Monday, September 17, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

"The glass was twinkling in the light. It looked very pretty. It was dark outside, and there were lights on inside and the bowl was catching all the light, and everybody was catching all the light, and everybody was around the table and the bowl was full of ice cream and chocolate sauce and peanuts, and I felt like I was right on the verge of understanding something. And then Grandfather Burke said "That's for you, doodlebug."




In Raymie Nightingale we met three special girls. One of these was Louisiana Elefante. This book, Louisiana's Way Home, continues her story. This latest book can stand alone so don't worry if you haven't met Raymie but after reading Louisiana's Way Home I am fairly sure you will want to read Raymie Nightingale. Huge thanks to Beachside Bookshop for my advanced reader copy. Louisiana's Way Home will be available in Australia in early October.

Watch this video from Colby Sharp where he explains his reaction to this very special book. Here is a wonderful, heartfelt and detailed review by Betsy Bird at SLJ. I always appreciate her thoughtful comments.

In the middle of the night Louisiana's grandmother wakes her up and bundles her into their old car. She tells Louisiana the day of reckoning has arrived. They drive through the night and cross from Florida into Georgia. They have no money. Granny needs urgent attention by a dentist. They wind up  at the Good Night Sleep Tight Motel which has a very unfriendly owner who demands money and shows no compassion.  Since they cannot pay for their night at the motel Louisiana will have to sing at a funeral in the town on Friday. These scenes reminded of the movie Paper Moon based on the book Addie Pray by Joe David Brown which I have mentioned in a previous post.

Here is a text quote to give you a flavour of this splendid writing.

"If you have not left your home in the middle of the night without even giving it a backward glance; if you have not left your cat and your friends and also a one-eyed dog named Buddy without getting to tell any of them good-bye; if you have not stood on the side of the road in Georgia, somewhere past the irrevocable state line, and waited for someone to come along and give you a ride, well, then you cannot understand the desperation that was in my heart that day."

Kate DiCamillo has a wonderful skill with characters and Louisiana's Way Home has some truly memorable ones. Bernice the unfriendly mean spirited motel manager who wears hair curlers all day; Miss Lulu who constantly eats caramels which she never shares and who plays the piano very badly; Mrs Ivy the dentist receptionist who is officious and has no compassion; the warm-hearted and loving Betty Allen who is making seventeen cakes for a raffle at the town fair and her wonderful son Burke Allen who "gave me two sandwiches when I had only asked for one."  I want to meet Burke Allen, give him and hug and say a huge thank you for being a kind friend to Louisiana.

I read this whole book in one sitting. I almost didn't want to start because I just knew Louisiana's Way Home would be SO GOOD and it was. After you read Louisiana's Way Home you might pick up Waiting for Normal, Almost Home, and Tiger Rising also by Kate DiCamillo.

The book strikes a delicate balance between relating a charming, entertaining story full of colorful characters and imparting a deeply meaningful life lesson about deciding what kind of person to be. Not everyone Louisiana meets is interested in helping her, but those that do reach out to her with great love and compassion. Foreword Reviews


Told in a first person narrative by Louisiana herself her voice is a strong, determined one and her humour lifts the sadness frequently. The plot is both unexpected and moving. Yet again the author manages to weave together a compelling narrative with an underlying theme of resilience, forgiveness, kindness and hope. The Bookbag

For readers who relish thoughtfully constructed plots, well-developed characters, and carefully crafted language, this will be a special treat. Kirkus

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Different Boy by Paul Jennings

A Different Boy follows the previous new Paul Jennings title A Different Dog which I talked about exactly one year ago.  While the two stories are not a series their tone, plot, themes and audience are the same and hence the cover art by Geoff Kelly which reflects this.



I really enjoyed A Different Dog and now we have A Different Boy which is another breathtaking and powerful story. It has Paul Jennings' trademark short sentences and plot twists. In this story an early twist made me gasp in utter horror.  Our hero Anton has been taken to an orphanage. While we don't really know why this has happened it is clear this is a terrible place with very cruel teachers. Anton enters the classroom and the teacher nails a strap to the wall. All the boys know this will be used to punish them. The aptly named Mr Steel instructs the boys to decorate the covers of their new exercise books. "Make sure that is it neat. And clean. You know what I mean by clean."

Anton loves to draw and he creates a beautiful scene of the New Land. "The place of his dreams. ... A warm, sun-burnt country - a land of sweeping plains and rugged mountains which ran down to golden beaches surrounded by a jewel sea."  The boys draw for a time and then the teacher tells them to stop and write their name on the cover. Anton is told to collect up the books but before he can add his own name, his book is taken by Brosnik, the bully of the group, and Anton's name is added to a different cover, one with a horrid image that is sure to mean Anton will be punished. What can Anton do? He leaps out of his chair and flees. Where he goes, what happens and how he survives will astonish you.

Last week I was in a book store and I saw they had placed A Different Boy with their simple beginning chapter books probably because this is a slim, illustrated novel with only 102 pages. I am not sure if this is legal but I picked up all the copies and moved them to the Middle Primary section. A Different Boy is a gripping story with brilliant twists and turns. This is a terrific book to give a reader aged 11+ especially a reluctant reader and this takes Paul Jennings back to his beginnings where he wanted to write - the sort of stories which I thought would make reading fun for children.

Here is a set of teachers notes from the publisher. Here is a detailed review from The Bottom Shelf.
You can read more of the plot here.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Aranea A story about a spider by Jenny Wagner illustrated by Ron Brooks



I have been collecting and reading past CBCA treasures - books that were short listed or won prizes since these awards began either in the Picture Book of the Year category or Early Childhood Picture Book of the Year.

Yesterday I talked about a brand new book Leaf Stone Beetle. I just sat down to talk about Aranea and realised this is a perfect companion book so I will go back and add this title to my previous post.

Let's begin with the title - Aranea. This is the name given to the genus of orb-weaving spiders or more correctly this group are called araneus.  It is also the name of the famous spider in Charlotte's Web (1952). Aranea by Jenny Wagner was short listed by the CBCA in 1976 so this is just an interesting side fact not a link.

Aranea is a wonderful demonstration of how text and illustrations should work in a picture book. I like to imagine Ron Brooks sitting down with Jenny Wagner's words and thinking about what to do. He started this book straight after finishing The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek. In his own book Drawn from the Heart Ron Says:

"it is a beautiful clear story about a spider weaving its web, living its life, night to day, day to night, putting up with difficulties, setbacks, doing it all again but it was also ... a classic allegory ... about the qualities of character, especially the courage and perseverance on might bring to the life lived."

One aspect of Aranea that the publisher debated with Ron was his choice of black and white. This was the choice also for Leaf Stone Beetle. Ron wanted this because of the "apparent colourlessness and fineness of spiderwebs themselves." He also wanted to text to work its magic and not have the illustrations be a distraction.

For me the magic of this text comes from giving the full focus to Aranea and her work and not once talking about the purpose of the web to catch prey. I also love the quietness of the story and the amazing work ethic and perseverance of little Aranea as she copes with mindless destruction by two boys and the ravages of a massive storm. "Then all at once the sky cracked open. It split from top to bottom, like a rotten orange thrown against at wall."

One thing I discovered about Aranea is the length. A standard picture book is 32 pages but Ron didn't make a dummy prior to working on his illustrations.  He decided to work with the rhythms and natural breaks in the text which meant Aranea ended up with 36 pages. I am so glad the publisher allowed him to keep it this way and not reduce the format back to 32. In terms of visual literacy, as with other books illustrated by Ron Brooks, you should to notice his use of white space, framing, images contained in circles, the way the web construction is sequenced, his use of whole pages to echo the shock we feel when the boys destroy her web and finally the page with no illustration just white text on a black background. If you have this book in your school library go back and look again.

Aranea is a circle story or the more official term is it uses 'bookending' or that the story is 'bookended'. 

Here is part of the early text:
"First the cross piece
then the frame
then round and round the long spiral
until it was perfect."

This is repeated on the final page where we see at last the completed web with Aranea herself sitting triumphant right in the centre.

I adore Aranea but once again the Kirkus reviewer in 1979 doesn't seem to understand anything about this book. It would be good to use this review as a discussion point with a class of older students perhaps in an art or design class.  One more thing you might like to share with your students. When Ron illustrated Aranea he drew an illustration to be used on the end papers. The publisher did not make use of this but it inspired Jenny Wagner to write her famous book John Brown, Rose and the Midnight cat.





Friday, September 14, 2018

Leaf Stone Beetle by Ursula Dubosarsky illustrated by Gaye Chapman

A meditation on nature and transience ...




This is a remarkable, unique and truly special book. Why do these words spring to mind?

Remarkable - in a world where we seem to work in categories for books the publisher Dirt Lane Press have taken a risk (thank you) and published this small format book that is not quite a picture book, not quite a junior novel. It has 24 pages with three double pages used for the almost tactile etching-style illustrations.

Unique - I cannot think of another book with such a quiet focus in this format, especially one that features a leaf (plant), beetle (animal) and stone (object).

Truly Special - this is a book with layers of meaning. It is simple enough to share with a young child and complex enough to sustain an in depth discussion with older students and adults.

Leaf is young. Leaf is the "littlest and greenest of them all. It had been the very last to grow." Leaf watches as the other leaves turn gold and yellow and then in a storm they fall off the tree. I love the idea that the leaves collectively make this decision to let go of the branch. The little green leaf is left behind until later "that afternoon there was a breeze so gentle that only the little green leaf could feel it. ... The little green leaf floated like a snowflake through the air, all the way down down."

Look at the key words here - a gentle breeze so gentle only the leaf can feel it.  This seems so important because by now it is the end of the first story and as a reader, somehow in just five pages, via the internal monologue of the leaf, we have come to like, perhaps even love, this little character. I am glad the breeze was gentle. The leaf also has a quiet wisdom. Waiting patiently for when the time is right and not feeling compelled to follow the crowd of other leaves.  We read that the leaf floated, like a snowflake - perhaps this anticipates the season to come. Best of all the leaf is safe.

In the second "chapter" we meet Stone. Up until now the world of Stone has been under the river but during the same storm from earlier in the story the river swells and Stone is washed up on the bank -  "with a lurch and a thump, the stone was dragged amongst the gnarled roots of the tree. When the water receded, Stone found itself alone in the dry breath of the world."

The upheaval of the storm is such a contrast with Leaf gently falling. In this scene we have words like spinning, twisting, gushing and hurtling! Look at that final sentence. The dry breath of the world. Can Stone survive out of the water? Will the world that Stone knows change in confusing or positive ways? I felt such a jolt as Stone is left alone on the bank. This is so odd because Stone is not alive but we have heard what Stone is thinking and Stone feels "alive".

The third section of this 24 page book focuses on Beetle. Like Leaf and Stone, Beetle is an individual. Beetle wants to take her time and quietly observe the world. She looks at pollen, spider webs, and even the footprints of ants. How wonderful is that idea! Beetle lives near the tree where we met Leaf and the stream where we met Stone. It is the same day. The storm arrives. Beetle grabs hold of a little green leaf - yes it is our Leaf. The pair fall into the river.  "On they tumbled together, rushing and plunging and swooping." By chance Beetle sees a stone - yes it is our Stone. The stone provides a perfect shelter for her.

"For now we are together and safe, but in a moment we may be washed away again. And whatever happens, wherever we are washed to, we will always be in the world, like the stars in the sky."

Can I just say again that this book has just 24 pages and yet here we have a way to talk about philosophy and perhaps even the meaning of life.

This story first appeared in our NSW School Magazine in 2007. I wish I could find a copy to see the evolution of this story. You might like to use this video of Red Leaf Yellow leaf by Lois Ehlert with a younger group of children as a comparison text. You could also compare the art in this book by Gaye Chapman with Narelle Oliver especially her book The Hunt. I loved reading that Gaye based her Beetle on our Australian Christmas Beetle - one of my favourites beetles. One more thing to think about - the way the title is presented without commas - Leaf Stone Beetle.

Image source: https://australianmuseum.net.au/xmas-beetle-id-guide-app


Three other books to read alongside Leaf Stone Beetle would be Aranea,  Silence and  Life

Take a look at Ursula's web site.  Make sure you read through this excellent set of Teachers Notes where Ursula explains her motivation for writing this book and you can also find a set of questions which will allow your students to think more deeply about this text.

I hope you can tell I love this book. AND yes I am going to predict it will be short listed for our CBCA Awards in 2019. Surely the judges will not let this treasure slip away.


It’s simple yet layered, and it invites interpretation and discussion around ideas as complex as individuality, transition and community.  Books and Publishing

Here is a quote from Dirt Lane Press which explains their philosophy and neatly matches the content of Leaf Stone Beetle. Click on their name to read more about their work.

Dirt Lane Press:

Research tells us that literature, like life, leaves its mark on our minds and bodies.

The richer the literature, the more profoundly we are affected.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Infused with humor and hope, this book deftly conveys messages of resilience and self-acceptance through simple acts of everyday courage. Readers will be left inspired to tackle life’s fears head-on. Publisher's Weekly


I really enjoy books with alternating voices.
I really enjoy books where the author makes you gasp out loud.
I really enjoy the satisfaction that comes from 'working hard' to make sense of the story, characters, setting etc.
I really enjoy books where I feel I am safe in the hands of a skilled storyteller. Knowing everything will be alright even though I am so anxious for the characters as they face huge dangers.
I really enjoy books which feel like solving a complex jigsaw with the added satisfaction that all the pieces fit together perfectly at the end.

This is why I loved Hello Universe and I can see why it was a winner!

Here is the blurb:

"Virgil Stalinas is shy and misunderstood. Valencia Somerset is clever and stubborn. Kaori Tanaka tells fortunes and can read the stars. Chet Bullens is the biggest bully in the neighborhood. They aren't friends. They're practically strangers. But when Chet pulls and unthinkable prank on Virgil and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, these four students are thrown together in incredible and surprising ways."

Hello Universe was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 2017. You can meet the author here.  Here is an audio sample that begins at Chapter Two. Click on the reviews below for more plot details. I highly recommend this book for senior primary students who enjoy complex stories and who are happy to be patient and let the characters slowly reveal their personal stories.


An original and resonant exploration of interconnectedness and friendship. Kirkus

Wait for the last sentence in the book – but don’t peek. The final word will make you feel like you should stand up and cheer!  Nerdy Book Club

Unlikely friendships are formed and heroism abounds as the group of young people try to find their way in the world. Plucky protagonists and a deftly woven story will appeal to anyone who has ever felt a bit lost in the universe. School Library Journal

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Felix and Alexander by Terry Denton

Children's Book Council past Winner  
this one is truly a TREASURE!

Image source: https://store.cbca.org.au/sheet-of-short-list-stickers




This is my fourth post about past CBCA winners and short list treasures. Click these to read the previous posts. Post one, post two and post three.

In 1986 Felix and Alexander won the Picture Book of the Year award and it has remained a firm favourite of mine. Sadly it is out of print. This is a book that needs to be reprinted so it can be shared with a new generation of children. Today Terry Denton is very famous for his collaboration with Andy Griffiths on the Treehouse books but earlier in his career Terry did scrumptious colour picture books like this one and another I long to find again - The story of Imelda, who was small - by Morris Lurie. He also illustrated Night Noises by Mem Fox.



I like to begin a discussion of Felix and Alexander with a discussion about the cover.  Can we predict - Who is Felix? Who is Alexander? Where are they? What time is it? How do you know?

"Alexander lived in a block of flats in the big city. Even though he was not allowed to have a real pet, he had Felix, a toy dog. Felix was Alexander's best friend and always laughed at Alexander's jokes"

Now compare our answers with what we discover here on the first page. Alexander is the boy, Felix is the dog and they live in a block of flats in the city. But have you noticed the twist - Felix laughs at Alexander's jokes! They must have a very special relationship.

By page five we reach the twist. Alexander sets off for his usual afternoon city walk (without Felix) but on this particular day Alexander does not come home. Felix packs "his torch into his suitcase" and sets off to find his friend. It is late afternoon and the night is not far away.  As climbs through the fence a nail catches his side.

"Tiny balls of stuffing like pale pink pearls fell from the tear. Clutching his side, Felix ran into the street."

Felix walks through the dark streets and the buildings begin to look quite sinister. There is a scream and Felix sees his friend in the grip of a monster. Resourceful Felix turns the monster to stone using his torch but now the two friends are totally lost.  How can they find their way home. Can you make a link with Hansel and Gretel?

I love the final page:

"After giving him some new extra stuffing, Alexander sewed up the little tear in Felix's side ... For a long time after, Felix would always feel a little stitch in his side when he laughed too hard at Alexander's jokes, and he would remember their adventure in the streets of the city."




Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Heartwood Hotel: Home Again by Kallie George illustrated by Stephanie Graegin



Home Again is the final installment in the Heartwood Hotel series. There are four books about this special hotel which is located inside a huge tree. One for each season. In this final book it is high summer and bushfires are a horrifying threat in the forest.

Early in the story another mouse arrives at the Heartwood. Her name is Strawberry and she has come from the Inn Between. I love the idea of the Inn Between "only the best hotel for mice and small creatures in the village! What a wonderful idea, to repurpose the in-between floors of a house and turn them into a specialty hotel. "  The Inn Between is reminiscent of the home created by The Borrowers.

"The furniture ... was made of things she'd only heard about. Buttons and bottle caps were balanced on thimbles for tables, and there were spools of thread for chairs. Another chair was made of the top of a wooden spoon - but an enormous one."

Mona is such a special mouse. Why? Because she is motivated by kindness. An injured fox comes to the door. Everyone is afraid but it is Mona who goes outside, sees his pain and then fetches ice tea to cool his wound and pillows to make him comfortable.  When the smell of smoke threatens to ruin their staff picnic plans Mona suggests an inside picnic which is just as much fun for everyone. Finally when Mona learns, after she and Strawberry have been evacuated, that Mr Heartwood is in danger because he has stayed at the hotel planning to fight the fire single handed. Mona knows she must help him so she puts her own life in danger and rushes back through the most dangerous part of the forest ready to help save their precious hotel.

Here are some teaching ideas for all four books in this series. Take a minute to explore the web site of the illustrator Stephanie Greagin. I highly recommend this series for young readers or as a class read-aloud. It is not often that every book in a series is equally good but I can say that about each book about the Heartwood Hotel.  Wish I was the right species to stay there one day!

Image source: http://www.heartwoodhotel.com/rooms.html

Tales of Olga da Polga by Michael Bond illustrated by Catherine Rayner










Last post I was talking about cover designs.  The Tales of Olga da Polga was first published in 1971 and so this classic book has undergone many different cover designs.  I was lucky to borrow the one illustrated by Catherine Rayner. It has black and white illustrations which are perfect but I have discovered there is also a colour version (2015).

The tales of Olga Polga is one of those classic books that appears on most read-aloud lists. I am not sure why I had missed reading it until now.

Olga is a wonderful character. If you have read other books about guinea pigs such as the series about Humphrey by Betty G. Birney and the Pee Wee trilogy by Joanna Hurwitz you will have met a character similar to little Olga.  I love this description right near the beginning of the book:

"There was a kind of charm about her, something in the set of her whiskers, an extra devil-may-care twirl to the rosettes in her brown and white fur, and a gleam in her eyes, which set her apart. Even her name had an air of romance. How she had come by it was something of a mystery, and Olga herself told so many fanciful tales about moonlit nights, castles in the air, and fields awash with oats and beautiful princesses  ..."

Olga is a natural storyteller. She enthralls her audience with her tall tales of guinea pigs in Peru and how they came by their rosettes and a wonderful tale about a tower of guinea pigs who sent one of their kind to the moon.

Olga is a force of nature. She is very confident and somewhat opinionated but somehow also quite naive and this gives her a sweet charm.  I am looking forward to exploring some of the other stories by Michael Bond about little Olga. There are six in the series along with some omnibus editions and picture books. Each chapter, and there are thirteen, in The Tales of Olga da Polga can stand alone and so this is a perfect book for a family or class read-aloud.

The best word for this/these stories really is fun. They are fun to read, fun to hear, fun to see, and fun to imagine. Both parents and kids will love Olga da Polga. Expect many nights reading about this fascinating guinea pig, from the creator of Paddington Bear.  Kid Lit Reviews




Sunday, September 9, 2018

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Helpful Staff
There was no greater feeling in the world than reading those words. 


Let's begin with the cover of Front Desk. I really like the US (Scholastic) one but I don't think the one offered here (Walker Books) in Australia will appeal to readers. I do hope I am wrong.  Which cover do you like? I wish I had been in the meeting when Walker Books were discussing changing the cover. I would have argued to keep the original. My copy is the Walker one but if I was putting this book into my library I think I might print the US cover and perhaps attach it to inside of the book to show students a different view of this story. If you click the review at the end of this post you can read how Mr Schu actually cried when he saw the cover because he thought it was so perfect!





Mia has recently arrived from China with her parents, with big dreams and with very little money. After a series of horrible jobs her parents apply to manage a motel - The Calivista.

"The Topaz Inn and Lagoon Hotel were right next door and bigger, but I immediately decided I like our little motel the best. ... Our lives were about to change. We were going to become Disneyland-going people. As if things couldn't get any better, the Calivista had a pool! ... This was going to be amazing."

You have probably guessed that none of this dream comes true for Mia. The motel owner is a cruel bully who swindles the family out of the money they were promised, he bans them from using the pool and for every minute of every day some one must 'man' the front desk of the motel so there can be no family outings to anywhere least of all Disneyland.

Mia will not be defeated. She is a problem solver. She is hard working. She does make mistakes but she learns from them and is never defeated. There has to be a way to make things better for everyone but most especially for her parents who had such dreams for their new life in America.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The authentic voice of Mia still lingers with me. I love the connection (explained in the final pages) between this story and the real life experiences of the author. Having started this book one morning I raced home later in the day and continued reading it very late into the night. This is one of those books you cannot put down. There were times, as a I read, that I just want to reach out and help Mia navigate her complex life circumstances or at the very least reach out and give Mia a hug.  Luckily there are some kind "weeklies" living at the motel who do offer help and understanding.

As you know I rarely rate books but I give Front Desk a score of ten out of ten. You can see Kelly Yang talking about her book here in a short Scholastic video. You can read an interview with Kelly here by Kids Book ReviewYou can read a text extract here and listen to Kelly Yang talk about the real life inspiration for this story.

Read some reviews here if you need more plot details :

Kirkus Star Review
Ms Yingling Reads - this is a very comprehensive review
Horn Book
Mr Schu Reads


Front Desk is testament to how a great story can grab you by the heart and never quite let go. Asian Review of Books

Friday, September 7, 2018

Poems of Walter de la Mare illustrated by Carolina Rabei

It time to talk about poetry.  When I was visiting a bookshop today and I spied a new poetry book that I would love to add to my collection.





I didn't think to check inside this splendid book but when I think of poetry for children the name Walter de la Mare would appear near the top of my list so I am thrilled to have discovered three wonderful books featuring his poems presented in single picture books with breathtaking illustrations by Carolina Rabei.  My favourite poetry book, which I have mentioned previously, The Walker Book of Poetry (or sometimes called The Random House book of Poetry), features five of his famous poems.

If you visit Carolina Rabei's web site you can see some of the pages from these three books. You might think adding these books to a library is an indulgence but all of them are available in paperback for a low price and sharing these book will enrich the lives of your students and teachers.

Summer Evening

The sandy cat by the Farmer's chair
Mews at his knee for dainty fare;
Old Rover in his moss-greened house
Mumbles a bone, and barks at a mouse;
In the dewy fields the cattle lie
Chewing the cud 'neath a fading sky;
Dobbin at manger pulls his hay:
Gone is another summer's day.

Silver

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream. 



Snow

No breath of wind,
No gleam of sun – 
Still the white snow
Whirls softly down
Twig and bough
And blade and thorn
All in an icy
Quiet, forlorn.
Whispering, rustling,
Through the air
On still and stone,
Roof, - everywhere,
It heaps its powdery
Crystal flakes,
Of every tree
A mountain makes;
‘Til pale and faint
At shut of day
Stoops from the West
One wint’ry ray,
And, feathered in fire
Where ghosts the moon,
A robin shrills
His lonely tune. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Adventures of Catvinkle by Elliot Perlman

"Think of how many more friends you could have if you allowed dogs into your world. Anyway are we really so different from cats? If you put fresh water in a bowl in front of us, do we not drink? If you put a comfy wicker basket beside a warm fireplace, will we not crawl in and get snuggly?"




In real life dogs and cats are not usually friends. They may tolerate each other or live in a state of constant hostility.  In stories cats and dogs are often portrayed with quite different viewpoints and life experiences. It interesting to compare the way various authors have examined this relationship.

Recently I talked about Dog by Andy Mulligan where the cat, called Moonlight, is simply awful. She is manipulative and a liar.  Compare this with Diva and Flea where Diva, the little shy dog, needs the bravery and kindness of Flea to expand her horizons and Flea herself is a brilliant and insightful friend. You might also re-read the classic story The Incredible Journey where two dogs and a Siamese cat journey across America to find their family.

Catvinkle and Ula have an equally complex, but in this case, friendly relationship. Catvinkle lives with Mr Sabatini. She has a very comfortable life. One morning Mr Sabatini sees a lost dog. "The dog shyly came up to him. ... As he was patting her he read her name Ula ... He noticed, too, that Ula's big brown eyes were a little sad, and that the fur on her coat was not sitting entirely smoothly. ... Being a barber he would notice a thing like this."

Ula is taken home where he is left in a room with Catvinkle. This meeting could turn out quite badly and Catvinkle's life could be turned upside down but Catvinkle discovers something wonderful about Ula.

"What's that smell?' Catvinkle asked.
'Oh no, you're probably going to say I smell wet and that you hate the smell of wet dog,' said Ula. 'Go ahead, you might as well. Everybody says it.'
No, not at all! It's all ... musky. It's like a beautiful musky ... I feel so calm and relaxed breathing in this musky smell."

Calm is what Catvinkle needs because she is due to compete in the National Kitten Baby-Shoe Dancing competition where she will compete against her enemy Twinkiepaws. The idea of this competition should give you a real motivation to read this warm but offbeat tale.

I loved the dialogue between Ula and Catvinkle. I hope these examples make you smile too:

"How many animals have wanted to come and live with you and Mr Sabatini?' asked Ula. 'Lots,' said Catvinkle. 'More than I can count on one paw.' 'How many can you count on one paw?' asked Ula. 'As many as I like. It's my paw. I can use it again and again for counting. I've three others you know."

 "Do you like trying new things?' asked Ula. 'Oh yes. Sometimes I take my water before my salmon and sometimes I'll take my water after my salmon. A couple of times - and this will blow your mind - I've started my salmon then had a few licks of water and then gone back to my salmon, licking the bowl clean with both sides of my tongue. Crazy, I know! But I'm that kind of cat. I live on the edge!"

I am looking forward to seeing the actual book when it is published in October this year because I understand it will be issued as a small hardback which seems appropriate for the European setting. Huge thanks to Beachside Bookshop for the advanced reader copy.

Here is a set of teachers notes with detailed questions and writing ideas.

Winter Bees and other poems of the cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen

A handsome, persuasive, and authentic ambassador for creatures in their natural state. Horn Book

A work to be savored by young artists and scientists. Kirkus Star review

The cover alone is worth the price of admission. A beautifully textured fox is midair on a pounce over some unseen prey. Although the illustration is far from photorealistic it still seems like you could touch the soft fur. Carol Hurst



When I visit a library I do enjoy browsing their poetry shelves. Last week I chanced upon Winter Bees and other poems of the cold. This appealed to me straight away because bees fascinate me, it is Winter here in Australia and I saw this book was a winner of the Bull Bransom Award which I have mentioned previously.  This book is a worthy winner and a book to treasure.

This is a perfect book for animal lovers. On each double page we meet an animal or plant and hear of their survival during the harsh season of Winter. On the facing page there are further scientific details. I discovered some new words (and yes there is a glossary) such as brumate (a motionless sate during cold weather), ectothermic (another word for cold blooded), subnivean (the layer between snow and the ground) and pantoum (a poetry form).

You can see the page format here:



The poems are so varied. Some animals you will meet are the moose, wolf, vole and raven. There are two insect poems - bees and 'snow fleas'.  You can also read about birds like the swan and chickadee, along with the ways trees survive and the formation of  the snow itself.

Here is the poem about the Beaver (form pantoum)

In the far white wigwam
made of rippled chips and thrashing twigs
is a heart of fur, curled and cozy
far beneath the winter sunshine.

Made of ripped chips and thrashing twigs,
it gathers silence now
beneath the winter sunshine,
under ice, under snow.

It gathers silence now,
but in the dim oval room
under ice, under sow,
strong brown bullets dive.

In the dim oval room
they groom, snack, kiss:
strong brown bullets that dive
in the under-ice world.

They groom, snack, kiss:
a heart of fur, curled and cozy
in the under-ice world
of the fat white wigwam.

Here is a set of teaching ideas from the author.  Here is a review with more details. Take a look here at the other impressive titles by Joyce Sidman.  You can find Red sings from the Treetops in our school library.



Monday, September 3, 2018

CBCA past treasures in the Early Childhood category Winners and Honour Books



This is my third post on the topic of past treasures - books I hope you still read from time to time to your own children or in a school library.  As I said previously this is my personal list and no doubt you will discover other favourites.

The Book of the Year Award: Early Childhood began in 2001.  That year one of my all time most favourite read aloud titles was given an honour award - Pog by Lyn Lee.

The highlighted titles will take you to a previous post. 

2001 Pog by Lyn Lee illustrated by Kym Gamble (Honour Book)
2001 Max by Bob Graham (Honour Book)



2002 Let's get a pup by Bob Graham (Winner)
2002 Where does Thursday go? by Janeen Brian (Honour Book)



2004 Reggie Queen of the Street by Margaret Barbalet (Honour Book)
2004 Little Humpty by Margaret Wild (Honour Book)



2005 Mutt Dog by Stephen Michael King (Honour Book)

2008 Lucy Goosey by Margaret Wild (Honour Book)



2009 Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard (Short listed)
2009 Puffling by Margaret Wild (Short listed)



2010 Bear and Chook by the sea by Lisa Shanahan (Winner)

2013 The pros and cons of being a Frog by Sue deGennaro (Short listed)
2013 It's a Miroocool by Christine Harris (Short listed)



2014 The Swap by Jan Ormerod (Winner)


Shelter by Celine Claire illustrated by Qin Leng

Who are the strangers?
What are they doing here?
What do they want?



Shelter is so much more than the simple story of weary travellers seeking food, or of strangers needing shelter from the storm.  The forest animals know a storm is coming. They gather supplies and settle down in their snug homes. Then Little Fox asks a prophetic question "What if others are still outside?" There are others outside. Two figures emerge through the fog. They offer to exchange some tea for a moment by a warm fire. They offer to exchange the tea for a few cookies for dipping. They offer their tea again for some light on this dark night. Every plea is rejected so the pair of bears (large and small) set off to make their own shelter - an ice cave. They warm themselves by dancing in the snow.

Just before they move away there is, however, one tiny moment of kindness.  Little Fox runs after the strangers and he gives them a small lantern. He explains:  "You can't eat it, and it's not as warm or nearly as bright as a fire ...' 'But it's still generous,' Big Brother says kindly. 'Thank you."

Meanwhile the storm has intensified and the foxes find their den is collapsing. Now they need shelter, warmth and food. This is the point in the story where you will hold your breath.  The roles are reversed. How will the strangers react?  Will they offer shelter and their warm tea or will they be as hostile as the forest animals have been just a few hours ago?

I first saw this book in a wonderful bookshop in Vancouver. The story has lingered with me so when I spied it in a school library this week I knew I had to borrow it, read it again, think about it and share it here. As this is a Canadian book it might not have caught your attention but I hope it has now and that you might consider this book as an important addition to your library.

This book provides a wonderful opportunity for discussions about being welcoming and helping others in need, including how children can put this into practice by reaching out to the “new kid” or the one who seems different. Kids Can Press

Claire’s prose is rhythmic and gentle, with enjoyable repetition and memorable lines that lend themselves to being read aloud. Leng’s earth-toned watercolors and light strokes of pen and ink have a wonderful messiness about them ... Kirkus star review

Shelter is a story about community, acceptance, and generosity. ... Reading a story like Shelter to children is an excellent way to open up conversations about accepting others, helping people in need, and selfless giving. Littlest Bookshelf

This book brings to mind a quote from the bible:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ..."

There are messages in this book about kindness and empathy but you could also use it to talk about our treatment of refugees. I would share this book with young children but also with senior Primary classes as a way to open up a discussion about the important issues we are facing in our world today. I highly recommend this book.

The illustrator of Shelter, Qin Leng has another title from Kids Can Press which I am keen to read.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

When Jays fly to Barbmo by Margaret Balderson illustrated by Victor G Ambrus

"The whole of Continental Europe was now in the hands of the Germans. Little Denmark had been completely over-run. The Dutch army had surrendered. France had collapsed. Now only Britain remained as the last block against Hitler's dreams to complete European conquest. It left little scope for optimism. We realized that we were a small nation of relatively few people. How could we fight back against the powerful monster that had overtaken us?"


Several years ago a friend mentioned When Jays fly to Barbmo was one of her all time favourite books. I was curious. Then I made some discoveries.  This book was the 1969 CBCA Book of the Year. I was in Primary school when it won and this was a time I devoured books set in Northern countries such as Avalanche by A Rutgers van der Loeff. Why had I never heard of this book? Luckily I found a mint condition second hand copy a couple of weeks ago. Last weekend I sat down and read the whole book in two sessions.

Let's begin with the title.  Here is a jay in the snow in Norway.


Jays fly (migrate) - no as you can see this bird species does not migrate - well as far as I can discover. You can see it here in this photo in the snow. I guess in a simple way the title means "when pigs might fly".  The place Barbmo is explained in a glossary at the back of this book "In north Lapp this word has two meanings (i) the place where migratory birds live in winter and (ii) a place of fictitious delights."

The little bird is also a gift given to Ingeborg by a reclusive man who works for her father.  He loves to carve and he gives her a little wooden jay. She keeps it safe through all the twists and turns of these confusing times.

The setting for this book is Norway World War II. Norway is invaded by Hitler and Ingeborg's life is in turmoil. Adding to this terror are the seasonal hardships of living in this remote location. Living so far north means there are months of 24 hour darkness and months of 24 hours daylight.

"Morning was no different from night. ... if the weather continued to show a cloudless face all morning, we were at least assured of a period of struggling grey dawn round about noon. ... Then everybody would give thanks and we would all, little by little, start airing our summer personalities again."

"One morning I chanced upon a small yellow flower thrusting its head bravely above the snow. I plucked the bloom gently and turned it over again and again in my hand marvelling as I always did, at how a life so infinitely fragile could have survived the cruel grip of our Arctic winter and be born a thing of such exquisite perfection."

Ingeborg needs to understand her heritage, understand the complex relationships of the people in her life and move from her childhood into the beginning of adulthood. Here is a detailed review where you can read more plot details. This is a book for an older/junior high school, sensitive reader with stamina. The print size is small and the historical setting, while beautifully described, will be unfamiliar to most Australian children. The illustrations by the famous Victor G Ambrus are wonderful. Here is a copy of the original review in the Canberra Times from July 1969.  If you are looking for a similar title you could take a look at Belle and Sebastien. The relationship between Ingeborg and her Aunt reminded me of Inge Maria in The Girl who Bought Mischief.