Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea illustrated by Lane Smith

Drywater Gulch had a toad problem. 
Not the hop-down-your-britches kind of toad. 
Not the croaking-all-night kind of toad. 
The never-say-thank-you outlaw kind of toad.

I just love the word 'gulch'.  I have talked about this previously. A gulch is deep, narrow, steep sided ravine. In this book we are truly in cowboy country.

This book also has such a great cast of characters.
The Toad Brothers - who would "steal your gold, kiss your cattle, and insult your chili. Hootin', hollarin', and cussin' all the while."
The Mayor with the perfect name Mayor McMuffin
Ryan, the hero and new sheriff who rides into town (slowly) on his tortoise.

Can you handle a shooting iron?
Ride a horse?
Know any rope tricks?
Stay up past eight?

Ryan does, however, know a lot about dinosaurs.

When the bank is robbed Ryan knows the culprit is T-Rex. When the stagecoach is robbed, Ryan can see a Velocripator at work. The Toad Brother are outraged. They want credit for their crimes. Ryan, the Sheriff, explains he needs to put the criminal dinosaurs in jail.

"The Toads fought their way through the door of the jail, slamming it shut behind them. 'HA! You can blow them dinersores out your nose, Sheriff, this here jail of full up of real bonafide criminals.!"

Ryan has solved the problem, the gang are now in jail and everyone is happy. The question is did Ryan really know what he was doing? Did he understand reverse psychology at the tender age of seven and what adventures await his attention over the horizon?

Did you notice the word dinersores.  It is one of many delicious example of word play in this book.

Every school library should have picture books for older students. Some I especially love are Mr Maxwell's Mouse, Grandad's Gifts by Paul Jennings and The Stranger. You can see my full list by clicking the subject link on my sidebar and here in my Pinterest collection. Here is a list with other ideas of picture books for older kids and adults too.

You can see nearly all of the illustrations from this book on the publisher web site.

This is a book from 2014 but it is a new discovery for me. I found it in my local public library and knowing other wonderful books by Lane Smith I was keen to read this one.  Take the time to read this interview with Bob Shea and Lane Smith - it is so funny just like this hilarious picture book. Take a look at this review on Nerdy Book Club.

Coming from Australia I am not sure I can do the right accent needed when you read this book aloud. Luckily I found a video. Take a look and a listen here to this piece by Storybook Theater. It is just perfect.  You could also use this book for a discussion about visual literacy concepts. There are some excellent ideas about this in Horn Book.

A crowd-pleasin’ knee-slapper that’ll have ’em rolling in the aisles, yessirree. Kirkus Star Review

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads is extraordinary in tone, humor, slang and physical beauty, and surely belongs on any Caldecott short list.  It is a picture book masterpiece. Sam Juliano Wonders in the Dark

A great read aloud, this picture book is silliness through and through with a western twang. Waking Brain Cells

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I am not going to retell the plot of this book. If you click the review links above you can read them for yourself.  Instead here are my random thoughts about this book - a book I loved reading.

This book made me think of a series of threads which might begin as separate strands. Gradually a skilled person joins them together in a pattern. One thread, however, is short and disappears into the design very early. Another thread is totally wrong. It is the wrong texture, wrong colour and feels rough and damaged. It cannot be part of the pattern and yet it is now tangled and will be difficult to remove from the final design. One thread also feels wrong but by the time this weaving it finished the maker sees that it is just perfect adding an important dimension to the whole effect.

"The world is made of patterns. The rings of a tree. The raindrops on the dusty ground. The path the sun follows morning to dusk." (Chapter 65)

When you read this book I hope my thread analogy makes sense. To start you off the Calico Cat is the short thread.

Major Characters:
Calico Cat - her life is short but she is essential to the rescue of Ranger
Her twin kittens Sabine and the aptly named Puck
An old hound dog called Ranger
The man named Gar Face whose life is fueled by revenge and hate. "Hatred, like sweat, coated his skin. ... Do not cross his angry path. Do not."
Grandmother Moccasin the old snake trapped for a thousand years "a creature even older than the forest itself, older than the creek, the last of her kind."
The Alligator King - he is patiently waiting for the man to make a mistake.

I adore all the references to trees in this book. "Trees are the keepers of stories." Here are some which I love the sound of. Coming from Australia nearly all are unfamiliar to me. As Elizabeth Bird says through this beautiful writing:

Loblolly Pine
Water Oaks
Longleaf Pine
Weeping Willow

Kathi Appelt is also so skilled with her words on the actions of cats.
Sabine sees her brother step into the sun.  "She had awakened just in time to see her brother step into the sun's dim light, see him roll onto his back, see the beams of sun float onto his tummy. She had seen him smile up at the lovely light, seen his coat glow in the shimmery gold."

Puck is given a freshly killed mouse by the hawk. "Even though the mouse was already dead, he decided to kill it again, just to make sure. So he fluffed up his fur as much as he could ... arched his back to its full kitten height, and pounced on the lifeless body with all four paws. He battered it from side to side and tossed it into the air."

Sabine : "Soon she was completely absorbed in her personal bath, concentrating fully on licking every strand of her silver fur. She cleaned her paws, including between her toes. She reached over and licked her narrow back. She tucked her head and cleaned her soft-as-velvet belly. And every few minutes, she stopped and licked Ranger's long ears. He loved it when she did that."

One aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was all the tension Kathi Appelt created. I knew it would all be resolved and I could hardly wait to find out how.  One tiny example is when Puck finds himself on the wrong side of the river. His fur is coated with mud which hardens in the sun. Finally after many adventures Puck falls into the river. He can swim. He is okay. He sadly finds he is still on the wrong side of the river. "The only good thing to come out of his experiment in sailing was this: The cold water had loosened the last of the old mud, and his coat, though completely wet, was now completely clean."

I volunteer in a small library at a city Children's Hospital and last week I discovered I am allowed to borrow their books. I spied The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and I remembered reading her book Keeper. I am late in my discovery of The Underneath. It was first published in 2008 and won a Newbery Honor but I am very happy to report it is still available. One important point - make sure you read this book yourself first before giving to a young reader. As you can see from my set of labels it is violent and some scenes with Gar Face and his treatment of Ranger and the kittens are extremely cruel. I would suggest this book is for readers aged 10+. You can listen to part of Chapter one here.  Read this review for more story details and a different perspective. Here is the trailer.

Here is a very detailed review by Middle Grade Ninja. I was interested to read the way his review likens the story line to juggling plates. Here is an excellent interview by Uma Krishnaswami author of The Book Uncle and me.

The Underneath, as I said, is a violent story but it is also a love story and a story about loyalty, perseverance and promises. I would follow or pair this with Sounder by William H Armstrong, Shiloh by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls and for a book with a similar setting look for Chomp by Carl Hiaasen or Skink no surrender also by Carl Hiaasen. The evil of Gar Face reminded me of Zozo from Ollie's Odyssey.

Here is one more beautiful phrase from this book:
"And then, as if the lightning were a zipper in the clouds, it opened them up and let the water out. Buckets and buckets of cold rain, sheets of it. Rain that had traveled for thousands of miles."

Sunday, January 20, 2019

My Lazy Cat by Christine Roussey

What did you do today?

I think picture book authors and illustrators walk a fine line when they create a picture book with "a message". This is not a new trend but the topic of mindfulness is new and so many picture books have jumped on this popular bandwagon. I do agree we all need to slow down, we all need to stop and see the tiny things around us, we all need moments of stillness but I don't need a picture book that lectures me, or a child, about this.

My Lazy Cat works because, for me, the message (I guess there is one) is delivered with humour. This book truly made me smile.

I should have known something was up with this little girl when I read:

"I don't have a minute to waste. I have judo, swimming, yoga, painting, and pottery. Knitting, soccer and biking with my friends. I have a full day and I can't be late."

Boomer the cat is huge. His days are slow.

He's a slug,
a sloth,
a slacker.
A lounger,
a loafer,
a lazybones.
He snoozes and slumbers, dozes and drowses. No one does it better.

Luckily one day the little girl is forced to slow down and see the world as Boomer sees it. She trips over him in her rush and this is where the story becomes interesting or could lead to an interesting discussion. How will she react? Anger, impatience, frustration or perhaps she can just laugh?

My favourite page shows them both lying on the grass watching the clouds. I would be great to compare this with the illustrations by Kazuo Niizaka from the book Clouds by Peggy Blakeley.

I picked this book out in the public library the other day because it is a translated book. It was originally written in French with the title 'Mon Chat Boudin'.

Christine Roussey is the illustrator of a number of very special books especially the series by Jo Witek. You can see some below. I will try to find My Stinky Dog, which looks like a companion volume to My Lazy Cat, and share it with you here soon.

Kirkus says My Lazy Cat "presents a portrait of a friendship and a celebration of slowing down. Her goofy, bright illustrations are childlike in their simplicity but full of details to search through during a quiet read."

Kids' Book Review says: "The message Roussey gives readers in her story My Lazy Cat is profound. She reminds us of the importance of making time in our over busy lives to have fun doing 'lazy things' with the ones that we love. During this slow time we are able to be more mindful about our environment and what our body and soul really needs."

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube

There are lots of books about adding a puppy or dog to a family and the joy that can bring. Some children, and adults, however, are afraid of dogs. Perhaps because of a previous incident or just because dogs can seem large and boisterous.

Hannah is afraid.

"Every day after school, Hannah's papa picked her up at the bus stop. And every day after school, Sugar was at the bus stop waiting for Violet P. Every day after school, Mrs P. asked Hannah if she wanted to pet Sugar. And every day after school Hannah said, 'No, thank you."

The illustrations show how this scene is repeated day after day, season after season. One day, though, Sugar goes missing. Everyone looks everywhere but as night falls Sugar is not found. Hannah thinks about this situation from Sugar's point of view. She knows Sugar will be sad and hungry. As she sits outside she hears a small sound. She follows it and finds poor Sugar's lead has become entangled on some branches. This is a huge moment for Hannah. What will she do? She is terrified of Sugar but right now Sugar needs her help.

Image source: https://tinyurl.com/yc8s7w28

Take a look at this page - there is so much to discuss here if you are talking about the power of an image.

You can see more of the illustrations from Hannah and Sugar and read an interview with the author here. In this article by Seven Impossible things before Breakfast Berube shares her preliminary sketches. In 2017 Hannah and Sugar was short listed for the Klaus Flugge Prize. She inside Kate Berube's studio. You can even learn a song after reading this book. While they have some reservations about the story line it is also interesting to read the Kirkus review.

You can see some of the awards given to this book on the author web site. I love the idea of pairing books. Misty by Christine Dencer would be the perfect partner for Hannah and Sugar.  I also found a list of books which encourage children to be brave.

Exciting News! A book for all ages - Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

One of the best books I read last year was Wishtree by Katherine Applegate.  I am excited to say the publishers have now released an adult edition. It is exactly the same book just with a different cover.

You can read an extract here. Wishtree has been on the New York Times best seller list for 57 weeks. YES I just said 57 weeks! Read some review quotes here.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle

"I wanted to come down and speak to you girls. 
I know what you're doing. ... I give my raft to you."

I know this is an odd way to begin my review but this book has 240 pages and for 239 pages I was entranced. Then I reached the last page and well, I don’t like to say this, but I felt confused. Perhaps I need to read the final chapters again.

Ms Yingling said: “The ending was a bit odd. It didn’t really wrap things up in any successful way. I don’t like it when I get to the end of a book and expect there to be more pages when there aren’t.”

Putting the ending to one side I absolutely loved the atmosphere created by Janet Taylor Lisle. I felt as though I was on this pond, watching Jessie and her new friend Terri, repairing their raft and lazing in the sunshine. 

Jessie, Jonathan and Julia are staying in an old rundown cottage for the summer. Their father Richard Kettle has memories of his summer job and summer friendships in this New England beach side town. Mum has stayed behind in Pittsburgh working hard in her legal practice.

The scene and long summer should mean lazy days and easy living but we learn early in the story this town has a past and this past continues to have a devastating impact on the present.

Many decades ago, when Miss Henrietta was a small girl, two men arrived late one night. They entered the old and grand family home near the pond intent on robbery and murder. Henrietta is the only living witness to this horror. The wrong man is accused. This man languished in jail for many years and eventually he dies there. He is Terri's grandfather, Eddie Carr, and the town has never forgotten or forgiven.

Henrietta has returned to the old home. She is now very elderly, frail and dependent on others. To her carers it seems her mind is muddled but she remembers every tiny detail of the events leading up to the murder of her parents. She also remembers her happy times rafting on the pond when she was a child. She is delighted when she spies Jessie and Terri on her raft. It needs repairs but that is not a problem. Her father's workshop still has all the tools and lumber the girls will need.

Jessie knows her friend Terri is connected with the murder from long ago and she wants to believe her grandfather is innocent. Terri's mother has died, and her father, Mitch Carr, is now very violent and often drunk. Life is so hard for Terri. Jessie wants to help but has no idea how. Then there is a fire. Henrietta's workshop and garage burn down and suspicion once again falls on the Carr family. Jessie needs to be sure there is justice for her friend and justice for the events of the past.

Here are some examples of the wonderful descriptions by Janet Taylor Lisle:

Arriving at the holiday cottage:  "They lugged in duffels, scrubbed out the gangrenous fridge, sponged off the counters, and emptied drawers littered with mouse droppings."

Julia: "was beautiful, everyone said so. She had a heart-shaped face, unblemished skin, and chocolate-brown eyes with thick brown lashes that curled up naturally at the ends. She would never in her life need a drop of mascara."

Terri "She could be quiet. Sometimes she didn't speak for an hour or more. She kept apart during these spells. She'd walk away and sit by herself, fingering the name charm on her throat and looking at the pond."

The setting of this book reminded me of The small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.  I would follow this book with Half a Chance and Return to Gone-away.

Here is an interview with the author Janet Taylor Lisle. I plan to hunt out more of her books very soon. Read this review for more plot details. Listen to part of Chapter One here. Quicksand Pond began as a short story by Janet Taylor Lisle. My copy of this book also included a set of discussion questions.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Good day for Climbing Trees by Jaco Jacobs

I have said this in the past but I need to say it again. I love the discovery of books translated into English. The process is so serendipitous. Just think about the way these books pass through so many gate keepers before reaching a different language audience.

A good day for Climbing Trees was originally written in Afrikaans (see covers below). The English translation is by Kobus Glendenhuys. I don’t remember where is saw this book mentioned but I had it on my to read list and recently I added it to a book order. I am so glad I did.

Leila is an activist. She wants to save a tree in the local park. Manus, who feels invisible in his family, is drawn into her passion. Both of them sit in the tree refusing to move when the council bulldozers arrive. Manus is patient with Leila but her true reasons for wanting to save this tree seem hard to unravel. Leilia’s Mum is supportive but Leila barely acknowledges her.  The bowling club caretaker is kind, he brings coffee and drinks and keeps his eye on them although we don't discover why until the final scene. Mrs Merriman, who lives nearby is also very supportive. She believes people should fight for important causes such as saving this tree. Then the media and local greenies get involved and things begin to go badly wrong.

This book will surprise you. It is packed with real emotion, real honesty and two very real kids.  Take a look at the trailer. This would be a terrific book to use with a middle grade class studying government. Here are some teacher notes.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove by James Moloney

2018 marked the 40th Anniversary of A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove (I am a bit late) and reading it this week I am happy to say it has totally stood the test of time. A year ago I was helping a friend in her Primary School library. We were culling the older books when I saw this one. It is a Young Adult title and so, even though it is an important and terrific book, I knew we had to move it out of her library. I bought it home to read.

Last week someone was talking about Displaced Person by Lee Harding. This book was published at about the same time and it won the CBCA Book of the Year in 1980 and I still had my old copy which I then read. Looking along my shelf I spied A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove.

I read A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove in just one sitting. Yes it it that good. In this book you will find strong characters, a wonderful setting and a powerful emotional journey.

Carl, Harley and older sister Sarah have the same mum but different dads. Sarah is often left alone looking after the younger boys when mum takes off for a week or two but this time mum is gone and so is Sarah. Carl, aged 16, and his brother Harley aged 9 are sent to live with Aunt Beryl. She is not welcoming and when people in the town learn the boys carry their mum's surname of Matt they are treated with open hostility. Carl desperately misses his mother. He does not know why everyone despises him. He has to take care of Harley and that is not easy because Harley is running wild - shoplifting and worse.

Beryl tells Carl he has to earn money to support the family. He finds work as a deck hand on a barge which travels to Wiseman's Cove. Joy and Skip, owners of the barge, have their own sadness and reasons to dislike anyone with the name Matt but they give him a chance and Carl's hard work and problem solving make a huge difference to their profits but the old wounds go deep and there are many things that still need to be resolved.

If you can find a copy of A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove it would make a great Summer read for 12+.

You can read more plot details (spoiler alert) in this Wikipedia entry.

A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove won the CBCA Book of the Year in 1997. You can listen to an audio sample here.  You might find other books by James Maloney in a school library. He has a huge range of books from Aussie Nibbles, Aussie Bites, Aussie Chomps up to other Young Adult titles. I loved his middle grade titles - Swashbuckler and The Disappearing Act.

I was pleased to read A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove was one of Megan Daley's favourite books when she was a teenager. Here is a set of very detailed teachers notes. In an interview with James Maloney he lists a few of the books that influenced him - some of these are certainly favourites of mine - Homecoming Cynthia Voigt, Missing May Cynthia Rylant and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. Here is a more recent cover.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Great War Stories inspired by objects from the First World War

Each story, lovingly crafted, shows a different facet of war in the same way that each artifact reflects something different about the time. Kirkus Star review

This is a brilliant anthology of short stories about World War One penned by a range of talented authors from around the world such as Michael Morpurgo, Ursula Dubosarsky, Adele Geras, David Almond and Timothee de Frombelle. Every story has a different tone and perspective. All of the writing is outstanding.

I discovered this book when I read Captain Rosalie. Reading the publication details I saw a mention of this book - The Great War. A few weeks ago I purchased a copy and each day I have been reading one story from this collection of eleven.

The objects are fascinating.  I would like to know if the authors were given and object, if they had a choice of object of if perhaps each author 'found' an object themselves.

  • Victoria Cross - Captain Rosalie by Timothee de Frombelle
  • Princess Mary gift fund box - When they were needed most by Tracy Chevalier
  • Sheet Music - A Harlem Hellfighter and his horn by Tanya Lee Stone
  • The War Time Butter Dish - Maud's story by Adele Geras
  • Nose from a Zeppelin bomb - Don't call it glory by Marcus Selgwick
  • Brodie Helmet - Our Jacko by Michael Morpurgo
  • Verner's Pattern Compass - Another Kind of missing by AL Kennedy
  • Recruitment poster - The country you called Home by John Boyne
  • Soldier's writing case - A World that has no War in it by David Almond
  • French Toy Solider - Little Wars by Ursula Dubosarsky
  • School Magazine - Each Slow Dusk by Sheena Wilkinson

Apart from Captain Rosalie, which is my favourite short story from this collection, there were two stories that affected me deeply. The first is When they were Needed Most by Tracy Chevalier. Jack's mum is working to packing the tins which are Christmas presents from Princess Mary to soldiers on the front lines.

"Jack's mum prised opened the tin and removed a small envelope which she set on the table. Underneath, side by side and snug in the space, were two bright yellow packets: one of cigarettes, one of loose tobacco." There is also a small pencil and a card in the tin. When this tin is sent away one cigarette is missing.

You could link this story with Present from the Past.

The other story I enjoyed was Maud's Story by Adele Geras. I had no knowledge of  war time butter dishes which were made to encourage people to be economical with food. Propaganda on a dish!

You can listen to part of the second story Another Kind of Missing by AL Kennedy. Here is a video review by a US High School History Teacher. The illustrations in The Great War by Jim Kay are perfect. Take a look here for an example.


Kirkus Star review - Extraordinary
The Historical Novel SocietyThe stories are very diverse in scope, tone and treatment.
Kids ReadsThis unique anthology provides young readers with a personal window into the Great War and the people affected by it, and serves as an invaluable resource for families and teachers alike.

This book would make an excellent (even essential) addition to a High School library or as a gift to a mature Primary school student with an interest in history and war. Stories from the Great War is published by Walker books. Paperback and Hardcover editions are available. 
Here is hardback cover :

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black illustrated by Sara Acton

Look closely you can see the full title of this book is:
The Tales of Mr Walker - a hotel dog with a nose for adventure

A hotel dog?  In 2015 a dog called Mr Walker moved into the Park Hyatt Hotel. His original training was to be a Guide Dog but later it was decided "his larger than life personality was best suited to an ambassador role, where his affectionate nature would truly be able to shine."

There are four short stories in this book which would make a perfect family or class read-aloud. As the title suggests Mr Walker does have adventures:

Story One - Mr Walker at the Park
He is so excited to be going to a park with green grass, great smells and even other dogs. He doesn't find the park but he does make lots of new friends and begins to settle into his interesting life in the busy hotel.

Story Two -  Mr Walker and the Mystery Guest
A wealthy and very demanding woman arrives at the hotel as they prepare for an important function but for Mr Walker something does not smell quite right. Mr Walker needs to stop a possible

Story Three - Mr Walker and the Garden Surprise
Mr Walker has an important role in a surprise marriage proposal but of course things do not go as smoothly as everyone hopes and Mr Walker needs to get everyone to look up because something bad is happening on the hotel roof.

Story Four - Mr Walker finds a Home
Well we know he had a home already but by the end of this last installment he absolutely feels as though he belongs at the Park Hyatt Hotel.

Image source: https://www.cachegram.com/u/saraacton_illustration

The illustrations in this book are just perfect. Take a look at all the books illustrated by Sara Acton

If you are looking for other books about animals, especially dogs, Jess Black has an impressive set of titles. 

If you like the idea of living in a hotel you should look for the classic books about Eloise and her amazing life at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Another special series also based in a hotel are the Heartwood hotel books which feature a wonderful mouse called Mona.  You could also explore non fiction books about Guide Dogs such as this one by Diana Lawrenson. Since The Tales of Mr Walker was published in 2018 I am hoping it will be listed in our CBCA Notable titles which will be announced in late February. The Younger Readers section always needs books that appeal to children aged 6-8.