Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Old Man by Sarah V illustrated by Claude K Dubois

This is an extraordinary book, one that can make the needed connection for young children to see human beings as more than their circumstances.  Kirkus

The sadness and reality of homelessness is powerfully brought home in this classy picture book.  Bobs Books Blog

One of the true joys of my job as a Teacher-Librarian in a Primary school is in finding important, poignant and profound books like The Old Man.  Congratulations to Scholastic for adding this book to their International titles Standing Order.

This story begins with opening scenes reminiscent of Sunshine by Jan Ormerod. A small girl and her father prepare to set off for work and school. Overnight it has been raining. An old man, who has spent the night sleeping on the street, also needs to get up and begin his day. He is wet, hungry, cold and very tired. He lies down by the side of the road until some police arrive to move him on. He finds his way to the homeless shelter but one simple question unnerves him.

"Your name, please.
His name? He doesn't remember ... Easier to leave.

He climbs onto a bus and falls asleep but when the bus fills up he is forced to get off quickly. He wanders into a park and sits down. A small girl sees him.

"Do you want my sandwich?
You're funny, you look like a teddy bear!"
The little girl smiles.
It's the best sandwich in the whole world.

It is a tiny gesture, by a small girl, which makes a huge difference on this one day for this one man.

On our city streets we see more and more homeless people. Our children see them too. I would hope a book like The Old Man might show adults that kindness counts and give our youngest children a small glimpse into the lives of people who are less fortunate.

Gecko Press specialise in the finding and publishing of foreign language texts. I learnt a new word tonight reading about this book. This little book, written with great compassion and sagacity ... has profound lessons of kindness for its young readers.  Sagacity means wisdom and that is the perfect word to describe this book.

Here are some  detailed teaching notes.  Here is a review where you can see some of the illustrations. If you want to follow this book with other picture books about the lives of homeless people here is a list to explore.

The Old Man was originally published in French with the title Bonhomme.  Here is the cover.

You could explore the topic of homelessness further with older students using two excellent Australian titles - Way home by Libby Hathorn and Space Travellers by Margaret Wild.  I would also link The Old Man with Footpath Flowers.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A boy called Bat by Elana K Arnold illustrated by Charles Santoso

"Do you know what I see when I look into your eyes?" "Brown and black," Bat said. "With white all around."
"Yes," said Mom. "I do see that. But I also see your sweetness. And your thoughtful nature. And your busy, busy mind."

Can you see the animal on the front cover of this book A boy called Bat?  It is a baby skunk. Here in Australia we do not have skunks and so for me this interesting creature joins others we find in US and UK titles such as badgers, raccoons and hedgehogs.  I would like to think US and UK children would be equally fascinated by our koala, kangaroo, echidna, and platypus.

Bat (Bixby Alexander Tam) sees the world in a different way from others. He needs order and routine. He does not like loud sounds and "there was also the way he sometime flapped his hands, when he was nervous or excited or thinking about something interesting."

Animals are Bat's favorite thing and luckily for Bat his mum is a vet. Bat loves going to her clinic and spending time with the cats and dogs but today mum has bought a baby skunk home. The mother has died and this is the only surviving kit. Bat immediately falls in love with this tiny baby which his sister names Thor. The problem is Thor can only stay with the family for one month until he is old enough to be taken by the rescue center prior to his release back into the wild. Bat needs to convince his mum to let Thor stay with him for much longer.  Could Thor become his pet?  Can Bat become his caretaker?

Bat has a set of animal encyclopedias and he begins to read about skunks. One of the key questions is Do Skunks make good pets?  The answer in his book is from Dr Jerry Dragoo who works for the aptly named Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations.  At school the next day his kind teacher Mr Grayson notices Bat is very distracted. At recess he offers to help Bat write an email to Dr Dragoo.  Eventually an email arrives with an answer which is not quite as definitive as Bat would like.

Take a look here for some photos and facts about skunks. Here is an interview with Elana K Arnold. Here is a set of teaching notes with ideas for further reading.

This is an easy to read short chapter book with a gentle message about difference and perseverance. Older children might follow this book with Loser by Jerry Spinelli and Goldfish Boy. The 'voice' of Bat reminded me of Waylon which is a book for a younger audience.

Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.  Kirkus

Here is the cover of the second book which has just been published.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan illustrated by Zoe Si

The box was in the basement. ... On the side was the name of the refrigerator brand, Super Cool. ... She lay down beside the box. Lying down was also good for helping her think.
I know! she thought. A submarine!

I have talked about this on other occasions. We are so lucky here in Australia to have access to books from around the world and because we speak English we can find books from UK, USA, NZ and in this case from Canada.  The real trick is in discovering books from far away.

This little gem Wolfie and Fly has just 85 pages and so there is no excuse - you need to pick this up and read it now. I timed myself and it only took 15 minutes to read the whole book. There are lots of illustrations and a larger print size making this is a perfect little beginning novel.

Wolfie (real name Renata) is so named because she is a lone wolf.

"Renata didn't have any friends.
Not even one.
Did this bother her? No it did not.
Renata didn't want any friends. She thought other kids were annoying. Other kids whined or talked too much or told stupid jokes or wanted to play boring games. Other kids weren't interested in the same things as Renata. They just got in the way."

I guess you know how this is going to end.  Renata clearly needs a special friend. Luckily the boy next door is perfect. He is unstoppable, energetic, imaginative and also in need of a friend.  Livingston Flott is known as Fly.

"Because I buzz around and annoy people. But I look at it in a positive way. I mean, a fly is persistent. A fly is a survivor. You can call me Fly if you say it in a nice way."

Together these unlikely friends make a submarine and set off on an underwater adventure complete with a lost baseball, funny songs, clown fish, home made scuba gear and a real pirate. You can read a more plot details in this review.

I would compare this book with the Frog and Toad series, Mouse and Mole series and Bonny Becker's bear series.  You could also use The Tunnel by Anthony Brown for a discussion about the importance of using your imagination.

This delightful story is a wonderful celebration of the power of the imagination. It turns out that having, and using, ones imagination can make all kinds of wonderful things happen. It turns out that having an adventure in a big cardboard box submarine can even make a lone wolf decide that being alone isn’t always a good thing. Through the looking Glass Review

Here is book two from this new series:

CBCA announce the 2018 short list

I was out and about when the short list was announced today and I cheered, in a public place, because How to Bee made it!  I am a huge fan of this book.

This year 444 books were submitted by publishers for our Children's Book Council of Australia Awards.  Over the past few months I have focused on the Younger Readers Category. Today the six titles in each of the five categories were announced.  Here are the Younger Readers books:

How To Bee
There are excellent teachers notes for this moving dystopian book but first off head to your library shelves Dewey 595.79 and pull out all of your books about bees. Bren's book has also been short listed for the NSW Premiers Literary Awards - The Patricia Wrightson Prize.

The Elephant
Go out now and buy a purple backpack and practice singing Side by side.  Peter's book has also been short listed for the NSW Premiers Literary Awards - The Patricia Wrightson Prize.

Henrietta and The Perfect Night

Head off into the library shelves and gather all four books in this series. Martine has two books on the Younger Readers short list. I imagine she will be jumping for joy tonight!

Marsh and Me

Here are some teaching notes and a video interview with Martin Murray.

The Shop At Hooper’s Bend

Emily Rodda returns to the short list. She has written over 90 books and many have been short listed. In 1985 her book Something Special won a CBCA Award. Both books look at connections we can make through objects.

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler

start collecting "My Little Pony" toys.  You could easily turn some scenes from this book into Readers Theatre and your class will enjoy hearing and using lots of new invented words.

If you click the colour links above they will take you to my reviews of five of these titles.  I am so happy to see three of my predictions made the cut. How to Bee, The Elephant and The shop at Hooper's Bend

I am also very pleased to see Henrietta and the Perfect Night because it is good to have a title we can share with our younger students.  I think The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler would be an excellent one to read aloud to a class of Grade 4 or 5 students.  I am off now to pick up Marsh and Me so watch this space.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck illustrated by Kelly Murphy

For every human on earth, there's a mouse with the same job. This is well understood, unless you're a human.

It seems like an odd dichotomy - Richard Peck and award winning US author - writing an utterly British story set during the celebrations of the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Our little hero mouse lives in the Royal Mews. He is small so everyone asks : "are you not yet fully grown, or just short?"  His tail is in the shape of a question mark. Is this significant? He has no name and this is deeply troubling. Perhaps the Queen herself can provide answers.  For now, he has to be content with the name Mouse Minor.  His Aunt Marigold is a fine seamstress. She makes Mouse Minor wonderful school uniform but unfortunately every day at The Royal Mews Mouse Academy is sheer torture. As graduation day nears Mouse Minor runs away from the school bullies and he find himself on the rough ground of the riding school for royal children. This is his first mistake - being in the human world. Then he is seen in his uniform by Princess Ena of Battenberg. Being seen, in his uniform no less, is his second mistake.

Now Mouse Minor really is on the run. He is befriended by a cat and a horse called Peg. The Sargent Major of the Yeomice of the Guard enlists his services and he meets Yeomouse Ian.

"He was very grand indeed, was Ian. Not handsome - far from it really. His profile wasn't stirring, but he had that weak and peaky look about the face and under the chin that is the badge of the English upper classes. ... He seemed to be kindness itself, in his lordly way."

As the pace builds Mouse Minor finds his way to the Queen herself and discovers the very surprising truth about his identity.

You can listen to the whole book here read by James McCourt - he has the perfect accent for this very British story. Read this review for more plot details. I would follow this book with The Tale of Despereaux, The Mouse and the motorcycle, Secrets at Sea, Bless this Mouse, Mouseheart, Word of Mouse and A Rat's Tale.

I read this book in one sitting. It would make a good family read-aloud.  If you are a fan of books like The Borrowers you will enjoy all the small details about the ingenuity of the mice adapting human objects to their own purposes such as the desks at the school made from twelve inch rulers.

This mouse-sized identity quest sparkles. Kirkus

Readers will gleefully suspend disbelief as they trace Mouse Minor’s exciting journey, which draws him to a life-altering revelation and surprise reunions with friends and foes Publishers Weekly

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Mouse and Mole Fine Feathered Friends by Wong Herbert Yee

I have discovered another book in the Mouse and Mole series and I am happy!  Mouse and Mole are different but this is not an obstacle to their friendship. Mouse and Mole have different talents but this is not an obstacle to their friendship. Things go wrong but Mouse and Mole stay firm friends.

Mouse and Mole -  Fine feathered friends begins with a bird watching excursion. Unfortunately everything goes wrong and the birds fly away. I love the way Mole does not blame Mouse and equally Mouse does not blame Mole. Luckily Mouse is a problem solver. Birds are not afraid of birds so Mouse and Mole disguise themselves as birds, make a sturdy nest and hide in a tree to await the arrival of the birds.  When the birds come Mole completes a series of brilliant pictures and Mouse discovers she has a talent for poetry.  Their day ends with the compilation of their book:
"We can call it Feathered Friends!' 'Fine Feathered Friends,' Mouse added. With poems by Mouse,' chuckled Mole. 'And pictures by Mole,' giggled Mouse. Molebird gave Mousebird a double high-five."

You can listen to a sample audio version of this book.  These beginning chapter books are perfect for young readers who are just gaining confidence. There are short chapters, a warm and satisfying conclusion and small coloured illustrations which support the text.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan

"It struck Henry that the world was a little bit like a bag of mixed lollies: always full of some kind of surprise."

The Grand Summer of Henry Hoobler is packed full with delicious words. It is a book that is just begging to be read aloud.

Holy Kamoley
Holy Polymoley
Holy Wamoley
Holy Slamoley

Henry is a worrier. He extrapolates every situation into a full blown catastrophe. Henry is on a summer holiday with his family. It is the end of Year Two and he has been given a bike for Christmas. Henry is terrified of failure. This new bike seems so hard to ride now that he cannot rely on trusty training wheels.

"The bike. It was not cool. It was the very worst thing. It was his biggest problem, even more terrifying than bugs and spiders and snakes and stingers and blue-ringed octopi and tsunamis and sharks and stingrays and whale sharks!"

Luckily Henry has the most marvellous family.

His dad is a bundle of energy and positivity.

"Son of my heart (he) stepped forward and hugged Henry. And the hug was so big and bear-like and fierce ... he felt his dad's delight. He felt it soak all the way through, like butter into hot bread."

Mum senses when Henry is anxious and seems to be able to say just the right thing at the right time.

"His mum was good at knowing things inside him that he didn't even have words for yet. There was something reassuring about that, like he was a trapeze artist in a circus, swinging through the sky, with the biggest, strongest safety net in the whole universe stretched out wide to catch him."

Brother Patch is patient and kind and little sister Lulu is full of love for life, her toy ponies and her brother.

"Lulu flung her arms around his waist and squinched him tight, for ages and ages, until all Henry could smell was her apple shampoo."

On their first day at the camping ground Henry meets Cassie and what a wonderful friend she will prove to be. She shows Henry all of the best places down near the water and around the camp and gently helps him overcome his fears. Every one needs a friend like Cassie but of course she is not perfect. Her life has had sadness and disappointment and so this is her summer of change too.

I especially enjoyed the chapter where Patch taught Henry to ride (A Bright Loud Life) and the scenes when Henry finds the courage to set out at night searching, with Lulu, for her lost pony called Clover. You can see her here. (These chapters are called Lost and Found).  If you need to read an extract from this book to a class these scenes would be a good starting point.

Here is a splendid review which says everything I wanted to say and more.  The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is one of our 2018 CBCA Notables for Younger Readers. Even if it does not make the short list of six I recommend you add this title to your own reading list and then share it (aloud) with a young audience. I would follow this book with The Horrible Holiday by Catherine Jinks.

I was excited to see this book won first prize in the Queensland literary Awards.  The judges report says :

This tale reminds us that everyone is different and everyone has gifts. Some, like Henry, prefer to learn quietly but even extroverts can be fearful.

Here is an extended interview where Joy Lawn talks with Lisa Shanahan.

Lisa Shanahan imbues warmth and gentle humour into her authentic stories and relateable characters.  Children's Books Daily

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A garden of Lilies by Prudence A Goodchild

A Garden of Lilies Improving tales for Young Minds
by Prudence A. Goodchild
from the World of Stella Montgomery by Judith Rossell

This book is not for the faint-hearted.  Every child inside this book suffers a terrible fate for their 'disobedience' of rules such as :

Modesty should be your aim,
Or you will surely come to shame.

Curiosity killed the cat,
And you as well. Be sure of that.

Be neat and tidy, clean and trim,
Or your ending will be rather grim.

In Withering by Sea we meet Stella and in the sequel little Stella she is forced to spend her time reading "A Garden of Lilies Improving tales for young mind."  Poor Stella this is such a miserable book and reading it must have made her feel such despair but luckily it will have you (the modern child, teacher or parent) rolling with laughter.  Read this review.

I am so pleased to see this inventive book on the CBCA Notables list for 2018.  Even if it doesn't make the short list of six, teachers could have such fun exploring these imaginative cautionary tales and using this format as a writing idea. This is a little book to treasure and share.

Colour plates by Judith Rossell will add to your enjoyment along with the embossed cover, scrumptious end papers and little ribbon book mark.  I also enjoyed vocabulary on the language of flowers page - haughtiness, fidelity, amiability, malevolence and consolation and the A to Z arrangement of moral stories featuring Agnes, Beatrice, Cornelius and Drusilla through to Tilly, Ursula, Victoria, Yaxley and Zenobia.

Here is some of the wise advice found on the final pages:

Never meddle with gunpowder by candlelight.
Endeavour to  acquire the power of swimming in case of shipwreck.
Do not sleep out of doors, particularly if it is snowing.

Here is a set of teachers notes for Withering by Sea.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile by Jo Sandhu

Tarin cleared his throat and stepped forward. He tried to stand tall and unafraid, when inside, his stomach had shrivelled to a hard, cold lump. But he knew he had to do this - for his family, and for his clan. ... All faces turned to look at him. He knew what they saw. A weak, undersized, scared boy, standing apart and alone. 'I will take the Offering.'

Tarin is born with a weak leg.  Winter is coming. These are desperate times. The clan need food and this mammoth hunt will be the last for the year. Tarin is not allowed to hunt but he is watching.  There is an accident and the mammoth herd stampede. At the clan meeting that night Tarin is blamed and his punishment is a form of social isolation called Haamu but Tarin decides he has help his clan, help his family, prove his own worth - he will make the journey to the Great Mother taking the Offering.

The Offering contains a parcel of food, two carved ivory beads, a cave bear tooth, a flint blade, healing herbs, a spear and a small piece of amber with a tiny ant trapped inside.  Tarin will need to make use each of these things on his journey long before he reaches the Great Mother's Mountain.

Meanwhile a brother and sister in a different clan are forced to flee when sickness arrives in their settlement. Kaija and Luuka have lost their younger brother and their mother will die soon.

Each of these young people have knowledge of hunting and gathering and they also know a little about medicinal herbs but one of the things I enjoyed was the different ways each has learnt to make fire:

Tarin - "Out of a leather pouch, he took his fire-lighting stones. He weighed them in his hands. ... Tarin closed his eyes, picturing his mother striking the stones together, drawing the spark, and blowing gently until the flame grew strong."

Kaija - "From a pouch inside her furs, she drew her fire-sticks and the leaf litter provided perfect tinder. Kaija place one pointed fire-stick into a depression in the other and started to twirl. ... usually she and Luuka would take turns twirling the fire-stick downwards, alternating in rhythm so the stick was always spinning. By the time a wisp of smoke rose from the tinder beneath, Kaija felt warm."

Towards the end of The Exile, Tarin shows Kaija and Luuka his method of making fire and they are amazed.

Now I have a huge dilemma.  I am reading my way through all the CBCA Notable books for Younger Readers. I thought I had settled on my top six and then along came The Exile - book one in the series Tarin of the Mammoths so here is another contender for the short list. For me this is a ten out of ten book. I felt as though I was really on this journey with Tarin suffering the cold of the snow and water, trekking through the forest, sheltering in caves along with times of extreme hunger. This is powerful atmospheric writing with a hero who simply must succeed.

You can read some sample pages here. Jo Sandhu shares some of her writing techniques. I enjoyed the discovery that this is Jo Sandhu's first book and that she really enjoys doing research. I remember hearing Michelle Paver talk about all the research she did for her book series including swimming with killer whales.  I do hope this book reaches reviewers at Kirkus and Horn book - it absolutely deserves a wider international audience. I would follow The Exile with  Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver which is a series I found utterly absorbing.

I am keen to pick up Book 2 which is available and Book 3 which is released this month.

While full of life-or-death action and authentic details about food, medicines and weapons of the time, Tarin of the Mammoths: the Exile is also a spell-binding tale of adventure, survival and friendship. It's also an extraordinary ode to the value of being different. Kids Book Review

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading changes your life.
Reading unlocks world unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time.
Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. ...
Reading shows you how to be a better human being.

  • This is an important book for teachers
  • This is an important book for teacher-librarians
  • This is an important for school administrators
  • This is a book I wish I had read in 2009 when it was published - it is inspirational
  • If you only buy one book for your own professional reading - make sure it is this one.

The Biggest Obstacle to Reading? Time

My blog is called Momotimetoread because the book Momo is an allegory about our use of time and because too many children (more so in recent years) say to me 'I didn't have time to read ... '

Donalyn Miller gives kids time in her classroom and she gives them choice and she exposes them to a huge range of genres and authors.  She gently and authentically encourages every student - the keen and the reluctant to read and read and read.  My school library was certainly filled with books - so much choice - but I seemed unable to give the kids time when I only saw them once a week and I know at home time for reading is rapidly disappearing.  I wish all class teachers in Middle and Upper Primary grades could read this book - The Book Whisperer - in the hope that some of our classroom practice might change.  

I have thought for a long time giving every child in a class exactly the same book to read with sets of contrived assignments is not a way to develop 'real readers'.  

"Teaching whole-class novels does not create a society of literate people."
"No one piece of text can meet the needs of all readers."
"Reading a whole-class novel takes too long."
"Whole-class novels devalue prior reading experience."

Here are quotes from this book:

"Why is the need to motivate and inspire young readers such a hot-button issue? ... This topic is in the limelight because so many children don't read. They don't read well enough, they don't read often enough; and if you talk to children, they will tell you they don't see reading as meaningful in their life."

"I am convinced that if we show students how to embrace reading as a lifelong pursuit and not just a collection of skills for school performance, we will be doing what I believe we have been charged to do: create readers."

"Do the teachers read? Most teachers who are not readers themselves take a skills-based approach. ... The instructional edge goes to the teacher who sees reading as a gift, not a goal."  "How are they supposed to become readers if they don't have any role models to emulate? ... You cannot inspire others to do what you are not inspired to do yourself."

Turning the teacher into a reader:
Commit to reading every day, choose books to read that personally interest you, read more books for children, take recommendations from your students.

Types of Readers :
Developing Readers - They need to read and read - the chance to feel success as readers instead of experiencing reading failure
Dormant Readers - Reading is work, not pleasure - these students need to discover that reading is enjoyable
Underground Readers - These students are gifted readers but they see the reading they are asked to do in school as completely disconnected. These students "have such advanced reading abilities and sophisticated tastes that few teachers design instruction around their needs."

(Some) Conditions for learning (read this book for a more comprehensive list)
Expectations ...

Here is a short journal article which summarizes some of Donalyn's philosophy and is a review which also highlights some of the main points shared by Donalyn.  Listen to an audio sample here.  Here is a video where Mr Sharp talks with Donalyn.

This is what I want for my students, to lose and find themselves in books.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pip and Houdini by JC Jones

A young girl, a small dog and one big adventure.

Pip and Houdini walked on and on, as thoughts and feelings tumbled around inside her. How silly she'd been to think that, of all the Cassandra's in Australia - in the world! - she'd just happened to stumble across the right one. But she had thought that, and now she was like a balloon that someone had stuck a sharp pin into.

The story of Pip and Houdini is filled with coincidences and I love this.  Pip meets exactly the right people on her journey and each one brings her closer to her goal of finding her mum Cassandra.

Pip gets into a fight at school. Her foster parents are disappointed and decide she cannot go on the school field trip to the museum. Out walking her dog Houdini, Pip sees a bus with the sign Museum. She has some coins and so she climbs aboard. She does manage to explore a little of the museum but of course she is caught and taken home.  Pip is now in serious trouble and she feels she cannot stay with Mr and Mrs Browning even though they are actually very kind to her.  All she has is a fragment of information about her past - a postcard from her mum sent from Byron Bay. Pip sets off in the middle of the night with her dog Houdini - heading for Byron Bay.

She spends her first night in a van and awakes to find herself on the road, there is a crash, Pip tries to save a man trapped in a burning car but she cannot stay to see the outcome.  She needs to keep moving. She meets a young girl who was set to break into the world of music having almost won a television competition. Frankie and Pip do some busking and Pip makes enough money to continue her journey by train making sure she first pays back the fare from yesterday when she and Frankie caught the train without a ticket. Eventually she arrives in Byron Bay and finds the actual street where her mum once lived. A chance conversation with a neighbour leads her to a surfer with wild hair and a distinctive tattoo and then onto a surprise family and perhaps a different sort of happy ending - not quite the one she had imagined.

Pip and Houdini can stand alone but if you have time go back and read the first installment Run, Pip, Run! 

Pip and Houdini has been listed in our CBCA Notables for 2018 but it is up against some strong competition such as How to Bee, The elephant, The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, The shop at Hoopers Bend, Accidental Heroes, and Nevermoor The trails of Morrigan Crow. Since the judges can only select six books for the short list I am not sure Pip and Houdini will make the cut but it certainly should make your own reading list.

Read some reviews
Kids Book Review  I bet you'll find the pages fly in this sometimes heart-warming, sometimes heart-rending sequel to Run Pip Run.

Aussie Reviews  ... she has a very well-developed moral compass and an almost-inexhaustible store of openness, optimism and energy. 

Bully on the bus by Kathryn Apel

I peek into my schoolbag,
see my treasure and
start to count
the stars ...

'Whatcha got, Loser?'
the bully demands,
booming over 
the back of my seat.

As the title says this book is about a bully. An older girl who rides the same bus as Leroy and his sister Ruby. The bus driver is friendly but he seems oblivious to the awful treatment Leroy has to endure every day.  Ruby is there too but she is too fearful to intervene. Leroy doesn't tell his parents and over time he becomes almost ill with the fear of riding the bus twice each day. Meanwhile the bullying just seems to get worse and worse.

Bully on the bus will take you on an emotional journey figuratively and literally.  There were times reading this book that I just had to stop and take a breath and reassure myself that because this is a children's book, aimed at middle primary, everything would be okay for Leroy.

The Bully
She's big.
She's smart.
She's mean.
She's the bully on the bus.
She picks on me, and I don't like it.
I don't know
how to make her

Part of the problem here lies in the words "I don't know how".  Leroy needs to talk to his parents, his teacher, even his sister.  He cannot fight this battle alone. And what of the bully? Who is this girl and why is she so cruel?  Perhaps the answer lies in The Big Bad book of Fairy Tales.

This book is an important one to share with Middle Grade students.  I picked it up at a charity book sale because Kathryn Apel has another book listed for our CBCA Notables 2018 which I previously really enjoyed - Too many friends.  Kathryn has links to a chapter sample, several sets of excellent teaching ideas, a trailer and review comments on her web site.  If you are looking for some other books on this topic click here.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Figgy takes the city by Tamsin Janu

Figgy takes the City is the third book in the series that began with Figgy in the world and continued with Figgy for President.  I said the second book didn't disappoint and I will say this again about the third installment and now we have the exciting news that this book and another by Tasmin Janu have been selected for our CBCA Notables list.

Figgy and her friend Nana sit for a scholarship exam and both of them are selected to attend Hope College in the city of Accra. Figgy knows her friend Nana is clever and that he has studied hard to earn this honour but she is not so certain about why she has been selected.

"Principal Alfoso smiled. And he said, 'You deserve it for a number of reasons.' My breath caught in my throat when he tapped my cheek. Just below the spot where my second eye should be. I was not getting a scholarship because I was good at reading, sport or maths. Not even because I was in a movie I was getting a scholarship because I was missing an eye."

When the children finally arrive in the city after an eventful journey and a confusing first week they go to stay with Uncle Philmond.  Figgy is struck by the poverty she sees. "It was the biggest slum I had ever visited. It seemed to go on forever."  We know Figgy feels concern for the slum dwellers but it is Nana who takes practical steps to help them. Nana can see Uncle Philmond is rich and yet he often fails to send much needed money to Grandma Ama. Nana wants to make money to pay Grandma back for his care. He joins the slum kids each weekend scavenging in the dump instead of staying with Uncle Philmond. Figgy is both curious and furious. Nana seems so different and mysterious - is he still her friend? He won't answer her questions so one evening she follows him.

Tamsin really lets her readers inside a scene and this one is especially graphic.  Here Figgy is following Nana :

"The alleyway was not as busy as the street. I had to be careful Nana wouldn't see me ... The ground was muddy, slippery, and littered with bits of glass and plastic. I almost cried out when I tripped over a cow's head, which was surrounded by a cloud of flies. The cow's mouth was wide open, as if it had been yelling as it died. Most of it's skin had peeled away and what remained was being eaten by maggots."

Here is a review in Reading Time.  I especially like the way the three covers all link together and I thank Tasmin Janu for allowing me to spend a little time in Ghana with Figgy - watching her growing up and taking on new challenges.