Sunday, August 12, 2018

A home full of Friends by Peter Bently illustrated by Charles Fudge

A storm strikes Bramble's neighbourhood and the homes of his friends are destroyed. His own sett is okay but it is a mess. As he walks back through the woods Bramble meets three of his friends in dire circumstances.  Bramble is kind and so he agrees that Snuffle the dormouse, Tipper the toad and Boo the hedgehog, can come to stay.

"Bramble was kind. He would never say no to three little creatures with nowhere to go." 

He rushes home and tries to find enough food, he organizes some seating, sets the table and then starts to worry about how they will all sleep.

"The toad's bound to snore. The hedgehog's all prickly. And the dormouse whiskers are sure to be tickly!"

Just when it seems there is no solution to this problem there is a loud knock on the door. What a surprise for Bramble. He does not have three visitors - his friends have bought along their families too.

"I hate to sound rude. You're welcome to stay, but I haven't much food, and there's only one bed. It's just not enough. 'Don't worry,' grinned Snuffle. 'We've bought loads of stuff."

Of course there is a solution. All his guests have bought along things to share such as a huge blackberry pie, a basket of fruit and nuts, wood for the fire and extra blankets and pillows. The final pages are warm and filled with sweet dreams.

A Home full of Friends is a book will read aloud well because it is told in rhyme. The full page illustrations by Charles Fuge with close-ups of Bramble and his friends are very appealing. I especially love Bramble's expressive face, his wonderful slippers and his 'teddy'. It is also fun to see the book he is reading which is called Brock. The word Brock can mean badger.

There is a second book featuring Bramble called A Home on the River due for publication later this year. We have a number of books by Peter Bently in our school library. I would link this book with No Place like Home and Too Tight Benito.

When the world is dreaming by Rita Gray pictures by Kenard Pak

What does Little Deer dream
at the end of the day?
After the walking,
the grazing, the play.
In a bed of feathery ferns
beside her twin, she gently turns.
What does Little Deer dream?
Rushing rain from a rumbling cloud,
the sky is flashing; the sky is loud!
But tucked beneath our mushroom cap,
we're safe from every thunderclap.
Sleep, Little Deer,
safe and warm.
Dream until the light of morn.

This exquisite lyrical text asks this same question of Little Snake, Little Newt, Little Rabbit, Little Mouse, Little Turtle and Little Dreamer. You can see them on the cover. Each set of pages end with the refrain "Sleep Little ____, safe and warm. Dream until the light of morn."  I long for someone to set this lullaby to music. Changing colour and font also adds the dimension of another voice to this text - the voice of the dream itself.  Here is the dream of the snake:

Catching the wind, the kite sets sail;
and trailing behind, I am the tail!
Soaring above the tallest trees,
I dip and ripple in the breeze.

A perfect picture book is a marriage of art and words. The art in When the World is Dreaming is an example of this perfection.

Add this title to your list. It would be a beautiful gift for a young child and one that will be treasured. Read this review. Another reviewer uses the words ethereal and dreamy which seem the perfect description. Kenard Pak has collaborated on other books with Rita Gray - Have you heard the Nesting Bird? and Flowers are calling.

I recently saw a book written and illustrated by Kennard Pak and fell in love with his art and now I discover Kenard did the cover for The Poet's Dog which is a book I adored. These connections make me so happy. Here are two other books illustrated by Kenard Pak.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

His Name was Walter by Emily Rodda

"It's not true that only children can enjoy a really good children's story" Emily Rodda ABC radio interview with Angela Meyer.

Australian author Emily Rodda is a true writing talent. You may be familiar with the Deltora stories and Rowan of Rin books.  Previously here I have talked about Bungawitta and The shop at Hoopers Bend.  My personal favourite among her books is Bob the Builder and the Elves which is a simple junior novel and a delight to read aloud. Now we have His name was Walter which the publisher says is for 8+ but for me is much better suited to upper primary and junior high school readers. This is a spellbinding story which I read almost compulsively.

This book contains, as the cover says, "a story with in a story".  Four students and their teacher are stranded on a remote country road after their excursion bus breaks down. The group take shelter in a derelict house. One of the students, Colin, admires a small desk in the kitchen. He knows furniture like this often conceals hidden compartments.  He takes a closer look and finds a secret drawer. Inside this drawer is a book with a dramatically illustrated story.

To three of the children the house itself feels so strange. There are noises and strong feelings that seem to impact them almost violently. They gather together and begin to read the book they have found. It reads like a fairy tale or folk tale beginning with an orphan of unknown heritage who is living in a horrible institution with little prospect for a happy future. He escapes from this situation taking two tiny things which might point to his identity - a paper which says his name is Walter and a few strands of hair. By chance he meets a beggar woman who tells him a little more of his history but it is the encounter with a kindly witch woman who really settles his fate.

She predicts:
"You'll never be rich in gold but your life will be rich in other ways ... You'll protect a friend. You'll find true love. You'll free a prisoner. You'll champion the weak. You'll save a life. You'll keep the faith. You'll ... "

Having begun like a folk tale, a rags to riches story, the focus then references Beauty and the Beast especially when we read about Lord Vane.

"The man was hunched jealousy over an iron box heaped with gold. To Walter's horrified eyes he looked more like a beast than a human being ... The filthy undershirt that strained over his massive chest and sagging belly was blotched with patches of sweat. Hair like greasy grey straw stuck up all over his head ... Evil greed seemed to cloud the room like smoke."

I especially enjoyed the way Emily Rodda drew all the threads together at the end of this book showing the links between the 'fairy tale' from the book and the past history of life in the house and town. I mentally ticked off each item and felt satisfied all the pieces of this puzzle were once again joined in all the right places.

Here is a review from Readings. The publisher have generously provided you with four chapters as a sample of the text. Here is a special video with Emily Rodda talking about her books and their creation and a very recent radio interview.  I will predict, in fact guarantee, His Name was Walter will feature in our 2019 CBCA short list. Yes, yes it is that good.

Thanks again to Beachside Bookshop for providing this copy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fergus and Zeke by Kate Messner illustrated by Heather Ross

My hunt for terrific stories aimed at newly independent readers continues and this week I found another perfect one. Fergus and Zeke is from the Sparks series (Candlewick) and all of their titles are wonderful. I was excited to discover our own Bob Graham even has a book in this series - Tales from the Waterhole.  Look at my reviews of Rabbit and Robot, Annie and Simon, Pigsticks and HaroldHoundsley and Catina and Joe and Sparky.

Fergus is like John (in John the Mouse who learned to read from 1969 illustrated by Noela Young) and Humphrey the hamster we meet in the terrific series by Betty Birney. Fergus is the class pet. He thoroughly enjoys joining in with the class.

"When Miss Maxwell said, 'Sit quietly for storytime,' Fergus sat still and listened. ... When the students solved math problems, Fergus solved them too. He always kept his eyes on his own work."

When Fergus hears to class are off to the museum where they will see dinosaurs, the butterfly garden and shooting stars in the planetarium, Fergus absolutely expects to go along too. Sadly the teacher does not know this and it seems Fergus will be left behind. This is too much for Fergus so he slips out of his cage and into Emma's backpack. His adventure has begun and what a splendid adventure it will be. Who is Zeke I hear you ask. Fergus meets another mouse living in the museum and their combined antics serve to spice up the fun.

Here is the Kirkus review. Kate Messner has such a huge variety of books from wonderful non fiction to longer chapter books and even professional reading for teachers. She talks here about the inspiration for this story.  The sequel will be published later this year.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mr. Penguin and the lost Treasure by Alex T Smith

Full of fish-finger sandwiches, secret jungles, nefarious plots and cryptic codes, it’s addictive slapstick, with Smith’s appealingly arch black, white and orange illustrations. The Guardian

This is quite a new book - the paperback edition was published this year.  I have loved Alex T Smith ever since he introduced me to Claude. The Mr Penguin series are a little longer but once again we have a special sidekick to assist our hero.

Mr Penguin is down on his luck and down to his last fish finger sandwich. He places an advertisement in the newspaper offering his services as an adventurer and solver of mysteries.

Mr Penguin gets into work on time at 9am thinking "that today his telephone would be ringing its head off from the moment he flipped the CLOSED sign on his office door over to OPEN ... but this hadn't been the case at all. His telephone had sat tight-lipped and silent."

When the phone finally does ring it sounds like the perfect adventure for Mr Penguin and his side-kick Colin.  I just need to talk a little about the wonderful Colin. He is a spider. He uses a notebook to communicate IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Colin is a loyal friend to Mr Penguin and has a most useful skill of kung fu. Mr Penguin has another special friend - Edith Hedge "who lived in the park and fed the birds. (she was) wearing fifteen different anoraks, one of top of the other, belted at the waist with a large bum bag. Sitting on top of her head was a pigeon. He was called Gordon."

Boudicca Bones, director of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. The museum is in desperate need of funds for urgent repairs and there is a possibility that the original founder of the museum Sir Randolph Bones may have hidden some treasure somewhere in this vast museum. Mr Penguin and Colin arrive at the museum and Miss Bones and her gigantic brother Montague outline the problem, share the clues they have found so far and even produce a useful map - X marks the spot!

Of course things are not quite straightforward. As a reader you may be suspicious of this Miss Bones and her odd brother but Mr Penguin is determined to solve this case so he can boost his finances and get home to eat his packed lunch of a precious fish finger sandwich.

This romp has twenty three very short chapters presented over 203 pages of large print often on coloured paper. This story just zooms along. I read over 100 pages with out pausing. This book is perfect for newly independent readers. As a guide if your child has enjoyed The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey this series featuring Mr Penguin would be the perfect next book.

You could also look for some other slap-stick style detective stories
High Rise Private Eye
Detective Donut and the Wild Goose Chase by Bruce Whatley (sadly out of print but hopefully in your local library)
Detective Gordon series
Timmy Failure series
Pip Street series

Good news there is a sequel to Mr Penguin and the lost treasure which will be published later this year.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Little Beaver and the Echo by Amy MacDonald illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies DVD read by Emilia Fox

"When you are sad, the Echo is sad,' said the wise old beaver. 'When you are happy, the Echo is happy too."

Little Beaver and the Echo has long been a favourite book. I have read it aloud to our youngest students for many years but I had no idea there was an edition that included a DVD. Walker Books do products like this so well. In our school library we have the DVD sets of We're going on a bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Our House illustrated by Bob Graham and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell.

Little Beaver is lonely. He cries out down by the lake and immediately hears the cries of another sad soul across the water. He sets off to investigate picking up duck, otter and turtle on the way. He needs to talk to the wise old beaver about the other beaver on the far side of the lake. The old beaver tries to explain about echoes but Little Beaver is confused.

"But how can I find him and be his friend? ... He doesn't have any friends, and neither do I."

Wait a minute - you do have friends. Little Beaver. The Duck, the otter and the turtle all explain they are now his true friends.  Little Beaver is so happy and your young reading companion will be too! And if you can find this DVD edition you could follow your reading with a viewing of this beautifully presented and gentle little movie.

Another echo book that I would pair with this is Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch.

Our Big Blue Sofa by Tim Hopgood

One of our favourite things is bouncing on our big blue sofa ...
We're practicing for the Sofa Bouncing World Championships

What a discovery! This is a book with an extra and wonderful dimension - it is tactile. You can actually feel the funky fabric as it says on the cover. There are baby board books with this feature but I have never seen it on a picture book like this one.  Our Big Blue Sofa just has to be the perfect partner for Down the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy. I cannot imagine reading one without the other.

Our Big Blue Sofa opens with a list of found items such as a pizza crust, a pink paperclip, a pea, a gold ball, the letter Q from a game of Scrabble, a dead fly, $100 of Monopoly money and a tie - probably dad's.  A the back of the book there is a further list of more things found recently such as a pink sock, mum's car keys (again), dad's reading glasses (again) and dad's case for his reading glasses (again).

The kids love to bounce on the sofa and use it for imaginative play. It becomes a blue submarine, a blue hospital bed, a big blue hot air balloon, a big blue taxicab and a big blue elephant but all this jumping and wild play leads to disaster. What will happen to the sofa? You can see some of the pages here.

Our Big Blue Sofa, Tim's first book, was the 2007 winner of the Cambridgeshire Read it Again Award.  If you are looking for a copy of this book try to find one with the funky fabric. I am not sure if this feature is included with the regular paperback edition. I did enjoy the discovery that blue is Tim's favourite colour and Hopgood also seems such a fun name for a book about bouncing on a sofa.

Here are my thoughts about two other books by Tim Hopgood - Big and Little Answer. Of course you could also compare the art in Our Big Blue Sofa with the superb collage work of Lauren Child.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Randome audio read by Gareth Armstrong

"In the boathouse below the farm there was the Swallow, a sailing boat, a very little one ... If there had been no island, no sailing boat, and if the lake had not been so large, the children, no doubt, would have been happy enough to paddle about  ... But with a lake as big as a small sea, a fourteen-foot dinghy with a brown sail waiting in the boathouse, and the little wooded island waiting for explorers, nothing but a sailing voyage of discovery seemed worth thinking about."  

One of my treasured memories is of a family friend giving me the Puffin box set of the first four books from the Swallows and Amazons series. I remember reading them and marvelling at the way these kids knew so much about sailing. All that special terminology. Right from the first page where we meet Roger and see him tacking across a field pretending to be the tea clipper Cutty Sark. Then later when their father says the four can sail to their island the Master (John), Mate (Susan), Able-seaman (Titty) and ship boy Roger just seem to know exactly how to sail their little boat Swallow.

"Is there a cleat under the thwart where the mast is stepped?"
"Susan got the sail ready. On the yard there was a strop that hooked on one side of an iron ring called the traveller up to the top of the mast, through a sheave and then down again."

I had no idea what all of this meant as a young reader (and I still have no clue) but that did not take away from my enjoyment of this adventure story. Better still the setting is an island and I have long had a fascination with the idea of living on a small island. You can read the plot for yourself on this wikipedia entry.

This week I have been listening to the audio book of Swallows and Amazons and I found myself lingering in my car so I could continue with the story long after I should have moved on to other things. I had thought I remembered the plot but in reality most of my memory had faded with time. I was surprised by so many things and even laughed out loud several times. I enjoyed all the feasts, the lake and island exploration and the crime solving after Captain Flint is robbed but the aspect I enjoyed most was meeting Titty all over again. John is too busy being the perfect Captain, Susan is too busy (yes it is a stereotype) with cooking and caring, Roger is sweet little boy (perhaps a little too compliant) but Titty is the character I loved. There has been some debate about the name Titty and sadly this was changed for both movie adaptions. Putting that aside here are some words of wisdom from Titty:

"Instead, Titty took Robinson Crusoe. 'It tells you just what to do an an island.'

"It'll be best for him to walk the plank,' said Able-seaman Titty. 'Then we'll take his treasure and buy a big ship, and live in her for ever and ever and sail all over the world. .. We could discover new continents ... There must be lots that haven't been found yet."

Talking with mother about illness : "Of course we've had plague and yellow fever and Black Jack and all other illnesses belonging to desert islands ... But we cured them all at once."

"Abe-seaman Titty, as surgeon to the expedition, washed the knee, and tied it up with Roger's handkerchief. Roger tried to blow his nose in the corner of it that was left after the tying."

"There were two tents, and a shipwrecked mariner on a desert island ought only to have one. .. then she remembered that for part of the time she would not be a shipwrecked mariner, but would be in charge of an explorers' camp, while the main body had sailed away on a desperate expedition."

"Captain Nancy shook her by the hand and slapped her on the back. 'By thunder, Able-seaman,' said she, 'I wish you were in my crew. This morning when I saw that you'd done us all by yourself, I could have swallowed the anchor. You did just exactly what we had planned to do."

"Then there was a big rice pudding, which had been bought with them on the top of the things in one of the big biscuit tins. It too became a common dish, like the frying pan. Then there were four big slabs of seed cake. Then there were apples all round."

"Then there was cold chicken. Then there was a salad in a big pudding basin. Then there was an enormous gooseberry tart. Then there was a melon. Then there was a really huge bunch of bananas which the female native tied in a tree as if it was growing there."

"Look here,' said Susan, 'hadn't we better have dinner before all the lemonade has gone.' 'Jamaica rum,' said Titty with reproach. 'We've got a lot of sandwiches,' said Peggy. 'We've got pemmican,' said Susan, 'and sardines. We finished the meat pie and the next one doesn't come until tomorrow."

It is interesting to compare audio editions.  My copy was narrated by Gareth Armstrong. Here is a different one (audio sample) with Alison Larkin.

I have been thinking about why I loved Swallows and Amazons so much as a child. Partly it was the setting on an island (which I have mentioned), partly the delicious sounding food but I think the heart of the matter would have been my fascination with this family of four kids (five really but I am not counting their baby sister). I know this could be a criticism, but I did enjoy the way they all got along so well. No conflict, no arguments, no disputes. These kids are kind, but not in an overly sentimental way, to one another. They genuinely encourage each other and seem to accept that each of them have their own talents and strengths. Mother is pretty special too - happy to take on various roles, allowing the kids to have such freedom, arriving with cake and presents, organising the supply of fresh milk and other treats and best of all those amazing tents she made anticipating their expedition.

Here are several cover designs below.


Friday, August 3, 2018

Lulu loves stories by Anna McQuinn illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

The simple, significant message will ring true with every librarian, teacher, caregiver and parent as the day concludes with Lola’s nightly bedtime story. Everyone should begin and end the day with a good book. Kirkus on Lulu loves Libraries

I picked up a few books this week with CDs.  Lulu loves Stories has a wonderful soundscape on the CD which really adds another dimension for the listener. It is also presented in 20 languages including French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese and even Swahili. This is not a new book (2009) but it is still available.  You might also look for other books about Lulu. I need to read Lulu Loves the Library!

In Lulu loves stories she visits the library and is lucky because her parents take her EVERY week and even better when they arrive home her daddy and mummy READ her all the stories she has selected. It is for these two reasons that I think this would be a perfect book to read to parents of pre-school children perhaps at the evening meeting before their children start school. The message that books will/should come home every week and that (and this is the very important part) the expectation is that someone will sit down and read this book or set of books to and with the child.

"When they came home, Lulu's daddy reads the first story. It's about a fabulous fairy princess. The next day, Lulu is a fairy princess. She has a magical dress and a sparkly crown. She's just fabulous."

The stories continue about journeys, friends, tigers and Old MacDonald's farm but the best story of all is right at the end. It is a story about a wild and wicked monster! It is this intertextual reference (in this case to to Where the Wild things are) that really appealed to me.  This is book about the joys of shared reading, the power of imaginative play and the CD also gives you the chance to listen to familiar words in so many different languages.

I recently talked about Just right for Two which also features warm (and slightly fuzzy) illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw.

My brother, Ant by Betsy Byars illustrated by Marc Simont

My Brother, Ant is a superb book for a confident beginning reader as well as a warm expression of a brotherly relationship—love, annoyance, and acceptance included. Turtle and Robot

This is a very old book published in 1996 but it is still available which is excellent news because this is one of those perfect books. Perfect because it is very simple (32 pages) so can be easily read by a newly independent reader but, more importantly, it is also a warm-hearted, satisfying and very funny set of stories.

In these four short stories we meet Ant and his patient and wise (but also real) older brother.  Ant is scared of the monster under his bed. His brother (our narrator) offers to help.  "You can look ... but you won't see the monster. He hides from big people."  His brother is not put off.  He looks under the bed (the illustration on this page is important) and he tells the monster to move on.

The second story centres around a dispute between the two boys. His brother accuses Ant of drawing a spider on his spelling homework. Ant is adamant that he did NOT do this. The twist in this story is brilliant.

Story three is probably my favourite because I love to do this too. 
"Ant said 'Read me a story.'
I like to read
I said, 'Okay.'
Ant sat down by me.
I opened the book and began to read.
'Once up on a time there were three little figs.'
Ant sat up.
He said, 'No! That's not right. It's pigs. Three little PIGS. Say PIGS"

The corrupted story telling which continues is sure to make you laugh.  In the final story Ant asks his brother to help with a letter to Santa - but it is July!

My brother, Ant reminds me of the joy I found in Iris and Walter which is another story about sibling relationships. You might like to look at the ebook version of My brother, Ant.  I have also discovered another title about Ant.

Here is a page from My Brother, Ant

Other books to explore with terrific stories and also perfect for children who are just learning to read are:
Joe and Sparky, Superstars!
Mr Putter and Tabby fly the plane
Ling and Ting Not exactly the same!
Rabbit and Robot - the sleepover

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The list of real things by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

"Look at the secrets that lie beneath the surface! Look at the way the world can surprise you!"

When I saw The List of Real Things in a bookstore in London recently I recognised the name Sarah Moore Fitzgerald and her book The Apple Tart of Hope. Some time ago I read The Apple Tart of Hope but I did not talk about it here on my blog and the odd thing is I do remember the plot but I do not own this book, it is not in my school library, all reviewers list it as a YA novel, I rarely select these and so it is mystery when and how I came to read it.

The List of Real things is a little confusing. It is a book about bereavement, about siblings, about fitting in, about difference, but it is also a ghost story and it contains some fantasy elements but I would not classify it as a fantasy because the emotional journey Grace travels is raw and real. Take a look at some of the labels at the end of this post.

This is a book for a sensitive reader who has some degree of reading stamina. While it is not an especially long book (204 pages) the plot moves slowly as Grace tries to make sense of the death of her parents. She has new relationships with her Uncle and Grandfather to navigate but the hardest part of life right now is making sense of her eccentric little sister Bee. This sad time in their lives is told from Grace's point of view but it is little Bee who is (for me) the true hero of this story. 

Read some reviews for more plot details
Catherine Larner
Between the Pages

Here is the blurb:
"Grace knows the difference between what's real and the strange ideas that float around in her little sister's mind. Their parents died - that's real.
A secret hotel on the cliff top where their parents are waiting - definitely NOT real.
When grief strikes again, Grace is determined not to let her sister's outlandish imagination spiral out of control. But the line between truth and fantasy is more complicated than it seems."

This is a boo

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Our Kid by Tony Ross

"Go straightly to school Our Kid. Don't be late again.
So I shoffled my homework into my bag and took the short cut."

Taking the shortcut is a big mistake. Our Kid is indeed late for school and he loses his homework too.
He tries to explain the series of events that happened on his way to school including the pirates who take his school bag but of course he is not believed and is sent to the naughty corner.

This book is filled with delightful invented and onomatopoetic words:
You have to dunkle your hooves in the water.
I rode on the deck and off be bumpeeded down the road.
These were dinopirates, so some were squiddly, but others were felumpingly big.
I cried, as the pirates sniggled and bounded away.

I do enjoy a tall tale. Books like On the Way Home by Jill Murphy and John Patrick Norman McHennesy the boy who was always late by John Burningham are firm favourites and now I have Our Kid by Tony Ross. Read the Kirkus review. This is a book you must share with a child there is so much to enjoy including the great title - Our Kid (he is a goat!)