The King decides he needs one :
"He has decided Verdania will create the first map of the world.' Map of the world? Why did he want one of those? Besides, everyone knew that if you went too far in either direction, you'd fall of the end of the earth."

Ten boys are selected to enter a school and from there three will be chosen to travel on three ships in the race across the oceans to complete the first map of the world.  Quinn is the youngest son in a family of six boys.  His mother has taught him to read and he has the gift of a photographic memory.  He does not want to go on the voyage because he enjoys life on the farm even though his brothers often tease and taunt him but Zain (a slave of the king who wants the prize of freedom) selects Quinn to go on his ship the Libertas.  Quinn and the crew will face many dangers and so will his friend Ash who has stowed away on the voyage.  "I don't think it's fair that boys get to do all the fun stuff ... they didn't even consider trying out girls for the mapmakers' school."

Read about the whole series here.  Read this review by Jazzy at Children's Books DailyThe Book Chook has detailed comments about each of the four books. Here is a set of teachers notes by the author. I would follow this book with Bartlett and the Ice Voyage by Odo Hirsch and The Eye of Neptune by Jon Mayhew.

Take a minute to watch this trailer from the US Publisher.  I am no longer working in my school library but if I was there I would not hesitate to recommend this book to my keen readers.

Mystery, monsters, murder and mayhem all feature in this action-packed adventure that will appeal to boys and girls alike.  Kids Book Review

Alison Tait shares her inspiration for this series :
Then the next night: “How did they map the world?”
“Well, they had to go out there and find out,” I answered, distractedly.
“They must have been brave,” he answered.
“They were,” I said. “They would have felt exactly as we feel looking out into space, not knowing how far it goes or what’s out there.”
And just like that, in my mind I saw a race to map the world, and a boy who really didn’t want to go.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne audio book

“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” 

Yes Winnie-the-Pooh is a very famous book and in my school library I even have a set of "non Disney" toys similar to the ones below (made from a sewing pattern) but oddly this book was not part of my childhood.  Recently I saw the movie Goodbye Christopher Robin and then I saw this audio version of Winnie.  I have spent a few days thoroughly enjoying this splendid production staring Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer and several other famous UK actors.  The music by John Gould is utterly perfect as is the voice of Piglet performed by Jane Horrocks.

So much happens in this story which is much longer than I realised.  My favourite scenes are in Chapter 9 - In which Piglet is entirely surrounded by Water.  It reminded me of Frog is a hero by Max Velthuijs.  Poor little Piglet is stranded by days and days of unrelenting rain. Piglet decides to send off a message in a bottle :


and on the other side


Pooh finds the note several days later but being a bear without much brain he cannot read it.  Luckily he takes the note to Christopher Robin.  Pooh does have some brains, however, because he works out an ingenious way to travel using an empty honey jar.  He took ten jars up into the tree when he escaped the flood.  The friends gather together.  They need to save Piglet. Pooh suggests they use an umbrella as a boat because the honey jar is simply not big enough, and they set off to rescue their friend.

"And then this Bear, Pooh Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, F.O.P. (Friend of Piglet's), R.C. (Rabbit's Companion), P.D. (Pole Discoverer), E.C. and T.F. (Eeyore's Comforter and Tail-finder) ... set sail forthwith in a south-westerly direction, revolving gracefully."

Take time to listen to an audio sample here.  I listened the CD set of this audio book but can can buy it from Audible. Here are a few quotes to make you smile.  In our library we also have Finding Winnie the true story of the world's most famous bearWinnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926, Christopher Robin was born August 1920, The House at Pooh Corner is the second set of stories about Winnie and it is in this second book you can read about the game of pooh sticks.

“If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” 

“My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.” 

Friday, December 22, 2017

First Day by Margaret Wild illustrated by Kim Gamble

In the style of Clive Eats Alligators (an old favourite of mine) in First Day we meet six kids getting ready for their first day of school.  Alex's mum is also starting school and Josh the dog has plans for his day too.

On the morning of the big day Salma, Khalil, Jun, Stephen, Penny and Alex make lunches, tie on shoes, practice their counting and get dressed.  Right from the start these routines reveal important details about each child. Penny is a live wire she cannot keep still. Stephen is a worrier will he wet his pants? Salma is a confident independent girl from a large family.  Khalil loves to tie shoelaces and Jun "can't wait to learn how to count to one hundred and ten. Then a thousand, then a million, then a billion, then a trillion!"

As the day progresses the children travel to school in various ways, meet their teacher Mrs Manoli and experience their classroom routines.   On each page Kim Gamble shows happy children at play learning inside and outside.  One cute idea is the way each page number has a symbol for example on page 5 when everyone is preparing for school there is a camera.

Margaret Wild is a master story teller and I appreciate the way she uses 'big words' such as sympathetic, gazes, vanishes, impressed and hurtling.  I also appreciate the patience of Mrs Manoli - this is sure to be a great year for all of these children even for the very bouncy Penny.

This is an older book published in 1998. I am reading some of our Australian IBBY Honour books from past years right now in preparation for an exciting event to be held in Canberra in October 2018.  The IBBY Honour book citation for First Day says : A gentle book that deals with this all-important occasion with perception and skill.

You will find some more starting school books on this list.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson illustrated by Sophie Blackall

The new baby is coming.  Mama is happy but Gia is not. "And I knew what was coming next - more talk about the ding-dang baby."  I love that expression ding-dang baby.

Mama explains the baby will come with the first fall of snow. Gia watches the seasons change and leaves falling off the trees. She listens to her aunties talking about the baby and watches her uncles assembly the crib. She hopes the snow will never fall.

"Some days I sat on the stoop thinking about all the years it has been just me and Mama."

At Thanksgiving everything comes to a head.  Gia explodes. "Upstairs I got that teary, choky feeling. And even though there were a lot of people in my house, I felt real, real, real alone."  But all is not lost.  Yes the baby will come but Mama reassures Gia she will still be loved and their time before the ding-dang baby will remain special and of course all three of them will be able to share some pecan pie!

If you need to read more books about the arrival of a new sibling here are some titles.

Take at look at this review which includes many of the fabulous illustrations.  You can see all of Sophie Blackall's books here.  You can see my reviews of two other wonderful novels by Jacqueline Woodson.  The quality is not great but you can hear Jacqueline and Sophie talking at the Horn Book honor ceremony.

Fresh and wise - Kirkus
the book is filled with great heart and empathy for a young spirit.  A book and a hug

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Grandad's Secret Giant by David Litchfield

Because what Billy had realised was that the giant wasn't
 just a giant. He was also a person.

From the opening page of Grandad's Secret Giant it is clear this is a united community.  People of all ages have gathered to paint a huge mural on the wall surrounding their town but there is a problem.  No one can reach to top of the wall.  Grandad says not to worry he knows someone with "hands the size of tables and feet as big as rowing boats."  Billy thinks these tales of the secret giant are just that, fanciful tales but Grandad carefully recalls all the times when the giant has helped the town and indeed Billy and his grandad out of sticky situations.  The problem is :

"... people are scared of things that are different.  When people see the giant, they scream and run away."

Billy gets up early to visit the mural.  He does see the giant but he is so frightened he runs away. When he realises this was the wrong way to react he turns back but the giant is gone.  How can Billy right this wrong?

I had an ambitious plan to read all the books on the Kate Greenaway 2018 Nominations list but there are 116 of them so I will just dip into a few such as Grandad's Secret Giant.  I was excited to see Australian books on this prestigious list  - Home in the Rain by Bob Graham and Storm Whale by Sarah Brennan.

You can see some of the illustrations on David's web site.  Here is an interview where David talks about his work and future projects.  You can read about the creative process here.  You can see more illustrations and read a detailed and very warm review here.  I would follow this book with The Gentle Giant by Michael Morpurgo, Giants by Mij Kelly and for older students The Iron Man by Ted Hughes.  One more thing - make sure you take time to look at the end papers which are very special.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Toys go out by Emily Jenkins illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Explore the secret world of toys. How do they feel about their lives? How do they view our world? 
What do they get up to when you are not home?

Toys go Out
appears on so many read-a-loud lists.  When I was visiting the library of a friend she mentioned that this is just the first book in a series of three AND there is also a picture book. Now I have read the whole 'package' and I am just smiling and smiling.

Let's take a look at the sub titles for each of these treasures.

Toys go out - being the adventures of a knowledgeable stingray, a toughy little buffalo, and someone called Plastic.

Toy Dance Party - being the further adventures of a bossyboots stingray, a courageous buffalo, and a hopeful round someone called Plastic.

Toys come Home - being the early experiences of an intelligent stingray, a brave buffalo, and a brand-new someone called Plastic.

Toys meet Snow - being the wintertime adventures of a curious stuffed buffalo, a sensitive plush stingray, and a book-loving rubber ball.

I can see a lesson in adjectives right here ... curious, sensitive, book-loving.

In toys Meet Snow the family have gone on holidays and so now is the perfect time for our toy friends to explore the outside world and in particular, enjoy the snow.  Lumphy (the buffalo) has questions, StingRay has poetic (but not always entirely factual) answers and Plastic - the book reader - counters with the factual answer.  I love the imaginative and creative answers of StingRay :

Why does it decide to snow?  "Because the clouds are sad and happy at the same time."
What do you think snow is, exactly?  "It's a blanket of peace over the world."
What is a sunset?  "It's strawberry syrup pouring over the world to make it sweet before nightfall."

I also love the power of a perfectly placed word.  As the trio venture out into the snow Lumphy finds a hat to keep his cold head warm. StingRay needs a plastic baggie because she is dry-clean only but please "poke me some air holes."  But what about Plastic.  

"I don't need anything!' shouts Plastic.  She just goes natural."

Toys go Out is the first book in this series but my favourite is the second Toy Dance Party.  The third book Toys come Home is actually the prequel but I would recommend reading them in order of publication.

Here area few story quotes which made me smile :

Toys go out :
"When you are eight you can drive a limousine ... you have lots of money to buy all the chocolate you want."

Toy Dance Party :
"Honey knows her toys play when she's not around. After all, they are never exactly where she left them when she returns from school ... "

The extra characters are also bound to become your friends too - TukTuk the towel, Frank the washing machine, Sheep - the sheep and the Dryer who is broken but does find his voice.

Read this review for details of the characters and themes.  Here are a set of teaching notes.  Listen here to an audio chapter sample from Toys go Out.  This series would be an absolutely perfect class read-aloud for Kindergarten or Year One.  Each chapter book contains six short stories.  I highly recommend you look for these poignant, insightful and sensitive stories today - your young audience with thank you for sharing.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How big is the world by Britta Teckentrup

"How big is the world?"  asked Little Mole.
"Why don't you go and find out?" replied dad.

You might remember my review of Bee also by Britta Teckentrup.  She is such a talented artist.  How Big is the World? is not a new book it was published in 2007 but I think it would be a perfect addition to the home library of a young child.

Little Mole wakes up one morning with the big question - how big is the world?  He dad suggests he go and find out. So Little Mole steps bravely out into the world and begins exploring.  He meets a spider who measures the world by the size of his web.  He meets a mouse who knows the world is as big as her field. A friendly seagull gives Little Mole a ride over the ocean where they meet a whale. The whale explains the world is MASSIVE and takes Little Mole from the poles to the tropics before turning for home.  Little Mole now has a perfect answer to his own question and dad is waiting to hear it.

In a time when we should be encouraging intellectual curiosity in our youngest children this book would be the perfect jumping off point.  After reading How big is the World you could explore your own neighborhood, pull out an atlas, open Google maps and images.  I would follow this book with One Small Rhinoceros and The real boat.

Here is the Kirkus review.  Click here to see all of the books by Britta Teckentrup.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The plant sitter by Gene Zion illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

First off a warning - The Plant Sitter is a very old (1959) book and so it is out of print.  Many months ago I stumbled across this illustration by Margaret Bloy Graham and I liked it so much I used it as my ipad screen image.  I knew Margaret Bloy Graham from her glorious Harry the Dirty dog books but until today I did not know which book contained this picture.

With Summer holidays approaching this is a book to share.  "You said I could do whatever I liked this summer because we weren't going away on holiday."  Tommy is an enterprising boy.  He finds a job as a plant sitter and he gets a penny a day for each plant.  You can see in the picture above he will be making lots of money!  He also a boy who knows how to care for plants :

"He put those that needed shade on the shady side - and those that needed sun on the sunny side. He watered them carefully - some a lot - and others just a little."

The plants grow and grow and take over the house but Tommy is also a problem solver.  He heads off to the library, reads a book or two about plants and comes home knowing how to propagate cuttings.  When the plant owners return from their holiday they collect their thriving plants and Tommy is able to give baby plants to all the children.  His father has not coped with having a jungle in his house but when it is gone he realises he liked them.  "It was like being in the country ... How about a holiday ... And the very next day they went to the country."

Here is a generous review with many of the pages.  On this blog the author links three books together with a gardening theme.  Here is the Kirkus star review.

Mr Stink by David Walliams illustrated by Quentin Blake

Last weekend David Walliams visited Sydney and I went along to hear him and so did 1200+ others!
Books by David Walliams are so popular in our school library (they never stay on the shelf) which is something that I do understand because they are funny and easy to read and have bright inviting covers and yet it also puzzles me.  How did the children 'discover' his books?  Why single out this author and not one of the hundreds of others? Who told everyone these books were so good?

The publicity and publishing machine have certainly 'pulled out all stops' for David Walliams.  His web site is bright, inviting and slick.  Using highly talented illustrations such as Quentin Blake and Tony Ross was a master stroke.  Coming to Australia to promote his new book, Bad Dad, David was on a whirl wind tour - 3 days in Australia followed by 2 days in New Zealand.

It would be too easy to dismiss works by David Walliams as just light reading but books like Mr Stink are so much more.  This is a story which demonstrates the magic of kindness and compassion, along with the importance of listening and love.

Chloe lives on the outside of her family.  Her sister is the star, her mother is preoccupied with her political ambition and community status and her father is distant and sad.  Chloe's mother wants to be elected to the government.  She writes her manifesto. Here are some of the contents :

(4)  The wearing of leggings to be outlawed in public areas, as they are 'extremely common.'
(5)  The national anthem to be played in the town square every hour on the hour.
(10) Mobile telephone devices to have only classical music ringtones from now on ...
(15) The local library to stock only the works of Beatrix Potter.
(20) All homeless people ... are to be banned from our streets.

It is this final 'rule' that pushes Chloe into action.  After days of personal struggle she has finally found the courage to talk to 'Mr Stink' - an old man, who does smell and who sits with his dog on a park bench in her town.  She is now desperately worried for his safety so she offers him a  place in the shed at the bottom of her garden.  In her mind she imagines all the possible reasons why this gentle and well mannered man has become homeless but even though she gathers lots of clues the truth is long way from any thing she could have imagined.

Clearly there are lessons for her fanatical mum, we need to discover what has happened to dad including the mystery of a burnt out guitar found in the shed and Chloe and Annabelle need to have heart to heart talk about life in this family.  At the end of the book Mr Stink is still Mr Stink but perhaps opening his heart to Chloe about his tragic past life might mean he can begin to heal just as he has helped this family to heal.  I certainly hope so.

Here are a few facts about David Walliams :

  • His name is really David Williams - he changed it when he found another actor had the same name
  • His first book was The Boy in the Dress in 2008
  • He has written 12 novels and several picture books
  • Six of his novels have been adapted as television movies
  • David has an acting part in each of these movies
  • Many of his books are available as audio editions with David reading his own work
  • You can listen to audio samples of his book here
  • Teachers can download ideas packs here
  • David has swum across the English Channel to raise money for a charity
  • This song celebrates his swim
David Walliams at City Recital Hall

There were some excellent procedural things in place for the Sydney event with all those eager readers.  Every one was given a little show bag with stickers, a poster, post card, bookmark and of all things a balloon.  David Walliams handled this so well.  He gave the kids a quick minute to make their noises and then expected (and achieved) a quiet audience.  Towards the end the compare Julia Zemiro asked for questions.  Usually these questions make me cringe but David Walliams had a brilliant idea.  He had ten signed book packs.  He offered these to the children who asked the 'best questions' and YES the questions were really good.  Two of the best were - what is your favourite aeroplane.  David talked about the time he flew in a real spitfire living scenes from his book Grandpa's great Escape.  His whole face lit up when he talked about the excitement of this experience which was like driving a sports car in the sky.  The second question I liked was about the character Raj.  The child asked when will will Raj have his own book and this received a huge clap from the audience.  David may need to seriously consider this idea.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Lollylegs by Pamela Freeman illustrated by Rhian Nest James

Lollylegs was a gift from a friend and how I wish I had seen this book last year.  Our school has a spectacular school fete each year.  We do have a wonderful picture book called Our School Fete by Louise Pfanner which is actually based on our fete but I have always struggled to find other books which explore this type of community event.

Lollylegs is a lamb and she is set to be auctioned at the school fete.  Laura's dad brings the lamb home a few days before the big event and of course Laura falls in love with his cute face and soft wool.  Then she discovers that the winner might want to eat her lamb!  About one hundred tickets will be sold.  Laura urgently needs to raise money and buy those tickets.  She cleans, sweeps, washes and tidies but on fete day some of the tickets have already been sold.

Laura can't eat. She can't enjoy the fete. She is desperate to save Lollylegs.  Who will win?

Here is a set of teachers notes.  These are perfect beginning chapter books.  Each has three stories or three chapters, line drawings and a satisfying story by some of the best children's writers from around the world including our own Bob Graham.  Pamela Freeman is also Australian and I have talked about Victor's Quest and Cherryblossom and the Golden Bear in the past.  When you look at the review of Cherryblossom you will see a comment from Pamela herself!  You can also see the amazing Sonya Hartnett on this list with her story Sadie and Ratz.

There are thirty books in the Walker Book series and we have a few in our school library but for some reason we missed Lollylegs.

  • Handa's Surprising Day - Eileen Browne
  • Little Witch - Juliette MacIver
  • Mr Tripp Smells A Rat - Sandy McKay
  • Lollylegs - Pamela Freeman
  • Our Gags - Catriona Hoy
  • The King's Shopping - June Crebbin
  • Happy Birthday x 3 - Libby Gleeson
  • Robin Hood's Day - Josephine Feeney
  • What Mona Wants, Mona Gets - Dyan Sheldon
  • Glog - Pippa GoodHart
  • Sylvie's Seahorse - Mara Bergman
  • Nick Mack's Good Luck - Mara Bergman
  • Parrot Park - Mary Murphy
  • Sadie and Ratz - Sonya Hartnett
  • Not Like Me - Marguerite Hann-Syme
  • Ellie and Granny Mac - Elizabeth MacLennan
  • Jack's Little Party - Bob Graham
  • Leon Spreads His Wings - Wendy Lee
  • Jake's Cave - Lou Kuenzler
  • Grandad's Bench - Addy Farmer
  • Toffee and Pie - Pippa Goodhart
  • Nelson - Tor & Jude Freeman
  • Drusilla and Her Brothers - Dyan Sheldon
  • A Heart For Ruby - Franzeska G. Ewart
  • Mia's Magic Uncle - Lindsay MacLeod
  • The Lost Treasure - Jan Strandling
  • Kasia's Surprise - Stella Gurney
  • Comings and Goings of Parrot Park - Mary Murphy
  • Drawing Together - Mimi Thebo
  • My Dad, the Hero - Stella Gurney

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell illustrated by Hannah Horn

"They had become a pack.  Or, an expedition, 
he corrected himself. That was what you call a group of explorers."

"Every human on this earth is an explorer. Exploring is 
nothing more than paying attention, writ large. Attention."

Why did I pick up this book?  The author is a favourite of mine.  The cover looked very appealing.  The Amazon setting sounded intriguing especially since Journey to the River Sea is a book I totally adored  and it is set in the same location.

Four children (two girls and two boys) are travelling in a small plane across the Amazon jungle.  For different reasons the children are going to Manaus in Northern Brazil. They don't know each other.  Fred is excited to be flying but he notices the pilot is struggling :

"The pilot grasped Fred's wrist hard for a single moment, then his head slumped against the dashboard. And the sky, which had second before seemed so reliable, gave way."

With the pilot now dead and the plane a burnt out wreck the four children must now find a way to survive in a jungle that seems to be filled with so many dangers.  Fred, Constantia (Con), Lila and her five year old brother Max really have no idea about how to find food, shelter and water.  Fred has done a little reading about explorers and he is a resourceful boy but really it is just good luck that they stumble on an old unused shelter.  Over the coming days they experiment with things to eat and because it is the jungle they do eventually find bananas and pineapples.  In the shelter they find some flint stones and using Fred's broken watch they manage to make a fire.

It is little Max who seems to observe the world in a different way.  He sees some monkey's gathering honey from a bee hive.

"The monkey's washed their hands in the ants and then they fought the bees."  The children watch the monkeys and then gather the ants and rub them all over their skin.  The smell is like ammonia.  Fred and Con climb the tree and, even though it is utterly terrifying, they gather some honey and in the process find a pouch containing a map.  It is at this point their adventure takes a sharp turn.  Clearly someone has been there.  Fred has already made a raft so now the group know they need to move on, follow the river and the map and find the city of Manaus and perhaps even find the map maker.

I like the way Katherine Rundell gives small but very meaningful insights into the back story and personality of each child.

Fred - "Inside Fred was hunger, hope and wire... Fred's mind was quick with sharp edges. He wanted more from the world than it had yet given."

Con - "She moved stiffly, as if unaccustomed to using her own body. Her clothes seemed to sit on her like a bear trap."

Lila - "She was small and moved on the edge of her muscles, like an animal - a deer or a lemur - as if she heard things other people did not."

Teachers could make good use of the descriptions in The Explorer.

"His shoes were made from what looked like alligator skin, with very thin vines for shoelaces. A jacket sewn nearly from black furs, hung over his shoulders. The buttons were caiman teeth."

It is easy to see Katherine Rundell did quite a lot of research for this book. Apart from an actual trip to the Amazon she includes interesting and at times gruesome details about eating tarantulas, catching fish even piranhas, stripping vines to make rope and the dangers of bullet ants.

There is a link between the title - The Explorer - and finding of the map because the children do find a man.  He won't give his name.  He is an explorer, or at least he seems to be, he is living in the jungle and has the knowledge the children need to survive their journey back to civilisation but the man demands a promise from the children.  He needs them to understand why this environment is precious and why it needs protection from the outside world.

The Explorer would link well with Journey to the River Sea, Hatchet and The Island trilogy by Gordon Korman beginning with Shipwreck.  In this video Katherine Rundell explains the thinking behind her novel and in this one Katherine reads the first chapters of her book.  It is interesting to read this interview with Katherine by Kirkus.

I did enjoy The Explorer but I would like to know a little more about why these four children were travelling alone across Brazil.  Also in the final scenes (can't tell you too much) when Fred becomes the hero I wanted Con and Lila to shine a little more.  My favourite character is Max - he is funny, honest and very grubby.

Rundell’s rich, descriptive prose will transport her young readers to a mesmerising world where they can swim with river dolphins, eat a tarantula and discover a ruined city. The mystery deepens when the discovery of a map suggests they are not the first humans to find this place.  The Guardian