Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Year in Review

2019 Books I loved reading!

This is my final post for 2019. I thought I would review the books I have talked about and list my favourites from each month. This year I blogged 272 books and I probably read around 600 or even more. I read new titles, older books which are possibly out of print, picture books, early chapter books (I constantly hunt for these), middle grade and senior primary novels. I especially love to read books from around the world alongside books published here. We are so lucky here in Australia to have access to books from USA, UK, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and also books which somehow by luck or design are translated into English. My goal for 2020 is to reach 2000 reviews (2008-2020). Not sure if I will get there but I plan to try.

I am so happy to list a book from South Africa - we don't see enough of these here in Australia. A Good Day for Climbing Trees by Jaco Jacobs was such a delightful surprise. A story about activism but also a story about loss told with poignancy.

How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons is a book from the US for mature readers. The setting is 1944 but this is an important story for our present times.

In March I read Sonam and the Silence by Eddie Ayres. I still puzzle and fume as to why the CBCA did not short list this book for our Australian Picture book award. In March I also enjoyed Raising Readers by Megan Daley - the perfect gift for new parents and essential reading for all teachers.

I have read Time stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye three times in 2001, 2012 and again this year.  It seems impossible to have a top 5 or 10 or 50 but Time Stops for No Mouse belongs at the top of any list of books for Middle Grade readers.

Sorry I cannot list just one book. I adored these three - The Little Wave by Pip Harry; Boot: Small Robot big Adventure by Shane Hegarty ; and Pie in the Sky by Remi Lai.

This is a perfect Australian Middle Grade novel and a book that is sure to be short listed for our CBCA awards - Vincent and the Grandest Hotel on Earth by Lisa Nicol. I long to stay at this hotel!

Another month with some wonderful titles but I am going to list Detention by Tristan Bancks. Scenes from this book still linger with me.

I cannot pick one book for August - I just cannot do this. In August I read No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton; The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (possibly my book of the year); and The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballerstros.

This was the month I read Beverly Right Here by Kate DiCamillo which I loved and Teacher by Gabi Stroud which moved me to tears but I am going to list a picture book as my favourite of the month - Fly by Jess McGeachin.

My pick for October is a beautiful Australian picture book Mallee Sky by Jodi Toering illustrated by Tannya Harricks.

I read some wonderful books in November but the stand out title is The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth.

My days were filled with Christmas books galore but by far my favourite was a older book that I revisited - The View from the 32nd Floor by Emma Cameron.

Happy Reading
Happy New Year
Hope to "see you" in 2020 
when I will share 
more wonderful books

Monday, December 30, 2019

Pirate Boy of Sydney Town by Jackie French

Jackie French writes the best historical stories because she is able to seamlessly blend huge amounts of research into her stories. Books like Tom Appleby Convict boy, for example, never feel like a history lesson and yet these books are packed full of so much history. If you love historical fiction I highly recommend books by Jackie French but these books are also perfect for anyone who is curious about our early Australian history.

Ebeneezer (Ben) Huntsmore lives a comfortable life on his English estate called Badger's Hill but his known world is turned upside down when his father unexpectedly arrives and declares Ben and his mother must now travel to the distant colony of NSW - specifically to Port Jackson. 

The voyage is terrible and Ben's mother, along with many others, succumbs to typhoid. His father has taken a human cargo of convicts on this voyage. It seems impossible that any of these poor wretches could possibly have survived.  Ben opens the hatch and one convict crawls out. Others have survived but his father closes the hatch before Ben can can free them. The convict who crawls out is called Higgins. He is a cunning survivor.

Mr Huntsmore is one of those men who is always looking for the next scam, the next 'easy' way to get rich quick. His latest plan is to attack Dutch ships off the coast of Western Australia and plunder them for gold.

Ben is not sure he wants to join his father but perhaps he has no choice.  Also on board their ship, called Golden Girl, is a native man called Guwara. These three, Ben, the convict now manservant Higgins and Guwara form an unlikely allegiance but later this develops into the strongest bonds of friendship after the sailors on the Golden Girl mutiny and Mr Huntsmore is killed.

This is a powerful adventure story. All your senses will be on high alert as you read about the smell of half dead convicts held below ship, the desperate thirst as Ben and his companions try to survive in the bush and you will experience the taste of strange foods such as hoppers (kangaroos) and even emu and emu eggs.

Here is a set of excellent thematic teaching ideas from the publisher Harper Collins. You can also read a chapter sample.

One interesting extra in Pirate Boy of Sydney Town is the way Jackie French includes references to previous books such as Nanberry and Tom Appleby.

Complex and confronting at times but with redeeming hopefulness, courage, unexpected friendship and loyalty and the perfect illustration that ‘class’ does not maketh the individual, this is a wonderful study of human nature at its best as well as its worst. Just so Stories

This is a scintillating read from Australia’s most prolific writer, Jackie French. The novel is fiction, based on real events. It is full of vivid scenes filled with swashbuckling action, tension and twists and turns, and laced with romantic innuendo. Kids' Book Review

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sick Bay by Nova Weetman

"Sick bay is about the size of a child's bedroom. There's a single bed that nobody ever wants to lie on because it's hard to imagine the sheets are changed very often and what if the kid who used it before you had gastro and vomited on the pillows? And there's a pair of armchairs that are too brightly covered in red-and-yellow-patterned vinyl, like they've been stolen from the children's hospital where all the furniture is primary coloured to lift the mood of the patients."

Sick bay is where Meg feels safe. She retreats there when things get tough at school. The office lady is kind and without any discussion allows Meg to stay in the sick bay room. The office lady also gives food to Meg, again without any discussion or interrogation. It is clear Meg needs safety and food but why?  Riley also ends up in sick bay but it is the last place she wants to be. Riley has diabetes but what Riley wants is to fit in - to feel "normal".

Meg and Riley are the alternating voices in this book. Each girl has issues to deal with. Meg's mum has withdrawn from life following the death of her husband. There is no money for food and Meg now wears slippers to school because there is also no money for new shoes. Riley is trying to fit in at this new school. She needs her new group of "friends" to accept her and to perhaps understand some of the difficulties and constraints of living with diabetes. Issues her mother will not let her forget.

The life struggles for these two Grade Six girls are very real but at the heart of this book is the need for friendship. I read Sick Bay in one sitting because I was so desperately hoping Nova Weetman would find a way for Meg and Riley to become friends. At times I thought this was impossible especially when Riley is so terribly cruel to Meg.

"Oh look, Riley, I was right. It is Slipper Girl. How you doing, SG?'
I've been wearing slippers for over a week now, although until Riley commented on them in the locker area last week, the rest of grade six seemed not to have noticed. She must have told Lina about the nickname. I knew it was only a matter of time. 
Riley's broken the allegiance rule of Sick Bay, and it makes my shoulders tense up, so I focus on Lina. 'I faring somewhat better than you are, I'd say.' ... Lina thrives on fear. She's like a tiger patrolling the schoolyard, sniffing out prey."

This is also a book that celebrates courage. The most powerful scenes in this book come during the Birthday pool party which Lina hosts at a posh hotel. Riley wants to attend but eating quantities of junk food and more importantly, taking a swim in the hotel pool, could be life threatening for her.

There were two aspects of this book that I really appreciated. Firstly, anyone reading this book will learn a lot about diabetes but at no time did it feel as though Nova Weetman had this as her agenda. It is estimated 1 in every 430-530 children under 19 have Type 1 diabetes. I know I have taught at least four children over my 30+ years in various schools although none had it quite as severely has Meg. The second 'topic' in this book is depression and anxiety. Again these topics are handled sensitively and in the context of the story.

Here are an excellent set of detailed teachers notes from the Publisher Website.

I remember enjoying The Secrets we keep also by Nova Weetman which also explores the issue of mental illness in a parent.  I would follow Sick Bay with Wish upon a Unicorn by Karen Hesse, Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.

I am going to make one of my predictions that Sick Bay will be nominated for our CBCA awards in 2020 and I am fairly sure it will also make the final six on the short list. Yes it is THAT good! This book is perfect for Grade Six students, especially girls, as they navigate the end of Primary school and work through the issues of good and bad friendships.

Click on these review quotes for more plot details.

The writing is superb, alternating between each girl’s point of view, drawing you in as more and more of their lives and challenges are revealed. StoryLinks

 An uplifting, multi layered story that will resonate with readers and stay with them long after the last page is read. Reading Time

The plot is gritty, complex and so, so real. This is the kind of book kids can really see themselves in. They will connect with the struggles, understand the challenges and relate to the characters on a deep, deep level.  Kids Book Review

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Mystery at Stormy Point by Tracey Corderoy

Horse riding fans will adore the early chapters of The Mystery at Stormy Point. Bryony is completing in the Three Coves Gymkhana. She has her dream horse called Red and some good, horse loving, friends in her team.

"Red stood very well as Bryony got him ready to be bathed. First, she picked out any bits in his hoofs, then curry-combed and dandy-brushed his coat to get out any mud. She also used a wide-toothed mane comb on his mane and tail. 
'Oh and we mustn't forget your little star,' she said, finally drawing the dandy brush over the small white star between Red's eyes. Red breathed out and his warm breath on the back of her hand made Bryony's heart melt. She closed her eyes wanting to remember this moment for ever."

There is a lighthouse in the town but it has been empty for many years. One day Bryony sees a light coming from the lighthouse and later she meets a lady called Lavender. Some developers have plans to change the lighthouse into a resort. This may mean the lighthouse itself is demolished. Lavender Jones lived in the Stormy Point lighthouse as a child. She is sure her late father is still the owner but any papers that can prove this have long ago been lost.

Bryony now has two missions. She wants to win the gymkhana and save the lighthouse. However, Bryony has a serious rival - a girl called Georgina and it is Georgina's father who seems to be behind the plans to remodel the lighthouse. Perhaps he has the papers that can prove the true ownership.

You may have guessed I picked up this book because I saw a lighthouse on the cover. I adore lighthouses but I have to say the lighthouse itself is not the main feature of the plot. This is really a book for horse riding fans and for children who enjoy a light mystery story with a determined hero - Bryony.

The Mystery at Stormy Point is the second book in the series Seaview Stables Adventures but I am happy to report The Mystery at Stormy Point can stand alone. There are three books in the series so far.

Take a look at Tracey's web site. I have already talked about Shifty McGifty and Just Right for Two on this blog.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Summer Time by Antonia Presenti and Hilary Bell

It is summer here in Australia so it seems this is the perfect time to talk about the new book from Antonia Presenti and Hilary Bell.  I loved their previous books - Alphabetical Sydney and Numerical Street.

Here are a few quotes from Summer time. If you live in Australia I am sure you will relate to these scenes.

Magpie prepares for her last swoop of spring,
A moment that fills you with dread:
Black-and-white blur and the crack of a beak,
She narrowly misses your head.

Light through the breeze blocks, the smell of shampoo,
Goggles that someone forgot.
It always takes AGES to figure it out:
The water will never get hot.

I first heard about this book at a CBCA event. I didn't know the title but I knew I wanted to read this book especially because of the ice cream page.

With out horrendous bushfires this year this page is especially poignant:

Over a WEEKEND the bush turns to black,
Hazy with cinders and soot.
Scarred ashen sandstone and charred spotted gums;
Burnt seedpods crunch underfoot.

A warm and inviting book for reading with young children (and for those who will be made nostalgic for their own childhood summers). Dictionary of Sydney

This book, along with the first two, are prefect gifts for Australian friends living overseas and for nostalgic adults who will be sure to appreciate the beautiful art work in these books. I especially love the colour palette used in Summer Time of lime green, dusty pink and aqua.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Flight of the Phoenix by R.L. LaFevers illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Nathaniel is summoned to the lawyer's office. His parents have been missing for three years and so now they are declared dead and it is time to read the will.  Nathaniel has been cared for by Miss Lumpton. The lawyer explains she will receive a 'tidy sum' and with that news she heads off out the door. Now Nathaniel truly is alone. Well not quite. He has one relative - Phil A. Fludd.  The lawyer puts Nathaniel on the train and he heads off alone. He has no idea so many surprises are in store. Phil A Fludd is a lady called Philomena. She is a Fludd and the Fludd family have a long history of exploration of the planet. Phil is also an aviatrix and within one day of his arrival Nathaniel finds himself on board a tiny plane flying off to Arabia to see the Phoenix. This is an event that only happens every five hundred years

"As the sun sets on the Phoenix's five hundredth birthday, it returns to its place of birth and builds a funeral pyre. Amid the rays of the setting sun, it sets itself on fire, burning until it is reduce to a pile of ash. The secret to a phoenix hatching is to be sure the pile of ash never grows cold."

Nathaniel has to fly across the world with Phil, ride a camel, cope with a new friend who is a Gremlin called Greasle. When they arrive Phil is taken away by the Bedouins and so Nathaniel has to tend the phoenix by himself.

My favourite scene is when Nathaniel has to repair the plane while it is in flight:

"Very glad for the rope that anchored him to the plane, Nate stood up. Struggling to keep his balance, he crawled out of the cockpit and lowered his feet over the side until they touched the wing. Gripping the side of the plane for dear life, he shuffled his feet along the wing, inching closer to the propeller."

I loved all the loose threads in this first installment. There is the dodo Cornelius, the mystery of the missing parents who I like to imagine are not really dead, there's the 'black sheep' of the family who may be the mysterious thief who tried to steal the The Book of Beasts and of course there are sure to be more beasts to discover.

Read more plot details by clicking these review comments:

Playing freely with historical detail and using traditions of English boys’ adventure stories and colonial clich├ęs about Bedouin culture, this American author has crafted an exciting tale. Straightforward sentences, chronological narrative, short chapters and Murphy’s plentiful black-and-white illustrations make this appropriate for middle-grade readers looking for a series to grow with.  Kirkus

La Fever does a graceful job of keeping the story hovering around a third grade reading level while sprinkling historical, mythical and adventurous details here and there along with some great vocabulary.  Books4YourKids

I find it really exciting when a book series has its own web site. The pages for the Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist series are fabulous. So far there are four books in this series. There is also a Wikipedia entry.  I was assisting with the stocktake (inventory) in the library of a friend when I spied this book. I have talked about Kelly Murphy in previous posts. I adore this cover, I recognised Kelly's art and so I was sure this would be a terrific book - and I was right! On Kelly's page you can see some illustrations from this book and on  R.L. LaFevers (Robin Lorraine) own web site you can read an extract from each book.

This series are perfect for confident readers from Grade 2 and up. The first paperback was published in 2011 so if this series sounds appealing I suggest you rush out and order them today - books do seem to go out of print so quickly.  It would be good to follow this series by reading The Doldrums. These books are for older children but would make a terrific family or class read aloud.

Aspects of this story also made me think about one of my favourite book series which begins with Time Stops for no Mouse. This book is also not at the same level as the Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist series but I highly recommend it as a brilliant read aloud.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas in Australia - a selection of picture books

It is Christmas Day. My card collection this year, as always, contain images of winter scenes with snow and fur trees. Our Australian Christmas is during Summer so our traditions and weather are very different from other parts of the world.

Christmas Where the Gum Trees Grow

From England came our Christmas fare
They even said what Santa should wear
But here down under for summer's cool
Santa should dip in a swimming pool

Santa rides in a sleigh on snow
But down here where the gum trees grow
Santa should wear some water skis
And glide around Australia with ease

To ride 'round the bush where it's often dry
To cart all the presents piled up high
A red-nosed reindeer would never do
Santa should jump on a kangaroo.

Christmas where the gum trees grow
There is no frost and there is no snow
Christmas in Australia's hot
Cold and frosty is what it's not
When the bloom of the jacaranda tree is here
Christmas time is near.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Nativity picture books

Image Source and knitting pattern here

Here are five books that retell the Nativity story:

The Nativity (1986) illustrated by Julie Vivas Text 
adapted by Ron Lander

Things you need to know:
This is an Australian book illustrated by our wonderful Julie Vivas illustrator of Possum Magic. The text is very close to the words used in the bible. This book is still available. Here is a quote:

"Fear not Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. Thou shall bring forth a son and call his name Jesus."   "It came to pass that Caesar Augustus decreed that all the world should be taxed, everyone to his own city."

In contrast with the formal language of the text, the illustrations are whimsical and colourful. Julie Vivas uses a palette of pale water colours which at times look like rainbows.

Here is a quote from the Kirkus Star review :  "Vivas' delicate, sure watercolors are a reminder that the humbleness of these people made the event more extraordinary—that the story is not only about the long ago and far away but about people with familiar joy s and troubles."

The ABC book of Christmas (2009) Mark Macleod
Illustrations by: Stephen Michael King; Ann James; Wayne Harris; Gaye Chapman; Bettina Guthridge; Cheryl Orsini; Sally Rippin; Gregory Rogers; Anna Walker; Judith Rossell, Sally Heinrich; and Caroline Mageri

Things you need to know:
This is an Australian book and it is still in print. The bible text has been adapted by Mark Macleod and it has a less formal style than the previous book.  Here are some text quotes:

"Because she had been promised such a gift, Mary could hardly stop smiling."
"When they arrived there were so many other travellers they could not find a place to stay. At last, an innkeeper offered them a stable to sleep in. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but Mary was exhausted."

Every double spread in this book features the work of a different illustrator.  I especially love the pages by Stephen Michael King and Gaye Chapman.

The First Christmas (1987) by Marcia Williams

Things you need to know:
This is a book best shared with just one or two children. The illustrations are perfect but too small to share with a large group. Sadly this book is out of print but I am sure it can be found in many public and school libraries.  Marcia Williams is a UK illustrator. Here is a text sample:

"Then Joseph, who was a carpenter, made a crib and wooden toys for Jesus. Mary sewed swaddling clothes and blankets. Soon all was ready for the birth. But Jesus was not to be born at home."

The Nativity (2006) retold by Leena Lane illustrated by Anne Wilson

Things you need to know
This is an Australian book (the illustrator is from UK). It is now out of print. The stand out feature of this book are the beautiful collage illustrations.

The text is easy to read:

"Mary's baby was born that night. Mary held her first-born son close to her warm body. He looked small and precious, and so helpless. Yet, this was God's own son. He was going to do great things."

How many miles to Bethlehem? by Kevin Crossley-Holland illustrated by Peter Malone

Things you need to know:
This book is now sadly out of print. Kevin Crossley-Holland is a famous UK author with titles such as Arthur: the seeing stone.
Kirkus gave this book a star review and said "Within just a few lines of text, each character’s distinctive voice provides a personal introduction and some element of the story that skillfully advances the plot in an unbroken dramatic arc toward a compelling concluding page that could stand alone as a poem of faith. Opulent paintings in a spectrum of jewel tones advance the dramatic quality, often through compositions that seem to capture individual characters or scenes in a play. Thoughtful design elements include a variety of perspectives and illustration size and striking midnight-blue endpapers spangled with stars and one floating feather."

The text is presented by each character in turn:
"I am the innkeeper. 'Sorry Joseph! Every space is taken and there's nothing left to eat - I'm even out of figs and grapes. ... I tell you what. Here's a light! Your Mary can share a stall with my old ox."

Bonus book - I don't own this one by I adore the paper engineering of Robert Sabuda. If you can find this book I am sure it would be a good addition to any collection of Christmas books.