Monday, July 30, 2018

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake

"There is a legend,' she explained, 'that somewhere in the world there is one very special book that's just waiting to be discovered. It will look like any other book, but it holds all the answers to every question ever asked, and when it is opened, it turns to solid gold."

This idea puts young Isaac Gutenberg, a boy who has declared he does not like reading, on the road to discovery. He hunts high and low looking for this promised golden treasure and along the way he finds a love of reading, develops his curiosity and finds answers to his questions. Perhaps the "book of gold" will never be found but Isaac finds an even better treasure. I hope you have guessed what this is.

Here are some of the questions Isaac asks:

  • Why don't the pyramids have windows?
  • How can something as heavy as a ship float?
  • Who invented pizza?
  • Were dinosaurs covered in fur?
  • Why don't elevators also travel sideways?

and my favourite question

  • How did the number eight get its name?

Here is the author web site. You can see a few pages inside this book on the publisher web site. There are some lovely touches in this book. The sepia pages that give that olden days feel, the name Gutenberg of course and the scenes inside and outside the splendid New York city Public Library. Make sure you look for another special book by Bob Staake - a wordless treasure called Bluebird. Here is a CNN interview where Bob talks about the ideas behind Bluebird.

For adult readers here is something you need to know about The Book of Gold:

The book has two covers. If you detach the wraparound cover with the image that everyone associates with the book, you'll find the paper-on-board cover -- which I designed to look like an artifact squirreled away in the recesses of any dusty attic. It's my hope that children will find the book years from now (minus the wrap) and realize that THEY have indeed found the elusive Book Of Gold.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier

Step One
Read The Lion and the Bird
Step Two 
Read A Letter for Leo

Here is a perfect pair of books.

I do enjoy books about friendship and the postal service also holds a fascination for me. The Jolly Postman is one of my most treasured books. When I was in London recently I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Postal Museum - a terrific place to take young children with heaps of hands on activities.

Leo is the mailman, he does a good job, he works hard, he has friends among his customers but sadly "he has never received a letter himself."

Then one day he finds a baby bird inside the official red postbox. He names the little bird Cheep. When spring comes Cheep needs to fly away but surely this cannot be the end of such a special friendship.

Read more plot details here.

Other books about posting/writing letters (and friendship) are:

Little Big Feet by Dieter and Ingrid Schubert
Letters from Felix by Annette Langen
Toot and Puddle Wish you were here by Holly Hobbie
Herman's letter by Tom Percival
The giant hug by Sandra Horning
Dear Fairy Godmother by Michael Rosen
Please write back by Jennifer E Morris
Stories from Squeak Street by Emily Rodda (Listen to an audio sample)

I was not familiar with Sergio Ruzzier but looking at his website there are many books here I would love to explore.

This is a lovely story about connection and all that it implies, told with concision, reticence, and just the right balance of bitter and sweet. Publishers Weekly

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Ugly Duckling version by Frank Loesser, illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom, performed by Justine Clarke

Here is a real treat - a book and CD combination that I found at a bargain book sale.  I popped the CD into my player tonight and gasped. Using the trumpet, the tuba and the marimba, Justine sings the story and you can follow along in the book.  You will be familiar with this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. In the 'original' version, which is written for older children, two geese are shot. This one is a simple re-telling which follows the essence of the story with the duckling being told he is ugly and then finally growing older and finding he is transformed into a swan.

I bought this book as a gift for a new baby and both of his parents work in the music industry so the discovery of the CD is extra special.

There are two tracks on this CD one sung by Justine and the other an instrumental track.

Here is the illustrator web site.  The song is the one performed by Danny Kaye in 1952.

Nathaniel Eckstrom has illustrated a number of books including Duck by Meg McKinlay which I predict will reach the 2019 CBCA Notables list.

You recorded a song for the children's book The Ugly Duckling. Why did you choose that storybook?
"Scholastic had approached me and asked me what song would you like to do."
"It's a great story and particularly relevant for preschoolers. Finding out where you belong, reflecting on having your own family and having a story about someone who gets rejected."
"It can seem like a shallow tale but I think for preschoolers it's a simple story and I think we're all quite fascinated by what we will become. When you're a child you look at adults and wonder, 'What will I look like?'"  MamaMia

The combination of Justine Clarke’s performance and the personality-filled instrumental backing really brings this story to life and makes it ideal for class activities for preschool and kindergarten students or simply a more interactive experience of the story at home. Kids Book Review

Would you rather ... by John Burningham

With a barrage of questions and images, Burningham covers enormous ground, from fairy tales (stirring a caldron with a witch) to horror stories (being locked in a haunted house), from the biblical (being swallowed by a fish) to the universal (being lost in a crowd). He uses the pictures as both sword and shield, jabbing with the provocative yet protecting with lean, almost slapstick images. The main character, a small curly-headed child, seems undaunted by the wild journeys, and ends up safe but exhausted in bed.  New York Times

Yesterday I mentioned Bookworm : A memoir of childhood reading by Lucy Mangan.  Would you Rather by John Burningham is another book which Lucy loved as a young child:

"Burningham opened up the eternal horrors and pleasures of the thought experiment to me, via his Would you Rather ...  But why? And why not? And why does the person reading it to or with you disagree? ... Oh it is a book of fathomless depth and endless wonders, to be debated long into the night..."

I have been a huge John Burningham fan since entering the world of school libraries. I drove for three hours once just to hear him speak and then drove home again arriving home well after midnight. I love to read aloud Cannonball Simp (renamed Simp), Where's Julius, Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present and the classic Avocado Baby, which is a must read for every Kindergarten class.

We do own Would you Rather in our school library (first published 1978) but it is thanks to Lucy Mangan that I have taken the time to really read and look at it properly. Now I find it is such a delightful book which would make a fabulous discussion starter in a family or class and could also be used as a writing model.  You might also use the questions as a springboard to problem solving with a design and make focus where the children plan devices to solve or escape from each scenario.

The first question, which sets up the premise, seems fairly straightforward.  Would you rather your house was surrounded by water, snow or jungle? In a class you might then add - now justify your choice. It is the second question which introduces the fun. Would you rather an elephant drank your bath water, an eagle stole your dinner, a pig tried on your clothes or a hippo slept in your bed?  As you can see the accompanying illustrations are perfect.

My favourite question is Would you rather help a fairy make magic, gnomes dig for treasure, an imp be naughty, a witch make a stew or Santa Claus deliver presents? I can't decide between making magic or digging for treasure.

Here is the star review by KirkusThe New York Times offer two other books to explore with a similar question and answer format - Which would you rather be?  by William Steig and Was it a good trade by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers.

And here is exciting news - there is a sequel to Would you Rather with the great title More Would you Rather:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Sixes and Sevens by John Yeoman and Quentin Blake

The serendipity of book discovery can be such fun.  I am currently reading Bookworm - a memoir of childhood reading by Lucy Mangan.  In this book Lucy traces her reading journey from her earliest memories and in chapter 2 "To the Library" she mentions Quentin Blake and his connection with John Yeoman : "he asked a friend of his, John Yeoman, if he would write a book that Blake could illustrate."  It was called A Drink of Water.

Lucy Mangan goes on to say: "His drawings' sense of movement, the energy alone, makes them compelling."  This book is certainly filled with that energy.

I picked up several books by John Yeoman including this one - Sixes and Sevens which was first published in 1971. Here is a page with all of their collaborations.

This is a counting book but it is so much more. It is about problem solving and community.  It is a book filled with the crazy fun and mayhem that is sure to happen if you fill a raft with ever increasing numbers of animals and people. Kirkus use the perfect term "chaos".

Rafting down the river Barnaby stops at each village in Limber Lea to see if there is anything to transport. His mother says "and remember to look in your big box if you have any difficulties."  The river looks idyllic on this opening scene but the first hint of trouble is not far away. Barnaby takes a kitten on board but how will she cope with the next two passengers - mice!

Here is the final passenger list
1 kitten
2 mice
3 school mistresses
4 school boys
5 monkeys
6 parrots
7 dogs
8 snakes
9 frogs
and 10 grasshoppers

Perhaps you can guess some the difficulties and disruptions from this mixed bunch which grows bigger with each page. It would be fun to fill your own raft with different animals and humans and then design something to put inside the big box to help keep the peace.

Read this review from The Bookbag. When you first look at this book it would be good to have investigation of the term "sixes and sevens" and then discuss why this is an utterly perfect title. There should be a place in all classrooms, from Kindergarten up to Grade 3, for this joyous book.

Image from Quentin Blake

I plan to read lots more books by this team.  I have time on on my list which might be a good companion book to Sixes and Sevens.

Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin

"It is the end of August. Soon the adult puffins will be gone to spend the winter in the cold northern seas. The pufflins in the dark burrows will then be on their own."

Puffins are such fascinating birds - aptly called Clowns of the Sea. I have already talked about my "slight" obsession after I read Puffling by the Australian author Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas.

Yesterday I found this book from 2012 called Puffling Patrol which is set in Iceland. On the island of Heimaey there is a small town. When the pufflings set off from their burrows, for the first time, the lights of the town confuse them so children and adults mount a puffin patrol to rescue them.

This is a longer picture book which could happily sit in a non fiction section of a library. At the back of the book there is a puffin fact page, reading list and glossary. You could also use the beautiful images in this book for a discussion with children about perspective and perhaps compare this art with the images in Puffling by Margaret Wild.

Image Books Illustrated

Here is an interview with the team behind this book.  Ted and Betsy Lewin have a large number of books well worth investigating. You may know Betsy's work from the wonderful books by Doreen Cronin such as Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type and Duck for President.

Whether sheltered in a box or held carefully in the children’s hands, the pufflings are irresistible. Kirkus

Image Lee & Low

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Life by Cynthia Rylant illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Cynthia Rylant is one of my writing heroes. Every book - from the simplest little beginning chapter book to magnificent books like this one and her heart wrenching novels - all have a special kind of magic. Today I discovered Life - short listed for the Bull Bransom Award - more about click the quote at the end of this post.  Yesterday I talked about special non fiction. Click this Pinterest collection to see more titles in this 'genre'.

If ever you needed proof that the best picture book text is pure poetry read this text extract slowly:

Life begins small
Even for the elephants.
Then it grows.
Beneath the sun.
And the moon.
Life grows.
Ask any animal on earth,
what do you love about life?
The hawk will say the sky.
The camel will say the sand.
The snake will say the grassssssss.
The turtle may remain quiet.
It has seen much in its hundred years.
But the turtle loves life. How could it not,
with so much rain on its back?

Add to this exquisite text glorious illustrations and you have a truly special book to treasure and share.  I would pair Life with Mayfly Day You can see more art by Brendan Wenzel.

I am not a huge advocate of ebooks especially as a way to explore picture books but if you cannot locate Life there is an ebook edition.

The Bull-Bransom Award is given annually to recognize excellence in the field of children’s book illustration with a focus on nature and wildlife. The award is named after Charles Livingston Bull and Paul Bransom, who were among the first and finest American artist-illustrators to specialize in wildlife subjects.

The beginning chapter books I mentioned by Cynthia Ryland include The Lighhouse Family series, Mr Putter books, Henry and Mudge titles and High-Rise Private Eye.  You might also like to read Missing May a perfect book for sensitive, mature Primary readers.  I am now keen to read a new Cynthia Rylant chapter book I spied on a recent visit to Beachside Bookshop.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

North - The Greatest Animal journey on Earth by Nick Dowson illustrated by Patrick Benson

They are all embarking on one long, intense journey that will take them across oceans and continents, for thousands of miles - braving predators, starvation and extreme weather conditions - to reach the very top of the world. LoveReading4Kids

Just last week another Teacher-Librarian and I were talking about special non fiction books with exquisite illustrations and a rich narrative style.Today I spied this book in my local public library. North is an excellent example of this 'genre'.  Patrick Benson has created the Arctic world so vividly you will almost feel cold reading this glorious book.

"At the very top of our world is a huge wild place called the Arctic. Here in winter, the sun sinks away, blizzards fill the darkness and even the seas freeze deep."

It is winter and the only animals stirring in this harsh expanse are the polar bear and arctic fox but when spring comes plants appear along with visitors from the far reaches of the world. Grey whales from Mexico, terns from Antarctica and godwits from New Zealand.
There are lots of other birds too such as snow geese and white cranes. Pregnant caribou arrive with hungry wolves close behind. We see walrus and the mysterious narwhal.

"By late May, travellers crowd together near the very top of the world where even the coldest frozen seas are melting."

Babies are born and new life abounds but then the seasons cycle again. Days grow shorter. "Soon all the visitors will journey south - back to where they winter" leaving behind polar bear, fox, musk ox and arctic hare to "roam the frozen night alone."

On the final pages of North you can read brief facts about the Arctic. Over 180 different animals migrate there every year in spring. Sadly this important cycle is threatened by global warming. Nick Dowson also includes a glossary and index - important features in a non fiction book.

If you are unfamiliar with the work of Patrick Benson take a look at these:
Night sky Dragons
Owl Babies
The Little Boat

You could also look for an excellent book about the migration of the godwit by Jeannie Baker called Circle. This book is another example of a non fiction text with amazing art work and a narrative text.

Here are some other books in this style which explore the Arctic and the animals of this unique region.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Letters from the lighthouse by Emma Carroll

Following on from books such as Goodnight Mister Tom, Carrie's War, Vinnie's War and The War that saved my life we now have Letters from the Lighthouse.

Olive and her brother Cliff are living in London. The bombs are falling. Their father has died while serving with the air-force and then their older sister goes missing. Sukie had taken the younger children to the movies. She leaves them on a pretense of needing the toilet then the air raid sirens sound. Olive rushes outside looking for her sister but she sees her with a young man.

"It didn't look like a normal chat about the weather either, because their heads were close together and the man kept glancing behind him. He gave Sukie a piece of paper before taking her hand and squeezing it in both of his."

Olive grabs hold of Sukie's coat and at that moment a bomb falls nearby. When Olive wakes up she finds herself in hospital. Lying in a box under her bed is the coat - actually it was her mum's coat, that Sukie had mysteriously chosen to wear for their outing. Sukie is now missing and things have become very dangerous so mum decides to send Olive and Cliff to Devon. The children are set to stay with Sukie's pen pal and Olive imagines Queenie will be waiting for them with a warm welcome, delicious food and a comfortable home. Their reception is completely the opposite. The two children climb the stairs to their attic room feel sad, displaced and very hungry. Cliff falls asleep but Olive is restless and cold so she puts on her coat and reaches into the pocket only to discover a note in the lining. It is coded message. It is important. Now Olive just has to discover the truth.

Here is an interview with Emma Carroll. If you use this book with a class the chapter headings would make interesting discussion and research points:


I do love the cover of this book and when you pick it up you will discover the title is embossed.

Illustration by Julian De Narvaez

You probably know I do love lighthouses too and this one is quite perfect.

"It was perhaps the nicest room I'd ever seen. For one thing, there was so much light. I counted at least six windows - little ones, arched at the top and set deep into the walls. Everything was painted white, even the floor. On either side of the room two bed hugged the curved lighthouse walls. Above each was a shelf of books from which hung beautiful, sea-blue lanterns."

I would recommend this book for readers 10+. Pages 190-194 could be used as an extract especially if you are discussing the plight of refugees both in WWII and in our modern context. Click these review quotes to read plot details. Here are a set of chapter by chapter questions. Listen to an audio sample which begins part way through Chapter One. The comments below from Just Imagine are especially good.

This is historical fiction at its best and would sit nicely alongside wartime study including the subjects of evacuation, rationing, use of animals, spies, codebreaking and even military tactics alongside ill-treatment of the Jewish population.   Just Imagine

This book should be in every school library and shared with as many children as possible. If children are to understand the world around them, it is books like Letters From The Lighthouse that will set them on the way. I really cannot recommend this book enough! Mr Davies Reads

As Olive's story unfolds, Carroll also provides the reader with a window though which to see and understand just what it means to be a child and live in a country at war and under siege, realistically depicting the fears and the privations, as well as the importance of family. the value of friends and neighbors, and need to learn trust and tolerance. Heading each chapter with expressions, warnings, and advice that were common during the war also helps give the novel a sense of authenticity. The Children's War

I did enjoy another book by Emma Carroll - In Darkling Wood.  You might also look for Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett and The Amazing Mind of Alice Makin.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ship of Dolls - A friendship dolls book by Shirley Parenteau

My doll travels far,
Her arms open wide for hugs.
Will blossoms greet her?

Emily Grace glows,
Her warm smile carries friendship.
Sunlight after rain.

These are two Haiku poems by Lexie written as part of their class studies about Japanese culture. "It's just seventeen syllables. That's what haiku poems are. Seventeen syllables in three lines. They're supposed to be about nature and feelings."

Before you read about Ship of Dolls watch this short video.

Image source Bill Gordon

An extract from the blurb of Ship of Dolls:  "More than anything else, Lexie wants to be with her mother, a carefree singer in San Francisco. But Mama's new husband doesn't think a little girl should live with parents who work all night and sleep all day, so Lexie's been shipped off to her strict grandparents in Oregon."

The year is 1926 and at Lexie's new school the children are working on a project to send American dolls to Japan as ambassadors of friendship. Community groups and schools have raised money to buy the dolls, dress them and organise their transportation to San Francisco. From there nearly 12,000 dolls will be shipped to Japan.

Lexie (Electra) discovers there is a competition and the child who wins will accompany their school doll from Oregon to San Francisco. This is her chance to reunite with her Mama. In order to write about their school's doll, called Emily Grace, Lexie needs to hold her and look into her eyes but doing this means breaking rules, punishment and disappointments.

Ship of Dolls is based on a real event from the 1920s as you can see from the video above. I really appreciate reading books where an author takes a fragment of history and develops it into a narrative.  Other examples of this would be Hanna's suitcase and The Goose Road.  I also really love the cover for Ship of Dolls. I have mentioned the work of Kelly Murphy several times on this blog. She also did the covers for Signed by Zelda and See Saw Girl.

Here is a set of discussion notes and teaching ideas from the author Shirley Parenteau along with more plot details. You can listen to an audio sample of the first chapter here.  You can also read the first chapter on the Candlewick web site. There are two further books in the Friendship Dolls series - see covers below.

In this 1927 news article from Japan there is information about this project and if you are interested you can read more details and even see a commemorative stamp here.  Listen to a song in Japanese about the dolls and the quote here from a speech when the 58 dolls were sent as a reciprocal gift from Japan.

I am glad to present to the children of America in the name of Japanese children fifty-eight dolls. Last spring the American children sent many lovely dolls to Japan They brought your goodwill and friendship. Our little girls were very happy to receive these gifts and are having a good time with them.

Japanese children are very anxious to be your friends, and these fifty-eight dolls have come here to bring this wish from two million and half children in my country.

We hope that you will like these messengers of friendship, and that they will received into your homes as beloved members of your families. 
Miss Masa Matsudaira, daughter of Ambassador Matsudaira 1927 Washington, D.C.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams

"Of course it's only boys. That's the way things go, isn't it? Girls aren't allowed to do anything. Rich girls sit, poor girls clean, and girls with nothing at all hide in the dark. ... Maybe now you're here ... You could change things, Ottilie."

Young boys are being kidnapped from the Swamp Hollows "a series of caves and tunnels on the edge of Brakkerswamp." Ottilie, aged twelve nearly thirteen, wakes up one morning and discovers her eleven year old beloved brother Gully is missing. Ottilie is frantic. She is very aware young boys regularly disappear from their tiny settlement. 

"They pick lonely, hungry boys, the really reckless ones. They bring them here, tell them they were selected specially for the job. They offer them a family, food, three stations full of brothers, and girls to wait on them."

Ottilie sets off to find and rescue her brother but of course things are not that simple. Her brother and many other 'innocent' young boys have been taken to fight the most hideous of monsters. Ottilie has disguised herself as a boy and so she is caught up in the boy's training program. Ottilie will need to face a series of deadly and unpredictable monsters all the while fearful of discovery. Girls are not permitted to become a fledge. What will happen if she is caught?

These monsters are truly impressive and dangerous. I marvel at the imagination of Rhiannon Williams to create such creatures. They also have amazing names - scorver, jivvies, barrogaul and yicker.

"The thing to remember, always, is that a dredretch is an unnatural beast. They are a plague upon humanity and serve no purpose in the living world. We are not their food source; they do not attack us out of necessity. It is merely their primary instinct to attempt to tear us apart starting with the heart - a dredretch will always go for the heart."

Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt was a total surprise. I am not sure I would have selected this one from the cover although taking a close look, the huge white cat does look a little like the Falkor, the luck dragon from The Neverending Story which is a long time favourite fantasy book of mine. He is actually a wingerslink named Maestro.  Also I had not heard of Rhiannon Williams which makes sense because this is her debut novel. The things that did appeal were curiosity about the Ampersand Prize (mentioned on the cover) and the word Narroway. 

I am so glad to have discovered this book and even though I rarely rate books I give this a resounding ten out of ten. Ottilie can stand tall with other strong girls such as Keladry (Tamora Pierce), Isabel (Laurie Halse Anderson) and Calpurnia (Jacqueline Kelly).

Now back to the Ampersand Prize (making Writers authors). This award was established in 2011 by Hardi Grant Egmont. The Ampersand Prize aims to find brilliant debut novels by writers of young adult and middle-grade fiction.”  This book is certainly BRILLIANT.

Right from the first few pages I was hooked. Rhiannon Williams understands the power of word placement.  Take a look at this passage:

"Fine kippygrass, greener than green beans, tickled her elbows and her feet sunk a little into the mushy soil."

Kippygrass?  The first indication that we are entering a fantasy world - one beautifully created, possibly dangerous and yet intriguing.

It is interesting the way some books receive so much publicity while others just appear and perhaps wait to be discovered.  This book will be in some Australian Primary school libraries because luckily it was included with a recent parcel from Australian Standing Orders (Scholastic). I do hope heaps of Middle Grade fantasy fans find Ottilie Colter. Also the publisher will hopefully send this book across the globe so it can reach an even bigger audience. Book Two in this series will be published in 2019. I hope to read more about this complex world, to meet Bill again  - he appears early in the story, to discover the truth about the 'innocents' and of course celebrate the girl power of Ottilie. Read  Kids Book Review they also loved. Here is a set of teachers notes from Pegi Williams.

I would follow Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt with the following books:

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Dog with Seven Names by Dianne Wolfer

It is so interesting when real life and the book you are reading coincide. On the weekend I attended the Top Dogs film Festival and at the same time I had been reading The Dog with Seven Names.

If you enjoy reading Historical Fiction then this is a perfect book especially if you are a dog lover. There were many aspects of the impact of World War II on Australia that I did not know about. Luckily this book does contain a timeline and set of facts on the final pages.  Dianne Wolfer explains her research process on her web site.

Dog arrives on the farm in October 1939. He is the runt of the litter but Elsie begs her dad and by Christmas she is allowed to keep Princess.  The pair spend two happy years together.  This is an important bonding time for Princess because she is destined to be separated from Elsie. Their friendship needs to be strong so that this bond is never broken even though Princess goes through many owners and, as the title suggests, many names.

One of the joyous moments in this story comes when the dog, now called Flynn, flies with Doc. He works for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and for me he was one of the heroes of this story.  This quote will give you a sense of the first 'person' narrative.

"Doc let me sit with him in the hole on top of Fox Moth, instead of in the cabin between the top and bottom wings. That was my favourite place. If I balanced carefully I could look over the side and let my ears flap in the breeze. As we soared into the sky, cool air blew across my nostrils and I shivered."

Here is a review with more plot details.  I would follow The Dog with Seven Names with A Dog's Life and Everything for a Dog both by Ann M Martin. To follow this historical time period you might also look for books by Michael Morpurgo such as War Horse.  For an Australian flavour look at My Australian Story series which includes The Bombing of Darwin. From the Our Australian Girl series look for the four titles about Pearlie. I would also recommend looking for other books in your school library by Dianne Wolfer such as Lighthouse Girl, Light Horse boy and In the Lamplight.  Lamont Books list The Dog with Seven Names as a secondary title but I think it will appeal to mature Grade 6 students.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Mulberry Tree by Allison Rushby

"It was more like her dad was balancing - balancing on top of a log, with his arms out, trying to keep steady. She had to hold his hand and help him to get to the other side. She knew from experience that the funny thing about balancing on logs was that most of the time you didn't even need that hand. It was enough to know it was there. Just in case."

Do naught wrong by the mulberry tree or she'll take your daughters - one, two, three

The Mulberry tree is indeed a mystery story but it also about healing and forgiveness. A small family are experiencing profound grief.  Immy's dad is a GP in Australia. He recently refused to allow an elderly man to renew his driving licence but this man, called Bob, drives on anyway and then, he is the cause of a terrible accident and a mother and baby are killed. Andrew (dad) is wracked with remorse, guilt and grief so the family of three have moved away - a long way away - to a small village in Cambridge in the hope this change can help them all heal.

After a morning spent looking at 'suitable' properties, Immy spots Lavender House. From the front it looks perfect:

"Her eyes were fixed upon a house of creamy white with the prettiest canary yellow door. Thatch coated the roof like a thick icing and the cherry on the top was a straw pigeon who strutted about on the roof as though he owned the place. The garden heaved with lavender ... "

Moving to the back garden things couldn't be more different:

"Everything was dark and drenched in shadow because of what lay to the left - a gigantic tree that loomed over the entire garden and the house itself. ... Halfway up, arm-like branches began to shoot out threateningly, dividing into stout, black fingers which poked and taunted the house cruelly. It was summer, yet the tree displayed no green. Not one leaf."

This is the mulberry tree of the title. Mystery and superstition abound. Two girls have disappeared. One, a girl called Bridget, in 1795, and the other, a girl called Elizabeth, on VE Day, 8th May, 1945. These disappearances or abductions happened on the eve of each girl's eleventh birthday. Adding to the mystery two knots appeared on the mulberry tree when the girls disappeared.  Immy will turn eleven in just a few days. Is it safe to live in this house in the shadow of this cursed tree?

It will take a determination and courage for Immy to discover the truth about the tree and about herself and these discoveries may help her father on his road to recovery. Her discoveries may even help the people in this village too.

I kept thinking I needed to know more about mulberry trees as I read this book. The tree takes on all the emotions that Immy is feeling but I wanted the family to care for the tree, to feed it, prune it, to ask an expert why it no longer bore fruit, to find out how long these trees live, does the mulberry need a partner tree to fertilize the flowers? Of course the tree itself is a metaphor but I did do some reading and discovered these mulberry tree facts:

  • Mulberry trees can grow, if left alone, to 10 metres
  • Mulberry trees grow in full sun
  • There are four main varieties - Black English, Hick's Fancy, White Shahtoot and a variety that is  purely ornamental called the White Mulberry
  • The fruit can be used in pies and preserves or just eaten straight from the tree but the fruit is fragile and the season is short so they are rarely grown commercially

I am excited to discover that this book was only released into shops 14 days ago! I will make a prediction that it will be one of the 2019 CBCA Notables and perhaps even reach the prestigious short list of six titles for our Australian award - Book of the Year Younger Readers. I think this is a book that will be enjoyed by older students who have a well developed level of emotional intelligence.

Here is a review with lots of plot details. You can also click the review quote below.  I think this book has a perfect cover by Rovina Cai. I do hope it is not changed for other markets in the US or UK. The story itself is certain to be enjoyed by readers beyond our Australian shores. Here is a link to Allison's web site.

On a personal note there was an old mulberry tree in my neighborhood but it was in a back garden. One day my friends and I decided to raid the tree for leaves because we were growing silkworms. It was clear that the home owners were absent so we crept up the side path and climbed the tree. Just as we started pulling off the leaves the family arrived home. I still tingle with the fear we all felt as we inched along high back yard fences, scrambling away, hoping not to be caught. We were safe but had dropped all those precious leaves. I wonder how we fed those poor little silkworms.

A strong, stubborn and compassionate protagonist, Immy takes charge of solving the mulberry mystery – as well as saving injured hedgehogs. As she rides the anxiety and angst that come with change and growing up, her innate empathy for others allows her to not only befriend kids in her class, but the lonely tree in her garden. The Reader The Booksellers New Zealand Blog by Rosalie Elliffe.

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood illustrated by David Watt

"Stories belong to the teller', says the bard. 'At least half of them do. The other part belongs to the listeners. When a good story is told to a good listener, the pair of them own it together."

"Stories aren't all about fighting and revenge,' says the bard. 'You have to have a bit of character development in there as well. Some suspense, some atmosphere. A little bit of romance."

Podkin is the son of Lopkin, the chieftain.  He has a sister called Paz and a brother called Pook. Life in Munbury longburrow is good and this is an especially happy night because it is Bramblemas eve and tomorrow there will be presents! Then, in the space of a few minutes, this warm scene explodes into one of violence and death. The Grom have arrived. They are after a small dagger called Starclaw. It is one of twelve special gifts given to the first tribes at the start of time.

Who are the Grom? Once they were small grey rabbits but something in the river got into their veins or perhaps they tunneled too far down and "came across something cursed and poisonous. ... They turned into something else. Something evil and unnatural."

Pod, Paz and little Pook are now on the run and it is winter, it is bitterly cold and while Starclaw is indeed a special weapon it is powerless against the metal bodies of the Grom.

The power of this writing comes from the atmosphere created by Kieran Larwood. You will see, hear, smell and touch every scene and person in this vividly created world.

It is the bard who tells this ancient tale. He has arrived on a different Bramblemas eve with a story to tell to the eager listeners in Thornwood warren.  It is an evening of storytelling, legends and turnip soup.

Here are some text extracts to give you a sense of this writing.

Scramashank the Gorm Lord "This wasn't a rabbit any more. If it ever had been, it was now something else entirely. A walking slab of metal and meat, pierced through with rusty thorns and nails. Its armour overlapped in sheets of jagged, dented iron; mottled with rust and splashes of dried crimson that looked very much like blood."

Lady Russet - she has been enslaved by Scramshank. "Before, she had been a plump, bristling bundle of life, with zinging fur, a bubbling giggle and eyes that sparkled like glimmers of summer sunlight. Now her skin hung off her face in folds. Lines of worry creased her brow; her eyes were hollow, haunted, red-rimmed, as if she'd been crying. Crying for a long, long time."

Bridgit's home.  Paz describes this wonderful place of safety and comfort where Podkin's wounded ear receives tender care. "She saw lots of clay pots and jars, all labelled in with neat Ogham writing, some overflowing with herbs and bulbs: wild garlic, rosemary, foxglove, rosehip and lots of mushrooms, like ink cap, blusher, penny bun, brittlegill and angel's bonnet." I was excited to discover these are all real mushroom names.

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear has been published with many different covers. Which one appeals to you?

You can listen to chapter one here.  Here is an interview with the author.  I would follow The Legend of Podkin One-Ear with Varjak Paw, Mouseheart, and the wonderful Redwall series by Brian Jacques. The evil Gorm that we meet in Podkin reminded me of the Creeps in Ollie's Odyssey.

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear was the winner of the Blue Peter Award in 2017.  Here is a set of reviews by young UK students and you can read other reviews with more plot details by clicking on the review quotes below.  I highly recommend The Legend of Podkin One-Ear - for me it is absolutely a ten out of ten book and I am rushing off to pick up the sequel - The Gift of Dark Hollow. The third installment (The Beasts of Grimheart) will arrive later this year.

An original fantasy with warrior rabbits, fierce foes, sibling loyalty, riveting adventure, and genuine storytelling.  Kirkus

A wonderfully told tale of adventure and adversity, packed with courage, heart and hope. Kieran Larwood has created a rich fantasy world in a time long after humans have left the world, complete with it’s own religions, superstitions and traditions.  Miss Cleveland is reading

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Thing by Simon Puttock and Daniel Egneus

When I saw this book on a display in a K-2 library I was intrigued by the cover, title and possible subject matter since the book was one title in a display for refugee week. Four strangers see a strange thing. Their names are Cobble (an owl), Tummler (a fox), Hummly (a hippopotamus) and Roop (a small indeterminate creature).

"The thing lay where it had fallen, not moving at all, not making a sound.
'What is it?' said someone passing by.
'And what does it do?' asked another
A third shrugged 'Maybe it just is.'
'Whatever it is,' said a fourth, 'it's beautiful"

Here we have curiosity, pragmatism, philosophy and aesthetics all conveyed through four seemingly simple questions. This is my interpretation:

What is it? - curiosity.
What does it do? - the pragmatic approach - objects must have a purpose and function
Maybe it just is? - this is philosophical thinking
It is beautiful - looking for aesthetic value or perhaps giving an emotional response.

This fourth stranger, who is called Roop, continues his emotional and sympathetic thought by saying "We could stay and keep it company."

So the four gather round the Thing and sleep through the night. In the morning they try some communication with words such as hello, greetings, we come in peace. When there is no response they decide to build a shelter for themselves and for the Thing. Curiosity about the Thing draws a crowd and with the crowds come food stands, souvenir sellers with buttons, balloons, postcards, mugs and flags and even some funfair rides.

"Someone set up a camera so that people could watch it from the comfort of their homes."

At this point reactions take a nasty turn. Someone in the crowd suggests the Thing does not belong, that it has to go. With an older group of students, you could raise themes of prejudice and the plight of displaced people.

"All over the world, people began to argue for and against the Thing."

Then one day the Thing quietly leaves without a sound. Simon Puttock uses a brilliant word to describe this - it had somehow un-fallen itself.

I totally agree with  reviewer Anne Thompson who says she keeps coming back to this book.

While it seems obvious I would pair The Thing with The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan and Beegu by Alexis Deacon. You might also look at a book I talked about recently - Hattie and Hudson. Take a look at Simon's web site where you can see his list of over forty books.

Definitely a book to savour rather than rush through. BookBag

This truly captivating story will hold many different meanings to varying audiences. Picture books Blogger

This captivating picture book will be many things to many people: a story about thoughtfulness, an adventure in friendship and an intriguing and gentle social commentary on the search for meaning in modern life. Reading Zone