Thursday, February 28, 2019

CBCA Notables 2019 Book of the Year: Early Childhood



"Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for children who are at pre-reading or early stages of reading. Ages 0-7"

Last week I made some predictions about the two CBCA Picture book sections for the 2019 Notables. I was spectacularly wrong!  Out of 40 titles in the two picture book categories I only identified eight books and in the category which is the focus of this post (Early Childhood) I only picked one out of the twenty!

You can see the whole list here but some I do like are:

A boat of Stars by Margaret Connolly and Natalie Jane Prior
(a wonderful poetry book)



Collecting Sunshine by Rachel Flynn illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie (here is an activity pack)
Chip the Lifeguard by Kylie Howarth
Rainbow Bear by Stephen Michael King


Dinosaur Day out by Sara Acton
(here is a set of teachers notes by Megan Daley)
All the Ways to be Smart by Davina Bell
Duck by Meg McKinlay 
(here is a set of Teachers Notes)




For Pre-School aged children I like:

It's a long way to the shop by Heidi McKinnon
(the last page made me laugh out loud)
Red house, Blue house, Green house, Tree house! by Jane Godwin illustrated by Jane Reiseger

One of the interesting choices in this section is Rhyme Cordial. You can watch a trailer which shows how this board book works. This is certainly a special book for a very young child.


Finally the book I am most looking forward to exploring is Beware the Deep Dark Forest by Sue Whiting illustrated by Annie White. I looks like one to pair with The Tunnel by Anthony Browne and The Park in the Dark by Martin Waddell.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

CBCA Notables 2019 Younger Readers



Huge thanks to Beachside Bookshop. Their generosity means I have read (and blogged) many of the twenty titles.  Colour highlighting on the title takes you to my review and colour on the author links you to their other titles.

Fearless Frederic by Felice Arena
The Tales of Mr Walter by Jess Black illustrated by Sara Acton



Brindabella by Ursula Dubosarsky illustrated by Andrew Joyner
Help around the house by Morris Gleitzman
Sweet Adversity by Sheryl Gwyther



Shine Mountain by Julie Hunt
Fairytales for Feisty girls by Susannah McFarlane



Black Cockatoo by Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler
The Young Vikings by James Moloney
The slightly Alarming tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty
The girl, the dog and the writer in Provence by Katrina Nannestad




The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent
Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr
The adventures of Catvinkle by Elliot Perlman illustrated by Laura Stilzel
His name was Walter by Emily Rodda



Everything I've never said by Samantha Wheeler
Taking Leave by Lorraine Marwood (verse novel)
Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams



In the lamplight by Dianne Wolfer
The dog with Seven names by Dianne Wolfer



I already have The Swallow's Dance and The Slightly Alarming tale of the Whispering Wars on my to read pile. I am excited to read Brindabella by the wonderful Ursula Dubosarsky and Shine Mountain by Julie Hunt who designed our IBBY International Children's Book Day flyer.

In just four weeks the CBCA will announce the short list - six of these notable titles which are in the running to receive the award - Book of the Year Younger Readers. The title on this list that excites me the most is Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt. I do hope this one gains a place on the short list. In my next posts I will talk about the Picture Book of the Year Notables and the Early Childhood Notables. Just as a sneak preview I was so very excited to see A Boat of Stars on Early Childhood list. How wonderful that the judges included a poetry book!

How did I go with my earlier predictions? In this category I was right with my prediction of The Tales of Mr Walker and His Name was Walter by Emily Rodda.  I also correctly predicted the judges would adore Lenny's Book of Everything. It has been placed in the Older Readers Notables category. Where did I go wrong?  I thought Just a Girl by Jackie French would make the Older Readers list along with The Mulberry Tree by Allison Rushby which I thought would make the Younger Readers selection.

The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo illustrated by Paul Lee



Each week I work with a small group of Grade 5 girls. These girls are struggling with reading but of even more concern is the struggle they have with comprehension. This surely is the reason we read.

This term our novel study is Aristotle by Dick King Smith.  Last week I came across The Good Luck Cat and it seemed like the perfect picture book partner. I thought I would use The Good Luck Cat as a warm up exercise before we started our reading of Aristotle. Both books explore the idea that cats have nine lives.

Before we started I asked the girls about cats and the idea of nine lives. This was a totally new idea to one of the girls. We make so many assumptions about general knowledge and I am not sure if I successfully explained the idea of nine lives to this student. Adding to this The Good Luck Cat explorers the culture of North American Indians. There is a reference in the book to a bustle. Native American Indians wear the bustle as part of their dance routine at the Pow Wow. They are made from eagle or hawk feathers. You can see one here:

Image Source: http://www.native-american-beadwork.net/english/English09What_is_Pow_Wow.htm

Our time was short so I didn't really spend enough time with this group talking about North American Indian traditions such as the pow wow and tee pee.

In The Good Luck Cat our narrator recounts the story of Woogie and how each of her nine lives was lost. Some are funny (in the clothes dryer), some are obvious (falling from a tree) and a couple are a little disturbing (shot with a BB gun by some young boys). 

The Good Luck Cat is not a new book - published in 2000 - but it made a good link text with Aristotle. Here is a review of The Good Luck Cat where you can see inside the book and read more plot details.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts illustrated by Noah Z Jones

I have dreams about those shoes.
Black high-tops. Two white stripes.
"Grandma, I want them."
"There's no room for 'want' around here - just 'need',"


Through Jeremy's eyes it seems everyone has those shoes. Everyone except him. The guidance counselor offers him new shoes when his own fall apart but these have Velcro and an animal from an old cartoon series on the side. You can just feel Jeremy's embarrassment. Back in class everyone laughs at Jeremy. Everyone except Antonio Parker.

I would be good to compare this reaction with the class response in Crazy Hair Day.

Grandma can see Jeremy is sad but when they visit the shoe store she knows there is no way they can afford those shoes. Jeremy and his grandmother visit three thrift stores and in the final one they find those shoes. "Black shoes with two white stripes. High-tops. Perfect shape. $2.50."  It all seems utterly perfect BUT will they fit?

Jermey is desperate to wear the shoes from the thrift shop even though his toes are in agony. There are some new shoes in the offing though. Grandma buys some much needed show shoes.

Luckily for Jeremy a few days later it snows. You should notice the autumn leaves on the opening end papers and snow on the final end papers. There might not quite be the happy ending you expect but luckily for Antonio, Jeremy finds a way to be kind.

Here is a video of the whole book. Take a look at this BookBag review. I read those shoes because I enjoyed I Bike like Sergio's by the same author and illustrator. It would be good to compare these stories with an older class.

Boelts blends themes of teasing, embarrassment and disappointment with kindness and generosity in a realistic interracial school scenario bringing affecting closure to a little boy’s effort to cope in a world filled with materialistic attractions and distractions. Kirkus

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Catch a falling star by Meg McKinlay



I like the way tension drives this story. I think this list might be a way to explain some of the plot threads and the tension I felt.

  • It is 1979 and Skylab is falling back to Earth (this is based on true events).
  • No one knows where Skylab will land - there is huge media coverage and international speculation. 
  • A space station falling to earth could cause enormous damage and injury. Every day people check the sky and NASA send updates as the days count down. 
  • Frankie's Dad is gone, he has died, but mum won't talk about it and Frankie didn't get to say goodbye. Mum even puts his photo away. 
  • Frankie is happy to help out at home but she also needs her mum to stop spending such long hours at work.
  • Dad loved astronomy and Frankie shared his passion. Who can she talk to now?
  • Newt, her younger brother, is a gifted boy whose brain is filled with science facts but he is also secretive - what is really going on in his bedroom? Does he know more about Skylab than the adult scientists?
  • Kat is Frankie's friend in Grade 6 but sometimes the road of true friendship is a rocky one.
  • Frankie did not mean to get A+ on her Storm Boy assignment and she certainly didn't want to make Kat hate her. If only she could tell Kat how hard it is at home with mum working such long hours, Newt hidden away and her desperate need for answers about her dad.
  • Mrs Easton has set another almost impossible assignment - Fantastic Futures - which must include two thoughtful and relevant reasons for your choice. Once Frankie would have said she planned to be an astronomer but now that choice seems too hard. Every Friday afternoon is torture hoping Mrs Easton won't ask Frankie to present her futures speech.

Catch a falling star is an honest story about grief and growing up. I really enjoyed the link in this book with the real life event. Skylab did crash near Esperance in Western Australia. The town council did send a fine of $400 for littering. A US newspaper did offer $10,000 to the first person to arrive at their studio in San Francisco with a piece from Skylab. A seventeen year old boy from Esperance won this prize. Take a look at exhibition in the museum at Esperance.

Anna Fienberg said: "A witty and tender story mapping the marvels of science and the human heart. A gripping read."

Read Meg McKinlay's thoughts about Catch a falling Star here.  I read an advanced reader copy of this book late in 2018. It will be published in March, 2019. This is a long way off but I predict Catch a Falling Star will reach the CBCA notables list for 2020 - I do hope so. Megan Daley agrees with me - here is her review.  I have read other books by Meg McKinlay which I really enjoyed - Once upon a small Rhinoceros and her Duck stories - Duck for a day and Definitely no Ducks!


Monday, February 25, 2019

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

"The face of a an angel and the body of a fiend - 
I suppose that defines a boy right enough."
'Not a boy. Boy. That's my name.'  
I did not care the words he tossed about. 
I did not care for people calling me anything other than Boy"





Let's start with the cover of this Newbery Honor Book. I love the top one. My copy was the second one. The first is the US cover and the second comes from Chicken House in the UK. Which do you like?

Boy is an outcast. He is a hunchback and he is regularly taunted by other boys in the town. Adults who meet him give him a wide berth or hastily make a sign of protection. Luckily Boy finds friends in animals. The goats he tends in the fields talk to him. If he lies down to sleep animals arrive to keep him warm. Old Father Petrus has told Boy never to reveal himself, never to reveal his secrets.  What are these secrets? One is his ability to understand animals and another is that he has no need of food.

Boy is living in France. The year is 1350. He works for an old knight called Sir Jacques. Sadly Sir Jacques has been badly hurt during a joust and he can no longer speak. One day a pilgrim appears. "He is tall, goats, and wears a brown pilgrim robe and cloak and wide hat, with a staff as tall as he, and he carries a pack on a long pole. Perhaps he journeys to the Holy Land, or to Rome to see the key to heaven."

The pilgrim orders Boy to take him to his master. The name of the pilgrim is Secundus and he tells Cook (who is now married to Sir Jacques) that he will take Boy for the next part of his journey. He needs someone who is good at climbing. Secundus is collecting seven relics. His methods are not always legal but he desperately needs the relics to ensure his place in heaven. Such is his own guilt he cannot touch the relics but Boy can do this without fear and so his task is also to carry the pack - in fact it is tied to his body with a stout rope. Secundus wants to collect the relics of Saint Peter:

Rib Tooth Thumb Shin Dust Skull Tomb

This journey will take much longer than the promised 6 days and the gathering of the relics will lead Boy on a journey beyond his imagining but Boy has a purpose too. If he can reach Rome he hopes he can make his own request. Boy is desperate to be an ordinary boy.

Reading this book will make you curious to discover more about The Black Death, about the uses of religious relics, and about the ruined city of Rome in 1350.

"The thousand years (more or less) we know as the “Middle Ages” were a time of violence, superstition, and squalor, as well as a time of fervent faith and shimmering splendor.  The supernatural haunts this cavalcade of pilgrims, villagers, priests, monks, renegade knights, and robbers.  Hell seems to have broken through to earth at times—but so does heaven." Redeemed Reader

You can read a text extract here - this is a good way to discover the flavour of this very special writing. Catherine Gilbert Murdock skillfully creates the sights, nasty smells and sounds of the Medieval world.  Here are a couple of text quotes:

"This church, too, looked like the heart of a jewel. Colour filled the windows even in the grey dusk. The ceiling blazed with candles, and cloths hung on the walls. At the far end stood the altar, glittering with gold and candlelight."

"What a city it was. What a cesspit. Tall buildings made narrow streets even tighter ... the streets were clogged with beggars, and finely dresses women, and servants, clothed from the wealth of their masters."

In this video Catherine talks about her book. Here is a review with more plot details. Horn Book asked Catherine five questions.

I was pleased to discover I had read and thoroughly another book by Catherine Gilbert Murdock - Princess Ben.



Praise for The Book of Boy:
A Newbery Honor Book * Booklist Editors’ Choice *BookPage Best Books * Chicago Public Library Best Fiction *Horn Book Fanfare * Kirkus Reviews Best Books * Publishers Weekly Best Books * Wall Street Journal Best of the Year * An ALA Notable Book

I can only speak for myself, but the real lure of this book might not be the characters, the mysteries, the setting, or even the mysterious relics. The book has something a little more difficult to pin down, and even harder to attain. It’s a sheer pleasure to read. I mean it. The chapters whiz on by, daring you to put the book down for even one iota of a second. Somehow Murdock has managed to write something simultaneously archaic in form and incredibly enticing to the modern eye. Elizabeth Bird SLJ

Blend epic adventure with gothic good and evil, and add a dash of sly wit for a tale that keeps readers turning the page, shaking their heads, and feeling the power of choice. Kirkus Star review

I would follow The Book of Boy with The Book without Words by Avi and the Pagan series (5 titles) by Catherine Jinks.  Here is the first book:



You could also take a look at Catherine Called Birdy and Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman and Crispin : The Cross of Lead by Avi.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K Ogburn illustrated by Rebecca Green




Blurb: “A tender tale of love, loss, and the connections we make, The Unicorn in the Barn shows us that sometimes ordinary life takes extraordinary turns.”

This book begins with a pertinent quote from Saint Francis of Assisi:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.”

Eric, his dad and brother live on a farm near some woods. Recently they have been forced to sell a portion of the family land as a way to help Eric’s grandmother. Sadly, due to failing health, Grandma Harper has moved into an aged care facility. A lady vet and her daughter Allegra have bought the land and grandma’s house.  Kris Brancusi is no ordinary vet. Eric sleeps late one evening in his treehouse and wakes to find an injured unicorn standing nearby. He follows the unicorn down to the barn near his Grandmother’s house and when he arrives he makes a very surprising discovery. He sees Dr Brancusi leading the unicorn into the barn. 

The unicorn is a beautiful creature:
White and glowing, with slender legs and a long curved neck
Looking at it I got the most amazing feeling of comfort and happiness and excitement, all rolled into one.”
Then I noticed a strange smell, like roses and pine and new turned dirt.”

There are some other special things about this unicorn. She is expecting twins and her horn can heal the sick but using her horn is dangerous for The Lady or Moonpearl as the children name her. Then Allegra and Eric make an exciting discover – the white hairs they comb from the unicorn also seem to have healing properties but should they use them, and what are the implications of this especially when Eric takes some to his precious Grandmother in the hope her pain and arthritis will be cured.

Jacqueline K Ogburn has included some interesting magical creatures in her story. Along with the unicorn there is a Cheshire cat named Timothy, a goose that lays golden eggs called Prissy, a squonk which is “a cross between a duck-billed platypus and a toad.” They were first discovered by Paul Bunyan’s lumberjacks.

Who is the audience for this book? There is some deep sadness towards the end and I had an issue with Mr Harper constantly smoking also this is a fairly long book (290 pages) so I would recommend this book for readers aged 9+. I read the whole book in one sitting. I enjoyed the way Eric was so calm and gentle with all the animals but especially with Moonpearl. Eric is a mature boy with a kind heart. I recommend this book for middle primary because there is a very tense scene towards the end when hunters arrive in the woods with guns. I especially raced through the final pages desperate to reach the hoped for happy ending. 

You can read an interview with Jacqueline Ogburn here.  I was excited to see Ms Yingling loved The Unicorn in the Barn.  I always appreciate reading her reviews and appreciate her honest thoughts. Her reviews contain headings - strengths, weaknesses and what I really think. I was thrilled she found no weaknesses with this book.  

This was delightful! I would have adored this when I was in upper elementary school. There is a pregnant unicorn, for heaven's sake! And a talking Cheshire cat! Eric's relationship with his grandmother was very sweet, and while this was sad, it wasn't hand-wringingly soppy. Ms Yingling

Despite the presence of supernatural creatures, Eric’s quiet, genuine, first-person voice tells a realistic story of family love and discovering one’s true self, the presence of the unicorn and other magical creatures adding just a touch of whimsy to a story about very real emotions... Kirkus

Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Bakers Dozen – CBCA Notables 2019 my predictions




In US they have the Nerdies where children’s literature experts predict Caldecott and Newbery winners.  I thought I would follow a similar idea as we head towards the announcement of the CBCA notables.

Last year our Australian judges will have read over 400 titles. The structures of judging have changed in recent times to allow the judges to concentrate on one of the five categories – Early Childhood Picture Book, Picture Book of the Year, Book of the Year for Younger Readers, Book of the Year for Older Reader and the Eve Pownall award for Non Fiction. After all their reading the judges hold a meeting and select the six titles that will make the short list and a longer list, which includes these six, which is called the Notables List. Another new strategy implemented a couple of years ago was to announce the notable titles a few weeks prior to revealing the all-important short list.

I spend time each fortnight at a local Sydney children’s hospital. The major sponsor of the Book Bunker is Scholastic Australia and they kindly donate all their new titles. Yesterday I printed a list of the picture book additions to the library from January to December 2018.  I have found thirteen books that I think could make the Notables and later potentially the short list.  I only looked at picture books so these titles could fall into either picture book section – Early Childhood or Picture book of the Year.



The all new must have orange 430 by Michael Speechley
Backyard by Amanda Braxton-Smith illustrated by Lizzy Newcombe
Digby and Claude by Emma Allen illustrated by Hannah Sommerville
Drought by Jackie French illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Midnight at the library by Ursula Dubosarsky illustrated by Ron Brooks
Monsters by Anna Fienberg illustrated by Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelsen




It’s a story, Rory! By Frances Watts illustrated by David Legge
The last peach by Gus Gordon
Maya and Cat by Caroline Mageri
The pink hat by Andrew Joyner
Rainbow Bear by Stephen Michael King
When you’re going to the moon by Sasha Beekman illustrated by Vivienne To.



I decided to limit this list to thirteen titles but I also like the look of:
Wren by Katrina Lehman illustrated by Sophie Beer
Thimble by Rebecca Young illustrated by Tull Suwannakit
The silver sea by Alison Lester illustrated by Jane Godwin



Here are a couple of titles which might/should be listed for the Eve Pownall award
Waves: For those who came across the sea by Donna Rawlins, Heather Potter and Mark Jackson
Under the Southern Cross by Frane Lessac
The little stowaway: A true story by Vicki Bennett illustrated by Tull Suwannakit
Dingo by Claire Saxby illustrated by Tannya Herricks


A Great Escape by Felice Arena



The setting for A Great Escape is Berlin during the cold war just as the wall is going up and East and West are divided. The story begins on the day of the division. Barbed wire is put up all over the city and citizens are no longer allowed to travel between the two parts of the city. Peter has been left behind with his grandparents while his parents and sister are now on the other side.

Peter's whole focus is now on escape. He tries asking at the checkpoint but he is chased away. He sees a young couple who try to escape over the wall at the back of a cemetery. The young girl makes it over but her fiance is captured. Peter knows he cannot escape this way.

Now Peter is even more determined to leave. At midnight he quietly leaves the house he shares with his Oma and invalid Opa. He thinks he can swim across to the West but just as he is about to jump in the river he sees another young man with the same idea. He watches in horror as this man is shot by police who have quickly arrived in a patrol boat.

Things are very quiet on the East side of the wall. So quiet Peter notices every movement. A flock of pigeons wheel overhead. Peter follows them to the roof of a building. This building straddles the wall with half in the east and half in the west and it is set to be demolished. The pigeons he saw are homing pigeons and they are in the care of Otto, an apprentice carpenter, who has been forced to work on building the wall. Otto has a plan to fly to the West but he needs materials so he makes a promise to Peter that he can fly too.

The aspect of this book that I really appreciated, oddly, was the selfishness of Peter. Early on we meet Oma and Opa and it is easy to see they are struggling. Opa can no longer talk and needs assistance with every aspect of daily life. Now that Peter's parents are gone how will these elderly people get enough money for food? Peter, surely has to take some responsibility to help them. He is so fixed on leaving he cannot see that he actually needs to stay.  I don't want to spoil the story but during the final scenes I did let out a huge sigh of relief.

A Great escape is the third book in a series by Felice Arena which focus on bravery and war time from the point of view of a young protagonist. The first was The Boy and and Spy set in Italy during WWII and the second Fearless Frederic set during the Paris floods of 1910.  I think A Great Escape is the best one so far. I highly recommend this book for all young history fans. It is easy to read (only 156 pages) and the pace of the action means you just gallop through the story just as Peter himself races around Berlin desperate to escape and desperate to avoid capture. I read this whole book in one sitting. Perfect for age 9+. I was lucky to have an advance copy from my local bookshop.  I read this book in January. This book will be published in early March 2019. I would follow A Great Escape with Oranges in No Man's Land by Elizabeth Laird and Honey Cake by Joan Betty Stuckner.





Wednesday, February 20, 2019

How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons


The late Agnes Nieuwenhuizen says in the introduction to her guide Good Books for Teenagers published in 1992 :

"I was especially keen to find fiction that takes risks and that challenges; that raises questions without necessarily answering them. I wanted books that entertained but also illuminated, pushed boundaries and encouraged young people to enter, through their imaginations, other times, worlds, spaces and lives."

How high the Moon is a book that fulfills these ideas/ideals.

The year is 1944. Ella is living in a small town in South Carolina. Her mother is living in Boston and rarely visits. Her father is gone and Ella is desperate to know who he is. Ella is different. Her skin is not quite so brown and her hair has softer curls. Perhaps her daddy was a white man? There is a tension in Clarendon County. Early on in this story we hear how a two young friends stumbled across a lynching.

"A tiny stockinged foot dangled directly over me.
Motionless bodies like Christmas tree ornaments, but without any sparkle or cheer. They were close to each other but not touching. ... They were all dressed like they'd just left the house to go to the store together."

"I always knew that bad things happened in the world. Even though they never touched me. But knowing it in your head is one thing. Seeing the horror of it right in front of you makes you believe in monsters."

Karyn Parsons gives her reader tiny fragments of information that reveal the tensions of discrimination. Ella and her cousin meet an older white boy on their way home from the river. They immediately lower their eyes and answer questions with the courteous 'Sir". When Ella aged 11, her cousin Henry aged 12 and Myrna aged 14 visit the general store in the town it is another scene where you can feel the tension. Even though the store owners - the Parkers "was white, they always treated us real kindly." The same cannot be said for a white woman who enters the store with the children.

When Ella is asked to join her Mama in Boston she is overjoyed but life there is way beyond her imagining. Mama has aspirations to be a jazz singer. She works all day in a factory and late at night sings in city jazz clubs.  This means she has no time for Ella. It is a mystery really why Mama wanted Ella to come to Boston. Ella has to spend her days inside their tiny apartment. Her mother never organises to enroll her in school and the secrecy around her father's identity grows deeper especially when Ella finds some hidden letters and a message on an album cover which features her mother.

While Ella is in Boston two little white girls go missing and after a long search they are found dead. Vigilantes take the law into their own hands and accuse George Stinney - a boy from the town. Myrna has been falling in love with George. Everyone knows he is innocent but the police beat a 'confession' out of him and he is destined to be hung.

"The whole town was tense. If ever I did pass a white person, I kept my head bent and walked on. You could feel the anger bubbling in the air. As far as they were concerned, a colored boy had gone and murdered those two little white girls."

Ella, Henry and Myrna share roles as narrators. I adore books like this which use different voices to tell the story.

The publisher says this book is for readers aged 9+ and Kirkus say 8+ but I have to strongly disagree. They also liken the story to Wolf Hollow, One Crazy Summer and To Kill a Mockingbird. I agree with this but these titles, along with the underlying tension and fear of reprisal against African American citizens, especially the youth, show me this a book for an older audience. How High the Moon is due for publication early in March, 2019. For me it is a ten out of ten book!

Ella’s realistic voice and passionate responses to injustices make her a credible, flawed, and likable character who sees the truth in front of her but often doesn’t recognize it. Kirkus Star review

Monday, February 18, 2019

A bike like Sergio's by Maribeth Boelts illustrated by Noah Z Jones



The first thing I thought when I finished this book was - how clever to write a book with a strong moral message presented with such a light touch that you only consider the moral after reading. Then I read this decoloresreview and I saw some aspects of this story in a different way.  I am now planning to read this book to a group of Grade 2 children here in Sydney. None have ever experienced poverty, I don't think they will notice the skin colours used by Noah Z Jones but I do wonder what they may think of the 'message'.

Ruben has no bike. All of his friends have bikes but Ruben's family are poor. We know this because when his Mom writes her grocery list we see her counting the money in her purse and then crossing things off her list. 

For me this is not entirely a book about honesty it is also about 'walking in another person's shoes'.  Ruben picks up a dollar in the grocery store that has been dropped by a regular customer. He decides to keep the money - it is only a dollar he thinks. But when he gets home he discovers it is not one dollar it is one hundred dollars. When you are exploring this book in Australia you would need to show the children US money. In Australia our notes are all different colours and of course we no longer have a one dollar note. 

Ruben feels bad about the money and he also realises if he tries to spend it on that long desired bike serious questions will be asked. At the end of his first day with the money he checks his bag and discovers the money is gone. 

"Rain is falling as I retrace my steps from school to bike shop to home.
Leaves and money look the same.
Rain and tears feel the same.
It's nowhere."

Ruben suffers through another long day at school. To add to his torment their math topic is money. Ruben checks his bag one more time and discovers it is still there in a small zip pocket. He heads over the grocery store to buy milk and juice for his mom and sees the lady who lost the money. "I remember how it was for me when that money that was hers - then mine - was gone."

Here is the Kirkus review. Here is an excellent trailer made by the publisher. Take a look here at some other picture books about owning a bicycle. My friend at Kinderbookswitheverything also has a terrific Pinterest collection on this topic.

With a group of older students I would read Mr Chickee's Funny Money for another perspective on finding money.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Lulu is Getting a Sister by Judith Viorst illustrated by Kevin Cornell

a sister
Who WANTS her?
Who NEEDS her?



I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for this newest Lulu book to land on our shores in Australia - why did it take so LONG?

Naturally when my friend (a totally splendid Teacher-Librarian) gave me Lulu is Getting a Sister yesterday I DID NOT WAIT ONE MINUTE. I read it. I devoured it. I loved, loved, LOVED every word.

Have you met little Lulu? I do hope so. This is the fourth book about this feisty, loud and  opinionated only child. Wait a minute did I say 'only child'.  Take another look at the title. Lulu is about to get a baby sister and she is NOT happy. NOT HAPPY!



Mum and Dad know Lulu is bound to be upset so they have a plan. They have found a camp for Lulu called Camp Sisterhood:

"designed to provide a happy sister experience for girls accustomed to being an only child. As sisters-in-training (SITs), they'll work and play and share with younger children, having so much fun with their temporary little "sisters" or little "brothers" that they'll soon want permanent siblings of their own."

Lulu refuses to attend this camp so her parents offer her a set of bribes. Lulu agrees to attend if she can have one of the bribes -  the promised hot air balloon ride BEFORE the camp. What her parents don't realise is that "Lulu could hang around with a thousand little "sisters" and still not want a permanent one of her own. "

There are lots of rules about this camp experience. The "sisters" and "brothers" are aged five to eight. They are not babies - this has something to do with insurance as our narrator explains. Call-me-Debbie the camp director assigns nearly eight year old Mitzi to Lulu. Mitzi is almost as pesky as Lulu herself and she is a scrabble champion. Lulu expects to win every game but of course she doesn't. They play for four hours. The next day "Mitzi" challenges Lulu to a swimming competition. Lulu fails at this too and then she discovers she has been tricked. Mitzi as a twin sister called Fritzi and it is Fritzi who has won every swimming race.

It is against the rules as set by Call-me-Debbie, but Lulu demands a new younger sister. What she gets, though, is a new younger brother. His name is Sebastian and he adores Lulu. Of course Lulu does not adore him!

Kirkus use the term "chatty narrative" - I think this is the perfect description for the writing style used by Judith Viorst.

You can hear chapter 7 as an audio sample here. You can read more on the publisher web site.

For me this is a five out of five or ten out of ten book. I hope one day the publisher might consider selling the Lulu books as a box set. I would grab that box with both hands. This series would make a perfect read aloud for Grades 1-3 and it will also be enjoyed by newly independent readers.

I love the format, size, funny chapter headings - "chapter sixteen and one half" and the delightful illustrations. Kevin Cornell has illustrated book three and four of the Lulu series. Lane Smith did the first two. There are also heaps of funny side comments like this one:

"(Sebastian - I've always liked that name except it's one of those names that it's impossible to find a nickname for. Seb? Sebbie? Bastie? Astie? Tinny? Yinny? What? If anyone out there has a suggestion, please send a postcard to me. Meanwhile Lulu is calling him Sebastian.)" 

You don't NEED to read the Lulu books in order but if you find the three previous titles I do recommend you begin with book one, then book two, book three and finally this latest installment. I wonder if Judith Viorst has plans for another book about her brilliant character - Lulu. I don't mean to be rude but Judith Viorst was born in 1931 which makes her 88. If she has further plans for Lulu she might need to HURRY! Read my thoughts about the first three books by clicking the titles here:





Rich vocabulary and a relatable theme make this an excellent chapter book for children moving beyond beginning readers and an entertaining selection for a classroom read-aloud. Highly recommended. School Library Journal

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Too Small to Fail by Morris Gleitzman



Oliver wants a dog. The perfect little dog is in his local pet shop. Oliver doesn't need to tell us - it is clear his mum and dad will not allow him to have a dog. Oliver visits the pet shop every day and sadly now the pet shop owner has banned him from entering the shop. As Oliver sits looking in the window trying to explain to the little dog why he cannot buy him a lady arrives. She enters the shop and, to Oliver's consternation, she buys "his" dog. Adding to this crazy scene she then dumps the dog into his arms and tells him to follow her down into the car park. Who is this crazy woman? How does she know Oliver's name? Where is she taking him?

Oliver is a rich kid with a sad life. His mum and dad own a bank. The woman who bought Oliver's dog (he names him Barclay after the bank his mum and dad like) is owed thousands of dollars by Oliver's parents. They are refusing to pay so Nancy has taken matters into her own hands.

All of this action takes place in the first two chapters of Too Small to Fail. If you keep reading (please keep reading this terrific book) you will also encounter an amazing camel, a tough young girl who has every reason to be sad and an ambitious young man who works for the bank. Barclay will be held for a ransom, Oliver will be kidnapped and some new and surprising friends will be made.

You can click the three review quotes below for more plot details.

It seems timely to read this book by Morris Gleitzman. In Australia we have just had a Royal Commission into banking practices. Too Small to Fail is set around the time of the Global Financial crisis in 2008. Mr and Mrs Newton (mum and dad) are motivated by greed and use fraudulent practices to make their money. Oliver has no idea about all of this but the dishonesty of his parents slowly becomes apparent and we watch him make sense of the adult corporate world.

Morris Gleitzman is also our Australian Children's Laureate for 2019-2020 and I recently read Melody Trumpet by Gabrielle Tozer and the parents in this story reminded me of the awful and misdirected parents in Too Small to Fail.

I saw Too Small to Fail at a charity book sale. I have been keen to re-read this book for some time. I have often referred to it here on this blog. This is one of the many books by Morris Gleitzman and it is one that I really enjoyed but perhaps it is not as well known as his more recent titles.

Here is an excellent set of teaching notes for Too Small to Fail. I do think it would be the perfect book to share with a Grade 5 class.

You can hear Morris reading the first chapter of his book here. The covers above are from UK and Australia.

Somehow, Gleitzman managed to create a believable voice narrating a funny, sweet, yet somehow serious story.  It was addictive, humorous and I stayed up late especially to finish it. Book Addicted Girl

Too Small to Fail is funny and sad simultaneously, which all Morris Gleitzman stories are. The child's point of view is taken seriously and given value, as it is in all Morris Gleitzman stories. There's a serious message at its heart, as there is in all Morris Gleitzman stories. The Bookbag

I love how Morris Gleitzman consistently manages to combine really intelligent and advanced themes with an intensely childlike sense of fun.  Kids Book Review

I would follow Too Small to Fail with What do you think Feezal, How to Steal a Dog, Melody Trumpet, and One Dog and his Boy.









Monday, February 11, 2019

There's a bear on my chair by Ross Collins



Here is the some text of from this terrific book.  You can see it rhymes, which is perfect for a young reader, but it is also very, very funny:

There's a bear on my chair.
He is so big it's hard to share.
There isn't any room to spare.
We do not make a happy pair, a mouse and bear with just one chair.
When I give him a nasty glare, he seems completely unaware.
I don't know what's he's doing there, that bear who's sitting on my chair.
I must admit he has some flair.
He has fine taste in leisurewear.
I'm fond of how he does his hair.
But still I wish he was not there.

Take a look at the video of the whole book (note it is read a little too quickly for use with young children) where you can see how Ross Collins incorporates colour to emphasize parts of the text.

This picture book is quite simply a delight. The illustrations compliment and extend the text in deceptively simple ways.  For example the leisurewear page - our bear is the iconic Elvis hair style. You can see this illustration on Ross Collins own web page. On another page bear receives a parcel and even though there is no mention in the text we can see he now has a mobile phone!

Bear seems deaf to all the protestations of mouse. Mouse becomes so frustrated we can hear him yelling as the text size grows bigger and bigger and nearly every line ends with a powerful exclamation mark! Adding to this the whole page is red.

How will all of this turmoil end? Mouse wants THAT chair. Eventually Bear grows tired and he decides to go home for a nap.  Have you guessed just who HE finds lying on HIS bed.

There is an impressive set of awards on the front cover of this book. UKLA UK Literacy Association; Amnesty CLIP honour; and Kate Greenaway Medal (Shortlisted). 

Of There’s a Bear on My Chair, the judges said “packed full of joyous humour: it develops children’s empathy and shows how we can protest creatively and peacefully when something is wrong.”

I did not know anything about this book but noticing it is published by Nosy Crow I should have realised I would be reading a wonderful book. Nosy Crow always publish terrific books. When you pick up this book make sure you compare the end papers. Also, on the final page, you will see the book mouse or is it bear has been reading - Good Chair Guide.

Here is a set of teaching notes.

There are lots of funny books about chairs. And of course you would also include the classic 'chair' story Goldilocks and the Three Bears along with my favourite parody of this - Somebody and the Three Blairs.