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