Sunday, September 15, 2019

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off toward Lake Clara."

"I'm glad you're here,' said Iola. But I worry about you. You're too young to be away from home - I know you are. Surely someone is looking for you. But you give me comfort, and I can't help it - I'm glad you're here."

Why did I love this book?

The kindness of strangers is a strong theme in this book and in the previous story Louisiana's Way Home. I love the simple acceptance by Iola that Beverly has come to stay, perhaps for a short time, and that for now Beverly needs kindness, friendship, food and a place to stay.

The comfort of food. Beverly does not like tuna but Iola makes her a sandwich "it tasted like fish, but it also tasted good. Iola had toasted the bread and melted cheese on top of the tuna, and the sandwich was warm in Beverly's hands."  I get a great sense of comfort from that word 'warm.'  "There was something about sitting at the tiny table in the tiny kitchen in the tiny trailer and having Iola slide a plate of food in front of her that made Beverly feel like a little kid might feel - happy, taken care of."

The raw emotions.  Beverly desperately misses her dog Buddy, She misses her friends especially Raymie. Beverly takes a photo from the owner of the fish shop, where she is working.
"She took the picture of happy Mr. Denby out of her pocket. 
Happy Mr. Denby and his happy wife and happy kids ... 
Photographs like this were a lie. 
They promised something impossible. 
People were terrible to other people. That was the truth. She wanted Buddy. 
She wished he were sitting next to her..."

The power of words. Someone takes her flip flops when she leaves them on the beach after her first day working in the fish restaurant. I just gasped at the awfulness of this. Beverly has to walk back to the trailer park barefoot. With the word 'fire' Kate DiCamillo tells you just how totally painful this walk is:
"She walked through the sand and up to the hot pavement and down the side of the A1A in her bare feet.  She turned off A1A and walked down the sea-shell drive of the Seahorse Court. Her feet felt like they were on fire."

Meeting new people and making friends. I love the relationships which unfold in this story. Iola reaches out to Beverly.  Iola doesn't ask questions about Beverly's past. She is happy to accept Beverly right here and now! Beverly reaches out to the little girl Vera who wants to ride the mechanical horse outside the store. She befriends Robbie the little boy at the beach and patiently builds sandcastles with him. Beverly is so good at reading people. She knows Elmer is a decent and kind person. She knows Jerome is bad news. She doesn't criticise Frankie even though it is clear her dreams of fame and fortune are probably never going to happen. She even has some understanding of Mr Denby and his deep sadness missing his daughters.

The discovery of things I did not know. Beverly buys wax lips in the store and meets the boy with the unfortunate name of Elmer. I didn't really know what wax lips were but I was able to make a guess

The structure of the story. The words in the phone box about the crooked little house by a crooked little sea are a gently recurring theme and they are so perfect:

In a crooked little house by a crooked little sea.

Beverly shows the graffiti to Elmer. "It was strange, almost painful, to hear someone else say the words. It was as if Elmer were reading something that had been written inside of her, carved into her."

The importance of community.  I loved the scene where Beverly buys $40 worth of raffle tickets so Iola can win the turkey - such kindness but with out schmaltz then of course they have to cook that turkey and invite everyone to share a delicious Christmas meal even though it is the middle of the year and so we return to the comfort of food.

Here are a few more thoughts. I don't know how she does it but when I read a Kate DiCamillo book I really hear the voices of the characters - with an American accent - think about this because I am reading this book here in Australia.

I just re-read the review of Raymie Nightingale by Betsy Bird for the School Library Journal. I have said this before but Betsy is so eloquent. She says everything I think but don't manage to say.

How lucky am I?  My local store Beachside Bookshop very generously gave me an Advanced Reader Copy of Beverly, Right Here the third and final in the series that began with Raymie Nightingale and continued with Louisiana's way Home. Beverly Right here will be available at the end of September.

There will be a three book box set available in December this year just in time for Christmas. If you have a keen reader in your home I highly recommend you add this set to their Christmas stocking. I have added it to my wishlist.

"And I think all three books are about the power of community - the grace of someone opening a door and welcoming you in, and maybe most of all, having the courage to walk through that door once it is open."  Kate DiCamillo (letter to the reader in Beverly, Right Here.)

This is a story about the possibility that life can make you laugh and life can give you friendship. This is a story about tiny bits of trust.  This is a story about a feeling down in your stomach that's a whole lot like the flutter of the wings of a bird that just might begin to stir and maybe even, glory be, rise inside you. A Book and a Hug

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

Hassan joins a new class. Hassan has come from Somalia. Hassan's new classroom is in England. Everything is difficult, confusing, and very strange:

"In his real home he had lessons out of doors from early in the morning until the sun got too hot at midday. Here he had to stay indoors except in the middle of the day, when he shivered outside in the damp playground."

"... he didn't understand anything that anyone said - only his name and 'hello' and toilet'."

"After lunch, which Hassan didn't eat, because he didn't know what it was, Miss Kelly gave the children big sheets of gritty grey paper ... she gave Hassan paintbrushes and a pot a water and showed him where all the colour were."

Hassan paints the colours of his home. It begins as a beautiful picture of his white house, extended family, farm animals, his precious cat and mimosa trees in the sunshine but then Hassan adds terrible details of guns and violence and death.  His teacher knows Hassan needs to talk about what he has experienced back in Somalia so she arranges for a translator. The next day Hassan explains his painting describing the "noise, the flames, the bullets and the awful smell of burning and blood."

On the first day when his mother and little sister picked him up from school Hassan says he has no painting to take home but on the second day he is able to paint again and this art takes pride of place in their English flat which had looked drab. The new painting is a happy one with bright colours showing his home in Somalia in happy times.  Looking around the room Hassan sees new hope through the colours - the maroon prayer mat, the green cushions, an orange table cloth, a pink dress for his sister and sunshine in the blue sky outside.

Reading this book is a profound emotional experience.  I have read this book over fifty times aloud and I cry every time. In UK schools this book is listed for the youngest students but I save it for our senior class of children aged 11+.  I don't often ask classes to vote for a favourite book but when I did this in the past - The Colour of Home often came out the winner. I was so happy in 2012 to meet Mary Hoffman in London. I told her how much I love to read this book to students in a suburban Australian primary school. Here is a set of questions used by a UK school with a Grade 2 class.

I was reading a book illustrated by Karin Littlewood this week and I remembered she illustrated one of my favourite books to read to our senior students - The Colour of Home. It seems I have not talked about this brilliant book here so today I decided to share this very important and beautifully told story with you.

A picture is worth a thousand words and, in this case, helps a young immigrant Somali boy make the transition into his new culture. Kirkus

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Horses in picture books

Illustration by Catherine Rayner. Read an interview here.

I am working with a young reading student at the moment and horse riding is her passion. She is experiencing difficulty with reading but when the text is about horses and competitions her reading greatly improves.  Here are a few of the books we have been reading together. 

You can see some older books here for example Pony Club by Gwenda Turner was published in 1998. Bertie at the Horse Show was published in 1996. Even though both of these books are over twenty years old they are perfect for a young horse lover. Perhaps this is another reason to think carefully before culling a library collection. The topic of horses is a perennial favourite with young children and books on this topic are always needed. For my student I needed books where the text is simple. I was happy to find these four books because they also have the most glorious illustrations. 

I have a Pinterest collection with other titles about riding, care of horses and of course children who love horses. You will also find some excellent titles in this collection by Megan Daley.

Read more about the inspiration behind this very beautiful book.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Lost Stone of Skycity by HM Waugh

Sunaya has a gift. She can sense danger and safety. She can 'read' people. She's had these skills for a long time but only now does she realise not everyone can do these things. Sunaya and her nephew (who is only slightly older than her) have been sent to remote mountain region in the bitter winter. Their people usually travel to this region in the summer but right now Sunaya's father wants to hide his six prized nanny gotals so they are not taken as part of dowry. Notice that word gotals - this one word tells you this story is set in another world.  The winter mountains are home to the Ice People but for Sunaya and Danam the Ice People are perhaps just the stuff of legends or stories told by Great Aunt Mera.

Travelling through this bitter snow covered landscape Sunaya senses danger. Her Uncle, who is travelling with the children, has forged ahead. Suddenly the snow explodes into an avalanche and First Uncle is killed. Sunaya knows there is no point in searching for him and she convinces Danam to continue their journey. The pair take refuge in a small run down hut. Sunaya has had a sense that someone is watching them.  Indeed this is true - it is a group of Ice People including the Princess, who is next in line to the throne, and her brother the Prince Praseep.

The Ice People are seeking a Cloud Dragon.  The Cloud Dragon will be the protector of the Princess Rishala when she takes over from the dying queen. There is a prophecy:

"The Seers foretold that if we walked to the edge of the Dirt, we'd uncover her Cloud Dragon. We walked there and we saw your group. We watched you come down the slope. One adult, two children. One child in pants who read the slopes expertly, and a child in skirts following who knew nothing."

The problem is the Ice People have the wrong person. They think Danam is destined to be the next Cloud Dragon and so they are taking him away to complete a series of extremely dangerous and complex tasks.  In fact it was Sunaya who was wearing pants, Danam just had his cloak tied around him and it looked like a skirt. Sunaya needs to convince the Princess and her group that she should come to the city with Danam. She does not know about the prophecy, she does not really understand her own power but she is desperate to protect her nephew and the herd of gotals. One of the guards travelling with the Princess, a girl called Aji, seems to sense the truth and later she becomes a very important ally. But what about Vilpur who is also in this group - can he be trusted?

These tests, Sunaya learns, can be fatal. Praseep himself had hoped to be the next Cloud Dragon and take the role protecting his sister but he failed one of the five tests and only lived to tell the tale because he does possess powerful gifts. The tests are designed around: Strength, Courage, Resilience, Compassion and Fortitude. Sunaya must save her nephew but to do that she knows she must face these tests - and win!

The lost stone of the title is the reason for the division of this kingdom into "dirt people" and "ice people". Stones are powerful devices used by the Ice People but Sunaya needs to show serious errors were made in the past and "dirt people" are not really the enemy. Stories from the past need to be rewritten.

I loved the depiction of bitter cold in this story. Thank goodness Praseep can make fireballs.  They kept me warm. I try hard not to say negative things on this blog but, while I totally adored this story, I really really do not like the cover. If I had not been given an Advanced Reader Copy by Beachside Bookshop I am fairly sure I would not have picked up this book and that makes me sad. I do tell students "don't judge a book by it's cover" but of course with books (and sometimes people) this is something we all do. I highly recommend this book and I hope you can convince a middle primary reader to explore the amazing lands, palace and tests of the Ice People.

You can read part of Chapter One here. Read about HM (Heather) Waugh on her web site. I hope this book is listed as a notable title for our CBCA awards in 2020 - yes it is that good! Why did HM Waugh include goats (gotals) in her story? Read about this here. This book will be available from 1st October, 2019.

I would follow The Lost Stone of Skycity with Ottilie Colter and the Narroway hunt; Prisoner of Ice and snow and The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Why you should read Children's books by Katherine Rundell

Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise is the full title. Notice all those wonderful CAPITAL LETTERS!

I need to carry multiple copies of this book with me at all times. I read children's books. I blog here about children's books. I visit libraries to borrow children's books. I browse the kids section in bookshops so I can keep up with new titles and buy children's books AND I don't think there is anything wrong with that BUT when I explain this is what I do, people are astounded. Do you read adult books they ask? Yes I say but very infrequently and mostly I am disappointed in them. I see it in their eyes, their opinion of me slumps. How can anyone enjoy reading (almost exclusively) hundreds of children's books?  Thank goodness for Katherine Rundell - she gives voice to the things I think but cannot express as eloquently.  Katherine talks about the myth of reading in one direction. Moving from Spot to the Wild Things, on to Narnia and Catcher in the Rye then finishing your life with Finnegans Wake and Jacques Derrida. She argues this is totally wrong. The human heart is not a linear train. Here are a couple of quotes from this essay by Katherine Rundell:

Children's books when "read with an adult eye, have a different kind of alchemy in them." page 9

"Children's fiction necessitates distillation: at its best, it render in their purest, most archetypal forms hope, hunger, joy, fear. Think of children's books as literary vodka." page 12

Children's novels say: "look, this is what bravery looks like. This is what generosity looks like. They tell me, through the medium of wizard, lions and talking spiders, that this world we live in is a world of people who tell jokes and work and endure. Children's books say the world is huge." page 47

"Children's book are not a hiding place, they are a seeking place." page 62

This is a tiny little book, only 15cm tall, with just over 60 pages. It costs around $13. The publisher has given this book a bright red cover so I can be seen on a shelf - perfect. I highly recommend this little gem for all children's literature fans who face my struggles explaining why "you should read children's books even though you are so old and wise." Buy one for yourself and an extra copy or two for your friends.

The book is also intended to fight against the “outrageous and absurd” idea that adults who read children’s fiction should feel some kind of cultural shame. “I’m not arguing that adults should only read children’s fiction, but I’m arguing, very passionately, that adults who read children’s fiction are offered something which perhaps other fiction cannot provide: a kind of hope and hunger. The Book Seller

Books by Katherine Rundell:

The Tooth Fairy by Peter Collington

Tuesday Treasure

Wordless, textless or silent books often contain very complex stories and if you take your time and quietly sit and 'read' them you are sure to enjoy the experience. The Tooth Fairy by Peter Collington is one of my favourites.

A young girl has lost her tooth. She places it in a tooth box beside her pillow. Outside the house we see a tiny fairy leaving her tree trunk home carrying a small, brightly glowing, lantern. The fairy lands on the forest floor where she lifts a huge stone door. The door reveals a long winding staircase heading down into an underground cavern.  In the cavern there is a trolley car on a track. It is filled with a pick-axe and spade. The tiny girl pushes the cart over to the walls of the cave and she begins to chip away at the rock. She places the rock fragments into her cart and heads back to the large equipment we saw earlier which turns out to be a smelter or furnace. The rock fragments are silver and, wearing protective gloves, the fairy melts the silver which she then pours into a mould in the shape of a coin.

The fairy retraces her steps back to the forest above. She flies across to the window in a human home. The fairy retrieves the tooth from the tooth box that we saw on the opening page and places the silver coin in the box. The fairy is so quiet the girl does not even stir in her sleep.

Now our tooth fairy has the tooth but what does she plan to do with it? We can see the fairy enter her tree trunk home. She places the tooth in a vice and she carefully cuts out an intricate shape. spoiler alert (this book is out of print) so I am going to tell you why she needed that tooth. Our beautiful fairy in her gossamer white dress has made a new key for her piano. The close up picture of the keyboard shows this is the final key and now she can sit down and play beautiful music.

Another book by Peter Collington that I adore is The Angel and the Solider Boy.  Take a look at this video with music by Clannad and narration by Tom Conti. Take a look here to see the full range of books by Peter Collington.  Here are some other wordless/textless books you could explore:

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Secret Sky Garden by Linda Sarah illustrated by Fiona Lumbers

I am going to quote some of the text first off because I just felt these words wrap around me when I read this utterly beautiful book:

"Funni liked the old airport car park.
It hadn't been use for year and was greyer than a Monday sky.
But Funni loved being there, 
hearing the planes take off and touch down,
while the blur rooftops stretched for miles like a calm still sea."

Funni spends her Saturdays at the old car park. She brings her kite and her recorder but it feels as though something is missing. She uses her recorder to imitate the sounds she hears - the tannoy, the whine of the planes and the bells of city square but it still feels as though something is missing.

Things need to change and so Funni hatches a plan. She decides to clean up the old car park and plant flowers. She picks up all the litter, squished cans and "other left behinds." After three Saturdays of hard work she plants her first seeds into the soil she has lugged in a sack.  Up in the sky a young boy, called Zoo, looks out the window of an aeroplane. He sees the flowers that now cover the old car park and he knows he must go there.

" (it's) a garden, there, in the air. full of flowers, bright like an emperor's blanket, nodding and waving - hello!"

Funni continues to play music, fly her kite and water her garden but something is still missing. It feels like a hole. Then Zoo arrives. What a beautiful page filled with flowers and cleverly designed to take the whole double spread as you turn the book longways. Zoo has bought his kite and his harmonica!  Take a minute now to compare the opening end papers and the final end papers. That's the best way to appreciate the miracle of this transformation. Yes the old concrete space is transformed but so are Funni and Zoo.

Urban renewal, friendship, determination and perseverance, creating an enriched environment and the search for happiness are the themes of this beautiful and seemingly simple picture book. But these themes are done with such a light touch - like a butterfly landing on your hand - you don't realise the magic of the moment straight away but if you stop and think about it you do. In one review I read of this book I saw words like uplifting, enchanting, 'make your heart sing.'

I learnt a new word reading this book. I love it when that happens - "tannoy". It means a loud speaker making announcements.

Take a look here to see the illustrations in this book by Fiona Lumbers. What a brilliant team - Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers. I hope they have plans to collaborate on another book soon.

After you read The Secret Sky Garden try to find these books which are also gentle tales of urban renewal (and in some cases friendship too):

 Read this review of The Curious Garden by Betsy Bird. I found myself applying so many of her comments about The Curious Garden to The Secret Sky Garden.

Linda Sarah is also the author of On Sudden Hill - another picture book I adored.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Carl and the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman

Watch this book talk by Colby Sharp. He uses the word - Breathtaking - I agree!

Carl and the Meaning of Life is a book about the interconnections of life on earth. Beneath the surface (yes Carl lives beneath the surface) you get a sense that a huge amount of scientific research went into the writing of this book but it is presented with such a light touch that it is only after reading about the role of Carl in our ecosystems that you marvel at what you have just learnt or discovered. This is a book that seems so simple but the meaning is so big. Carl is also a book about discovering yourself and your purpose.

Carl is not a bird, or a bear, or a beaver - he is an earthworm. He is happy with his life of burrowing, tunneling, digesting, feasting and casting turning hard dirt into fluffy soil until one day a field mouse asks a question. This question sounds innocent enough - why?

Carl did not know why.
But now he needed to find out.
So Carl stopped making fluffy soil."

Do you remember Tenrec?

Carl, like Tenrec, sets off to find an answer. He asks every animal he meets:

"Why do I do what I do?"

He asks a rabbit, a fox, a squirrel and many others. His journey takes many days and the days turn into months. The ground becomes hard and barren. Nothing will grow. The birds fly away and the animals move on. Wandering through this now desolate land Carl meets a ground beetle. The ground beetle cannot find any grubs. That is when Carl notices the land is hard - there is no fluffy soil. Carl sets to work again munching, digesting, casting and tunneling to make the soil fluffy again. Over time the landscape is transformed above and below the surface. Balance has been restored.

The final page of this book has a quote about worms from Charles Darwin:
"It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures."

I would link Carl and the Meaning of Life with Leaf, Stone, Beetle by Ursula Dubosarsky. I would also compare this book with The Tin Forest by Helen Ward, Joseph's Yard by Charles Keeping and Cat on the Island by Gary Crew. If you want to extend your study of worms take a look at The Worm by Elise Gravel.

I was interested to read an interview with Deborah Freedman by The Children's Book Review. In this interview Deborah was asked about her own favourite illustrators and so I went off to explore her list. There are so many international names here. I read a review by Betsy Bird (Mr Noggibody gets a hammer by David Shannon) just today where she said US parents are not keen to buy books with different illustration styles. Looking at the list of illustrators mentioned by Deborah Freedman, who comes from Connecticut, I have some hope that books from around the world are reaching the US. In addition to the illustrators I have put here (one book cover from each) Deborah also mentioned John Burningham and Lizbeth Zwerger whose books you may already know.

 Anne Herbauts from Belguim

 Ayano Imai from Japan

 Beatrice Alemagna from Italy now lives in Paris

 Byran Collier from USA

 Kveta Pacovska Czech Artist

 Maira Kalman born in Israel lives in USA

Marije Tolman Dutch illustrator

Nasrin Khosravi from Iran

You can listen to an with Deborah interview at The Yarn with Colby Sharp. Huge thanks to the library staff who alerted me to this wonderful book. Carl and the Meaning of Life was published in April 2019.

Here are two review comments about Carl and the Meaning of Life:

Freedman wraps up her story with a light touch, leaving it to readers to deduce the role of an earthworm in maintaining ecological balance. Horn Book

Freedman takes one worm’s curiosity about why he does things and cleverly transforms it into a look at the interconnected roles of animals and worms on the habitat they live in. Waking Brain Cells

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Lighthouse Santa by Sara Hoagland Hunter illustrated by Julia Miner

"I know nothing is impossible on Christmas Eve in a lighthouse."

The weather is wild. Christmas is approaching. Kate has made her Christmas wish but will the Lighthouse Santa be able to fly in these conditions? During the night Kate is woken by her father shouting about a shipwreck. Sam, Kate's older brother, and her father head out into the night.

"The wind sounds like a thousand seagulls shrieking."

Eventually Sam and Dad arrive home with a man and a small girl. She is wearing a red cap with a white fur pom pom. It's the Lighthouse Santa, Mr Snow, and his daughter Dolly. The two girls talk about their different lives. One in a town and one in a lighthouse. Dolly is impressed to see Kate has the biggest night light in the world. The weather clears and Mr Snow invites Kate to join him with Dolly to deliver the rest of the Christmas presents.  But what did Kate wish for?

"Don't you know Lighthouse Santa already bought exactly what I wished for?' I say. 
'He did?' she asks.
I nod. 'All I ever wanted was a friend."

"Nothing is impossible on Christmas Eve in a lighthouse."

I know Christmas is far away (well around 120 sleeps) but this book is also about Lighthouses! and friends and the setting is Maine. So many of my favourite things in just one book. Oh and I should also mention this is based on a true story. Edward Rowe Snow really did fly Christmas gifts out to the children living in remote lighthouses from 1936 for fifty years.

Here are the actual lighthouses mentioned in the story:

Great Point Lighthouse Nantucket

Owls Head Lighthouse Maine

Brant Point Lighthouse Nantucket

Sankaty Head Lighthouse

West Chop Lighthouse Martha's Vineyard