Friday, October 19, 2018

How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea by Kate Hosford illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska



It is fun to use picture books as a springboard into other topics and this book How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea raises lots of possibilities.  You could trace the Queen's journey to Japan, India and finally Turkey. Her hot air balloon is a very fine way to travel.  With the help of a new young friend she samples and participates in the making of three different versions of tea and discovers that yes indeed each is delicious but there is another ingredient needed to make the perfect cup of tea - the company of good friends.  You could research types of tea, ways of making making tea and with older children - the customs involved with drinking tea for example look for the book Listen to the Wind.





For students of visual literacy you might compare the final spread in How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea classic images of the Mad Hatters tea party from Alice in Wonderland. This one is by Helen Oxenbury.




Here is the Kirkus review. Kate Hosford has a web site where you can see some of her other titles.  In our school library we have a very special book illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska - My name is Yoon.  For older children I would pair this book with Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and with younger children the classic The Tiger who came to Tea. My friend at Kinderbooks talks about tea books here.  You can read an interview with the author.  If you want to explore some other funny books about Queen Victoria look for Queen Victoria's Underpants by Jackie French.

Mabel and Sam at Home by Linda Urban illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Tomorrow said Mabel, we will all explore and be bold. 
Tomorrow we will be even bolder than we are today.




This book combines some of my favourite story elements - imaginative play, cardboard boxes, sibling relationships and perfect illustrations.  This is a book I would love to see in all school libraries.

The children have moved into a new house. This is perfectly described by Linda Urban:

"There were chairs where chairs did not go and sofas where sofas could not stay."

In the midst of the chaos Mabel and her brother Sam find safety inside a large cardboard packing box which instantly becomes a ship sailing on a sea of blue carpet. Mabel patiently explains the ways of the sea to Sam.

"Ahoy!,' said Captain Mabel. 'Welcome aboard the Handle with Care. I am the captain.' 'And I am Ahoy,' said Ahoy. 'You're not Ahoy. Ahoy means hello. You are First Mate Sam."

The pair get to work swabbing the deck, hoisting the sails, riding wild waves and fishing for halibut. In the distance they see an island but Captain Mabel is sure the distant land is full of dangers. They sail on and things slow down, even the fish stop biting, until they see another land. The inhabitants are eating pizza so Captain Mabel agrees they can go ashore.

There are three 'chapters' in this longer format picture book. Each features a different set of colours. In the second section Mabel realises Sam needs a tour of the new home rather like visitors to the museum. She explains about the need for quiet, the importance of artifacts and the rule of no touching. The best thing they find at the museum is a frosted pitty-pat which Sam quietly licks.

I think the frosted pitty-pat is a lovely idea and perhaps they look like this. You could make some after your visit to the museum with Mabel and Sam.



As night falls the pair become astronauts. When things become really dark their mum plugs in the moon. I love the way the parents join the imaginative play at this point, becoming astronaut parents and even allowing Mr Woofie (the dog) to snuggle under the stars. Have you worked out why the boat is named 'Handle with Care'?

I would pair this book with Clancy and Millie and the very fine house by Libby Gleeson, Miss Mae's Saturday and On Sudden Hill.  If you want to explore another book series about brothers and sisters take a look at Annie and Simon.  Here is a conversation with the author. Linda Urban lives in Vermont and Hadley Hooper lives in Denver.

Each chapter is built around a color (navy, yellow, and gray-green, respectively) and mixes fully rendered characters with impressionistic settings and dappled textures, resulting in pages that brim with reassuring humor and lovely graphic nuances. Publisher's Weekly

Hooper’s retro, textured illustrations, rendered via printmaking techniques, expertly capture the joyous dynamics of imaginative sibling play in this lengthy story. (I love this longer text in a day where minimalist picture book texts dominate.) Mabel and Sam are so endearing; maybe we readers will be lucky enough to see them in a sequel. Julie Danielson Book Page 


Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo audio book



I made a long car trip recently and took along several audio book including The Tale of Despereaux. I first read this wonderful tale (Newbery Medal) in 2004 and so I was amazed at how much a remembered as the audio book unfolded. Graeme Malcolm is a UK actor and he has the perfect voice for each of the characters from Despereaux himself, to Miggery Sow, the young girl who longs to be a Princess. From Roscuro, the cunning rat to the Princess Pea and best of all the voice of Despereaux's French mother.

Here is the blurb:

Here, reader, is the tale of a tiny, sickly mouse with unusually large ears, a mouse who takes his fate into his own hands.

It is the tale of a beautiful flaxen-haired princess who laughs often and makes everything around her seem brighter.

It is the tale of a poor deaf serving girl, who entertains foolish dreams of splendour.

It is the tale of impossible love, of bravery and old-fashioned courage.

And reader, it is tale of treachery, unlimited treachery.

It is the Tale of Despereaux.

You can hear a sample of this audio book here.  As my friend an I listened to this book she kept hearing biblical and classical literature references and near the end of the book was quite sure someone could use this book to complete their PhD thesis!

The audio format is especially a treat and this comment from the New York Times sums up why:
The narrator, who speaks directly to the reader, is wildly authoritative, over the top, funny and confiding.  New York Times

And so unwinds a tale with twists and turns, full of forbidden soup and ladles, rats lusting for mouse blood, a servant who wishes to be a princess, a knight in shining—or, at least, furry—armor, and all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama. Kirkus

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

"Out the window I saw a beat-up sign that once said, WELCOME TO RAINBOW, but now with most of the letters faded, it only read, COME RAIN, and that made more sense in this dried-up little town. I remembered Daddy saying that the only good day in Rainbow, Georgia, is the day you leave."




It is 1968 and discrimination against African American citizens is still prevalent especially in the small towns in the south. Miss Millie is a African American lady. She has lived through some really tough times but through the pain of her past she is now able to offer a quiet wisdom to her new neighbour Alice.

Alice, her mum and brother have moved to Rainbow, Georgia. Alice's grandmother has Alzheimer's and she needs help with her daily life. Millie does not want to live in Rainbow. She is desperate to get back to Columbus Ohio. She is also desperate to see her dad. He has left, again. This time he has been gone for six months. Alice 'accidentally' hears a telephone conversation between Miss Millie and another lady from the town. As a penance her mother sends her to visit Miss Millie. A bargain is made. Alice will walk Miss Millie's dog Clarence but Clarence has other ideas. He is suspicious of strangers and so a daily pattern emerges. Alice goes next door each day and sets off with Miss Millie AND Clarence on walks through the town.

As they walk, they talk. Alice hears about Miss Millie's family, the joys and the tragedies. At the end of each walk Miss Millie gives Alice a small treasure. Each item serves as a reminder of a past event. Alice also finds a box of love poems written by her father to her mother when they both grew up in Rainbow. Alice decides to find the setting of each poem and collect treasures for her father ready for his return.

Here is some of the quiet wisdom in this book:

"Alice-girl,' Miss Millie shook her head. 'The world is fulla mean people. But it is also fulla nice people, too. That's the important thing."

"Ah Alice-girl, truth be told, you're never too old to be hurt just a little. But if you're lucky, one day you'll be smart enough to quit putting yourself in situations that hurt ya."

"I learned it's okay to get sad, but after all that gettin' mad and sad, ya gotta get smart. Ya gotta take a step back, away from all your hurtin', and figure out what ya can change and what ya can't."

When Miss Millie talks to Jake about his family she says "it takes a strong plant to come up out of hardened group, 'specially when it ain't given much sunshine.' Jake looked right back into her eyes and smiled a smile that said he knew she wasn't really talking about growing plants."

I would follow Walking with Miss Millie with Kizzy Ann Stamps, Walking to the bus-rider blues, The Crazy Man and, for an older audience, The Watson's go to Birmingham, 1963.

Take a look at the author web site where you can see some of awards given to this book. Tamara explains the background to her story. Small warning you will probably cry at the end of this book - I did.


The summer of 1968 brings huge changes to the lives of a young white girl and an elderly black woman—and cements a beautiful friendship. Kirkus

Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written debut celebrates the wonder and power of friendship: how it can be found when we least expect it and make any place a home. Kids Reads

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Cows grazed in the pasture.
Wind rustled through the tall grass.
Clouds drifted over the fields.
Farm machines rumbled and buzzed.
Milk flowed into bottles.
Bottles were packed into boxes.
Boxes were loaded onto the milk truck.
The truck drove away full and returned empty.
Children romped with their dog.
A man sat at his desk.
A robot dreamed of escape.




Many weeks ago I read (or better, actually devoured) The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. It was first published in 2016 and I have been waiting for the sequel to arrive. Every time I enter a bookshop I have searched for - The Wild Robot Escapes. Two weeks ago I found it. I held my breath as I opened the cover. Sometimes sequels are disappointing but not this one. It is just as exciting and intriguing as the first installment.

Read my review of the first book or better I would suggest you need to read the first book. At the end of The Wild robot you will remember Roz was captured after a fierce battle. Now she has been repaired and refurbished and is delivered to Hilltop Farm.

"Mr Shareef pulled a small computer from his pocket. He tapped the screen and bought up a map of Hilltop Farm. 'There you are Roz,' he said as the robot's electronic signal appeared on the map. 'You'll be working all over this farm. And now that you're in the system I can always see right where you are."

Read these lines and then take another look at the title of the book - The Wild Robot Escapes. How will Roz (Rozzum unit 7134) ever escape if her every movement can be tracked?

Roz is desperate to return to her idyllic island and to her son Brightbill. Luckily the two children on the farm love stories and since the loss of their mother they are desperate for a companion. Roz tells stories of an island and about the hatching of an egg. The children love these stories.

"You are correct, children, those robot stories are about me,' admitted Roz, with a hit of sadness in her voice. 'There were so many times that I wanted to tell you the truth about my past ... This is my son. His name is Brightbill.' Reader, there's another important quality that children possess. In addition to being sneaky and smart, they're also compassionate. Children care about others, and about the world, and as Jaya and Jad gazed at Roz and Brightbill, their little hearts were full of compassion."

Take a look at Peter Brown's web page where be describes his plot outlines and research for this book. This is an excellent resource to share with children because Peter Brown shares his editing and re-writing process in such an honest way. Writing this book was a true labour of love. Here is a set of questions to use with this text. You can listen to Chapter 26 here.  This sequel is a ten out of ten book but I highly recommend reading The Wild Robot first.


Science fiction meets fantasy in this delightful sequel that gives readers a unique look into what technology could someday have in store. A must-buy for any middle grade collection. School Library Journal

I don't usually read sequels but I had to read this book. ... Following Roz's journey was magical ... an amazing book, a wild adventure ...  Colby Sharp

Using short, direct sentences (he’s not one to engage in flowery figurative language), short chapters, and a measured pace, he invites readers into Roz’s thoughts. He also returns to the chummy voice of the first book, affectionately addressing readers directly and bringing them into the fold by describing Roz as “our robot.” Roz’s paradoxical self is for all of us. We’re in this together. Chapter 16 Blog


Friday, October 5, 2018

The train to impossible places : A cursed delivery by P.G. Bell

"For the first time, she realised how impulsive and unplanned this all was, and began to feel scared. She was clinging to the outside of a train - a magic train, if such a thing were possible - hurtling through a tunnel that shouldn't exist, on its way to who knew where? Her parents couldn't help her. She was alone, and already in danger."




Here are two covers for the same book. The top one is from UK and the bottom from US. As usual I ask the obvious question -  which one appeals to you?  I was given an advanced reader copy of The Train to Impossible Places - A Cursed Delivery so I am also seeing these covers for the first time. The cover from my copy appears at the end of this post.

I have just lifted my head from reading this truly inventive rollicking adventure - the first in a new series. I don't often make this comment but this book would make a brilliant movie. The writing is so cinematic.

"Two long silver strips winked up at her from the carpet. They lay side by side, a metre or so apart, and seemed to come into the house from underneath the front door. ... They were train tracks."

"A mighty old steam locomotive towered over her, hissing and shuddering, and belching yellowish stream from its chimney. It was bigger than any locomotive Suzy had seen before - at least, bits of it were. To her eyes it looked like a large train had smashed into several smaller ones ... none of the drive wheels quite matched, and the cylindrical belly of its boiler was too fat at the front and too narrow at the back."

Suzy has a huge surprise one evening when a train smashes in to her house and yes it is running on train tracks which are running through the lounge room and right into the kitchen. Her mum and dad seem to be asleep on the couch. Suzy is a student of physics and so her mind races with all the impossible elements of this scene but there is no time for questions. The train is already late and it is leaving. Curiosity over-rides her fear and Suzy jumps aboard. This is a mail train delivering letters and parcels all over the Union.

On board the train Suzy meets the trolls Fletch - engineer,  JF Stonker - driver, Wilmot - postmaster and Ursel - a huge bear who is also the stoker. The engine runs on fusion bananas. Crazy!

The postmaster has an important delivery to make. A parcel for Lady Crepuscula. And yes she seems to be as evil and creepy as her name suggests. She lives in the Obsidian Tower which is guarded by hundreds of life-like statues reminiscent of the statues surrounding the home of the White Witch in Narnia. Suzy takes the oath:

"Do you solemnly swear to uphold the ideals of the Impossible Postal Express, risking life, limb and sanity in the execution of your duty?"

It all sounds daunting but Suzy agrees to take on the role of postal assistant. Her first delivery should be straightforward but Suzy forgets she needs a signature on her delivery form. Crepuscula opens her parcel and it contains a snow globe with a small frog inside. When Crepuscula walks away to get a pen the frog calls out to Suzy and tells her his tale of imprisonment, royal connections and the impending danger facing the Union. Suzy grabs the snow globe and flees the tower and so the chase is on.

There are some really funny moments in this story (trolls live under bridges) and terrific inventive ideas but the part that appealed to me the most was the underlying political context and the commentary on our own modern society. The ether web has taken over giving instant communication. "It's changed everything." The Impossible Postal service used to deliver ten million messages each day and used almost two hundred trains. Now "we're lucky to get a thousand messages a day."  And there is only one train riding the rails and just one Postmaster - Wilmot.

If you pick up this book and need to be sure it is right for you I suggest you read Chapter 18 The Vault of Secrets.  There is a delightful scene in this chapter where Suzy is initiated as a true postie using the very first troll stamp ever printed.

For teachers there are fabulous descriptions in this book.

Crepuscula : "was a little old lady ... she leaned on a cane for support. She wore a dress of heavy black lace that fell all the way to her feet, with a knitted black shawl pulled tight around her shoulders. Suzy caught the discreet glint of a pearl necklace beneath it. Her hair was silver, and her skin so pale it almost glowed, like the desert sands far below. She studied Suzy with piercing lilac eyes."

The Lunar Guard at the Ivory Tower : "They were all young women, wearing matching silver jumpsuits beneath plate armour and heavy utility belts. They all wore their hair in a pageboy cut, each dyed a different colour - she saw acid green, fire-engine red and neon blue ... Each of them carried a chunky silver plasma rifle, and Suzy got the distinct impression they knew how to use them."

Readers do need to be prepared to put in some time with this story. It is 340 pages and moves along at the same pace as the train gaining momentum as the story reaches the final adrenaline filled scenes. The UK edition of this book is hardcover with a special image under the dust jacket. You can read a text extract here.  You can read an interview with the author. Your next book could be The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel.  If you enjoy books with invented worlds, wild rides on crazy forms of transport and truly heroic characters you should also read Nevermoor - The trials of Morrigan Crow.

All aboard for an adventure like no other—readers will be delighted to learn it’s just the first.  Kirkus

It's a beautiful engineered story full of whimsical characters and industrious landscapes that would not be out of place on the set of a magical film. Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books




Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Max Champion and the great Race Car Robbery by Alexander McCall Smith illustrated by Kate Hindley

Written in his wonderfully measured style of words, Alexander McCall Smith has created a gentle story about courage, goodness and honesty which will delight the hearts of younger readers. Blue Wolf Reviews





Here we have a brilliant junior novel. It contains all the right ingredients - cars, racing cars and running races, fair play and justice, goodies and baddies and a very, very happy ending. This is a book to enjoy in a family and it should be in every library collection too.

Max's grandfather repairs old cars but in his younger years he built cars and he branded them with the name Champion. Years ago Grandfather Gus took one of his cars, named Arabella, in a car rally from England to India. Until right near the end Arabella was winning the race but they had a serious rival named Adolphus Grabber.  Grandfather Gus still has no proof but he is fairly sure the engine failure close to the end of the race was sabotage and that Adolphus Grabber, who won the race, was to blame.

The Grabber family now live near Max, his mother and grandfather. As fate would have it Max finds himself in a running race up against Pablo Grabber. It is a relay race. Max is just about to take off on the final leg. "He didn't see Pablo - nobody saw him, because cheats are often very careful to make sure that nobody seems them cheating."

Everything finally comes to a head when Max and his mother are working at the Grabber mansion. His mother has been employed to make 2000 sandwiches. Max walks away to take a little rest from the sandwiches and stumbles into a room filled with stolen goods and now the chase is really on and it is time for the truth to be revealed.

Begin here and read a chapter sample and here is an audio sample which begins from page 7. The illustrations are just perfect by Kate Hindley.  Take a look at my review of Oliver and Patch.

I would follow Max Champion and the Great Race Car Robbery with The No.1 Car spotter series by Atinuke.  Take a look at Alexander McCall Smith's web site for a list of all his adult and children's titles. In our school Mike's Magic Seeds is still one of our most popular books and a real treat to read aloud.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Neville by Norton Juster illustrated by G Brian Karas

"Yeah, sure, he mumbled, like you can make new friends by just walking down the block."
Book Trailer by Julie O'Brien source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5M4Rzo88YU

Neville is new in town. He is worried about the new school and he is worried about having no friends. He comes up with an ingenious plan. He stands in the street and calls out a name Neville. Another boy comes along and offers to help. Gradually more and more kids turn up and everyone joins the hunt for Neville.

"I hope we find Neville.
Even if we don't, I like his new friend a lot.
Maybe BETTER!
Hey, what was his name?
Oh, we'll have to ask him tomorrow."

I first read about Neville when I was exploring books to read alongside our CBCA short listed titles for 2018.  Neville was mentioned to read with Florette by Anna Walker which also explores the theme of finding friends in a new city. Of course Neville is also by the wonderful Norton Juster.  Neville was published in 2011 but it is still available and I think it would be a very good addition to any school library collection. Take a look here to see the illustrator talking about the creation of this book.

The ending has the perfect mix of predictability and surprise – kids will feel like they’re in on the secret, which can be a strong hook. 100 Scope Notes



One aspect writing this blog that I find surprising and so rewarding is the discovery of authors and illustrators and their works.  G Brian Karas is the illustrator of a large number of books and I was surprised to discover some I already new such as the High-Rise Private Eye series, Throw your tooth on the Roof, Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! and Ivan the remarkable story of a shopping Mall Gorilla.



"The big gray van pulled away from the curb, moved slowly down the street, and disappeared around the corner. Now it was quiet, and there he was, where he really didn't want to be."

Neville was the 2013 winner of an award I have never heard of. It started in 1985 and seems to have ended in 2015. I did find this list of past winners.  It was good to see some familiar titles which we do have in our school library.  Here is a description of the Please Touch Museum Book Award :

Established in 1985, the Please Touch Museum’s Book Awards have been unique in highlighting some of the best examples of storytelling for young children that help foster a life-long love of reading. All book selections are distinguished in text, illustration and ability to explore and clarify an idea or concept for young children 7 and under.