Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Are you kidding me!
Holy Batman
This is a GREAT book!

Reading this book is a profound experience. I have read it twice - something I rarely do. I was lucky to have access to an advanced reader copy earlier in the year. It wasn't even in book form. I read the pages, almost obsessively, over two days. Last week Lenny's Book of Everything arrived in bookshops. I rushed out to buy a copy and over the last two days I have lived in the world of Lenny, Davey, Cindy and Mrs Caspar all over again.

The structure of this book is just perfect. Cindy Spink wins her family a set of Burrell's Build-it-at-Home Encyclopedia set.

"Welcome to the Spink family. My name is Cindy and I have two children, Lenore and David. Their father died nearly a year ago. ... My children are the Love of My Life. They are both beautiful although Davey is very big for his age. I've taken him to the doctor and they are going to figure out why. Lenore is so good to her brother and so very smart in third grade."

Between 1969 and 1977 the parts of the encyclopedia arrive from A to Z one part at a time. Exploration of each book part when it arrives provides light relief from the heavy themes explored in this powerful and honest story. I also loved and laughed at the letters send from Martha Brent the General Sales Manager at Burrell's Publishing Company.  I like to think that Karen Foxlee really enjoyed her research for these sections. Here are Lenny's comments when "B" arrives:

"Bats for starters: fringe-lipped and spear-nosed and bonneted. Leaf-chinned and bulldog and vampire. Bacteria: four kinds. Badgers and baobab trees. Several coloured pages of birds which were brilliant. On each page, we chose and ordered our favourites. My ultimate favourite was the meadowlark because it reminded me of open places. Davey's ultimate favourite was the golden eagle."

Mum knows something is wrong when Davey is born. "It's not a hurting kind of feeling, Just a something-will-happen feeling.' 'A good thing or bad thing?' I asked. "It might be good or bad or somewhere in between,' she said. 'We'll just have to wait and see."

They watch as Davey grows taller sometimes even overnight. Mrs Caspar, their neighbour, tries to help. She is happy to babysit Davey when Cindy is at work. There are monthly phone conversations with Nanny Flora who lives far away and the kindness of Lenny's school friends CJ and Mathew Milford. Eventually Cindy takes Davey to see a specialist. There are treatments and surgery but sadly, while these work for a while, eventually the awful tumors come back.

One aspect of this story that absolutely warmed my heart was the way other kids reacted to Davey at school. After a very bad start when Cindy tried to enroll him at the local preschool I was so worried about his first day in Grade One. By now age six he is nearly five feet tall. He does look odd so it was wonderful to read that the teacher was kind and that the other kids totally accepted Davey.  His warm smile and lovely ways charmed them all.

The other wonderful aspect of this story is the honesty of Lenny herself. She deeply loves her brother but she also worries about him, she suffers with embarrassment in public and at school, and she is sometimes very annoyed with him - all perfectly understandable and real emotions. How will she survive when he is gone?

The cast of secondary characters in this book are also simply fabulous.  Here are some descriptions.

Mrs Caspar (their Hungarian neighbour who shares her widely vivid dreams)
"She had two Pomeranians with marmalade-coloured coats named Karl and Karla. The apartment smelled of them, and also ashtrays, filled with white cigarette filters, each decorated with a ring of peach lipstick. Her apartment was a kaleidoscope of tan crocheted doilies and pumpkin-coloured throw rugs; even Mrs Caspar's orange beehive, which sat a little askew on her head, matched the decor."

Mr King (he owns the fruit shop and lusts after Cindy)
"Mr King was as short as my mother ... (he) had a little round belly like he'd swallowed a baby. His satiny shirt strained over it ... He looked at my mother like he could suck her up through a straw, just like and that, and she would be all his."

Mr Petersburg (reclusive and mysterious neighbour who writes to prisoners)
"Mr Petersburg looked deeply embarrassed to have been discovered. Frightened too. He bent down to pick up his letter. ... He wore his powder-blue suit and his white hair was combed back severely over his white skull. The letters trembled in his very white hand."

I have been thinking about the evolution of Karen Foxlee.  I enjoyed Ophelia and the Marvelous boy but I did take quite a long time to finish it. A Most Magical Girl was a fabulous book and certainly worth of a Kirkus Star review. It was short listed for our CBCA 2017 award but really should have been the winner in my view. Now we have a completely different and even better book - Lenny's Book of Everything.

Read some reviews by young readers. You can read the first 38 pages on the publisher web site and find a link to a set of brilliant teachers notes. Here is an interview with the author. If you loved Wonder then look for Lenny's Book of Everything.  I also recommend Wish upon a Unicorn by Karen Hesse and A corner of the Universe by Ann M Martin.

Take a close look at the cover.  The eagle image is made of up a collage. The cover uses images from the Golden Book Encyclopedia. Read about the design of the cover. Here is Volume 8 which features beetles on the cover in honour of Lenny who loves beetles.

Image source: http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/wrapping-sentences-around-things/

Lenny's Book of Everything simply MUST make our CBCA 2019 short list - yes it is that good! If I haven't convinced you to read this book take a look at this insightful and brilliant review by Dimity Powell. You can read how Karen's real life experience led her to write this story of Lenny, Davey and Cindy.

If you want to read some thoughts about death and loss in Middle Grade Fiction take a look at this post by US Teacher-Librarian Holly Mueller.

Here is the US cover - I like it. Do you?

A tough, tender and beautiful piece of work that left me aching - Glenda Millard

You come to care so deeply for the characters that you want to move into their little flat and look after them. ... Told with piercing honest and clarity of a child, this story holds life lessons for everyone. W is for wonderful, and that is Lenny's Book - unforgettable - Anna Fienberg

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Birds and Feathers by Britta Teckentrup

Feathers are among the most remarkable things ever made by nature. They are delicate, complex, extravagant, beautiful and strong - all at the same time. All birds have feathers which make them unique in the animal kingdom.

There are forty double spreads in this very special book covering everything you need to know, or have been curious to discover, about feathers such as types, colours, sizes, flapping, gliding and hovering, feathers for protection and human use of feathers. 

Source Twitter https://twitter.com/bteckentrup/status/976947051119480835

You can see inside this book here. Did you know there is a feather on the moon?  It is a falcon feather. Here are a few things I discovered:

  • Owl feathers form large discs around their eyes and these help channel sounds into their ears - hence owls have brilliant hearing and can locate prey.
  • Arctic birds such as the ptarmigan have feet feather which work just like snowshoes.
  • Birds that live in cold climates have fifty percent more feathers in winter. The tundra swan can have up to 25,000 feathers and penguins have the most feathers - about 100 per square inch.

Many of our classes spend time on the topic of Animals but oddly, until recently, the teachers did not specifically include birds into their planning. A few years ago I convinced one grade to look at all the amazing bird books in our school library and I was thrilled when they totally embraced the idea of spending a few weeks exploring everything about birds including their feathers.  Now we have this brilliant book - Birds and Feathers by the very talented illustrator Britta Teckentrup.

If you want to focus on specific aspects of birds take a look at The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay by Narelle Oliver (Beaks), Circle by Jeannie Baker (Bird Migration), Fox and Fine Feathers by Narelle Oliver (Camouflage) and Mama built a little Nest (Nest building). My friend at Kinderbookboard has a terrific collection of other titles for young students.

In this quietly introspective volume featuring evocative, earth-toned prints, German author-illustrator Teckentrup explores bird life, behavior, and anatomy through the topic of feathers. Pubishers Weekly

An exquisite information rich, visually sumptuous collection of carefully curated snippets of information about everything relating to feathers. The Book Sniffer

An exquisitely rendered fusion of art and science, this marvelous book satisfies young readers' natural curiosity about the world around them. Chat with Vera

Long ago I read A nest for Celeste.  The work of Audubon fascinates me and I hope to spend time exploring the hundreds of images on the Audubon web site.  Birds are such wonders of nature. Do you have a favourite bird?  I love puffins, loons, budgerigars and our Australian kookaburra.

Image source: https://tinyurl.com/y9fpllq6

I absolutely loved Birds and their Feathers and in my view this book should be a "must purchase" for every school library. Considering the beautiful art work, wonderful end papers and wealth of information this is not an expensive book at AUS$25.  I now need to read the companion volume The Egg.

Come home Already! by Jory John illustrated by Benji Davies

Duck lives next door to Bear. Duck is friendly and enthusiastic. Bear is a loner who prefers to be left alone. Duck is not deterred. He wants to spend time (lots of time) with Bear. The sun is shining it's "a glorious morning full of possibility." Duck knocks on Bears door. There is no answer. Then he sees a sign - gone fishing!

"Bear's gone fishing?
He's back next week?
He's gone fishing?
Without me?
But ...
but ...
What am I going to do with myself until then?"

Meanwhile Bear has set off with his tent, teddy bear and map. He is happy to have some time alone.

Duck tries to entertain himself - reading, cooking, writing letters, drumming and watching a movie but he soon becomes bored.  He decides to set off to find bear.

Meanwhile Bear is not going too well. He cannot work out how to put up his tent, he forgot to pack snacks, it has started to rain and he cannot light his camp fire.

Duck arrives just in time:

"Bear it's me! Duck! From next door. I found you, ol' buddy, ol' chum."

I love the emotional aspects of this story.  Bear really does need a friend and Duck is such a happy soul but he is a little too enthusiastic.  Bear needs Duck, but only in small doses. Like all relationships theirs is a complex one.

Read this review. Here are details of the four books along with some work sheets.  I would follow this series with the book series by Bonny Becker about Mouse and Bear along with the books you can see below. Take a look at this trailer. If you want to explore another funny book about camping trips that go wrong take a look at Herman's Holiday.

Something to think about - so many of these odd couple relationships involve bears. Rabbit and Bear, Mouse and Bear, Bird (Honey) and Bear, Chook and Bear, Racoon and Bear (Herman) and now Duck and Bear. This might be a fun mini theme to explore with a class.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

If it rains Pancakes Haiku and Lantern poems by Brian P Cleary

I do enjoy reading Haiku. Haiku have three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables.  Lantern poems form the shape of a lantern with one syllable in the first line (a noun), 2 syllables in the second line, 3 syllables in the third line, 4 syllables in the fourth line, 5 syllables in the fifth line and then back to one syllable.

Let's begin with the haiku in this book. Here are a couple I really like:

The Mind

Memory is like
a room where tiny boxes
hold our yesterdays.

What if?

If it rains pancakes
I'll need no umbrella,
just syrup, fork, and plate.

After this Haiku you could read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. 

Here are some lantern poems:

rise, shine.
is already

honey makers-

a gift
that is best
when you return

Here is the Kirkus Star review.  Here are some ideas for writing Lantern poems. Here is video which explains haiku in a very simple way for younger students.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Big words for little Geniuses by Susan and James Patterson

I adore books like this that foster curiosity while offering a good laugh at the same time. From the first word in this collection of twenty-six (plus an additional twenty-six at the back) the tone is established.

The alarming fear of peanut butter sticking to the top of your mouth! (see below for the illustration)

Each word comes with a pronunciation guide, a definition and a wild illustration.

Here are some of my favourites:
Bibliomania - you have bibliomania if you love to collect as many books as you can.

Idioglossia - If you share a secret language with a friend, it's called idioglossia.

Stelliferous - When the night sky is filled with stars, it's a stelliferous sight!

Here are some words you could add to everyday conversations with your child:


On the final two pages there are twenty-six more words (in alphabetical order) to learn and enjoy.

I didn't know jillion is a very high number, nephelococcygia means finding familiar shapes in clouds, and zoosemiotics means the study of how animals communicate.

You could use this book once a week with a class. Introduce a new word, have fun with it and perhaps try to use the word all through the week in your conversations and writing. Your class could then compile their own book with twenty-six new words all enhanced with fabulous illustrations.

If you need some more inspiration look for The Magic Dictionary by Bruce Whatley.

Take a look at my review of Word of Mouse also by James Patterson which was a book I adored.  Here is a video interview with James and Susan.

I would pair this book with The Weird and wonderful world of Words.  If you have an older class you could look for these books in your school library:

Kate, who tamed the wind by Liz Garton Scanlon illustrated by Lee White

"The little girl in this story made a difference with her wagon full of saplings ... They served as a windbreak, they held the dust down, and they provided shade, homes for birds and squirrels, and happiness. Yep, she made a difference ... "  Liz Garton Scanlon

Liz Garton Scanlon structures this text using repeated phrases making this an excellent book to read aloud:

The man lived all alone in the creaky house on the tip-top of a steep hill where a soft wind blew.
The man lived all alone in the creaky house where the curtains swung and chimes spun as a soft wind blew.

The wind grows stronger and chaos ensues.

The man cries out "what to do?".  A little girl, called Kate, hears his cries for help. She catches his hat which has blown down the hill.  On the back cover of this book you can see a set of plans drawn by Kate as she develops a way to solve this problem.

Here is the author web site where you can see all her books.  Here is an excellent set of teachers notes and extension ideas to use with Kate, who tamed the Wind.

The other special aspect of this book is the way the reader can see the passing of time. Trees do take time to grow. Kate and the man plant and tend the trees and as they grow tall and strong, Kate changes from a young girl into a teenager and the man's beard turns grey.  The final page of this book has some facts about trees and their importance along with some web links to explore.

I would pair this book with A forest by Marc Martin, Last Tree in the city by Peter Carnavas and Tree by Danny Parker.  You might also explore some books about the wind with a younger group of students.  You could use this book for Earth Day or National Tree Day.

The story and illustrations strike just the right notes of lightheartedness, determination, and education—on Earth-friendly materials to boot. Kirkus Star review

The lyrical text begs to be read aloud and is perfect for Arbor Day or Earth Day celebrations.  School Library Journal

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Everything I've never said by Samantha Wheeler

Ava is almost twelve years old
Ava likes pink clothes not purple
She would like jam on her toast not Vegemite
Nature documentaries on television are much better than Finding Nemo and Happy Feet
Ava cannot reach out to touch the communication cards her teacher keeps shoving at her
Swimming makes her feel calm and relaxed - swimming is a joy but waiting to get into the pool and being pushed back into clothes at the end of the session is pure torture
Ava loves her mum, her dad and her sister Nic but she cannot tell them

Samantha Wheeler is an Australian children's author who lives in Queensland. Everything I've never said is a book based on her own family experience.  Samantha's daughter has Rett Syndrome which means she cannot speak, has difficulty swallowing and also has dyspraxia making it very difficult to perform even the most basic movements. Everything I've never said is a very brave book coming from personal experience. This book will take you on a highly emotional journey.

Ava has a lot to say but only we, as readers, can hear her. It is so frustrating for Ava and of course for her family.  Over time Ava has had to use the only tools available to her to communicate - screaming and biting. Of course this is highly distressing for everyone and sadly for Ava, no matter how hard she tries, her outbursts seem to come at the worst of times. Ava loves her sister Nicole. Ava does not mean for disasters to happen and worse she cannot tell her sister that she is so sorry. Here is a scene in the first chapter when the family have come to see Nic perform with her band.

"Don't scream, don't scream, don't scream. ... The second verse is perfect. ... The whole crowd is on their feet, clapping and stomping and dancing along. My chest heaves. Too loud. TOO LOUD. Before I can stop it, my hand jerks out and whacks the milkshake. CRASH! The music stops. Pink milk slides down Mel's cheeks. ... But that's not the worst of it. My heart plunges as a piercing scream echoes through the hall. Kids cover their ears. Teachers squint to the rafters, looking for the worlds biggest cockatoo. But it isn't a cockatoo. It's me, Ava. Nic's biggest secret."

This is a book for a mature Primary student. There are some wonderful people in Ava's life but there are also some adults, who should know better, who are actually very cruel. They way these people treat Ava may shock a sensitive reader. Her teacher Wendy is almost sadistic. The depiction of Ava in the class time out room is especially confronting.  Thank goodness for friends like Aimee and problem solvers like Kieran. I was cheering each time someone showed kindness to Ava.

If you have read Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper then Everything I've never said is the perfect companion volume.

Here is a trailer.  Here is a very detailed and heart-felt review by Megan Daley. Here is a set of very detailed teacher's notes and questions.

Every so often, a book comes along that touches your heart in places so tender it hurts. A book that makes you cry because of the frustration and sadness in the world, but also makes you laugh out loud with joy because of small kindnesses and the many sources of happiness that are to be found despite the pain. Cass Moriarity

Monday, October 22, 2018

I am the Seed that Grew the Tree: A nature poem for every day of the year selected by Fiona Waters

Every now and then a book comes along that takes your breath away because it is so gorgeous, that makes you thrill to turn every page because every page is a delight, that makes you want to run outside and read an extract to everyone you meet.  Storylinks Mia Macrossan

When I saw I am the Seed that Grew the Tree (click this title for a surprise!) in a city bookstore several months ago I just knew I wanted my own copy but this is an expensive book (UK25 Pounds, AUS$50). Could I justify adding to my own collection and not to a school library? Luckily sitting on a bus last week I saw a wonderful sign - 20% of all books! I almost didn't dare hope they would have I am the Seed that Grew the Tree but YES they did.

I have mentioned this book briefly in a previous post. Yes it is true the seasons are wrong for an Australian audience but that is easy to cope with this. This is 333 pages of delight. The poems, there are 366 of them, are organised into months. On the pages between each month there is a table of contents listing the dates and poems for each day.  There are 366 poems because we need an extra one for a leap year. Some poems are only two or three lines long while others fill whole pages.

There are Australian poets in this book such as Judith Wright, Michael Dugan and Lilith Norman. Other famous names you will recognise are Allan Ahlberg, E.E Cummings, Walter de la Mare, Edward Lear, Robert Frost, Tony Mitton, William Carlos Williams and Jack Prelutsky. The three most prolific poets in this anthology are Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson and James Reeves. I would have enjoyed being a part of those editorial meetings when the poems were selected. I did spy a couple of my personal favourites - What is Green?; The red wheelbarrow; and If once you have slept on an Island.

Perhaps I should begin by sharing the poem for today (22nd October):

In Autumn
the trees wave in the wind
and the leaves come tumbling

Here they come,
hundreds and thousands of leaves
in yellow, red
chocolate brown.

by Wes Magee

The design of this book is perfect.  There is a ribbon book mark, an index of poems, index of first lines and and index of poets.  You can see many of the glorious illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon in this video from Nosy Crow.  My only real problem with this book is that I am desperate to SHARE it. I am not working in my school library this year but if I was I would post a poem to the staff each day. I have done this in the past but with this book selecting the poems would be so easy. One solution to this problem comes via this blog. You can expect to see a poem or two from this collection from time to time as I work my way through all 366 poems.  Take a look at this review.

Here are two more poems to brighten your day:

July 31st
I saw a star slide down the sky,
Blinding the north as it went by,
Too lovely to be bought or sold,
Too burning and too quick to hold,
Good only to make wishes on
And then forever to be gone.

by Sara Teasdale

2nd June
Like pieces of torn paper
Strewn into the wind.

by N.C. Wickramasinghe

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The gift of Dark Hollow by Kieran Larwood

Great storytelling continues in this latest Longburrow adventure. Kirkus

 A modern-day classic that is not to be missed, with stunningly detailed fantasy illustrations by David Wyatt. BookTrust

A few weeks ago I talked about The Legend of Podkin One-ear by Kieran Larwood - my new favourite book. This week I have read the second book from this series - The Gift of Dark Hollow and it is just as good as the first.

Once again it is the bard who is telling the story of our hero Podkin. Along with his sister Paz and baby brother Pook, they are caught up in a series of fierce battles against the Gorm. They have now acquired three more 'gifts' with magical powers which brings their total to four of the twelve from the ancient tribes.

  • Starclaw -  The magic dagger of Munbury it can cut through anything except iron
  • Moonfyre - A brooch that lets you jump in and out of moon shadows the gift of Dark Hollow.
  • Ailfew -   The magic sickle which is the gift of Redwater Warren.
  • Surestrike - The hammer of Applecross can make weapons that pierce the Gorm's armour.

As the group travel to Applecross to retrieve Surestrike they meet Zarza, a bonedancer, Vetch of Golden Brook and Yarrow the bard.  Right from the start I didn't trust Vetch and I am fairly sure we will meet him again in future installments.

"He seemed desperate for someone to like him. A bit too desperate perhaps."
"And as for that Vetch, well I trust him about as far as I can throw a giant rat."
"Vetch, wrapped in his exotic cloak, sidled up to Podkin at one point, giving him a nervous smile. His eyes kept darting to the dagger on Podkin's hip."

Vetch returns to Dark Hollow with a rescued farmer, his wife and children. Meanwhile our heroes travel on to Applecross to find and open the mysterious bridge over to Ancients Island. It is a furious race to outrun the Gorm, retrieve Surestrike and make it home.  You will be on the edge of your seat gripping your sword and holding your breath through the scenes that follow.

I love all place names and rabbit species we meet in this series - "The other surviving rabbits were refugees from all over Gotland and Enderby. Some were from Munbury and Redwater warrens but there were also sables from Cherrywood and Ivywick, lops from Applecross, and brindle-furred rabbits from Stormwell and Hillbottom. Some came from tiny warrens Podkin had never heard of, like Toadleton and Muggy Pit. There was even a shield maiden all the way from Blackrock."

The gift of Dark Hollow employs a rich vocabulary with words like: priority, brusque, comatose, loamy, vulnerable and bandoliers.

Listen to an audio sample from the first book (page 6-8) and here is one from The Gift of Dark Hollow. Take time to look at the web site of the illustrator David Wyatt it is brilliant.

This is an adventure story, fast paced and tense. It seems that the free rabbits of Enderby will be easily overpowered by the Gorm, with their deadly weapons, armour and devious spies. The fight is to preserve the rabbit race at all costs, but most of all so that rabbits can once again live in peace. The Book Bag

The third book from this series is The Beasts of Grimheart. Due in Australia at the end of October.

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

You. Me. Together. Always.

... one thing wouldn't budge: the hard tug of his love for that boy. That love was the biggest truth he could ever imagine.

His heart glowed to a gold more glorious than any Forever. It shone brighter than all the blue skies and green fields and sunny days of anywhere and everywhere put together.

A few years ago I read another Dan Gemeinhart book - The Honest Truth - it captivated me. Last month I spied this book by Dan at a library book fair and the Teacher-Librarian kindly gave me this copy. Good Dog is a 'harder' book than The Honest Truth. Harder in the sense of emotional distress. The lines between good and evil are powerfully drawn. The scenes between the hell hounds and our two dog heroes Brodie and Tuck are harrowing. This is not a book for the faint-hearted.

Brodie has died. As the story opens he is in the afterlife but this is a place of transition. Brodie cannot move on because he has unfinished business back with his boy. He is allowed to go back to the land of the living but there are conditions. He will be invisible to humans and his time will be short.

"You're not going back as you were. You're going back as you are. A spirit. Nothing more. You're going back to a living world ... but you're going back dead. ... Your spirit will still have life for a while, down there,' the angel said. 'You'll even be able to see the glow of it. But with each moment in that world, it will fade. When your glow is gone, Brodie, you'll be stuck. You'll be lost. Forever."

"Every time you really touch the world, every time you make yourself real enough to do something - like jump on a truck - it costs you a little bit of your soul. Even walking down this sidewalk right now, all this touching of the world ... it's taking a little of our souls, just a drop at a time."

Brodie listens to these warnings but he knows he simply has no choice. His boy needs him. Snatches of his former life and especially his final moments with Aiden play out in his mind in fragmented flashbacks. For the reader, these are like pieces of an unfolding puzzle. I enjoy storytelling like this where the reader has to put in some work to understand what has happened in the past.  The reader also has to trust the author will keep you safe over the course of this dangerous journey.

All of your senses will be on high alert when you read Good Dog. Here is an example - the hell hound bites into Brodie:

"Darkly's teeth sank into his shoulder. No. His teeth sank into ... him. It was like nothing he'd ever felt. His teeth sank deep, and a high, ripping whimper was torn from Brodie's throat. But it didn't feel like pain, this bite. It felt far worse than pain."

I'd like to talk about motivations at this point. Brodie needs to help his boy and this is easy to understand but what of Tuck? He is a loyal companion to Brodie but he also has unfinished business from his former life. Tuck is such a great dog. I wanted to reach out and hug him. He is full of life and bounce but it is the cat Patsy who is the most complex character and I found myself constantly questioning her true motives for helping Brodie.

"Why are you even here, Patsy? Really. If you don't wanna help, if you think we're too dumb and this whole thing is stupid, then why are you hanging around?' 'I told you, sausage-for-brains, I was bored.' 'No way,' Brodie snapped. 'You wouldn't come all this way and go through all this stuff just 'cause you were bored. There's gotta be another reason. Tell us. What is it?"

I would recommend Good Dog for a very mature senior Primary student. I would follow Good Dog with The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett and Dog by Andy Mulligan.  For a slightly younger audience take a look at One dog and his boy by Eva Ibbotson which has the same emotional arc. Here is a video where you can see Dan talking about his book. Click on the reviews below for more plot details.

Action-packed, highly suspenseful, and deeply moving. Perfect. Kirkus

Brodie senses before he thinks; his narrative flows in visceral waves of experience. These sensory pleasures are no match for the emotional sturdiness of Brodie’s good heart.  BookPage

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 

It is a perfect balance between imaginary and real, bringing you along in their made-up worlds, while somehow giving enough verbal clues to keep you grounded at the same time. It’s not confusing and has excellent bits of comical kid terminology and conversation to make you laugh. Mabel and Sam are believable, adorable, precocious, and charming characters. Three Books a Night

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