Sunday, September 30, 2018

Honey and Bear by Ursula Dubosarsky illustrated by Ron Brooks

If you have followed this blog for a while you will know I adore our Australian illustrator Ron Brooks. A few years ago I visited the Book Illustrated site and purchased a limited edition print from this book - Honey and Bear. Recently I talked about Ursula Dubosarsky I thought I would revisit this old favourite.

Honey and Bear was published in 1998 - so I need to say Happy 20th Birthday Honey and Bear! And there was a sequel Special Days with Honey and Bear (2002). In 2010 the publisher combined these two books. You might be amazed to discover a second hand copy now costs over $300!

Honey and Bear are good friends.  In the first book there are five short stories.

Good Idea, Bad Idea
Bear decides to clean up his kitchen. Once it is all spic and span he then decides it is time to make a cake! He knows Honey would love some seedy cake. When Honey arrives home all she can see is the mess.  "Honey looked at the table. It was covered with eggshells. She looked in the sink. It was full of dirty dishes. She looked at the floor. There was flour all over it."  Luckily the cake is just out of the oven and so the friends sit down to enjoy a fresh slice. Bear comments "I did not have a good idea and a bad idea. I had two good ideas. I just had them in the wrong order."

Bear's secret
Bear, like all small children, does something 'naughty'. He puts a some marbles down the plug hole in the sink. He feels guilty but does not confess his crime to Honey. Luckily Honey has a long neck and she just reaches into the sink and solves the problem.  "Bear never told Honey that he was the one who dropped the marbles down the plug hole. Bear never told anyone at all."

Counting Leaves
Bear is sleeping. Honey is bored. She begins to count the falling leaves. It proves to be an excellent way to pass the time.

The Visit
Bear and Honey set off to visit Bear's mother. They pack a picnic of chocolate spread sandwiches, orange juice and two bananas. Their route takes them around a lake and when they reach half-way they stop and eat half their lunch. They walk on and a little later share the rest of the lunch. When they finally arrive there is a sign on the door. Bear's mother has gone visiting and won't be home again for three weeks. This is a story filled with optimism.  "We had a lovely picnic ... And maybe next time we visit, my mother will be at home!"  Honey also shows great kindness towards her friend Bear. The walk and spilled food mean bear looks quite messy but she is never tempted to comment on his appearance. This is a story which could give you some great ideas for a class discussion.

Honey is Cross
Everyone has a day when a bad mood strikes. Honey just needs some time alone to sort herself out. She flies away and meets an eagle. He shows her a different view of the world and Honey comes to appreciate all the wonderful things she has at home including delicious peas.

Another reason to celebrate the collaboration of Ursula Dubosarsky and Ron Books - they have a new book which is about to be published. Midnight at the library is coming in November.

I would pair Honey and Bear with Houndsley and Catina,  Frog and Toad, Mouse and Mole, Joe and Sparky, Bear and Chook, and Rabbit and Bear.

Here is the Spanish edition of Honey and Bear.

Ella May and the Wishing Stone by Cary Fagan illustrated by Genevieve Cote

Ella May comes home from the beach with a stone. It seems special because it has a line going all the way around.  She sings a little song:

Wish, wish, I'm making a wish
On my wishing stone.
And it will come true, oh yes it will,
Because I bought you home.

While Ella May is sitting on her porch her best friend Manuel comes past. He invites Ella May to play a game of hopscotch but she says no. Other friends arrive but Ella May will not share her stone so the children go looking for their own. Ella May declares their stone are no good.

"Nope and double nope ... none of your stones has a line going all-all-all the way around it."

Manuel is not defeated. He goes home and returns with a cart and for just one penny he offers to make wishing stones for everyone. The children are so pleased to have their own wishing stones. They make their wishes for a pony and a walk on the moon. Ella May is very put out. She wants her stone to be the only wishing stone. Then it starts to rain and something happens to those stones.

"Once again Ella May was the only one with a wishing stone, but she didn't feel as happy as she thought she would."

Now we have a beautiful plot twist.  Ella May is not defeated. She goes inside her house and comes out with a crate of assorted objects such as a broom which can be transformed into a pony and empty egg cartons which feel just like the lunar surface. Can you guess how the children might now use their stones?

This book is such a discovery for me.  I want to rush out and share Ella May and the Wishing Stone with a group of young children and buy some copies to pop into the library collections of my friends. You can see a video of the whole book here.

One more thing -  as I sat down now to talk about Ella May and the Wishing stone, the cover of Little Blue Chair also by Cary Fagan appeared on the Canadian Children's Book Centre Facebook page. Cary Fagan has written a number of picture books and novels. I previously talked about Wolfie and Fly. I now need to hunt out some more books by Cary Fagan there are sure to be some others just as splendid as Ella May and the Wishing Stone.

Refreshingly, these lessons are not delivered in a didactic or moralistic tone but emerge serendipitously, rather like appearance of the stone, itself. University of Manitoba

The net result is an original and imaginative treatment of one of the hardest lessons of early childhood – sharing – in a colourful package that’s likely to charm kids and adults alike. Quill and Quire

Fagan believably captures the delicate balance of friendship in the very young and lets the story pay out with welcome complexity. Kirkus

The Witch's Tears by Jenny Nimmo

"As Theo passed the clock he glanced up at its lifeless hands. 'What's happening?' he asked in a hushed voice. The clock gazed out helplessly, as if to say, 'Someone has stolen my breath."

It is a wild and stormy night. Theo Blossom's dad mends clocks. He has set off to help with a grandfather clock leaving Mrs Blossom, Dodie and Theo to cope alone. It is cosy inside and the ticking of all their clocks is comforting but as the children are heading home from school a neighbour warns them :

"Witches always arrive in rough weather. They lose their broomsticks and they lose their cats. So they come snooping around, trying to steal ours. ... Their clothes may be darker, and their skin more wrinkled from travelling in the wind. And there's always the hat, folded secretly into a pocket, when they don't want to be recognised."

These warnings work like a list for Theo and so when the mysterious Mrs Scarum arrives Theo starts ticking things off and soon concludes she must be a witch. Her clothes are dark and the fabric is strange, she has possibly fallen off her broomstick, she is searching for her lost black cat, but worse, all the clocks in the house seem to be out of sync.

"Just for a second they lost their rhythm. Tick-creak-tock went the wooden clock. Tick-wheeze-tock called the china shepherd. Tick-swish-tock mumbled the ormolu."

Here is an ormolu - this was a new word for me!

Adding to the tension their father has not telephoned tonight something he does every evening at precisely 5pm. Mrs Scarum seems to want to move in. She makes a large decorated cake, demands a meal of sausages and keeps watching the family cat Flora. Theo is terrified that she means to take his precious cat away and he is so worried about his dad who might be caught in the blizzard or worse. His comfortable family seems to be falling apart but only Theo can see the truth.  Or can he?

A friend who is a teacher-librarian has asked me to read a few of her older titles this week to assess if they might still be popular and so worth keeping in her library.  The Witch's Tears is a fabulous story which has stood the test of time. It was first published in 1996 and so is now listed as a modern classic. My verdict is keep this book and buy a new copy. The old cover does look a little dated.

All through The Witch's Tears I kept thinking about an old picture book by Margaret Mahy called The Witch in the Cherry Tree. Both contain a witch, cakes, a warm house, a hospitable mother, a storm and a boy who suspects the witch and her motives. I was excited to read Jenny Nimmo loves the writing of Margaret Mahy.

I first encountered Jenny Nimmo through The Snow Spider trilogy. You should also look at my review of The Stone Mouse which would be an excellent book to pair with The Witch's Tears. A picture book which you could also read along side The Witch's Tears is The Tear Thief by Carol Ann Duffy. The idea of tears turning into crystals delights me.

Here are some reviews with more plot details - Bookbag and Books for Keeps. A close look at the three covers I have included with this post might be useful for discussion with children especially after reading The Witch's Tears.  Which cover do you like? I think The Witch's tears might make a good read aloud book for a Grade 2 or 3 class.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen illustrated by John Schoenherr

If you go owling
you have to be quiet
and make your own heat.

When you go owling
you have to be brave.

When you go owling
you don't need words
or warm
or anything but hope.
That's what Pa says.

Image source :

Owl Moon is a book to treasure and revisit often. It is the perfect book to read on a quiet winter night even if you live (as I do) in a place where it never snows. Owl Moon was first published in 1987 and was the winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1988. Happy 30th Birthday Owl Moon!

Once again here is a book that perfectly demonstrates the ideal marriage of poetry or poetic language in a picture book.

Our feet crunched
over the crisp snow
and little grey footprints
followed us.
Pa made a long shadow
but mine was short and round.
I had to run after him
every now and then
to keep up,
and my short, round shadow
bumped after me.

Look at the word placement here. Our feet crunched. This is the perfect word for the sound of shoes on snow. I had to run every now and then - short legs and long strides - this gives the right rhythm to their walk. Her shadow bumped an echo of the shadow's round shape.

Here is another beautiful piece of poetic prose:

The moon was high above us.
It seemed to fit
over the centre of the clearing
and the snow below it
was whiter than the milk
in a cereal bowl.

I was amazed to discover you can read a Jane Yolen book every day of the year - yes she has 365 titles ranging from picture books, junior titles such as Sleeping Ugly, Middle Grade novels such as A Plague of Unicorns, adult books and non fiction.

If you have not seen this book try to find it in a library. Once you have read the printed book and looked at the beautiful illustrations take a look at this gentle video. Here are some teaching ideas.  Here is a magical song - listen to this after you read the book - I guarantee you will shiver.

The illustrations make you shiver from the cold and want to pull your scarf up over your mouth.  New York Times

In this extraordinary title, Jane Yolen captures the magical moment when two people come face to face with a wild creature, a beautiful owl in its natural habitat. She also explores, in simple words packed with imagery, the bond that connects the little girl and her father as they take a special journey under an Owl Moon. Looking Glass Review

Yolen hints at a philosophical overtone ("When you go owling you don't need words or warm or anything but hope. . .the kind of hope that flies on silent wings. . ."), but the shared experience of the mysterious, natural night-world seems the more important message of this lovely, quiet book. Kirkus 

Let's get a pup by Bob Graham

When you compile a list of books to read to young children about puppies and dogs this one - Let's get a pup! should be the title that appears at the top,

This book has such an amazing emotion arc.  The story opens with the sad news the family cat has grown old and died. Kate is especially sad but one sunny morning she wakes up and realises what the family needs is a pup!

"What, a brand-new one?"
said a now wide awake Mum.
"With the wrapping still on?"
added her breathless dad.

I hope this first page has given you a smile.  But wait there are many more special moments and words!

Over breakfast Mum takes at look at the newspaper and sees an advertisement

The centre for dogs without a home
The centre for dogs all alone

The family jump in their car and head off but when they arrive the choice of dogs is almost overwhelming.  "Then they saw Dave ... "

Dave is a little black and white pup and he is adorable.  He comes out sideways and then he "turned a complete circle in the air."

"He was small.
He was cute.
He was brand-new
Dave climbed right over the top of Kate, who briefly wore him like a hat."

The choice is made but as they turn to leave they see Rosie!  Rosie is a old dog with sad eyes. "She stood it seemed, almost politely ... Her eyes watered, her ears went back and she radiated Good Intention."

The family walk away feeling so very sad. That night, while Dave settles in, everyone keeps thinking about Rosie. So once again with breakfast uneaten they all head back to the Rescue Centre. Rosie is waiting for them and the family is now complete and happy.

Take at look at this review by Megan Daley. In 2002 Let's get a Pup! was the Picture Book winner of the Boston Globe Horn Book award. I have only just discovered this and I am smiling all over again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bookworm : A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan

"Was your first crush on Dickon ... do you still get the urge to tap the back of the wardrobe if you find yourself alone in a strange bedroom?  ... If so this is the book for you."

"words weren't just markings on a page to be passively absorbed and enjoyed but could be tools, treasures and toys all in one." (The Phantom Tollbooth)

"I have lived so many lives through books, gone to so many places, so many eras, looked through so many different eyes, considered so many different points of view."

A few months ago a fellow children's literature enthusiast loaned me her copy of Bookworm. I thought I would dip in and read a few chapters - the cover looked interesting and it was tactile.

A few days later I lifted my head with a huge sigh of happiness. While I was not lucky enough to have the fabulous book-abundant childhood of Lucy Mangan, she loved and read so many books that I loved and read that I felt as though I had emerged from a long a joyous conversation about hundreds of wonderful children's books and our shared memories of reading them. We both visited the public library with our dad, we both received books as presents from relatives and family friends and we both continue to love reading children's books even though we are now adults. If you, too, are a huge fan of children's books both especially the ones you read as a child then this is a PERFECT book.

Here are some moments of shared joy:

Chapter 1 The Very Hungry Reader
Miffy "To look into Miffy's face - two dots for eyes and a cross for a mount comprising a face that somehow looked back at me with  happiness, sadness, anticipation, bewilderment, surprise and all points in between"

Chapter 2 - Dr Seuss
Lucy is able to say what I always thought but could not express the huge mess created by that cat in The Cat in the Hat. All I knew was it disturbed me. Lucy calls it "anapaestic anarchy". My family home was such a tidy one I remember being quite distressed by all that mess and also the worry that the mother would come home and see the chaos.

Chapter 3  Now I am Six
I know it will warm the heart of another book loving friend of mine to her Lucy declare "It was with The Owl who was Afraid of the dark that I truly fell in love with the act of reading itself."  Lucy also reminded me how rereading is so important for children. It takes a lot of energy to decipher a text but once this is mastered the child can then "begin to get lost in the story."  I love her phrase - you can't wear out a book's patience. If you have a chance to pick up this book read page 73 and if you are a teacher you might give a copy of page 73 to all parents. (I would also look at the wisdom on pages 206-7)

In chapter 3 Lucy also talks about The Happy Family series by Allen and Janet Ahlberg and a little hardcover book series called Antelope books (Hamish Hamilton) which I remember along with books about doll houses (I long to find my childhood one with hot and cold taps) and the wonderful Flat Stanley. At age six Lucy also encountered Ladybird Books and the wonders of Roald Dahl. I marvel that she read these when so young. Like Lucy I also find George's treatment of his grandma quite aggressive and not perhaps as funny as intended. We both prefer Matilda and the BFG.

Chapter 4 - The Blyton Interregnum
My Blyton time was spent with The Secret Seven and Noddy. I scorned the Famous Five and decided The Seven were a better choice.  Lucy read many more Blyton titles and loved this period.

Chapter 5 - Through a Wardrobe
Early in this chapter Lucy mentions The Borrowers - their world always fascinated me. "drawing pins as candleholders, stamps as pictures on their walls, small coins as plates and cotton reels as stools."  But there is also the bravery of Arrietty and for Lucy it was her first fantasy book.  This, then, leads her perfectly to Narnia and just like Lucy my first joy with these books came from a gift of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lucy herself also discovered a heroine called Lucy!

In this chapter Lucy confesses she deliberately did not read Fairy Tales as a child and this is where she and I part ways because I devoured fairy tales and still hold The Wild Swans to one of my all time favourite stories. As Lucy says about this embargo "being a bookworm does not necessarily mean being a good reader."

At this time Lucy also found Noel Streatfeild and so did I.  I loved Ballet Shoes even though I had no interest in actually taking dancing lessons and then I moved from Streatfeild onto the Wells books by Lorna Hill.  To this day I continue to be tantalized by the idea of sitting in a cafe eating ices as those Wells girls did. Reading many titles from this series is a truly happy book memory for me.

Towards the end of this chapter, though, Lucy Mangan and I part ways because her next reading adventure was with horse stories and I read none!  This section made me laugh out loud with her references to titles such as A Pony for Jean, Another Pony for Jean and More Ponies for Jean.

Chapter 6 -  Grandmothers and Little Women
When her grandmother gave Lucy a copy of Little Women she was entranced both with the story but also the edition. A red leather volume with gold curlicues, beautiful endpapers, a biography of the author and an introduction - "Why would I read ABOUT  the book when the actual book was there, waiting to be read just a few pages on?"  Lucy - thank you for making me laugh out loud!

In this chapter Lucy confesses to another enduring rule - one which I did not follow - against talking animals. Hence she missed out on Wind in the Willows, Tarka the Otter and earlier in her life books by Beatrix Potter, Winnie the Pooh and the Brambly Hedge series.

Chapter 7 - Wonderlands
Now we turn to The Secret Garden and on this topic Lucy and I are in complete agreement. We both loved this book, the garden and Dickon. "At that age, once I was reading, my concentration was total, my immersion in the book complete. A few sentences was all it took for the world to fade away and fiction to assume reality."

Chapter 8 - Happy Golden Years
These were the early days of Puffin books and Lucy started saving her own money so she could buy books like Charlotte's Web. This book outraged Lucy. "I. Could. Not. Believe. it. ... I was beyond appalled." Luckily for Lucy her next book was a sheer delight of words and ideas - The Phantom Tollbooth. She says "reading this book was like watching the translucent paper being peeled off a transfer, revealing the true colour beneath. The world of every book would glow a little brighter ever after."  I love this image and idea.

The next book was certainly life changing one for me too - Goodnight Mister Tom. Thank you Lucy I will now go back and revisit this wonderful book. You can expect to read my thoughts in a future post.

Chapter 9 - Darkness Rising
Lucy reaches High School and like I did, she finds dystopian fiction in books like Z for Zachariah, The Tripods series by John Christopher and Brother in the Land.

Chapter 10 - A coming of Age
Once again Lucy and I agree on our favourites - Bridge to Terabithia, and Dicey's Song. Where we part company is on Sweet Valley High. No titles from this series ever reached my reading pile but Lucy devoured them.

Thanks to Lucy Mangan I have encountered some delicious new words such as zeugma, interregnum and percolations.

On the final pages of Bookworm there are lists of all the books mentioned in each chapter. Thanks to this I hunted out Would you rather and talked about here it a few weeks ago.  Listen to an audio sample from Bookworm.

Here are some very warm reviews:
The Guardian
The Irish Times

Monday, September 24, 2018

Where's the baby by Pat Hutchins

Some time ago I talked about the wonderful Pat Hutchins. I mentioned this book as one of my favourites to read aloud.  The rhymes used in this book are just brilliant.

Here is part of the text:

"Where's the baby?" Grandma cried.
"In the garden," Mum replied
"Making a mess," said Hazel

What has this naughty baby been doing?

The mixture for the chocolate cake,
that Ma was just about to bake,
was tipped on the table and spilled on the floor.
There were sticky fingerprints on the door.
'He's a help in the kitchen,' said Grandma.

The baby is the star of this story but it is Grandma that I love. She sees only positive things in every disaster. Hazel is also a delight. She is the only voice of reason - she takes on a role as the adult in the room when all the actual adults seem oblivious to the truth of these catastrophes by Billy in every room in the house (except his own!).

Here is my favourite scene in Ma and Pa's bedroom:

The dress Ma was making was shorter than planned
"He can use scissors," said Grandma. "Isn't that grand!"
The scarf Ma was knitting for Uncle Fred
had been unravelled all over the bed.
Wool wiggled and curved across the floor,
and they follow the wiggles out of the door.

There are five books in the series about Billy and his long suffering sister Hazel.
1.  The Very Worst Monster
2.   Where's the Baby?
3.   Silly Billy
4.   Three Star Billy
5.   It's my Birthday

If you work with children and are looking for a book to read aloud look for Where's the Baby.  As you read watch out for the eggs in Grandma's basket along with the dreadful mess Billy leaves all over this house.  The white carpet covered in chimney soot is especially funny but might disturb some adults who like things kept clean!  Sadly Where's the Baby is out of print but you might find a copy in a well stocked library. I found my copy from a second hand book seller.  This is a ten out of ten book - hope you CAN find a copy to share with a child.

Mike by Andrew Norriss

"We're talking about someone that only you can see, only you know exists, and whose name is Mike. ... What's your name? Your full name?'  'Floyd Michael Beresford,' said Floyd, and it took a second for the penny to drop ... "

My local book shop kindly gave me an advanced reader copy of Mike. I read the blurb and put this book to one side. I did not think I would enjoy this book. I am utterly surprised that I did. In fact, as one reviewer suggested, I read it quite quickly over two sessions. I do need to say right at the start, though, that I think this book would be best placed in a High School library for readers 12+.

Recently I was talking with a friend about sport stories. Out of all the books I have read not too many have been about sport and given my small sample size I cannot recall even one title that has really appealed to me yet here we have a book about tennis. And yes I enjoyed it. Of course it is not just about tennis but readers who enjoy competitive sport will certainly relate to Floyd.

What is this book about?

Floyd is a tennis player. His parents met at a tennis event, they own a tennis court business, they have been coaching Floyd to play tennis since he was two years old - this is a family that live and breathe tennis. Except for Floyd. When he was young and the game was fun every thing was fine. Floyd won a match when he was just five years old and his parents gave him a fish. At this point a few alarm bells rang with me. Is this bribery? Does Floyd really have a passion for tennis or does he prefer fish?  Take a fresh look at the cover design above. I think it is perfect.

"Floyd had loved it. And he was good at it as well. Astonishingly good. And his parents watched his progress with delight and considerable pride."

"It was only a little club tournament but Floyd played three matches that day and won them all. As a reward his parents took him to a pet store and told him he could choose anything he wanted. To their surprise Floyd asked if he could have a fish ..."

By the time Floyd is fifteen there are five huge fish tanks in his room all filled with a huge variety of fish.

Then one day Mike shows up and Floyd is forced to face his fears and real ideas about tennis. Accepting his true feelings about playing tennis at the highest level though, is only the beginning. Mike has other things to show Floyd - life changing things - perhaps he is the guide we'd all like who leads us to our perfect destiny.  The ending of Mike is sure to make your romantic heart smile.

Mike will surprise you. The premise is clever. The themes of identity and staying true to yourself are explored in a thoughtful way. Three cheers for Floyd who is now following his dreams.

Read some reviews:
Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books - " this absolutely bowled me over and really developed my understanding of the complex nature of growing up with a talent."

Book Bag - "There's a wonderful sense of amusement in the tone, and I think this is what keeps the energy quite light the whole way through."

Booktrust Floyd is courageous and full of hope, while Mike’s role is somehow simultaneously subtle and ground-shattering, steering Floyd in completely new and surprising directions, an enigma everyone wants solve. This is a beautifully told and enormously uplifting coming-of-age story.

Here are two text quotes to give you a flavour of this writing which will appeal to sports fans.

"By the time he was thirteen, Floyd's schedule had developed into the full blown routine of a professional athlete. Each weekday he would be up at six and out on the court by quarter past. ... Floyd practiced his serves, played a few rounds of flash tennis and then spent the remaining time returning the lobs, back-spins and volleys that his father fired at him from the ball-gun."

"(Barrington) tried to break-up the smooth flow of Floyd's game by lobs that drove him back from the net. He tried to wear his opponent down with shots from the base line that would make him run from side to side and tire him out. ... and even resorted to psychological tricks that players sometimes used to break their opponent's concentration like asking for balls to be changed ... or stopping to retie his shoelaces."

Finally here is the US cover - I do prefer the one from UK above - which do you like?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Greatest Treasure of Charlemagne the King by Nadia Wheatley illustrated by Deborah Klein

Once there was a king called Charlemagne. He lived more than a thousand years ago, in the Dark Ages. This was a miserable time in the history of Europe. Almost no one could read or write.  ... 
Charlemagne didn't care. He was so powerful that he had conquered an empire that stretched all the way from Europe to Asia. Despite that, Charlemagne wasn't happy.

This post is part of my focus on past CBCA winners and short listed titles - treasures of the past. The Greatest Treasure of Charlemagne the Kind was a Notable title in 1998. I wonder why it didn't make the short list.  Titles that year were The Two Bullies (Winner), Josh (Honour Book), Detective Donut and the Wild Goose Chase (Honour Book), Grandad's Teeth, Queenie the Bantam and Great Escape from City Zoo (Short listed). It is interesting to ponder which of these titles I continue to share with my library groups. If I am honest it would only be Queenie the Bantam and The Greatest Treasure of Charlemagne the King.

In 2018 the CBCA slogan was Find your Treasure and The Greatest Treasure of Charlemagne the King was a perfect book to use with this theme. Take a look here to see the comments by reviewers.

Beginning with the cover you can see Charlemagne resting his head on his hand surrounded by so many special and valuable gifts but these seem to be of no interest to him. Behind the king, stands a monk. He is smiling and looking slightly to his left. On the title page there is a cape and set of long john underwear. Two cats are looking out at the view. Another day is beginning for the king.

Charlemagne tells his counsellors and courtiers he wants a "source of happiness that can last for the rest of my life."  Treasures arrive from all over his kingdom.  It would be fun to compare all the gifts given to the King with those given in The Quiltmaker's Gift and The Glassmaker's Daughter.

Here are some of the gifts:

  • A wheelbarrow full of gold coins
  • A camel, an elephant, a fiery bull, a swan and two dancing bears
  • Honey Bees and a bat from Transylvania
  • A crystal bath
  • A cheese and pickle sandwich on thick black bread wrapped up in a red spotted handkerchief

Meanwhile the monk has been sitting the corner and his presence and happiness begin to infuriate the king. The monk is called Alcuin and he is a librarian from York.

"He had come to the palace today because he wanted to ask for some money to fix his library roof. And of course he had bought a book with him on his journey because he was a sensible person and never went anywhere without one."

Alcuin explains that treasure can be found in books but Charlemagne cannot read so Alcuin offers to teach him. It is a struggle.

Charlemagne : I don't know how to read
Alcuin : I could teach you
Charlemagne : Is it hard?
Alcuin : Well, it's not easy but it's worth the trouble. If you learn to read and love books, I can promise you will never be bored or lonely.
Charlemagne : When can we start?

Then Alcuin explains there are so many books but they are spread across the kingdom, and without the invention of the printing press it will take years to copy them all by hand and collect them. And so the library grows.

This is a timeless story with a quiet wisdom and it is a joy to read aloud. It is also a must read for every Teacher-Librarian and another book that simply should come back into print.  You can read more about Alcuin and Charlemagne here. Original illustrations from this book can be seen in the State Library of Victoria. It would be fun to compare Deborah Klein's work with the formal painting I've included below.

Image source :

The Tin Forest by Helen Ward illustrated by Wayne Anderson

The Tin Forest is a wonderful book first published in Australia in 2003. Here is some good news this book is still available. I am not sure why it has taken me so long to talk about it here but last week I visited a very small rural school and took The Tin Forest along to share with them. This tiny school is part of a group of small schools and each term they work on a joint topic which this term is sustainability. The Tin Forest is an ideal book to explore this topic.  I sat down today and read it again and knew I just had to talk about it here.

Why do I love this book?

1.  Language
"There was once a wide, windswept place
near nowhere and close to forgotten."
I love these poetic words which are repeated at the beginning and end of the text.

sifting and sorting
burning and burying
toucans, tree frogs and tigers

Take a look at these detailed teaching ideas.

2.  Work ethic and hope
Each day the old man clears up the rubbish. He does not become disheartened. He has a dream which leads to an idea which plants itself inside his head. With the help of some birds who come to eat crumbs, left from his sandwiches, we see a spectacular transformation of this neglected and unwanted place.

3.  Illustrations
The grey used at the start of the book shows a desolate and metallic environment. The subtle colour palette in this book allows the reader to anticipate the brilliant colour when the real garden takes over the rubbish dump.  The early pages have little spotlights of colour. The light is yellow inside the man's home, outside we see yellow light globes which look like flowers, a yellow toucan beak, bright red flowers that sprout from seeds dropped by the birds and finally a page filled with all the colours. Take a look at Wayne Anderson's web pages.

4.  Stage Production and more formats
I was excited to discover a stage production of this book from 2014 and it is on again soon. I think that demonstrates it impact and importance of this story. Here is a wonderful animated film made by students from Cincinnati.  You may even be able to find the edition which came with a story CD.

Helen Ward is an author and illustrator. You can see some of here work here.

This fantasy conveys a message all the more inspiring for its understatement: one individual who dares to dream can make a world of difference. Publishers Weekly

I like to link this book with these titles:

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Little Humpty by Margaret Wild illustrated by Ann James

In the hot, hot desert where the wind whirled and the sand swirled lived Big Humpty and Little Humpty.

Here is another title I have collected as a part of my focus on past CBCA winners and short listed titles. Little Humpty was awarded an Honour prize in 2004 and I have been reading it to Kindergarten groups every year since then.

Little Humpty stares straight at the reader from the front cover - he looks happy and ready for an adventure. On the first end paper we see him with his mother. Little Humpty is white - his hair/fur colour will change as he grows older just as human children's hair changes.

image source:

Little Humpty is with his mum but it is easy to see that they are alone in the vast desert. Little Humpty needs someone to play with. His mum tries to keep him amused but Little Humpty has boundless energy. Big Humpty sees Little Humpty trying to play with rock, a scraggy bush and a small pebble. She knows it is time for the camels to trek to the big waterhole.

As they walk along Big Humpty keeps Little Humpty moving forward by playing a guessing game about the animals they will see at the big waterhole such as rolypoly hippos, tramping and trumpeting elephants and crocodiles going snip, snap, snippety snap.  The final end paper is an utterly joyous scene.

I adore the language used by Margaret Wild in this book. Each word is perfectly selected making this book a joy to read aloud and as I like to give each camel their own distinctive 'voice'. Turn the sound off on this video and just take a look at all the illustrations from this book.

"You know, Little Humpty, I love you best in all the world!' With a happy wriggle, Little Humpty said 'Tell me about the world, Big Humpty. Tell me!"

"Little Humpty played on his own for a while. He whooshed on his bottom down a billowy, pillowy dune."

"Big Humpty was awake until the stars went out."

Kindergarten children enjoy stories which employ a repeated refrain and this book abounds with them.  I would pair Little Humpty with Koala Lou by Mem Fox, Puffling by Margaret Wild and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell. Little Humpty truly is a book to treasure and it should be found in every library and home book collection.

Little Mouse and the Red Wall by Britta Teckentrup

"There will be many walls in your life, Little Mouse. 
Some will be made by others but most will be made by you.  
But if you open your mind and your heart, those walls will
disappear one by one, and you'll discover how beautiful 
the world truly is."

Little Mouse and the Red Wall is one of those wonderful books that seems to take a very simple premise but presents it in a way that will encourage so much discussion and deep thought. I love picture books like this that work on so many levels - from the youngest children right up to our senior primary students.

Little Mouse is curious. It is true that the wall has always been there but he wants to know what lies beyond. Following a familiar format just like the one used in Are you my Mother by PD Eastman, the mouse asks each animal in turn,

Scaredy Cat
"The wall is there so nobody can come in ... it protects us ... it's dangerous on the other side."
Old Bear
"I don't remember ... the wall has been here for so long that it has become a part of me, a part of life."
Laughing Fox
"I don't care what's behind the wall ... you ask too many questions. Accept things the way they are and you'll be happy like me."
Lion Who had Lost his Roar
"There is nothing behind the wall, just a big black nothing."

Take a closer look at these responses. Cat is scared so his answer reflects his fears. Bear is old and has lost his memory. Fox lives for the here and now with happiness as his only life goal. Lion is defeated. His roar is gone. He is depressed. He can see no hope.

Luckily a Bluebird flies over the wall and mouse is small enough to climb onto his back and finally see the other side for himself. Readers will gasp on turning the page. The new scene is wonderful. Mouse now wants to share this with his friends but Bluebird cautions him "they may not be ready."

You could use this book with a younger child to discuss the answers by each animal. With older children you could discuss how these link to each character perhaps even talk about archetypes. You could also talk about the existence and non existence of the wall and what this means, the power of our thoughts/perceptions, facing our fears and even some themes of philosophy. Take another look at the text I quoted above.

Here is a set of teachers notes. Take a look at my comments about two other titles by Britta Teckentrup.  Britta has an impressive body of work which you can see here.

I would pair Little Mouse and the Red Wall with Suri's Wall.

Take a look at my reviews of some other wonderful picture books which would be perfect to use with senior students.

Despite the simplicity of her telling, Britta Teckentrup’s beautifully illustrated story is profound and would be an ideal starting point for a community of enquiry style philosophical discussion ... its timely themes of discovering freedom and embracing change, both personal and in the world, will resonate with both children and adults. Red Reading Hub

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

CBCA Treasure - Bob Graham

Bob Graham and his CBCA books!

Over the past few weeks I have been focusing on past CBCA short listed titles and winners.  One name that appears over and over again is Bob Graham. I adore his books especially one of his earliest titles Pete and Roland.  Here is an interview with Bob Graham.


1986 First there was Frances (Commended)

1987 The Wild (Short listed)

1988 Crusher is Coming (Winner)

1990 Grandad's Magic (Honour Book)

1991 Greetings from Sandy Beach (Winner)

This is a book that just begs to be read aloud. I love the first page.
"There were plenty of tears at the start of our holiday. Dad cried about leaving our dog. Mum cried about leaving Grandma and Grandad. Gerald cried because he'd been awake all night (over excited and couldn't sleep). I cried because everyone else was crying. And we were only going for two days!"

This is a family holiday many of us relate to. Gerald gets car sick, Dad has no clue about putting up the tent and worse they have to share the camp site with a group of kids on a school camp and with a motor cycle gang. Mum and Dad settle down for a quiet rest on the beach when "the girl from the bus" lands on top of Dad. Nevertheless it is a wonderful holiday and they even bring home some souvenirs.

1993 Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten (Winner)

1998 Queenie the Bantam (Short listed)

Queenie is rescued by a lovely family. She makes herself at home but it is clear she really belongs on a farm. The family take her back and "that might have been the end of the story ... but it wasn't."

2000 Buffy: An adventure Story (Short listed)

This book begins and ends with Bob's trade mark end papers. Little Buffy works with Brillo the Magician but Brillo has become jealous. Buffy is kicked out one night into the rain soaked streets. You could compare Buffy with Mutt Dog a book I also talked about as a part of this treasures focus. Buffy heads for the supermarket. "He spent his last coins on a tin of dog food and a tin opener" then he sets off for a new adventure. He walks and survives many awful situations but one day he simply stops. As he performs for the crowd "someone stood in front of him. His breath stopped. His feet stopped. The sun came out."

2003 Jethro Byrde Fairy Child (Short listed) Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal (2002)

2008 The Trouble with Dogs! (Short listed)

This is the sequel to Let's Get a Pup (see below).

2012 A bus called Heaven (Winner)

2014 Silver Buttons (Honour Book)

2017 Home in the Rain (Winner)


2001 Max (Honour Book)

2002 Let's get a pup (Winner)

This one is such a joyous book to read aloud.  I still say the line "she briefly wore him like a hat" to myself when I see a bouncy pup.

2005 Tales from the waterhole (Short listed)

2009 How to heal a Broken wing (Winner)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

"The glass was twinkling in the light. It looked very pretty. It was dark outside, and there were lights on inside and the bowl was catching all the light, and everybody was catching all the light, and everybody was around the table and the bowl was full of ice cream and chocolate sauce and peanuts, and I felt like I was right on the verge of understanding something. And then Grandfather Burke said "That's for you, doodlebug."

In Raymie Nightingale we met three special girls. One of these was Louisiana Elefante. This book, Louisiana's Way Home, continues her story. This latest book can stand alone so don't worry if you haven't met Raymie but after reading Louisiana's Way Home I am fairly sure you will want to read Raymie Nightingale. Huge thanks to Beachside Bookshop for my advanced reader copy. Louisiana's Way Home will be available in Australia in early October.

Watch this video from Colby Sharp where he explains his reaction to this very special book. Here is a wonderful, heartfelt and detailed review by Betsy Bird at SLJ. I always appreciate her thoughtful comments.

In the middle of the night Louisiana's grandmother wakes her up and bundles her into their old car. She tells Louisiana the day of reckoning has arrived. They drive through the night and cross from Florida into Georgia. They have no money. Granny needs urgent attention by a dentist. They wind up  at the Good Night Sleep Tight Motel which has a very unfriendly owner who demands money and shows no compassion.  Since they cannot pay for their night at the motel Louisiana will have to sing at a funeral in the town on Friday. These scenes reminded of the movie Paper Moon based on the book Addie Pray by Joe David Brown which I have mentioned in a previous post.

Here is a text quote to give you a flavour of this splendid writing.

"If you have not left your home in the middle of the night without even giving it a backward glance; if you have not left your cat and your friends and also a one-eyed dog named Buddy without getting to tell any of them good-bye; if you have not stood on the side of the road in Georgia, somewhere past the irrevocable state line, and waited for someone to come along and give you a ride, well, then you cannot understand the desperation that was in my heart that day."

Kate DiCamillo has a wonderful skill with characters and Louisiana's Way Home has some truly memorable ones. Bernice the unfriendly mean spirited motel manager who wears hair curlers all day; Miss Lulu who constantly eats caramels which she never shares and who plays the piano very badly; Mrs Ivy the dentist receptionist who is officious and has no compassion; the warm-hearted and loving Betty Allen who is making seventeen cakes for a raffle at the town fair and her wonderful son Burke Allen who "gave me two sandwiches when I had only asked for one."  I want to meet Burke Allen, give him and hug and say a huge thank you for being a kind friend to Louisiana.

I read this whole book in one sitting. I almost didn't want to start because I just knew Louisiana's Way Home would be SO GOOD and it was. After you read Louisiana's Way Home you might pick up Waiting for Normal, Almost Home, and Tiger Rising also by Kate DiCamillo.

The book strikes a delicate balance between relating a charming, entertaining story full of colorful characters and imparting a deeply meaningful life lesson about deciding what kind of person to be. Not everyone Louisiana meets is interested in helping her, but those that do reach out to her with great love and compassion. Foreword Reviews

Told in a first person narrative by Louisiana herself her voice is a strong, determined one and her humour lifts the sadness frequently. The plot is both unexpected and moving. Yet again the author manages to weave together a compelling narrative with an underlying theme of resilience, forgiveness, kindness and hope. The Bookbag

For readers who relish thoughtfully constructed plots, well-developed characters, and carefully crafted language, this will be a special treat. Kirkus

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Different Boy by Paul Jennings

A Different Boy follows the previous new Paul Jennings title A Different Dog which I talked about exactly one year ago.  While the two stories are not a series their tone, plot, themes and audience are the same and hence the cover art by Geoff Kelly which reflects this.

I really enjoyed A Different Dog and now we have A Different Boy which is another breathtaking and powerful story. It has Paul Jennings' trademark short sentences and plot twists. In this story an early twist made me gasp in utter horror.  Our hero Anton has been taken to an orphanage. While we don't really know why this has happened it is clear this is a terrible place with very cruel teachers. Anton enters the classroom and the teacher nails a strap to the wall. All the boys know this will be used to punish them. The aptly named Mr Steel instructs the boys to decorate the covers of their new exercise books. "Make sure that is it neat. And clean. You know what I mean by clean."

Anton loves to draw and he creates a beautiful scene of the New Land. "The place of his dreams. ... A warm, sun-burnt country - a land of sweeping plains and rugged mountains which ran down to golden beaches surrounded by a jewel sea."  The boys draw for a time and then the teacher tells them to stop and write their name on the cover. Anton is told to collect up the books but before he can add his own name, his book is taken by Brosnik, the bully of the group, and Anton's name is added to a different cover, one with a horrid image that is sure to mean Anton will be punished. What can Anton do? He leaps out of his chair and flees. Where he goes, what happens and how he survives will astonish you.

Last week I was in a book store and I saw they had placed A Different Boy with their simple beginning chapter books probably because this is a slim, illustrated novel with only 102 pages. I am not sure if this is legal but I picked up all the copies and moved them to the Middle Primary section. A Different Boy is a gripping story with brilliant twists and turns. This is a terrific book to give a reader aged 11+ especially a reluctant reader and this takes Paul Jennings back to his beginnings where he wanted to write - the sort of stories which I thought would make reading fun for children.

Here is a set of teachers notes from the publisher. Here is a detailed review from The Bottom Shelf.
You can read more of the plot here.