Friday, June 22, 2018

What about me? by Gertie Evenhuis

Years ago I found What about me? in my school library.  This is an obscure little book which I first read in about 1997 but somehow the story lingered.  I often recommended it to students who read Number the Stars, The Silver Sword or The Upstairs room. Sadly our library copy disappeared and ever since I have had this book in my mind as a title to look for in used bookstores. Fast forward over 20 years to my recent holiday in UK.  While I was in Suffolk I visited a very messy and huge second hand bookshop. I was browsing the small selection of children's titles when to my huge delight and surprise I saw What about me? tucked away on the shelf. And it only cost 70 pence.

The scene I remember so vividly did not disappoint. Dirk is about to turn 12. The Germans have invaded Holland. Dirk is anxious to know what is happening. He sees change all around him but his older brother, who he once idolized, keeps telling him he is too young to understand. Dirk suspects his brother is involved with the resistance. He knows his brother has 'illegal' papers and posters in his room.

"I looked round hurriedly, Yes, there were forbidden newspapers. I snatched a handful. It was the least I could do. After all, the pamphlet had said: pass this on. I would be able to do something for my country at last. I might not be able to kill Hitler, but I could do something to help."

Dirk posts some of the papers on walls around the town and passes one onto his beloved teacher.  The next day word reaches the class that Mr De Lange has been arrested. Dirk now has the awful task of disposing of all these papers. In one terrifying scene he even tries to flush them down a toilet all the time sensing terrible danger for himself, his brother, his teacher and his whole family.

Gertie Evenhuis (1927-2005) was a Dutch children's author of over thirty books. This one was originally called En Waarom ik Neit? which translates as And why not me? and published in 1970. The translated by Lance Salway, the Puffin edition was published in 1976.

I would follow What about me? with The Little riders by Margaretha Shemin and Honey Cake by  Joan Betty Stuchner. Both are set in Holland and feature the work of the resistance during WWII. The art work on the cover may look familiar.  Richard Kennedy has quite a collection of book covers from past favourites.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tin by Padraig Kenny

Tin is about heart and soul, friendship, and mechanical strength – it’s about the future of machines and the inheritance of human loyalty. It’s also funny, adventurous, and loving.  Barry Cunningham Chicken House books in The Bookseller.

I really enjoy books where the author asks the reader to do some work, some thinking.  A book where the pieces of the plot puzzle are slowly revealed.  Where, as a reader I keep forming and re-forming theories about the characters, time period, and in this case, the political scene.

Enter the world of Tin.  There are mechanicals and propers.  Propers are human.  Mechanicals are mostly robots made by engineers and most look like children.  Engineers need a licence to operate and create mechanicals and there are strict laws.  It is forbidden to :

"confer life and sentience upon any raw material which conforms to the standard agreed dimensions of an adult or 'proper' human being."
"it is strictly forbidden to confer life upon a mechanical using the principals of refined propulsion, otherwise known as 'ensoulment."

As the story opens Mr Absalom, who seems to be a shady character, is striding through the town with Christopher and Jack.  It is clear Jack is a mechanical. 

"Snow was falling from the night sky, and all the world was cold and hushed except for the regular metallic squeaking of Jack's joints."

Christopher is a mystery. He shows emotion, he seems to be working for Absalom but it is Jack, not Christopher, who sabotages Absalom's plans. Absalom has other mechanicals in his yard -

Round Rob - Rob's head was always coming loose and  "the trunk of his body was made from an old cooking pot (and he) ... could be hired out for proper children to roll him down hills at festivals and fetes."

Manda "Her grin was a crooked as ever, and the brown curls on her head didn't sit quite right. Her left eye was larger than the right and her right leg was shorter than the left ... "

Gripper  "the largest standing over eight feet tall with a barrel chest that tapered at the waist. He had tree-trunk wide legs and great clod-hopping feet. His huge arms were a muscled collage of wires and rivets and piping - they ended in gigantic clawed hands ... "

Estelle - a young girl - human -  skilled in the application of skin.

Together these disparate and kind creatures form a team.  Christopher is in danger and it will take all their ingenuity to save him.

You can read more of the plot here but I would wait until you finish reading Tin as it does contain some spoilers. You can hear the author speaking about the themes in his book in this brief video. Here is a great idea - Waterstones have collected images of window displays from their shops in this Pinterest board.  I highly recommend Tin for mature primary students and junior high.

There have been so many items in the media lately about Artificial Intelligence AI - Tin shows a possible beginning for the machines which are now part of our world along with the hope for kindness and the triumph of good over evil. Click on these links to read more about the current debate.

Each character is written tenderly, with exquisite details that are really immersive. The story sets out questions of war, morality and shows you how powerful friendship can be, with or without a human connection. Estellosaurus

It is tempting to hope that some movie studio is fighting to snap up film rights for this must-read YA novel, but would a movie spoil the book? Read Tin now before anyone else gets their hands on it. It is brilliant. John Millen Young Post City University of Hong Kong.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Goose Road by Rowena House

Rowena House has such a simple writing style but she manages to pack so much heart into each and every page.   A Fiction Addiction

Blending real-life hardships and the horrors of WWI with an overarching fairy tale-esque adventure, this is a classic David versus Goliath story in which a girl steps up to fight multiple Goliaths with large doses of determination, wit and a willingness to take risks. Highly recommended. Love Reading 4Kids

Reading a whole book in one day is an indulgence but it also equates to a captivating plot. Angelique is living in France.  It is 1916. The family are only just surviving on their family farm. Her father has been killed on the front and her brother is fighting on the Somme. Angelique and her mother are very hard working but after their cattle and horses are requisitioned by the army harvesting seems impossible. Angelique writes to her beloved Uncle Gustav and he arrives and offers practical help (he made me so happy) but then Angelique's mother confesses her husband had terrible debts and they are not even able to pay back the interest and the debt collectors will show no mercy.

Uncle Gustav and Angelique set off to sell the family geese. They hope to obtain a high price by taking them to the front lines.  "Top brass, that's what we need - rich officers with more money than sense ... the richest pickings of all might well be at Frevent. ... (we will find) the Commander-in-Chief of the Battle of the Somme."  This is a long and harrowing journey and you will feel you are taking every slow and cold step with Angelique.

At its heart this is a book about determination and trust. Reading this book I kept shouting at Angelique to be careful. So many people who purported to be kind turned out to be cunning swindlers. It still feels slightly amazing to me that Angelique did manage all of those geese and she did sell them for an excellent price. Be warned though, the personal cost is very high.

This book is listed as 12+ but I think a mature senior primary student would cope with the descriptions of violence by Angelique's father and also of the maimed soldiers returning from the front lines.  Once again thanks to Beachside Bookshop for passing me this Advanced Reader Copy.  here is a detailed review.  At the back of the book the author note explains the inspiration for this story and details all the research Rowena completed. The authenticity of the setting shows how well she synthesized all this material into a gripping historical novel - but more than that it is a book that features a wonderful hero. I highly recommend The Goose Road.

"You can't herd the geese to the Front ... 
But you can buy them a railway ticket."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Orphan band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet

"(The) letter described some lamentable instances of exploitation and injustice ... So I've come, to support the fine work of the Federation of Woolen and Worsted Workers and to organize our brothers and sisters in the mills and shoe factories."

Gusta is a character who will linger with me for a long time. She is wise, determined and strong. It is 1941 and later this same year America will enter WWII. Suspicion is growing against 'aliens'. Neubronner sounds foreign and so does Bertmann. Even more suspicious Mr Bertmann, the oculist, has pigeons and he is training them to carry cameras.  But Mr Bertmann is a true friend to Gusta. He is able to provide her with glasses and suddenly her world comes into focus.

Gusta and her father are travelling to Springdale in Maine but on their last stop her father leaves the bus and does not return. Gusta is so worried about him. Men are hunting him.

"Their eyes looked like mysterious dark pools to Gusta. ...and the men were in uniforms, and that was how she knew the thing they had been dreading and expecting all these months, even years ... "

Gusta has with her a French Horn. At the orphanage, run by her grandmother, she meets a wonderful girl called Josie. Josie has a beautiful singing voice so the girls form their band with Gusta's cousin Bess but this is just a diversion from the real issues driving Gusta.  She meets her uncle and learns about his factory accident. His hand is bound up tight with scars and he has been dismissed. Gusta's father, a union activist, has shown her workers have rights. Gusta is determined to right this wrong and help her uncle but she will need a lot of money to do this.  If you click on either of the review quotes below you can read more of the plot.

Initially I liked the cover but now that I have read this gutsy book about unions and human rights I am not so sure - it is perhaps a little too 'pretty'.  I rarely give star ratings as you know but I give The Orphan Band of Springdale 5 stars out of 5. I especially enjoyed all the tension created by Anne Nesbet as Gusta finds herself in one predicament after another. This is a book which should be in your school library.

A big thank you to Beachside Bookshop for giving me this advanced reader copy of The Orphan Band of Springdale.  Here is an audio sample from the first chapter of this book.  Here is a detailed set of discussion questions.  This book would be perfect for a senior grade book discussion group.  Read an interview with the author.  I would follow this book with another favourite of mine -  Bread and Roses, too.

Sometimes suspenseful and always engaging, this snapshot of determined Gusta and life before the war is sure to captivate readers. Kirkus

Sometimes kids just need a book to cozy up with in an overstuffed chair, a secluded treehouse, or a nest of pillows. This is exactly that book. Elizabeth Bush

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Can I touch your hair? Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Can I touch your hair? Poems of race, mistakes and friendship

We smile when we learn we both like books, but not sports.
We nod our heads over cool shoes and colorful laces.

Now we see each other as individuals ...
We share hurts like being left out at recess and getting into trouble with our parents. ...

We are so much more than black and white.

This is a complex book with so many layers that it risks being left unopened on the shelf if it is not shared with the child by an astute adult, either parent or teacher, who can begin and sensitively guide the conversations.  The Bottom Shelf

The Bottom Shelf shared her review of this book and was immediately intrigued. I love the power of poetry, I love verse novels and this title sounded interesting.  Very kindly The Bottom Shelf sent me her spare copy so now I can share my thoughts about this slim book of connected poems. (It's not quite a verse novel.)

Mrs Vandenberg sets a class project - pairs of students writing poems. Irene ends up with Charles. They are so different this pair of grade 5 kids but over the course of their writing their differences make way for understanding and friendship.  Irene is white, Charles is African American. Irene is a shy girl who loves horses and reading. She longs to take part in playground games. Charles is clever and outspoken and he also loves reading. Charles wants to understand the adult world and the rules around race and fear.

The result is a set of alternating poems from each child. As a reader I imagined the conversations between Irene and Charles as they share their poems and experiences with one another. Church is different but in both places a white Jesus looks down on the congregation. A visit to the beach is torture for both of them even if the reasons are different. The fear of walking out after dark is the same for both sets of parents. "That's a rough neighborhood, especially in the evening."  "Why Aunt Sarah doesn't go downtown after Dark - sky black, streets black, faces black, fear white."

This is an important book which should also generate conversations with children in Australia and it is a perfect book for teachers looking to explore perspective.  It also shows the power of poetry as a way to express big emotions.

You can read more about the four people involved with creating this book at the Walker Books site.

School Library Journal
Kirkus star review
Horn Book Magazine
Jama's Alphabet Soup

You can see Charles Waters here (begin at 14.21 this is a long program so set aside some time) where he reads some of the poems and then answers questions.  Here is a set of Teaching notes.  Here is a ten minute interview at The Yarn with Travis Jonker.

Here is a poem by Irene which shows the power of this writing:

When Shona
her family tree
to the class.

I see all
the top branches
are draped in chains.

Because my
were slaves
she says.

I swallow
I want to say
but those words
are so small
for something
so big.

Still I want to try.

So I write it
on a scrap of paper,
find her library book,
and tuck it inside.

Web sites for the collaborators who worked on this book of 33 poems -  Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Sean Qualls (illustrator of Emmanuel's Dream), and Selina Alko.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Once, there were two sisters.
Rose had hair like threads of black silk and cheeks like two red petals and a voice that was gentle and sometimes hard to hear. Snow had hair like white swan down and eyes the color of the winter sky, with a laugh that was sudden and wild.

Before you read this review take ten minutes to listen to this audio version of Snow White and Rose Red by the Grimm Brothers.  It is essential to have a good knowledge of this fairy tale before you read Snow and Rose.

I first saw Snow and Rose in a large city book shop and I was attracted to the cover and the promise of a story based on a fairy tale. More recently I visited Beachside Bookshop where I again spied this book and so I decided to buy it. I was right about the cover and scrumptious illustrations but wrong about the story.  This is not a plot based around the fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red but rather an actual retelling of the fairy tale in the longer format of a 200 page illustrated novel.

I will confess I was not familiar with this tale by the Grimm Brothers but as I read on I realised I needed to find the original tale. There are three covers at the bottom of this post or you may find the tale in a Fairy Tale collection. I actually thought there would be more picture book editions - this is a gap in the market which needs filling. 

Emily Wingfield Martin weaves in all the story elements from the original and then adds her own delicious descriptions. 

"Half the garden was filled entirely with white flowers of every kind - with pale, delicate bells of lily of the valley, spires of vanilla foxgloves with speckled throats, climbing moonflower vines, and bright-eyed anemones, from the tiniest white daisy to ivory dahlias the size of dinner plates."

"And the other half bloomed only in red: vermilion poppies and scarlet pansies and wine-colored snapdragons and Japanese lanterns the color of fire. And dozens and dozens of roses, each with a hundred red petals."

And here is the description of the very special library the girls find in the forest.  They each borrow an object not knowing exactly how these curiosities will help them.

"On every side of the staircase were intricate shelves built into the walls and arm's reach away. As the girls made their way up, they were further puzzled, for in this library, there weren't any books. Instead arranged on the shelves, nestled in nooks, displayed in boxes, stuffed into glass bottles, were hundreds - maybe thousands- of little objects. ... A bit of coral, a spotted feather, a scrap of velvet, a paper crane, a delicate bone, a pebble of fool's gold, ... a postage stamp, an acorn, a baby tooth, a sliver button."

One of the joys with writing this blog is when I discover connections. Emily Wingfield Martin is the author of several picture books (you can hear her talking about her books here) and she is also the author a book I did enjoy a few years ago called Oddfellows Orphanage.

As with all fairy tales, there are lessons in these books: Cultivate inner beauty. Be kind, especially to any creature or fellow human who is suffering. And because young heroines figure so prominently, one notion emerges with particular clarity: Girls have the interior resources to do anything they want, and while a little magic helps, it’s hardly necessary. New York Times

For lovers of fairy tales, this story of sisterhood, taking risks, and being kind is a physically beautiful book with an appealing cover and captivating full-color illustrations. Kirkus

Friday, May 4, 2018

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost

With care and precision, Frost deftly turns plainspoken conversations and the internal monologues of her characters into stunning poems that combine to present three unique and thoughtful perspectives on war, family, love and loss.  West Texas Bookworm (also in Kirkus)

I seem to be reading Young Adult books right now but I thoroughly enjoyed Crossing Stones by Helen Frost so I thought I would share a few thoughts here.

When I read Applesauce weather also by Helen Frost I went in search of more books by this talented writer because as you may know I do enjoy verse novels. I found a used copy of Crossing Stones (2009) for a very reduced price. Mine is a discarded library book from Gilmer Public Library in West Virginia. I love their address of Walnut Street. It actually looks as though this book had only one loan which is sad.

The setting for Crossing Stones is from April 1917 to January 1918 - yes it is World War I. This is also the time women are fighting for suffrage. America joined World War I in April 1917.

"We've all heard what is coming: we know
        the president will take us right into the middle
              of this war they're fighting overseas, yet I can't help
                   hoping against hope that someone, somehow
                        might find a way to keep us out of it."

Muriel Jorgensen is eighteen. She lives on one side of Crabapple Creek with her family - mother, father,  little sister Grace and younger brother Ollie. On the other side live Emma Norman, her brother Frank and their parents. Just as Muriel starts to realise she is falling in love with Frank he enlists. There are letters and small gifts but sadly he is killed. Ollie is too young to sign up but he lies about his age and he is sent off to fight too. Ollie does return but he is badly hurt. As all of this is happening Muriel's aunt Vera is in Washington DC on the picket line fighting for the right to vote. She has been arrested and has been on a hunger strike. Muriel goes to Washington to bring her aunt home after her release from jail. It is from this experience that Muriel discovers a little more about the wider world and the possibilities for women which could mean a different future she had imaged only last year.

There is so much in this book - history, a love story, politics, women's suffrage, self discovery, grief and family love. I recommend this book for age 12+.  High School English teachers will find lots to explore in the form of these poems - Muriel's are shaped like the river while the other poems look like the stones. These are "cupped hand sonnets" fourteen line poems with complex rhyming patterns which are explained at the back of the book.

Take a look at this review by Anita Silvey. You can listen to an audio sample from page 19 onwards. Here is a set of teaching notes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs 100th Anniversary

Corymbia calophylla Creative Commons image

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a lecture at the Art Gallery of NSW where Dr Robin Morrow talked about May Gibbs and her very famous Australian book which turns 100 this year.   Here is part of a report I have written for our IBBY Australia Newsletter.  Robin also talked about The Magic Pudding but I will focus on Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in this post.

Gumnut babies and Puddin’ thieves: Bush adventure stories for children

Dr Robin Morrow AM

Art Gallery of NSW Lecture series

1918: The world in transition

Repercussions and legacies a century on:

The year 1918 marked the end of WWI. It was this year Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs (1877 – 1969) and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) were published. In her lecture in April 2018, Robin examined similarities and differences between these books and their attitudes to the bush; she looked at them as products of their time; and also discussed ways they are like and unlike the books published for children today.
Robin opened her lecture with a quote from UK critic Peter Hollindale “A large part of any book is written not by its author but by the world its author lives in.” 
Robin highlighted some of the influences on UK born May Gibbs. Her parents attended art school in London, she lived in Western Australian and her father took her into the bush for sketching lessons. In WA May saw very large gumnuts possibly Marri Corymbia calophylla.  Professor Peter Bernhardt (St Louis University Prof of Botany) was later to praise her observation in the details of plants and flowers especially her famous banksia men. She returned to London and contributed cartoons to The Common Cause, a suffragette magazine and she also published a children’s book About Us (1912).
Picture source May Gibbs web site
A breakthrough moment came when Gibbs designed a gumleaf bookmark with the peeping face of a ‘bush sprite’. A similar image appeared in 1914 on the cover of Lone Hand, a monthly magazine fighting for an independent Australian culture, and then came postcards which were sent to Australian soldiers serving in the trenches. In 2009 Ursula Dobosarsky was inspired by a May Gibbs postcard to write her book Tibby’s LeafIt seems a natural progression to her next projects writing Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Their Adventures wonderful (1918), Little Ragged Blossom (1920) and Little Obelia (1921).
In 1913 May Gibbs had made the wise decision to copyright her gumnuts. She went on to produce her comic Bib and Bub (producing over 2000 strips), books, fabric badges, hankies, calendars and bookmarks. When she died in 1969 May Gibbs left the copyright of all her works to the NSW Society for Crippled Children (now Northcott) and the Spastic Centre of NSW (now Cerebral Palsy Alliance), which still benefit from royalties on sales of her books and products.. Transport NSW has named a new harbour ferry in her honour; and in Sydney the Vivid light show will also feature her art.  (Report of the lecture by Dr Robin Morrow)

Image Source State Library of NSW
If you live in Sydney you can visit May Gibbs home Nutcote where you will learn more about her life and work. I have discovered that later this year Tania McCartney will publish a book entitled Mami : A celebration of May's life for modern children. I was interested to discover Noela Young also worked on illustrations for books about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as a part of a Young Australia book series from the 1970s and 1980s. Here is one of the illustrations from my childhood copy of The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie:
Image source ABC Radio National Hindsight November, 2012

Monday, April 30, 2018

Dog by Andy Mulligan

There are some species on this planet who 
deceive us, and enjoy doing so.

This book is tough.  It is so tough to read it took me over a week to reach the end. I  kept having to stop for a day or two to recover from the violence and emotional blackmail.  Now I guess you might be thinking NO I won't read this book but actually I am going to say the opposite - do read this book. It is so powerful and well worth riding its emotional roller coaster BUT do not skip to the end. You can trust Andy Mulligan. There should be a happy ending but the twists and turns of this journey will shock and possibly disturb you even more forcefully if you don't know the outcome.

It is interesting to think about the animal characters in this book. Spider, the puppy is good and Moonlight, the cat is pure evil but the other animals characters are harder to characterise perhaps even ambiguous. It is easy to understand why Spider is so confused.

Dog his name is Spider he is very young - only 11 weeks old when we meet him.
Thread tells him:
"Take a look at yourself little dog. You're weak, and you're skinny ... you're still lopsided and clumsy. You're out of proportion too, and you're probably not aware of it, but when you close your mouth your jaws don't shut properly. One tooth remains visible, so you look awkward."
He is a puppy, he is naive, he is trusting and he is loyal.
"He had a home. He had a name. Best of all, he had an owner who needed him - and that was simply too good to be true."

Cat her name is Moonlight. Be warned if you love cats this might not be the book for you. This cat fits the stereotype - she is manipulative, selfish, cruel and very vain. Moonlight relishes her power over Spider. She even convinces him that he might be part cat!
"... and suddenly she was beside him, pressing herself into the rough brickwork, so they were shoulder to shoulder. Spider leant against her, feeling the warmth of her fur. For the first time he caught the scent of his companion, and he was utterly confused."
"The mirrors told her she was still beautiful; there was one up ahead so she practiced her purposeful stride. There was one to the right as well, so she checked her whole aerodynamic form, adjusting her tail and lifting her hips."

Spider his name is Thread. Right from the start he tells the puppy "Spiders never lie, because it's not in their nature; we can only deal with the facts."  And yet when our puppy meets Jesse she says "You don't listen to spiders, surely?" and Flea says "It must have wrecked your confidence, because that's what spiders do. They're complete liars - everyone knows that. They make webs! They're stealthy. That's how they survive. ... They're generally sadistic, solitary and desperately unhappy. They lie for the pleasure of lying, and they feed off the misery of others."

Fox her name is Jesse. Meeting Jesse is such a relief because she is the first animal who is genuinely kind to Spider. She has no agenda. Jesse sees Spider is skinny, hungry and anxious but oddly this little black and white dog is keeping company with a group of cats. Jesse loathes these cats. Jesse is a good friend. She shares her home and food and sets off with Spider on his journey to find Tom. Sadly foxes do not do well in open country when men and dogs are hunting.

Flea has no name. It jumps onto Spider just as Jesse is chased to her death.
"... he saw the tiniest insect he'd ever seen. It had wormed its way deep into his coat, but he could still make out a greyness. It seemed to have its head jammed out of sight, but even as he watched, the little creature shifted itself around and looked up guiltily. There was a tiny spot of blood on its face, and Spider knew at once that it was his own."

The plot in essence is quite simple - a boy wants a dog, a boy gets a dog, a misunderstanding means the dog runs away, the dog survives several awful scrapes and then .... I am not going to spoil the ending.   It is the relationships that make this book so interesting. Click the review quotes below for more plot details. From this site there is a link to the first chapter as a reading sample.

I recommend this book for readers aged 11 and over - and while I rarely say this I do think this is a book that will especially appeal to boys. If you have read and enjoyed Pax then Dog would be the perfect next book.  You might also follow Dog with the Paul Jennings title A different dog. I would also recommend reading or re-reading the classics Charlotte's Web and The Incredible Journey which feature much kinder relationships between animals. Readers who enjoyed One Dog and his Boy when they were younger might take a look at Dog.

Here is an interview with the author. Here is my review of another book by Andy Mulligan Trash.

Original, thought-provoking and with a dark humour, this is an ultimately uplifting read, and very memorable. LoveReading4Kids

This edgy, unsettling story features talking animals and their various relationships with the human world. Books for Keeps

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

The New York Times said this about Nest:

This is a book to take seriously, that has a lot to say. But is it for the child readers it’s targeting?

The greatest strength of “Nest” is Chirp’s clear, strong, believable voice. First-person present tense brings us close to her from the outset, and Ehrlich never hits a false note with this endearing, vulnerable, utterly authentic little girl.

I picked up Nest in a Melbourne book shop last week. Why? I vaguely remembered reading a review, as usual I liked the cover and the review quotes and author endorsements inside the cover sealed the deal. While I am happy I read Nest it is not a book I would place in a Primary school library. It is too sad and too confronting. But it is also powerful, raw and beautifully expressed.

"While it's still just the two of us, just us and no one else, we turn off the downstairs lights. We flick the porch lights on and sit together in the living room on the gold velour couch in the almost-dark and cricket-quiet."

"There's too much I don't know. I don't know why Mom can't just get better at home if we give her lots of peace and quiet and take turns dancing for her and cooking her chicken soup and mashed potatoes and, every once in a while, bringing her an ice cream sundae with hot fudge from Benson's. I don't know when we'll get to visit Mom in the nuthouse."

I completely agree with Ms Yingling who says "I strongly suggest reading this personally before putting it into a school library."  Just as Karen Yingling says, I also found many aspects of this book touched too closely with aspects of my own childhood. I agree this is a book adult readers may enjoy more than younger students - I would give this book to a sensitive reader in Grade 8 or higher which is quite a different audience to the one suggested by the star review from Kirkus.

Here is a review with all the plot details.

I would follow Nest with Scarlet Ibis, Bird by Crystal Chan and The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson. 

Nest is an honest and raw account about a family’s love, a family’s tragedy, and a family’s healing. And though Nest is narrated in eleven-year-old Chirp’s point of view, the gravity of this family’s experiences would be best suited for readers at the higher end of the recommended age spectrum. The Children's Book Review

Monday, April 23, 2018

Wings of Fire Book One The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T Sutherland

I am a little late coming to this series which began with this first book in 2012.  In my school library these were such popular books that students even took to hiding them on other shelves so I was keen to see why? I actually did not expect to like this book but I quickly became caught up in the action and found myself rapidly turning the pages. There are now seventeen books in this series but don't panic if they are new to you too. This first book The Dragonet Prophecy is the first in a set of five which can stand alone although be warned by the end of book one you will want to rush out and grab book two.

It is a time of war. Dragon wars. Ruthless and terrifying and all about gaining power! Who will save the day? Five dragons who come from eggs that hatched on the brightest night.

MudWing - Clay

"He wasn't a natural-hatched hero. He had no legendary qualities at all. He liked sleeping more than studying and he kept losing chickens in the caves during hunting practice."

SeaWing - Tsunami

"Her deep blue scales shimmered like cobalt glass in the torchlight. The gills in her long neck were pulsing like they always did when she was angry."

SandWing - Sunny

"There was something not quite right about the littlest dragon. Not only were her scales too golden, but her eyes were grey-green instead of glittering black. Worst of all, her tail curled into an ordinary point ... instead of ending with a poisonous barb."

NightWing - Starflight

"His black NightWing scales made him nearly invisible in the dark shadows"

RainWing - Glory

"... her long, delicate snout, glowing emerald green with displeasure, rested on her front paws. Ripples of iridescent blue shimmered across her scales, and tonight her tail was a swirl of vibrant purples."

The Dragonet Prophecy centres on Clay. He has been told he is dumb but he demonstrates amazing emotional intelligence when the five are captured and taken to perform for Queen Scarlet.  These performances are battles where the loser is killed.  The queen has a champion - a dragon aptly called Peril. "No one can even touch me. I was born with too much fire."

All five dragons and Peril have to escape but they also have to work out who to trust AND try to outwit the cruel queen and her guards.  There is also the problem of their old minder Kestrel.

I do enjoy books about dragons but the strength in this book, for me, comes from the way Tui Sutherland gives each of the five dragonets strongly defined personalities.

Kirkus gave the graphic novel of this book a STAR review. This book series comes from Scholastic and they have made a very impressive web site with links to puzzles, a trailer and forums. Here is a detailed review.  Here is a podcast with Tui T Sutherland.  I would follow this series with the Dragon Keeper books by CaroleWilkinson and  Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn

Just as relevant today as it was in 1965, this is a heart-warming story about children who want to feel special and appreciated for who they are.  Book Depository

This is a very old book but luckily it is a classic and so it is still in print.  Andrew Henry's Meadow was first published in 1965 and so it seems odd that I had not heard about this book nor had I encountered Doris Burn who is such a skilled illustrator.

Andrew Henry lives in the town of Stubbsville. Andrew Henry is an inventor. He makes the most wonderful devices - a helicopter in the kitchen, an eagle's cage in the living room, a merry-go-round for his sisters Marian and Martha and a "system of  pulleys" for his brothers Robert and Ronald. Sadly his family do not appreciate his creativity so he packs his tools and sets off to build a house for himself. Sam, his dog, is left at home. Andrew Henry finds the perfect location and he builds a splendid house using clay, rocks and poles. Andrew Henry enjoys his solitude but he is not alone for long. Alice Burdock arrives and she asks Andrew Henry build her a tree house. As the days go by George Turner wants a bridge house and Joe Polasky wants a dugout house. Jane O'Malley and Margot LePorte request a castle and a tee pee.  Meanwhile all the parents are frantically searching for their missing children. It's time for Sam to save the day!

When Andrew Henry comes home things change. He is given space for building and he makes something for every member of his family.

"He built a roller coaster for Robert and Ronald's toy cars. By using a bucket and parts of an electric fan, he made a hair dryer for Marian and Martha. The coffee mug he made for his father worked the same way as a bird feeder does. And he was especially proud of the automatic table setter he made for his mother."

You can see more of the illustrations here and here. You can see a video reading of the whole book.

I would pair Andrew Henry's House with Building our House, The Junkyard Wonders, Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and Whatcha building by Andrew Daddo.  If you have a child who loves to draw grab this book because the pencil sketches are sure to inspire them. Also why not take this book outside to read and then make a construction, invention or house yourself. The fun you and your children will have might amaze you.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Toby by Margaret Wild illustrated by Noela Young

Ah yes, the dogs and other animals ... Noela's are so realistic, they seem to crawl, fly or scurry off the pages. Their eyes sparkle with so much life that the reader practically expects them to blink. Karen Jameyson Magpies Magazine

In an interview in Magpies Magazine Karen Jameyson asked Noela an important question which relates to books like Toby:

"Time after time Noela's talents have been called on to capture life's more piercing moments, often a sick or dying pet or grandparent. How is that she has repeatedly been able to rise to the occasion with exactly the right touch?
I can feel them ... I can just feel them all.
But how can she bear to keep travelling around these emotional carousels?
I have to keep reminding myself that it's not real."
Mapgies volume 31, issue No 4, September 2016.

I wonder if this is really true. The book Toby feels so real and this is due to the perfect combination of text (Margaret Wild) and illustration (Noela Young) but surely also both Noela and Margaret have experienced the death of a loved pet. The sadness as we watch Toby grow old is very powerful as is the emotional reaction of Sara.  Mum explains this to her brothers. "Everything is changing for Sara. Next year she starts high school, ... she's growing up, and she's not sure that she likes it. ... Sara doesn't want anything else to change. She doesn't want Toby to get old and die."

I have been reading books illustrated by Noela Young this week. I am sure this one will be in all Australian school libraries as it was short listed by our CBCA in 1994. Sadly this is another title which is now out of print. When you do pick up this book take some time to look at the first illustration of a tennis ball under some flowers and then notice how this image is repeated on the final page.

Having said that, when the subject arises, Wild - Australia's best picture book author, bar none - handles death with a frank compassion that goes beyond mere sensitivity. Judith Ridge The Age

Wild describes the realistic events with touching simplicity. Young's beautifully observed watercolors are less impressionistic than Shirley Hughes's, and include more literal details, but they are in the same richly empathetic spirit.   Kirkus

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Keep Out by Noela Young

When I was researching Noela Young for my recent post I found some beautiful words by Maurice Saxby.  He compared the children at play in Keep Out with those by Jane Tanner in Drac and the Gremlin.  Both are books about imaginative play. Making use of simple objects to create stories. In this case a tyre swing.

Here is the one from Drac and the Gremlin :

Compare this with one by Noela Young:

Today I borrowed several books by Noela Young from a library including Keep Out. This is a wonderful book, not just because the illustrations are, as Maurice Saxby said "the best ever drawn" but because  this book celebrates 'people power'. A group of inner city children have nowhere to play. Each time they begin a game the neighbours and shop keepers chase them away until one day they discover a fence and a locked gate with the sign "Keep Out".  They kids go inside.

"Inside they found the ruins of old houses that were being pulled down. There were piles of bricks, old doors, and windows - even an old stove, tucked away in the chimney, which was still standing. All sorts of rubbish had been dumped here, including a wrecked car. Everywhere there were things to break and no one to say, 'Don't'."

The children enjoy several days of wild and wonderful play although their choices may seem a little sexist to a modern audience with the girls playing house and the boys building a rope swing. Eventually the 'game is up'. The council team arrive to clear the space. Ironically there are plans to use this ground for a new "nice tidy park."  The children protest so the workers invite their boss - the Council Engineer. "Then came the Mayor, the Town Planner and a young architect, followed by three aldermen."  Not only do the children save the day but they are allowed to share their ideas for the new  playgound including the name - Adventure Playground.

Here are some wonderful images from this book which was published in 1975 and is now out of print but you might be lucky and find this book in an Australian school library like I did.