Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman

"Mama and Pa had long dreamed of going west, even to naming their family for western places: me, the first California Morning Whipple; then Butte, Prairie, Sierra, Golden Promise, the lost baby Ocean and Rocky Flat the dog." Before they set off Pa and Golden have died of pneumonia.

The year is 1850. Ma, Arvella Whipple, takes her family across America from Massachusetts to California in search of a new life and the fortunes promised by gold. When they arrive the first thing her oldest daughter insists on is changing her name to Lucy. It would surely be odd to have the name California in California.

"What an unfortunate name. No one in any book I ever read was called California. I never paid much attention to my name back home. It was a place, a passion, a promise. It was a name that caused people to notice me, talk to me, remember and expect things. It was in no way the right name for me."

The strength of this book comes from the honesty of Lucy herself and the vivid sense of place created by Karen Cushman.

Here are a few text quotes from the letters Lucy writes to Gram and Grampop in Massachusetts:

"There is no school and no lending library, no bank, no church, no meeting house, no newspaper, no shopping or parties of picnics, no eggs, no milk and worst of all no Gram and Grampop ... "

"  ... some miners are thieves and drunkards, men of bad habits and worse disposition; others can be counted as the finest folk on God's green earth. I'm sick of them all - dirty boots and dirty sheets, loud voices and big appetites."

"I am a stranger in a land where they even speak a different language full of derns and dings and have you a pick-axe about your clothes? ... I was wishing Pa was here, but he's not and I am. I am bodaciously sorrow-burdened and wretched!"

"If you see my former teacher, Miss Charlotte Homer of Reedsville, kindly inquire if she might send me a book. I am sick to death of Ivanhoe and Mr Scatter's Bible, and there is not another book in these mountains."

"All of a sudden I am grown mighty popular and it is all due to the box of books from Miss Homer. Men I have never spoken to this whole year come up to me, hat in hand, and say,  'Excuse me entirely little sister, but I hear you might have books for borrying."

Lucy has three rules for her books - she gets to read them first, no tobacco stains and don't pass the book on - return it first. She has to abandon this last rule because everyone breaks it but the books do eventually come back and some contain surprises.

You can read Chapter One and Chapter Two here.

Just over a year ago I attended the USBBY Conference at the University of Washington in Seattle. On the first evening at the dinner event the organisers showcased local authors and illustrators from Washington. There were twelve who shared their work in a series of brief presentations and then each author/illustrator sat at a different table.  I was so lucky to sit with Karen Cushman. I have loved her books for such a long time. Sitting nearby was Laurie Ann Thompson and I was delighted to tell her how much my students had appreciated her powerful book Emanuel's Bicycle.

After talking with Karen Cushman I knew I wanted to re-read her books. Luckily Seattle have a number of terrific second hand bookshops so I easily found a copy of The Ballad of Lucy Whipple which was first published in 1996. I read this book in 1997 but so much of the story had lingered with me - such is the power of this writing.  A movie was made for television with Glenn Close in 2001.  The Ballad of Lucy Whipple would make an excellent addition to your school library and will be enjoyed by readers aged 10+.

Here are some other covers:

It is hard to imagine having to live under the conditions described in this exceptional book and yet women and children did indeed have to live in places like Lucky Diggins. This is a marvelous tribute to their courage, their creativity, and their determination to make a go of things no matter what. It is also a tribute to all those brave souls who have dreams and who are not afraid to pursue them. Through the Looking Glass Children's book Reviews

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito illustrated by Julia Kuo

It was between and underneath every sound.
And it had been there all along.

Yoshio lives in Tokyo. He meets a musician and asks "do you have a favourite sound?"  The musician says the most beautiful sound is the sound of ma, the sound of silence. 

Yoshio listens to all the sounds in this busy city. The traffic, boots splashing through puddles, rain on umbrellas, the wind in the bamboo, the whoosh of the bullet train and even the sound of chopsticks, slurping and chewing dinner with his family. Finally Yoshio goes to bed but even that is not quiet as there is a radio playing in the background. The next morning Yoshio heads off to school. He arrives very early. Inside he sits at his desk and reads a book.

"Suddenly in the middle of a page, he hear it.
No sounds, no footsteps, no people chattering, no radios, no bamboo, no kotos being tuned.
In that short moment, Yoshio couldn't even hear the sound of his own breath."

The splendid school library I visit each week like to add stickers to the front cover of their books for all sorts of book awards from around the world.  This book had an award I had not seen before. The Sound of Silence was shortlisted for the Red Dot Book award 2017-2018. This award started in 2009 and is awarded through voting by school libraries in Singapore.

Past winners which I have mentioned on this blog:

2016-7 Picture book shortlist On Sudden Hill; Younger Readers winner Diva and Flea; Older Readers winner The Thing about Jellyfish.

2015-6 Younger readers winner Pigsticks and Harold.

2014-5 Older Readers The Fourteenth Goldfish, 3rd Place Rooftoppers.

The 2018-19 award will be presented in May 2019.  I spied The elephant and Juana and Lucas on the Younger Readers list and Tin and The Goldfish boy on the Older Readers list.

I would pair The Sound of Silence with The Sound of Colours and Silence by Lemniscates. Take time to read this detailed review in Horn Book which explains the way the illustrator has used colours to show the city noises. Listen to an excellent All the wonders Podcast  where you can hear the author and illustrator talking in depth about the processes and challenges of creating this book. You can see some pages from the illustrator of The Sound of Silence here.

An inviting tale that will stretch inquisitive and observant young minds—and may even lead children to a greater appreciation of that golden commodity, silence. Kirkus

Monday, November 12, 2018

I am the Seed that grew the Tree Part Two

I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree is the size of 12 picture books, with 334 illustrated pages and 366 poems spanning the last four centuries.  Frann Preston-Gannon illustrator

The quote above comes from Frann who illustrated this book. Here is an interview where you can read how she illustrated of I am the Seed that Grew the Tree. What a mammoth task it was to illustrate so many pages. We are so lucky she took on this task - the final book is one to treasure.  I mentioned I will share a poem or two from this glorious book from time to time.

Here are a few more for you to enjoy:

January 21st

Over wintry wind-whipped waves
The white-winged  seagulls wildly sweep:
Weaving, winding, wheeling, whistling,
Where the wide waste waters weep.


July 16th

When the heat of the summer
Made drowsy the land,
A dragonfly came
And sat on my hand,
with its blue joined body,
And wings like spun glass,
It lit on my fingers
As though they were grass.

Eleanor Farjeon

August 7th


On the shelf in my bedroom stands a shell.
If I hold it close, I can smell
The salty sea.
I can hear the slap
Of the waves as they lap
The sandy shore.
I can feel once more
The tickling tide
As it gently flows between my toes.

John Foster

A friend mentioned this book had a different cover in the US.  I tracked it down - this wasn't easy because it also has a different title. I wonder why?  The Kirkus review says majestic and inspiring as nature itself.   You can see 66 pages inside the book which is the same as the UK version on the publisher web site.

Redwall by Brian Jacques Audio Book

Redwall is one of those books that lingers in the mind long after reading. I first read about Matthais and the Abbey at Redwall back in 1986. Recently I spied the audio book of Part One The Wall and so I have spent a delightful few weeks revisiting this wonderful text. It is only part one of the first book so now I have bought the classic edition and will revisit part 2 and 3 over the coming weeks.

Listen to an audio sample here. The real treat is hearing Brian Jacques himself! Sadly he died in 2011.  Here is the first episode from the animated television series.  If you are new to this series you can read a summary of the plot here.

Here are some book covers for Redwall.

There are so many books in this series - a total of 22 plus extras such as this cookbook which I would love to see. The food mentioned in the Redwall series is one aspect I really enjoyed.

"Tender freshwater shrimp garnished with cream and rose leaves; deviled barley pearls in acorn puree; apple and carrot chews; marinated cabbage stalks steeped in cream white turnip with nutmeg."

Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith

Mostly ...

Bear - his name is Hector, wants peace, a good scratch and time to enjoy a delicious custard apple in the jungles of South America. Hummingbird - his name is Hummingbird, wants action, conversation and fun! They are friends - well mostly!  This is a book for three voices.

Here is Hummingbird:

"Hey, Hector!
Are you scratching?
I'm going to scratch too!
Aw, you've got the scratchiest tree.
Look! I'm the best scratcher, aren't I?
Hec - torrr??"

Here is the narrator and Bear himself from a later scene when he is all alone:

"Next, Hector found what looked like the scratchiest tree in the jungle. He settled down to have a nice, quiet scratch. But it felt funny scratching on his own. 'Hummingbird would love scratching on this tree,' sighed Hector."

Young children will delight in hunting for Hummingbird on every page as he follows bear. On the final page of this book there are images of other jungle animals to go back and find such as the tapir, iguana and macaw.

Here is another grouchy bear story and yes all of these have a similar plot line but Hector and Hummingbird is a sheer delight.  It won the Waterstones Book Prize in 2016 and the Klaus Flugge Prize and I can visualise all the judges just smiling and smiling. A fun theme for a young group of Kindergarten children could be reading all the grouchy bear stories and I would put Hector and Hummingbird at the top of the pile.

Read here about the work of the illustrator Nicholas John Frith.  He names Roger Duvoisin as an illustrator who inspires him and it is easy to make this link when you compare their work.

Image source:

Here are some other unlikely friends books I have mentioned previously.

Frith has created a visually stunning work, and young readers who look closely will find a forest teeming with wildlife hidden in plain sight. The tale is simple and universal, the setting is fresh, and it all works. Kirkus Star Review

A great pick for friendship story times, this book is a winner as a read aloud.  Waking Brain Cells

Illustration by Nicholas John Frith from

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Captain Rosalie by Timothee de Frombelle illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Little Rosalie, aged five and a half, is sent to school very early each morning and picked up long after all the children have gone home because her mother is working long hours in a factory.

"The others think I'm drawing in my notebook when I'm sitting on the little bench underneath the coat pegs at the back of the class. ... But I am a soldier on a mission. I am spying on the enemy. I am preparing my plan."

Each evening, when letters arrive from her father who is fighting in the trenches, her mother takes her home and reads his warm messages about catching trout and learning to swim. Rosalie cannot listen. "I can see my mother is still reading, for a long time although there is just a single page of writing in the envelope."

I can't tell you what Rosalie is planning to do but the final scenes will leave you gasping.

This does look like a slim book, it has 64 pages, and so you might think it is written for a younger child but be warned there is no happy ending. I would suggest this book for Grade Four and up.

In 2010 I read two books by Timothee de Fombelle and I became an instant fan of his writing made all the more special by the fact that these books, as with the one I am discussing today, were written in French and so I am relying on the expertise of a skilled translator. Captain Rosalie was translated by Sam Gordon.

Captain Rosalie is a MUST HAVE for every Primary School library. For me it is absolutely a ten out of ten book!

I now need to find this book which is where Captain Rosalie first appeared in 2015. How wonderful that Walker Books decided it was important enough to need a an exquisitely illustrated volume of its own.

I would follow this book with a French movie from 2002 called To be and to Have (Etre et Avior). Read more about Timothee here.  The illustrator web site for Isabelle Arsenault is worth a visit too. Her work is just perfect for this book.

This is one of the most powerful and affecting books about the impact that war has on children that we've read in this, the centenary year of the end of World War 1. ReaditDaddy

While Father is at war, Rosalie begins a secret mission.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

"She knew that her parents both loved her. And that each of them loved the other. Flora had never heard them fight. The feeling between them was not one of war. It was instead as if they had skipped the war completely and gone straight to defeat, raising mutual flags of surrender. Then came the dividing up of dishes, silverware, linens and lamps so that one of them could live five streets over."

Flora is nine years old. It is 1972 and the Vietnam war has just ended. Emma Jean Smallwood, Flora's mother, and Forster Smallwood, her dad have settled the family in  Rosetown, Indiana. As the story opens the family dog Laurence has passed away. 

"They all knew Laurence was fading. But no one believed, really, that he would ever not be with them anymore. Especially Flora, who had held on to his collar ever since she took her first steps. ... Everyone was, in some way, still holding on to Laurence's collar."

Being nine means Flora is now entering fourth grade. While others seem to have gained a new confidence, Flora feels lost. Luckily a new boy arrives in her class. His name is Yury. He has come from Eastern Europe from Ukraine. He is a clever boy and an absolutely wonderful friend to Flora. Such is the power of this writing and relationship I really now want Yury to be my friend too!

Flora has to juggle living in two houses. This is quite difficult at times but a wonderful thing happens. Flora helps to rescue an abandoned cat. She names her Serenity and each week Serenity travels between the two houses making this arrangement much easier for Flora. Things are good for Yury too because one of his father's patients gifts him a puppy. Yury names him Friday and he invites Flora to assist at the puppy class run behind the hardware store each Saturday afternoon.  I love the name of these classes - The Good Manners for Good Dogs dog school.

So many special but small things happen to Flora over the course of this year. She has a wonderful  friend called Nessy, she loves helping with Friday, her dad takes her to his photo shoots, her mum encourages her to try piano lessons and her teacher Mr Cooper notices her special talent.

Cynthia Rylant paints a delightful picture of this small town and this is reflected in her choice of names for each shop/business:

Wings and a Chair Used Books - This is where Flora's mother works three afternoons each week and it is where Flora and Yuri enjoy reading vintage children's books.  I have made a list below because I was curious to discover if these were real books and I was thrilled to discover they are. In this shop there is a fabulous purple velveteen chair where Flora loves to sit and read.

"And this is the story of any proudly owned used-book shop: that someone, at some time, has stumbled upon a kind of buried treasure within its shelves. But unlike shiny gold, which is taken instantly, this treasure - a vintage book.  ...  Then arrives the day when it becomes clear that that vintage book should belong to a certain someone."

The Windy Day Diner where Flora and her mother often eat their lunch or supper.

Southwell's Barbershop the place where she first sees little Serenity the cat with the fluffy tail.

The Peaceable Buns Bakery where Flora and her mother share poetry books and a love of words.

Four Part Harmony - the music store filled with every musical instrument you can imagine and where Flora and Nessy go for weekly piano lessons.

Mars Comics - Yury loves this shop

Book titles (Yes they are real!)
  • The Boy Allies
  • Meg and the disappearing Diamonds
  • Nora Force at Raven Rock
  • Stories for Children - inscribed To Christopher 1929
  • The Girl from Tim's Place - inscribed to John L 1906
  • The Walton Boys in Rapids Ahead published in 1958

Two other things I loved in this story were the idea of encyclopedia hour. At this time, once each week, the children are allowed to explore the twenty-two volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia. It is a little out of date being the 1962 edition but Flora loves exploring each volume.  The second thing I would like to know more about is April Lyrid. It's a meteor shower that happens once a year.

I love the fact there there is no conflict in this quiet story.  There are no bullies and there is no meanness just observations of  life by Flora.  She simply gives us insights into the changes in her own life and her reactions to these changes told in an honest and open way.This is a small story but a very meaningful one which young, sensitive readers will enjoy.

I am a huge fan of Cynthia Rylant so when I saw this little volume many months ago I just knew I had to read it. Sadly here in Australia this little book was priced at $25 so I decided to wait. Last week I found a copy for just under $20 and when it arrived yesterday I read the whole book straight away even though I knew I should really slow down and savour its delights. 

You can hear part of the first chapter here. Here is a review with more plot details.

There is a mention in this book of Cricket Magazine - I have a few old copies and I treasure them. Here is an early cover from the 1970s.

I don't think that anywhere as idyllic as Rosetown ever existed, but I certainly want to move there and be the middle school librarian! Ms Yingling

There is no stunning plot twist, no over-the-top drama, no “cosmic experiences.” In Rosetown, there is simply life – in all of its complexities and beauty.  There are blooming friendships. There are waning friendships. There are shared interests. There is room for independent pursuits. And there are cats. And there are dogs. Katie Reviews Books

"Flora watched the dove-gray clouds move over the fields and farms. She looked towards the horizon dividing the brown soil from the blue sky. And deep inside she suddenly became aware of a feeling of expectation."

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Hole by Kerry Brown illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

Down a winding pathway
'bout halfway through the woods,
sat a weary traveller
with a basket full of goods.

Don't you love a book with a cut-out front cover - in this case a hole inviting the reader to look inside! A little squirrel is off to visit her cousin Vera when she encounters a hole. She is curious. What could be down in this hole. She lowers herself down to the hole and gets stuck. Along comes an ostrich.  He puts his neck into the hole and finds he is wedged. Three monkeys come along. The join hands and jump into the hole.

The hole that once was empty
was filling to the brim
with a menageries of wildlife
who were feeling rather grim.

When a mouse finds the hole she cups her hands and calls out YOO HOO! I can imagine children hearing this story will all join in with the little field mouse. I love talking about echoes with young children. This book will be perfect to read-aloud.

The final visitor to the hole is a mole and the problem is solved. Since each animal was carrying a basket of goodies everyone can now share a feast washed down with a cup of tea.

There are so many terrific words used in this rhyming story.

Here is a set of teachers notes from the publisher. Here is a review from Reading Time. The Hole is a book I would share with children aged 3-6.

I have begun to think about 2018 Australian picture books. I wonder which titles will make our 2019 Children's Book Council Notable titles and then which will be included with the six on each short list.  I have made a Pinterest of Australian picture books published in 2018.

Other funny books about holes include Hill and Hole by Kyle Mewburn, The Hole by Oyvind Torseter, Rosalyn Rutabaga and the biggest hole on earth by Marie-Louise Gay and The Monster Hole by Mary Small (Aussie Nibble series). You could also compare this book with the famous Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

Kerry Brown is the author of All my Kisses and Lest we Forget. Lucia Masciullo is the illustrator of a large number of picture books, the novels about Olive of Groves and covers for books such as the Our Australian Girl series.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Skylarks War by Hilary McKay

"Missing said the telegram, and also: presumed dead. 
Snow cold shock held Clarry motionless, silenced every sound, faded the colours to shades of grey, and diminished her fragment of nothingness, a small lost point, rocking in an endless darkness of space."

When Clarissa is born her mother dies. In his grief her father leaves his two children, older brother Peter and Clarry, into the care of a series of housekeepers.  Clarissa means clear and bright and that is exactly what she becomes as we see her grow from a tiny baby into womanhood. Clarry has deep emotional understanding of her remote father and her clever, sensitive brother. Her happiest times are spent in Cornwall each year with the grandparents and her beloved cousin Rupert but this story has begun in 1902 and so very soon the Great War will have an impact on all their lives hence the quote at the start of this post. Clarry is also a very bright girl, excelling at school once she has persuaded her father a proper school is where she needs to go. Clarry is bold, resourceful and patient. She is determined to help others especially Rupert her cousin and Peter her brother and she is determined to move forward with her own life in a time of change for women.

This is a book of gentle story telling giving insights into complex relationships and difficult times which will be enjoyed by mature readers who like to take their time with a book. It is also a book that adult readers will enjoy because it has a nostalgic feel.  If you are a Noel Streatfeild fan then you will enjoy this book - I am certain.

While I was researching for this blog entry I found a delightful blog called "Clothes in Books". Take a look at her review and scroll down to see what Hilary McKay says too. You can read a Q & A with Hilary here I especially appreciated reading her thoughts about Clarry and Peter's father who was so horrid to the children with his emotional neglect and absences.

Here are some other reviews to explore:

One of her first goals is to get an education, and while her father does not see her worth, other people do. Then World War I rears it tragic head and a time of uncertainty, anguish and separation begins. Readings

We follow their lives, but just saying that is not enough. We see, through the prism of their stories, a whole social landscape which is changing almost before our eyes.  The History Girls

Other books to explore that link with The Skylarks war are The War that Saved my Life and Vinnie's War.

Thanks again to Beachside Bookshop for giving me this advanced reader copy.

"Another thing that people thought odd was that the skylarks sang in the language of their homes. In English for the English, in French for the French, and in Dutch for the Dutch.  More puzzling still, on the other side of the trenches, a few miles away, the skylarks were singing in German. It was a war where absolutely nothing made sense."

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Celebrating Australian Children's books from 1962 onwards

Last month here in Australia IBBY participated in the Sharing Stories exhibition in Canberra hosted by the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature and Woden Library. It was brilliant.

You can now access the full annotation publication of our Australian IBBY Honour books from 1962 up to 2018. I do hope you might take time to read some of these annotations. This is a document that deserves wide circulation and should also be a useful resource for a school or other library. 

Yes I did play a very small role in the writing but that is not why I am sharing this with you. There is a link from the IBBY Australia Web site to the pdf with annotations of all 48 amazing Australian children's books. If you dip into this you are sure to see some old and new favourites.

The first book featured is a childhood favourite of mine and I still own this copy.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Leaf or a Rock or Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas illustrated by Violeta Dabija

A rock is a rock.
It's sand, pebble, stone.
Each rock tells a story
a tale of its own.

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.

Water is water
its puddle, pond, sea.
When spring time comes splashing,
the water flows free.

Here we have a set of three books with links to excellent teaching notes.  In our schools we have started to promote mindfulness and the quiet contemplation of our world. While these books are perfect they are also very expensive but you might find one or all of them in a library.  You can see inside all three at the Publisher Web Site. They would all be great to use with Leaf Stone Beetle by Ursula Dubosarsky which you may remember is a new Australian book I really love.

Teaching Notes for A Leaf Can Be.

Teaching notes for A Rock Can Be.

Teaching notes for Water Can Be.
Kirkus Star Review

A contemplative and thought-provoking ode to the forms water takes and the functions it serves, both practical and whimsical. Once again, the author’s staccato rhymes leapfrog unexpectedly from one idea to the next, almost like a free-association game Publishers Weekly

Back in 2012 I talked about another book by Laura Purdie Salas - Book Speak.  Here is a page from A Rock Can be.

Image Source Lerner

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Are you kidding me!
Holy Batman
This is a GREAT book!

Reading this book is a profound experience. I have read it twice - something I rarely do. I was lucky to have access to an advanced reader copy earlier in the year. It wasn't even in book form. I read the pages, almost obsessively, over two days. Last week Lenny's Book of Everything arrived in bookshops. I rushed out to buy a copy and over the last two days I have lived in the world of Lenny, Davey, Cindy and Mrs Caspar all over again.

The structure of this book is just perfect. Cindy Spink wins her family a set of Burrell's Build-it-at-Home Encyclopedia set.

"Welcome to the Spink family. My name is Cindy and I have two children, Lenore and David. Their father died nearly a year ago. ... My children are the Love of My Life. They are both beautiful although Davey is very big for his age. I've taken him to the doctor and they are going to figure out why. Lenore is so good to her brother and so very smart in third grade."

Between 1969 and 1977 the parts of the encyclopedia arrive from A to Z one part at a time. Exploration of each book part when it arrives provides light relief from the heavy themes explored in this powerful and honest story. I also loved and laughed at the letters send from Martha Brent the General Sales Manager at Burrell's Publishing Company.  I like to think that Karen Foxlee really enjoyed her research for these sections. Here are Lenny's comments when "B" arrives:

"Bats for starters: fringe-lipped and spear-nosed and bonneted. Leaf-chinned and bulldog and vampire. Bacteria: four kinds. Badgers and baobab trees. Several coloured pages of birds which were brilliant. On each page, we chose and ordered our favourites. My ultimate favourite was the meadowlark because it reminded me of open places. Davey's ultimate favourite was the golden eagle."

Mum knows something is wrong when Davey is born. "It's not a hurting kind of feeling, Just a something-will-happen feeling.' 'A good thing or bad thing?' I asked. "It might be good or bad or somewhere in between,' she said. 'We'll just have to wait and see."

They watch as Davey grows taller sometimes even overnight. Mrs Caspar, their neighbour, tries to help. She is happy to babysit Davey when Cindy is at work. There are monthly phone conversations with Nanny Flora who lives far away and the kindness of Lenny's school friends CJ and Mathew Milford. Eventually Cindy takes Davey to see a specialist. There are treatments and surgery but sadly, while these work for a while, eventually the awful tumors come back.

One aspect of this story that absolutely warmed my heart was the way other kids reacted to Davey at school. After a very bad start when Cindy tried to enroll him at the local preschool I was so worried about his first day in Grade One. By now age six he is nearly five feet tall. He does look odd so it was wonderful to read that the teacher was kind and that the other kids totally accepted Davey.  His warm smile and lovely ways charmed them all.

The other wonderful aspect of this story is the honesty of Lenny herself. She deeply loves her brother but she also worries about him, she suffers with embarrassment in public and at school, and she is sometimes very annoyed with him - all perfectly understandable and real emotions. How will she survive when he is gone?

The cast of secondary characters in this book are also simply fabulous.  Here are some descriptions.

Mrs Caspar (their Hungarian neighbour who shares her widely vivid dreams)
"She had two Pomeranians with marmalade-coloured coats named Karl and Karla. The apartment smelled of them, and also ashtrays, filled with white cigarette filters, each decorated with a ring of peach lipstick. Her apartment was a kaleidoscope of tan crocheted doilies and pumpkin-coloured throw rugs; even Mrs Caspar's orange beehive, which sat a little askew on her head, matched the decor."

Mr King (he owns the fruit shop and lusts after Cindy)
"Mr King was as short as my mother ... (he) had a little round belly like he'd swallowed a baby. His satiny shirt strained over it ... He looked at my mother like he could suck her up through a straw, just like and that, and she would be all his."

Mr Petersburg (reclusive and mysterious neighbour who writes to prisoners)
"Mr Petersburg looked deeply embarrassed to have been discovered. Frightened too. He bent down to pick up his letter. ... He wore his powder-blue suit and his white hair was combed back severely over his white skull. The letters trembled in his very white hand."

I have been thinking about the evolution of Karen Foxlee.  I enjoyed Ophelia and the Marvelous boy but I did take quite a long time to finish it. A Most Magical Girl was a fabulous book and certainly worth of a Kirkus Star review. It was short listed for our CBCA 2017 award but really should have been the winner in my view. Now we have a completely different and even better book - Lenny's Book of Everything.

Read some reviews by young readers. You can read the first 38 pages on the publisher web site and find a link to a set of brilliant teachers notes. Here is an interview with the author. If you loved Wonder then look for Lenny's Book of Everything.  I also recommend Wish upon a Unicorn by Karen Hesse and A corner of the Universe by Ann M Martin.

Take a close look at the cover.  The eagle image is made of up a collage. The cover uses images from the Golden Book Encyclopedia. Read about the design of the cover. Here is Volume 8 which features beetles on the cover in honour of Lenny who loves beetles.

Image source:

Lenny's Book of Everything simply MUST make our CBCA 2019 short list - yes it is that good! If I haven't convinced you to read this book take a look at this insightful and brilliant review by Dimity Powell. You can read how Karen's real life experience led her to write this story of Lenny, Davey and Cindy.

If you want to read some thoughts about death and loss in Middle Grade Fiction take a look at this post by US Teacher-Librarian Holly Mueller.

Here is the US cover - I like it. Do you?

A tough, tender and beautiful piece of work that left me aching - Glenda Millard

You come to care so deeply for the characters that you want to move into their little flat and look after them. ... Told with piercing honest and clarity of a child, this story holds life lessons for everyone. W is for wonderful, and that is Lenny's Book - unforgettable - Anna Fienberg

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Birds and Feathers by Britta Teckentrup

Feathers are among the most remarkable things ever made by nature. They are delicate, complex, extravagant, beautiful and strong - all at the same time. All birds have feathers which make them unique in the animal kingdom.

There are forty double spreads in this very special book covering everything you need to know, or have been curious to discover, about feathers such as types, colours, sizes, flapping, gliding and hovering, feathers for protection and human use of feathers. 

Source Twitter

You can see inside this book here. Did you know there is a feather on the moon?  It is a falcon feather. Here are a few things I discovered:

  • Owl feathers form large discs around their eyes and these help channel sounds into their ears - hence owls have brilliant hearing and can locate prey.
  • Arctic birds such as the ptarmigan have feet feather which work just like snowshoes.
  • Birds that live in cold climates have fifty percent more feathers in winter. The tundra swan can have up to 25,000 feathers and penguins have the most feathers - about 100 per square inch.

Many of our classes spend time on the topic of Animals but oddly, until recently, the teachers did not specifically include birds into their planning. A few years ago I convinced one grade to look at all the amazing bird books in our school library and I was thrilled when they totally embraced the idea of spending a few weeks exploring everything about birds including their feathers.  Now we have this brilliant book - Birds and Feathers by the very talented illustrator Britta Teckentrup.

If you want to focus on specific aspects of birds take a look at The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay by Narelle Oliver (Beaks), Circle by Jeannie Baker (Bird Migration), Fox and Fine Feathers by Narelle Oliver (Camouflage) and Mama built a little Nest (Nest building). My friend at Kinderbookboard has a terrific collection of other titles for young students.

In this quietly introspective volume featuring evocative, earth-toned prints, German author-illustrator Teckentrup explores bird life, behavior, and anatomy through the topic of feathers. Pubishers Weekly

An exquisite information rich, visually sumptuous collection of carefully curated snippets of information about everything relating to feathers. The Book Sniffer

An exquisitely rendered fusion of art and science, this marvelous book satisfies young readers' natural curiosity about the world around them. Chat with Vera

Long ago I read A nest for Celeste.  The work of Audubon fascinates me and I hope to spend time exploring the hundreds of images on the Audubon web site.  Birds are such wonders of nature. Do you have a favourite bird?  I love puffins, loons, budgerigars and our Australian kookaburra.

Image source:

I absolutely loved Birds and their Feathers and in my view this book should be a "must purchase" for every school library. Considering the beautiful art work, wonderful end papers and wealth of information this is not an expensive book at AUS$25.  I now need to read the companion volume The Egg.

Come home Already! by Jory John illustrated by Benji Davies

Duck lives next door to Bear. Duck is friendly and enthusiastic. Bear is a loner who prefers to be left alone. Duck is not deterred. He wants to spend time (lots of time) with Bear. The sun is shining it's "a glorious morning full of possibility." Duck knocks on Bears door. There is no answer. Then he sees a sign - gone fishing!

"Bear's gone fishing?
He's back next week?
He's gone fishing?
Without me?
But ...
but ...
What am I going to do with myself until then?"

Meanwhile Bear has set off with his tent, teddy bear and map. He is happy to have some time alone.

Duck tries to entertain himself - reading, cooking, writing letters, drumming and watching a movie but he soon becomes bored.  He decides to set off to find bear.

Meanwhile Bear is not going too well. He cannot work out how to put up his tent, he forgot to pack snacks, it has started to rain and he cannot light his camp fire.

Duck arrives just in time:

"Bear it's me! Duck! From next door. I found you, ol' buddy, ol' chum."

I love the emotional aspects of this story.  Bear really does need a friend and Duck is such a happy soul but he is a little too enthusiastic.  Bear needs Duck, but only in small doses. Like all relationships theirs is a complex one.

Read this review. Here are details of the four books along with some work sheets.  I would follow this series with the book series by Bonny Becker about Mouse and Bear along with the books you can see below. Take a look at this trailer. If you want to explore another funny book about camping trips that go wrong take a look at Herman's Holiday.

Something to think about - so many of these odd couple relationships involve bears. Rabbit and Bear, Mouse and Bear, Bird (Honey) and Bear, Chook and Bear, Racoon and Bear (Herman) and now Duck and Bear. This might be a fun mini theme to explore with a class.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

If it rains Pancakes Haiku and Lantern poems by Brian P Cleary

I do enjoy reading Haiku. Haiku have three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables.  Lantern poems form the shape of a lantern with one syllable in the first line (a noun), 2 syllables in the second line, 3 syllables in the third line, 4 syllables in the fourth line, 5 syllables in the fifth line and then back to one syllable.

Let's begin with the haiku in this book. Here are a couple I really like:

The Mind

Memory is like
a room where tiny boxes
hold our yesterdays.

What if?

If it rains pancakes
I'll need no umbrella,
just syrup, fork, and plate.

After this Haiku you could read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. 

Here are some lantern poems:

rise, shine.
is already

honey makers-

a gift
that is best
when you return

Here is the Kirkus Star review.  Here are some ideas for writing Lantern poems. Here is video which explains haiku in a very simple way for younger students.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Big words for little Geniuses by Susan and James Patterson

I adore books like this that foster curiosity while offering a good laugh at the same time. From the first word in this collection of twenty-six (plus an additional twenty-six at the back) the tone is established.

The alarming fear of peanut butter sticking to the top of your mouth! (see below for the illustration)

Each word comes with a pronunciation guide, a definition and a wild illustration.

Here are some of my favourites:
Bibliomania - you have bibliomania if you love to collect as many books as you can.

Idioglossia - If you share a secret language with a friend, it's called idioglossia.

Stelliferous - When the night sky is filled with stars, it's a stelliferous sight!

Here are some words you could add to everyday conversations with your child:


On the final two pages there are twenty-six more words (in alphabetical order) to learn and enjoy.

I didn't know jillion is a very high number, nephelococcygia means finding familiar shapes in clouds, and zoosemiotics means the study of how animals communicate.

You could use this book once a week with a class. Introduce a new word, have fun with it and perhaps try to use the word all through the week in your conversations and writing. Your class could then compile their own book with twenty-six new words all enhanced with fabulous illustrations.

If you need some more inspiration look for The Magic Dictionary by Bruce Whatley.

Take a look at my review of Word of Mouse also by James Patterson which was a book I adored.  Here is a video interview with James and Susan.

I would pair this book with The Weird and wonderful world of Words.  If you have an older class you could look for these books in your school library: