Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Rainbow Bear by Stephen Michael King

This book is a delight from front to back.  Yes once again I am going to talk about end papers!  In rainbow bear they look like pages from a colouring book and this is perfect for the theme of this story. Also I am so thrilled to see the front end papers are different from the back end papers.

On the first end paper we see a polar bear with a satchel walking down a small hill heading towards the city. Where has he been? Where is he going?  On the half title page Bear stands and watches some young artists standing at their easels. The title page shows a busy city scene.  I searched and searched for bear not thinking to look up! There he was - a passenger in a small yellow plane.

Arriving home Bear presents his wife with a dozen red roses (go back and look at the city scene and you will find the flower seller) and a set of crayons for his two cubs. After a joyous day together Bear settles down to sleep. In the morning he is transformed. A refreshing swim restores him but the next night and the next the same thing happens.  Finally one morning Bear sees some tracks in the snow and he traces the mischief makers.

I haven't met Stephen Michael King and yet he feels like a friend. His books and illustrations always make me smile. I love to read and re-read Where does Thursday go (Janeen Brian), The man who loved boxes, Henry and Amy and Mutt Dog.  Like many other books by Stephen Michael King I really hope this wonderful book is included in the 2019 CBCA Notables and from there makes the short list. Here are some teachers notes from the publisher.

One tiny thing to notice. I absolutely do not have a problem with this, but an astute reader will point out, polar bears and penguins do not live in the same polar regions. Rainbow Bear is an imaginative story that celebrates mischief and love in a family. I'm sure the science facts can be put aside for now. I highly recommend Rainbow Bear for school libraries and as a book to treasure in your own collection.

I would pair this book with Elmer and compare the wonderful design work on the grey elephants and while polar bears.

Image source: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-28202506

The Unicorn Prince by Saviour Pirotta and Jane Ray

Looking at her with eyes of summer-sky blue, was a unicorn. 
In his foot was a sharp bramble thorn.

Let's begin with the first sentence - read it slowly then read it again - these are simple words but they also set the scene for a powerful story.

"High on a hill, where the moors ended and the forest began, stood a lonely castle."

Annis shows great kindness to the injured unicorn and in return he takes her on a flying adventure. They find some fairies in need of a home. Annis offers hers but it is becoming quite squashed.

"That night it was more of a squeeze than ever in front of the great fireplace. But while Annis and her grandma, the unicorn, the chickens and the cow slept soundly, the fairies crept away from the hearth and set to work."

Do you recognise this theme? Help given in return for kindness. Think of the elves and shoemaker and have you guessed about the unicorn?  Annis is transformed into a beautiful young lady and her castle is restored.  This means suitors start to arrive from all over the kingdom hoping to win the hand of this beautiful girl before accepting she asks a simple question:

"Will you share our castle with the fairy folk?"

Finally she asks the unicorn (thank goodness) and so we have our happy and magical ending with a lovely surprise twist on the last page. Yes the unicorn is a prince as the title suggested but he can still be a unicorn.

I have mentioned the scrumptious work of Jane Ray previously and now we have a book about the very popular topic of unicorns! This book will be very, very popular with young readers.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Unicorn! By Maggie Hutchins illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

I sometimes wonder how authors come up with topics for their books. I would like to think it comes from the heart but I imagine someone, perhaps a publisher, whispered to Maggie Hutchins that unicorns are a very hot topic! Nearly every week, possibly close to every day, a young reader in my library asks for a book about unicorns. We do have some of course and you can see them here on my Pinterest but I have to say this book Unicorn! is a very welcome addition. It is aimed at the perfect age - the fans of unicorns are usually in Grades 1 and 2. Kindergarten children will also enjoy Unicorn! This book is a must purchase for all school libraries - I think you might need more than one copy.

Let's begin with the end papers. Cheryl Orsini (I'm a huge fan) has filled them with stars and sprinkles - it is clear magic is happening here. These same patterns appear on the unicorn's coat if you look closely at the cover.

Luka is a special friend so when she becomes ill and has to spend time in hospital it is important to make her wish come true. The problem is Luka wishes for a unicorn. Her friend really tries to solve this:

"I drew one."
"I dressed up."
"I borrowed a pony."

The friend decides it is time to make her own wish. Cheryl uses an image of dandelions to great effect on this double page spread. Finally one morning Luka's wonderful friend (our narrator) wakes up and finds a unicorn under her bed. After all that wishing she says  "I wasn't that surprised."

Luckily the parents and hospital staff can't see the unicorn. This is especially funny when the unicorn does rainbow poop all over the kitchen floor.

You can hear the whole story here but try to grab the book first so you can follow along with the glorious illustrations.

I adore the work of Cheryl Orsini ever since a watched her with a large group of young readers at the Sydney Writers Festival (see the caravan below).  Make sure you look for some of her other books such as Lucy's Book, Caravan Fran, The Tales of Mrs Mancini and The Magic Bookshop.

Cheryl Orsini’s style is bright, colourful and super funky. This is the kind of book that catches your eye from across the room and makes your fingers itch to reach for it. The characters come to life on the page, and I guarantee you won't be able to stop yourself from smiling as you turn the beautiful pastel-coloured pages. Kids Book Review

Image source: http://vintagecaravans.proboards.com/thread/14411/launch-caravan-fran-childrens-book

Dolls of Hope - a Friendship Dolls book by Shirley Parenteau

Dolls of Hope is the second book of three from the series Friendship Dolls.  You might begin by reading my thoughts about the first installment - Ship of Dolls. I so enjoyed my discovery of these historic events when I read Ship of Dolls earlier this year.

In Dolls of Hope we meet Chiyo. She is living in a remote rural village in Japan but her sister is promised to a wealthy older man from a larger town. Chiyo is told she must stay home during the omiai or meeting where her sister Masako will meet Yamada Nori. Chiyo is desperate to see this man, to discover what he is like, to see his house, to perhaps stop her beloved sister making what she thinks is a big mistake so she stows away in a basket on the back of the family cart. She is breaking all the rules and most of all not showing herself as modest quiet girl which is what everyone expects of her.

She disrupts the family meeting and so it is decided she will be sent away to Tasuchiura Girls School. She is told she must model herself on the behaviour of a girl called Hoshi the daughter of a General but Chiyo soon discovers, while adults admire Hoshi, in reality she is a wretched bully.

At the end of Ship of Dolls we watched 12,000 dolls sail away to Japan. In Dolls of Hope they have arrived and now a ceremony in Tokyo is planned where the dolls will be officially welcomed.

After a very rough start at her new school, thanks to Hoshi, Chiyo joins the choir. The children are learning a welcome song and six girls will have the honour of attending the ceremony in Tokyo. Chiyo earns a place and the girls visit a display of the dolls:

"Under no circumstances are any of you to touch the dolls. We will walk past the display and admire only with our eyes. I do not wish to see any of you put even a finger on a doll."

Chiyo has no plan to touch the beautiful dolls with their blonde hair and blue eyes but the horrid Hoshi pushes against the display table and calls out a warning. Acting on instinct Chiyo catches one doll, Emily Grace, just as she is about to fall onto the floor.  So begins a series of events Chiyo could never have imagined. She meets the mayor of Tokyo, Emily Grace is gifted to her school and she meets a master doll maker who is working on one of the 86 special dolls that will be sent from Japan to America. But at every turn Hoshi tries to thwart her. Several times I found myself holding my breath hoping against hope Hoshi would not hurt Chiyo or the precious doll Emily Grace.

 Here is the Kirkus review. Here is an interview with Shirley. You can read about the restoration of one of the friendship dolls here.

I do have one little connection with this book. Chiyo has a kokeshi doll which she names Momo. I found this one from a shop and they say momo means peace although I don't imagine Chiyo's doll looked like this. Just a warning sensitive readers may find the scenes where Hoshi takes Momo quite distressing.

I found this cover of a Japanese version of Dolls of Hope.

If this topic interests you I have discovered another book by Kirby Larson which I plan to read. And of course I have book three from The Friendship Dolls series - Dolls of War on my list too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Joy by Corrinne Averiss illustrated by Isabelle Follath

Joy is a pure joy to read. Grab a copy of Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Read about Wilfrid looking for lost memories.

Now pick up Joy. Fern loves her Nanna. She loves her cakes, her home, her cat and her smile but something has gone wrong. Nanna has stopped smiling and all the beautiful colours in her home have turned grey.

"What's wrong with Nanna?' Fern asked her mum.
'I don't know,' Mum replied. 'It's like the joy has gone out of her life.'
'What's joy? asked Fern.
'Joy is what makes your heart happy and your eyes twinkle."

So Fern goes hunting for joy just as Wilfrid went hunting for memories in the famous book by Mem Fox. Joy takes a tin, a box, a saucepan, a paper bag, and a fishing net so she can carry all the joy she hopes to collect. At the park she finds plenty of joy but catching it seems impossible. The swirling colours on each page are especially beautiful.

Joy heads back to Nanna feeling so sad. She explains all the joy she found and the impossible task of collecting it. But Nanna has some quiet wisdom for Fern:

"You don't need a tin or a box or a net to bring me joy,' Nanna said.
'You bring me all the joy in the world just by being you."

The final double spread is sure to make you smile with joy!

Emotional, funny and uplifting, this beautiful picture book has a strong message about empathy and maintaining loving relationships with our grandparents. Guaranteed to bring a bit of joy into every reader’s life, this story is a pure delight. ReaditDaddy

Each week I visit some lovely ladies in an aged care facility. One of these ladies is called Joy. I would so love to put this book into her hands and into the hands of her grandchildren - this is a book to treasure and to share. To me, and reviewers like Minerva Reads, this is a book about emotions not depression. It shows how a simple act of kindness can lift your mood.

I am now very keen to explore other books by Corrinne Averiss.  Take time to explore the work of Isabelle Follath it is truly special. Here is an interview about her process.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Fire Witch by Matt Ralphs

The figure swivelled towards her. Hazel's firelight illuminated  a long beak-like nose and two flat, unblinking eyes. Before she could decide if what she was seeing was even human, it unbent to its full, obscene height. Up it rose, slender, menacing, taller than Titus, taller than any man she'd ever laid eyes on.

Three years ago (it doesn't seem that long) I discovered Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs. I described it as horror fantasy and I loved it!  I have now emerged from reading the second installment Fire Witch. This volume can stand alone but I highly recommend you try to read Fire Girl first.

Hazel Hooper is desperate to rescue her mother from the underworld. She is travelling with an elderly demon hunter called Titus. He proves himself a loyal friend but in the end it is Hazel who must face the Matthew Hopkins, the Witch Hunter General, and his prisoner Nicholas Murrell.  It is Nicholas Murrell, the demonologist, who can help Hazel find her mother but he is a prisoner and he is undergoing the most gruesome torture at the hands of Matthew Hopkins.

Hazel needs to disguise herself, join the Grand Order of Witch Hunters, get inside the stronghold jail where Nicholas is being held, retrieve the Necronomicon which contains the circle spell she needs to open the underworld and hopefully, also, release 364 witches who are held captive in a hulk on the Thames prior to their mass burning.  Luckily she has Titus and her wonderful familiar - the mouse called Bramley - to help her. She also has tremendous determination and courage.

You will feel as though you really are in Cromwell's London with all the smells and sounds and terrifying dangers. The creature I described at the start of this review is killing young girls across London and yes it is another demon which Hazel and Titus must defeat.

Here is a scene from the London of the 1600s.

"Southwark High Road struck a straight line between handsome timbered houses all the way to London Bridge and the Thames. It was market day, and a swirling sea of people flowed around stalls and handcarts, bartering for everything from hats to honey bread. From her vantage point ... Hazel saw a water-seller struggling under the weight of his tanks; a printer with ink-stained fingers hawking pamphlets; two noblemen in frock coats and wigs walking arm in arm out of a haberdashery, and a beggar child behind them with her eyes fixed on their pockets."

As we saw in the first book, Matt Ralphs gives us brilliant chapter titles with quotes from various fictitious but historically plausible characters.

Here are some as examples:

"The wall between our world and the demons' is paper thin and the tears are beginning to show. (From) Divinations of Oblivion by Brentford Hinds."

"One witch can be made to give up another and she another, and she yet another. (From) A forest of Gallows by Albrecht Prinz."

"Ward off plaguey vapours by chewing tobacco, rue or angelica. (From) Cures for common Folk by Rachel Kellehar."

Sadly I do need to warn you - this is not the final book and I cannot find any details of the next installment. Here is a terrific review from The Book Bag.  Here is an interview with Matt. You could follow these two books with the series Barnaby Grimes by Paul Stewart. I would also recommend A most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee and A very unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks book one in the City of Orphans series.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman

"Mama and Pa had long dreamed of going west, even to naming their family for western places: me, the first California Morning Whipple; then Butte, Prairie, Sierra, Golden Promise, the lost baby Ocean and Rocky Flat the dog." Before they set off Pa and Golden have died of pneumonia.

The year is 1850. Ma, Arvella Whipple, takes her family across America from Massachusetts to California in search of a new life and the fortunes promised by gold. When they arrive the first thing her oldest daughter insists on is changing her name to Lucy. It would surely be odd to have the name California in California.

"What an unfortunate name. No one in any book I ever read was called California. I never paid much attention to my name back home. It was a place, a passion, a promise. It was a name that caused people to notice me, talk to me, remember and expect things. It was in no way the right name for me."

The strength of this book comes from the honesty of Lucy herself and the vivid sense of place created by Karen Cushman.

Here are a few text quotes from the letters Lucy writes to Gram and Grampop in Massachusetts:

"There is no school and no lending library, no bank, no church, no meeting house, no newspaper, no shopping or parties of picnics, no eggs, no milk and worst of all no Gram and Grampop ... "

"  ... some miners are thieves and drunkards, men of bad habits and worse disposition; others can be counted as the finest folk on God's green earth. I'm sick of them all - dirty boots and dirty sheets, loud voices and big appetites."

"I am a stranger in a land where they even speak a different language full of derns and dings and have you a pick-axe about your clothes? ... I was wishing Pa was here, but he's not and I am. I am bodaciously sorrow-burdened and wretched!"

"If you see my former teacher, Miss Charlotte Homer of Reedsville, kindly inquire if she might send me a book. I am sick to death of Ivanhoe and Mr Scatter's Bible, and there is not another book in these mountains."

"All of a sudden I am grown mighty popular and it is all due to the box of books from Miss Homer. Men I have never spoken to this whole year come up to me, hat in hand, and say,  'Excuse me entirely little sister, but I hear you might have books for borrying."

Lucy has three rules for her books - she gets to read them first, no tobacco stains and don't pass the book on - return it first. She has to abandon this last rule because everyone breaks it but the books do eventually come back and some contain surprises.

You can read Chapter One and Chapter Two here.

Just over a year ago I attended the USBBY Conference at the University of Washington in Seattle. On the first evening at the dinner event the organisers showcased local authors and illustrators from Washington. There were twelve who shared their work in a series of brief presentations and then each author/illustrator sat at a different table.  I was so lucky to sit with Karen Cushman. I have loved her books for such a long time. Sitting nearby was Laurie Ann Thompson and I was delighted to tell her how much my students had appreciated her powerful book Emanuel's Bicycle.

After talking with Karen Cushman I knew I wanted to re-read her books. Luckily Seattle have a number of terrific second hand bookshops so I easily found a copy of The Ballad of Lucy Whipple which was first published in 1996. I read this book in 1997 but so much of the story had lingered with me - such is the power of this writing.  A movie was made for television with Glenn Close in 2001.  The Ballad of Lucy Whipple would make an excellent addition to your school library and will be enjoyed by readers aged 10+.

Here are some other covers:

It is hard to imagine having to live under the conditions described in this exceptional book and yet women and children did indeed have to live in places like Lucky Diggins. This is a marvelous tribute to their courage, their creativity, and their determination to make a go of things no matter what. It is also a tribute to all those brave souls who have dreams and who are not afraid to pursue them. Through the Looking Glass Children's book Reviews

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito illustrated by Julia Kuo

It was between and underneath every sound.
And it had been there all along.

Yoshio lives in Tokyo. He meets a musician and asks "do you have a favourite sound?"  The musician says the most beautiful sound is the sound of ma, the sound of silence. 

Yoshio listens to all the sounds in this busy city. The traffic, boots splashing through puddles, rain on umbrellas, the wind in the bamboo, the whoosh of the bullet train and even the sound of chopsticks, slurping and chewing dinner with his family. Finally Yoshio goes to bed but even that is not quiet as there is a radio playing in the background. The next morning Yoshio heads off to school. He arrives very early. Inside he sits at his desk and reads a book.

"Suddenly in the middle of a page, he hear it.
No sounds, no footsteps, no people chattering, no radios, no bamboo, no kotos being tuned.
In that short moment, Yoshio couldn't even hear the sound of his own breath."

The splendid school library I visit each week like to add stickers to the front cover of their books for all sorts of book awards from around the world.  This book had an award I had not seen before. The Sound of Silence was shortlisted for the Red Dot Book award 2017-2018. This award started in 2009 and is awarded through voting by school libraries in Singapore.

Past winners which I have mentioned on this blog:

2016-7 Picture book shortlist On Sudden Hill; Younger Readers winner Diva and Flea; Older Readers winner The Thing about Jellyfish.

2015-6 Younger readers winner Pigsticks and Harold.

2014-5 Older Readers The Fourteenth Goldfish, 3rd Place Rooftoppers.

The 2018-19 award will be presented in May 2019.  I spied The elephant and Juana and Lucas on the Younger Readers list and Tin and The Goldfish boy on the Older Readers list.

I would pair The Sound of Silence with The Sound of Colours and Silence by Lemniscates. Take time to read this detailed review in Horn Book which explains the way the illustrator has used colours to show the city noises. Listen to an excellent All the wonders Podcast  where you can hear the author and illustrator talking in depth about the processes and challenges of creating this book. You can see some pages from the illustrator of The Sound of Silence here.

An inviting tale that will stretch inquisitive and observant young minds—and may even lead children to a greater appreciation of that golden commodity, silence. Kirkus

Monday, November 12, 2018

I am the Seed that grew the Tree Part Two

I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree is the size of 12 picture books, with 334 illustrated pages and 366 poems spanning the last four centuries.  Frann Preston-Gannon illustrator

The quote above comes from Frann who illustrated this book. Here is an interview where you can read how she illustrated of I am the Seed that Grew the Tree. What a mammoth task it was to illustrate so many pages. We are so lucky she took on this task - the final book is one to treasure.  I mentioned I will share a poem or two from this glorious book from time to time.

Here are a few more for you to enjoy:

January 21st

Over wintry wind-whipped waves
The white-winged  seagulls wildly sweep:
Weaving, winding, wheeling, whistling,
Where the wide waste waters weep.


July 16th

When the heat of the summer
Made drowsy the land,
A dragonfly came
And sat on my hand,
with its blue joined body,
And wings like spun glass,
It lit on my fingers
As though they were grass.

Eleanor Farjeon

August 7th


On the shelf in my bedroom stands a shell.
If I hold it close, I can smell
The salty sea.
I can hear the slap
Of the waves as they lap
The sandy shore.
I can feel once more
The tickling tide
As it gently flows between my toes.

John Foster

A friend mentioned this book had a different cover in the US.  I tracked it down - this wasn't easy because it also has a different title. I wonder why?  The Kirkus review says majestic and inspiring as nature itself.   You can see 66 pages inside the book which is the same as the UK version on the publisher web site.

Redwall by Brian Jacques Audio Book

Redwall is one of those books that lingers in the mind long after reading. I first read about Matthais and the Abbey at Redwall back in 1986. Recently I spied the audio book of Part One The Wall and so I have spent a delightful few weeks revisiting this wonderful text. It is only part one of the first book so now I have bought the classic edition and will revisit part 2 and 3 over the coming weeks.

Listen to an audio sample here. The real treat is hearing Brian Jacques himself! Sadly he died in 2011.  Here is the first episode from the animated television series.  If you are new to this series you can read a summary of the plot here.

Here are some book covers for Redwall.

There are so many books in this series - a total of 22 plus extras such as this cookbook which I would love to see. The food mentioned in the Redwall series is one aspect I really enjoyed.

"Tender freshwater shrimp garnished with cream and rose leaves; deviled barley pearls in acorn puree; apple and carrot chews; marinated cabbage stalks steeped in cream white turnip with nutmeg."

Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith

Mostly ...

Bear - his name is Hector, wants peace, a good scratch and time to enjoy a delicious custard apple in the jungles of South America. Hummingbird - his name is Hummingbird, wants action, conversation and fun! They are friends - well mostly!  This is a book for three voices.

Here is Hummingbird:

"Hey, Hector!
Are you scratching?
I'm going to scratch too!
Aw, you've got the scratchiest tree.
Look! I'm the best scratcher, aren't I?
Hec - torrr??"

Here is the narrator and Bear himself from a later scene when he is all alone:

"Next, Hector found what looked like the scratchiest tree in the jungle. He settled down to have a nice, quiet scratch. But it felt funny scratching on his own. 'Hummingbird would love scratching on this tree,' sighed Hector."

Young children will delight in hunting for Hummingbird on every page as he follows bear. On the final page of this book there are images of other jungle animals to go back and find such as the tapir, iguana and macaw.

Here is another grouchy bear story and yes all of these have a similar plot line but Hector and Hummingbird is a sheer delight.  It won the Waterstones Book Prize in 2016 and the Klaus Flugge Prize and I can visualise all the judges just smiling and smiling. A fun theme for a young group of Kindergarten children could be reading all the grouchy bear stories and I would put Hector and Hummingbird at the top of the pile.

Read here about the work of the illustrator Nicholas John Frith.  He names Roger Duvoisin as an illustrator who inspires him and it is easy to make this link when you compare their work.

Image source: http://thewendywatsonblog.blogspot.com/2015/08/roger-duvoisin.html

Here are some other unlikely friends books I have mentioned previously.

Frith has created a visually stunning work, and young readers who look closely will find a forest teeming with wildlife hidden in plain sight. The tale is simple and universal, the setting is fresh, and it all works. Kirkus Star Review

A great pick for friendship story times, this book is a winner as a read aloud.  Waking Brain Cells

Illustration by Nicholas John Frith from http://blog.picturebookmakers.com/post/150037944616/nicholas-john-frith

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Captain Rosalie by Timothee de Frombelle illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Little Rosalie, aged five and a half, is sent to school very early each morning and picked up long after all the children have gone home because her mother is working long hours in a factory.

"The others think I'm drawing in my notebook when I'm sitting on the little bench underneath the coat pegs at the back of the class. ... But I am a soldier on a mission. I am spying on the enemy. I am preparing my plan."

Each evening, when letters arrive from her father who is fighting in the trenches, her mother takes her home and reads his warm messages about catching trout and learning to swim. Rosalie cannot listen. "I can see my mother is still reading, for a long time although there is just a single page of writing in the envelope."

I can't tell you what Rosalie is planning to do but the final scenes will leave you gasping.

This does look like a slim book, it has 64 pages, and so you might think it is written for a younger child but be warned there is no happy ending. I would suggest this book for Grade Four and up.

In 2010 I read two books by Timothee de Fombelle and I became an instant fan of his writing made all the more special by the fact that these books, as with the one I am discussing today, were written in French and so I am relying on the expertise of a skilled translator. Captain Rosalie was translated by Sam Gordon.

Captain Rosalie is a MUST HAVE for every Primary School library. For me it is absolutely a ten out of ten book!

I now need to find this book which is where Captain Rosalie first appeared in 2015. How wonderful that Walker Books decided it was important enough to need a an exquisitely illustrated volume of its own.

I would follow this book with a French movie from 2002 called To be and to Have (Etre et Avior). Read more about Timothee here.  The illustrator web site for Isabelle Arsenault is worth a visit too. Her work is just perfect for this book.

This is one of the most powerful and affecting books about the impact that war has on children that we've read in this, the centenary year of the end of World War 1. ReaditDaddy

While Father is at war, Rosalie begins a secret mission.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

"She knew that her parents both loved her. And that each of them loved the other. Flora had never heard them fight. The feeling between them was not one of war. It was instead as if they had skipped the war completely and gone straight to defeat, raising mutual flags of surrender. Then came the dividing up of dishes, silverware, linens and lamps so that one of them could live five streets over."

Flora is nine years old. It is 1972 and the Vietnam war has just ended. Emma Jean Smallwood, Flora's mother, and Forster Smallwood, her dad have settled the family in  Rosetown, Indiana. As the story opens the family dog Laurence has passed away. 

"They all knew Laurence was fading. But no one believed, really, that he would ever not be with them anymore. Especially Flora, who had held on to his collar ever since she took her first steps. ... Everyone was, in some way, still holding on to Laurence's collar."

Being nine means Flora is now entering fourth grade. While others seem to have gained a new confidence, Flora feels lost. Luckily a new boy arrives in her class. His name is Yury. He has come from Eastern Europe from Ukraine. He is a clever boy and an absolutely wonderful friend to Flora. Such is the power of this writing and relationship I really now want Yury to be my friend too!

Flora has to juggle living in two houses. This is quite difficult at times but a wonderful thing happens. Flora helps to rescue an abandoned cat. She names her Serenity and each week Serenity travels between the two houses making this arrangement much easier for Flora. Things are good for Yury too because one of his father's patients gifts him a puppy. Yury names him Friday and he invites Flora to assist at the puppy class run behind the hardware store each Saturday afternoon.  I love the name of these classes - The Good Manners for Good Dogs dog school.

So many special but small things happen to Flora over the course of this year. She has a wonderful  friend called Nessy, she loves helping with Friday, her dad takes her to his photo shoots, her mum encourages her to try piano lessons and her teacher Mr Cooper notices her special talent.

Cynthia Rylant paints a delightful picture of this small town and this is reflected in her choice of names for each shop/business:

Wings and a Chair Used Books - This is where Flora's mother works three afternoons each week and it is where Flora and Yuri enjoy reading vintage children's books.  I have made a list below because I was curious to discover if these were real books and I was thrilled to discover they are. In this shop there is a fabulous purple velveteen chair where Flora loves to sit and read.

"And this is the story of any proudly owned used-book shop: that someone, at some time, has stumbled upon a kind of buried treasure within its shelves. But unlike shiny gold, which is taken instantly, this treasure - a vintage book.  ...  Then arrives the day when it becomes clear that that vintage book should belong to a certain someone."

The Windy Day Diner where Flora and her mother often eat their lunch or supper.

Southwell's Barbershop the place where she first sees little Serenity the cat with the fluffy tail.

The Peaceable Buns Bakery where Flora and her mother share poetry books and a love of words.

Four Part Harmony - the music store filled with every musical instrument you can imagine and where Flora and Nessy go for weekly piano lessons.

Mars Comics - Yury loves this shop

Book titles (Yes they are real!)
  • The Boy Allies
  • Meg and the disappearing Diamonds
  • Nora Force at Raven Rock
  • Stories for Children - inscribed To Christopher 1929
  • The Girl from Tim's Place - inscribed to John L 1906
  • The Walton Boys in Rapids Ahead published in 1958

Two other things I loved in this story were the idea of encyclopedia hour. At this time, once each week, the children are allowed to explore the twenty-two volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia. It is a little out of date being the 1962 edition but Flora loves exploring each volume.  The second thing I would like to know more about is April Lyrid. It's a meteor shower that happens once a year.

I love the fact there there is no conflict in this quiet story.  There are no bullies and there is no meanness just observations of  life by Flora.  She simply gives us insights into the changes in her own life and her reactions to these changes told in an honest and open way.This is a small story but a very meaningful one which young, sensitive readers will enjoy.

I am a huge fan of Cynthia Rylant so when I saw this little volume many months ago I just knew I had to read it. Sadly here in Australia this little book was priced at $25 so I decided to wait. Last week I found a copy for just under $20 and when it arrived yesterday I read the whole book straight away even though I knew I should really slow down and savour its delights. 

You can hear part of the first chapter here. Here is a review with more plot details.

There is a mention in this book of Cricket Magazine - I have a few old copies and I treasure them. Here is an early cover from the 1970s.

I don't think that anywhere as idyllic as Rosetown ever existed, but I certainly want to move there and be the middle school librarian! Ms Yingling

There is no stunning plot twist, no over-the-top drama, no “cosmic experiences.” In Rosetown, there is simply life – in all of its complexities and beauty.  There are blooming friendships. There are waning friendships. There are shared interests. There is room for independent pursuits. And there are cats. And there are dogs. Katie Reviews Books

"Flora watched the dove-gray clouds move over the fields and farms. She looked towards the horizon dividing the brown soil from the blue sky. And deep inside she suddenly became aware of a feeling of expectation."

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Hole by Kerry Brown illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

Down a winding pathway
'bout halfway through the woods,
sat a weary traveller
with a basket full of goods.

Don't you love a book with a cut-out front cover - in this case a hole inviting the reader to look inside! A little squirrel is off to visit her cousin Vera when she encounters a hole. She is curious. What could be down in this hole. She lowers herself down to the hole and gets stuck. Along comes an ostrich.  He puts his neck into the hole and finds he is wedged. Three monkeys come along. The join hands and jump into the hole.

The hole that once was empty
was filling to the brim
with a menageries of wildlife
who were feeling rather grim.

When a mouse finds the hole she cups her hands and calls out YOO HOO! I can imagine children hearing this story will all join in with the little field mouse. I love talking about echoes with young children. This book will be perfect to read-aloud.

The final visitor to the hole is a mole and the problem is solved. Since each animal was carrying a basket of goodies everyone can now share a feast washed down with a cup of tea.

There are so many terrific words used in this rhyming story.

Here is a set of teachers notes from the publisher. Here is a review from Reading Time. The Hole is a book I would share with children aged 3-6.

I have begun to think about 2018 Australian picture books. I wonder which titles will make our 2019 Children's Book Council Notable titles and then which will be included with the six on each short list.  I have made a Pinterest of Australian picture books published in 2018.

Other funny books about holes include Hill and Hole by Kyle Mewburn, The Hole by Oyvind Torseter, Rosalyn Rutabaga and the biggest hole on earth by Marie-Louise Gay and The Monster Hole by Mary Small (Aussie Nibble series). You could also compare this book with the famous Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.

Kerry Brown is the author of All my Kisses and Lest we Forget. Lucia Masciullo is the illustrator of a large number of picture books, the novels about Olive of Groves and covers for books such as the Our Australian Girl series.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Skylarks War by Hilary McKay

"Missing said the telegram, and also: presumed dead. 
Snow cold shock held Clarry motionless, silenced every sound, faded the colours to shades of grey, and diminished her fragment of nothingness, a small lost point, rocking in an endless darkness of space."

When Clarissa is born her mother dies. In his grief her father leaves his two children, older brother Peter and Clarry, into the care of a series of housekeepers.  Clarissa means clear and bright and that is exactly what she becomes as we see her grow from a tiny baby into womanhood. Clarry has deep emotional understanding of her remote father and her clever, sensitive brother. Her happiest times are spent in Cornwall each year with the grandparents and her beloved cousin Rupert but this story has begun in 1902 and so very soon the Great War will have an impact on all their lives hence the quote at the start of this post. Clarry is also a very bright girl, excelling at school once she has persuaded her father a proper school is where she needs to go. Clarry is bold, resourceful and patient. She is determined to help others especially Rupert her cousin and Peter her brother and she is determined to move forward with her own life in a time of change for women.

This is a book of gentle story telling giving insights into complex relationships and difficult times which will be enjoyed by mature readers who like to take their time with a book. It is also a book that adult readers will enjoy because it has a nostalgic feel.  If you are a Noel Streatfeild fan then you will enjoy this book - I am certain.

While I was researching for this blog entry I found a delightful blog called "Clothes in Books". Take a look at her review and scroll down to see what Hilary McKay says too. You can read a Q & A with Hilary here I especially appreciated reading her thoughts about Clarry and Peter's father who was so horrid to the children with his emotional neglect and absences.

Here are some other reviews to explore:

One of her first goals is to get an education, and while her father does not see her worth, other people do. Then World War I rears it tragic head and a time of uncertainty, anguish and separation begins. Readings

We follow their lives, but just saying that is not enough. We see, through the prism of their stories, a whole social landscape which is changing almost before our eyes.  The History Girls

Other books to explore that link with The Skylarks war are The War that Saved my Life and Vinnie's War.

Thanks again to Beachside Bookshop for giving me this advanced reader copy.

"Another thing that people thought odd was that the skylarks sang in the language of their homes. In English for the English, in French for the French, and in Dutch for the Dutch.  More puzzling still, on the other side of the trenches, a few miles away, the skylarks were singing in German. It was a war where absolutely nothing made sense."

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Celebrating Australian Children's books from 1962 onwards

Last month here in Australia IBBY participated in the Sharing Stories exhibition in Canberra hosted by the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature and Woden Library. It was brilliant.

You can now access the full annotation publication of our Australian IBBY Honour books from 1962 up to 2018. I do hope you might take time to read some of these annotations. This is a document that deserves wide circulation and should also be a useful resource for a school or other library. 

Yes I did play a very small role in the writing but that is not why I am sharing this with you. There is a link from the IBBY Australia Web site to the pdf with annotations of all 48 amazing Australian children's books. If you dip into this you are sure to see some old and new favourites.

The first book featured is a childhood favourite of mine and I still own this copy.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Leaf or a Rock or Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas illustrated by Violeta Dabija

A rock is a rock.
It's sand, pebble, stone.
Each rock tells a story
a tale of its own.

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.

Water is water
its puddle, pond, sea.
When spring time comes splashing,
the water flows free.

Here we have a set of three books with links to excellent teaching notes.  In our schools we have started to promote mindfulness and the quiet contemplation of our world. While these books are perfect they are also very expensive but you might find one or all of them in a library.  You can see inside all three at the Publisher Web Site. They would all be great to use with Leaf Stone Beetle by Ursula Dubosarsky which you may remember is a new Australian book I really love.

Teaching Notes for A Leaf Can Be.

Teaching notes for A Rock Can Be.

Teaching notes for Water Can Be.
Kirkus Star Review

A contemplative and thought-provoking ode to the forms water takes and the functions it serves, both practical and whimsical. Once again, the author’s staccato rhymes leapfrog unexpectedly from one idea to the next, almost like a free-association game Publishers Weekly

Back in 2012 I talked about another book by Laura Purdie Salas - Book Speak.  Here is a page from A Rock Can be.

Image Source Lerner https://lernerbooks.com/shop/show/13442