Friday, January 31, 2020

The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume illustrated by Irene Trivas

Judy Blume is famous for her book Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. The Pain and the Great one is her only picture book. It was published in 1974.

Recently there was a post on #classroombookaday where the teacher asked about books that show point of view. I think The Pain and the Great one is a perfect way to explore this idea as we hear from a big sister aged 8 talking about her brother aged 6 and then the little brother talking about his sister.

Here is the publisher blurb:

MEET THE PAIN My sister's name is Abigail. I call her The Great One because she thinks she's so great. Who cares if she's in third grade and I'm just in first? MEET THE GREAT ONE My brother's name is Jacob Edward, but everyone calls him Jake. Everyone but me. I call him The Pain because that's what he is. He's a first-grade pain. I'll always know exactly what he's thinking. That's just the way it is. 

You can see the whole book on a video reading here.

"I think they love him better than me."

"I think they love her better than me."

There were four chapter book spin offs after this picture book. Here are two of them:

My favourite Judy Blume book is Freckle Juice.  I collected lots of copies in my previous school as a way to explore cover designs.  Here are a few you could use with a class:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Zanzibar by Catharina Valckx translated by Antony Shugaar

Zanzibar has has a happy life until now.  His special skill is making delicious mushroom omelettes but one day everything in his world is thrown into confusion when a report arrives looking for a story. I love the name of the reporter (he is a lizard) - Achille LeBlab. You might think about the Greek story of Achilles and the idea of vulnerability. There is also the fun LeBlab - perfect surname for a newspaper reporter.

"I'm writing a feature for my newspaper. I'm looking for exceptional characters. Do you do anything out of the ordinary?"

Zanzibar sings for the reporter but it just sounds like a crow going CAW CAW CAW which makes sense because Zanzibar is a crow.  The reporter does not think this singing is worthy of his report nor is he interested in omelettes. Zanzibar goes to bed that night feeling defeated but in the middle of the night inspiration strikes.

"I haven't done anything remarkable yet, but it's never too late! I'm going to lift a camel! That's it! I'll lift a camel in the air with just one wing."

Zanzibar was originally published in French with the title L'incroyable Zanzibar. I love the way Gecko press source and translate books like this so we can enjoy them here in Australia. Catharina Valckx has been nominated several times for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Award.

I recommend you add Zanzibar to your read aloud pile.  Here are some comments by the reviewer at Readings in Melbourne:

This quirky little gem of a book, with its delightful language, humour and simple childlike illustrations, is guaranteed to engage young readers. Accompanied by a wonderful cast of animal characters, Zanzibar discovers what it means to be extraordinary while learning to value the simple everyday things. At its core, this charming tale is also a celebration of the importance, support and encouragement of friends.

You can read more plot details in this Kirkus review.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Daisy Dawson series by Steve Voake illustrated by Jessica Meserve

Easy Fiction Treasure

Daisy is a kind girl. On the way to school something very surprising happens. A butterfly kisses her nose after she frees it from a spider web.  That kiss makes a magical thing happen. Daisy can now understand the language of animals.

“a delicious warm feeling fizzed along her fingers, tumbling like a wave through her whole body until it reached all the way down to the tips of her toes.”

The titles in this series are:

  • Daisy Dawson is on her way
  • Daisy Dawson and the secret pond
  • Daisy Dawson and the big freeze
  • Daisy Dawson at the beach
  • Daisy Dawson on the farm

As you can see each book features a different habitat. At the pond she meets a pair of otters; at the beach she rescues a dolphin; on the farm the animals are suffering because there has been no rain; and during the big freeze Daisy takes off to rescue a lost lamb.

I am pleased to say you can still buy this whole series in paperback even though the first book was published in 2009. You can see some pages from these books here. I first talked about this series in 2009. When people ask about chapter books for newly independent readers I often think about Daisy and her world. I agree with Kirkus who said this is a "wisp of a tale that gladdens the heart."

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The man who wore all his clothes by Alan Ahlberg illustrated by Katharine McEwen

Easy Fiction Treasures

These books are such fun and perfect to read aloud. I love the way each book includes a map of the mad cap chase scenes.

The man who wore all his clothes
Publisher blurb: "Winner of the Red House Children's Book Award, this book is the first in a series of brilliantly funny early readers by Allan Ahlberg. One morning Mr Gaskitt puts on all his clothes, Mrs Gaskitt picks up a robber in her taxi, Gus and Gloria have trouble with a teacher, Horace the cat goes to a friend's house to watch TV and the car radio gets things wrong. What follows is an action-packed, massively swift-paced and farcical romp as different plots interweave and end in a thrilling car chase with Mr Gaskitt saving the day! With full-colour illustrations by Katharine McEwen."

The woman who won things
Publisher Blurb: "The second of Allan Ahlberg's mini-masterpieces for early readers. One lucky morning ... Mrs Gaskitt opens the post and finds she's won a prize! Next she kisses the postman! Never mind, though - the postman is Mr Gaskitt doing his very latest job. Meanwhile, Gus and Gloria get a new teacher, Mrs Plum, with silvery hair, a big smile and a huge suitcase, who's ever so helpful when things start to go missing in the classroom. And then Mrs Gaskitt finds she's won another prize! What happens next?"

The cat who got carried away
Publisher blurb: The third book of Allan Ahlberg's mini-masterpieces for early readers. Welcome to the latest grand and gripping Gaskitt story, in which Gus and Gloria have a lot of running to do, Mrs Gaskitt hardly ever gets out of bed and something dreadful happens to Horace! (Also starring: a brainy rat named Randolph; a barking pram; and a considerable number of penguins.) What more do you want?

The children who smelled a rat
Publisher blurb: "The fourth of Allan Ahlberg's mini-masterpieces for early readers. In this thrilling, thunderous (and extra-long) Gaskitt story, Mrs Gaskitt finds a parcel, Mr Gaskitt loses a baby, Horace has mixed feelings about a bird, and the twins' teacher, Mrs Fritter, is – ooer! – not herself. Why? How? When? Why? (again). The children smell a rat!"

The paperback editions of these four books are very inexpensive. I highly recommend you add all four of these to your home library and I also think are essential books to purchase for every Primary school library.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

This book is "just swell"

Holling Hoodhood has Mrs Baker as his English teacher. He is sure she hates him - that's HATES with all capital letters. This situation is made worse by the fact that Holling has to spend every Wednesday afternoon with Mrs Baker and more importantly Mrs Baker has to spend every Wednesday afternoon with Holling - she calls him Mr Hoodhood - and this is all because he happens to be Presbyterian.

On Wednesdays half the class go to Temple Beth-El for Hebrew school and the other half to Saint Adelbert's for Catechism.  Holling gets to stay at school with Mrs Baker. Yes every Wednesday for the whole year.

After a few weeks of cleaning the classroom and the blackboard dusters (it is 1968) and a small disaster with the class rats -  Mrs Baker decides Holling will read Shakespeare plays and answer quiz questions (there are 150 of them each time). What Mrs Baker perhaps does not expect is that Holling loves this. He is an intelligent boy and he is well read. We know has has read Treasure Island four times, Kidnapped twice and The Call of the Wild. Reading the plays adds a whole new dimension of enjoyment for Holling. He particularly enjoys the language of Shakespeare especially the insults. He even scores a part in the local amateur production wearing yellow tights and feathers.

There is a lot going on the Holling. His dad is just awful. He is an ambitious man who wants to win every architect contract in the town. He has no time for his son. His mother just seems ineffectual and, can I say, simpering.  Then we have the cast of school bullies especially Doug Swieteck and his brother.

Mr Guareschi Principal
"Mr Guareschi's long ambition had been to become dictator of a small country. Danny Hupfer said that he had been waiting for the CIA to get rid of Fidel Castro and then send him down to Cuba, which Mr Guareschi would then rename Guareschiland."

Mrs Baker Teacher
She seems to only focus on the lessons but underneath a lot is going on for her especially in relation to her son who has been deployed to Vietnam.

Meryl Lee Kowalski Student
Her dad runs the other architect firm in town. Her relationship and friendship with Holling slowly develops - it is a beautiful thing to watch.

Mai Thi Student originally from Vietnam

Danny Hupfer Student
I wish he was my friend. The scene when he insults the famous baseball player after this guy insults Holling is just splendid.

Rats Sycorax and Caliban (from The Tempest)
The parts in this story about the rats are not for the faint hearted - you have been warned.

Coach Quatrini
Favourite expression "At tempo".

Mrs Bigio School Cook
When you read the final scenes in this book you will understand why, for me, Mrs Bigio is a true hero. And it is the actions of Mrs Bigio when she makes nuoc mau for the class and for Mai Thi that made me cry.

Heather Holling's sister
Her voice in this story is so important as a way to understand the complex politics of this time.

The names of the school textbooks - English for you and me; Mathematics for you and me; Geography for you and me.
The English concepts taught by Mrs Baker - diagramming sentences such as "He kicked the round ball into the goal." "The girl walked home." 

And this one for Holling - "For it so falls out, that we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost, why, then we rack the value, then we find the virtue that passion would not show us while it was ours."

"No native speaker of the English language could diagram this sentence.  The guy who wrote it couldn't diagram this sentence. ... 'If you had been listening to my instructions, you should have been able to do this,' said Mrs Baker, which is sort of like saying that if you've ever flicked on a light switch, you should be able to build an atomic reactor."

Atomic Bomb Awareness Month
"We stayed under our desks for eighteen minutes, until the wind would have whisked away the first waves of airborne radioactive particles, and the blast of burning air would have passed overhead ... and every living thing would have been incinerated except for us because we were scrunched under our gummy desks with our hands over our heads, breathing quietly and evenly."

This book has it all!  I laughed, I nearly cried, I marveled at the references to Shakespeare and US History, I cheered when things went the right way for Holling and I cringed (big time) when things went horribly wrong for Holling. If I knew him in person I'm sure I would reach out and give him a big hug of reassurance. Boy oh boy life has thrown some hideous curve balls at this kid.  Read this part again and then marvel at the fact that I am an adult, woman, in Australia, with absolutely no knowledge of baseball. I am not a American adolescent and yet  I loved this book so so so much! I'm visiting some adult readers this week and I would love them to read this book so I think The Wednesday Wars will appeal to readers 12+ and to all adults.

At its heart this is a book about relationships. Every relationship is special in this story but the best one in my view is the one between Holling and Mrs Baker.

The Wednesday Wars was a Newbery Honor book in 2008. It is considered an American classic so it is in print. I read my copy as an ebook. Please take a few minutes now to read this review by Betsy Bird - her words are far more eloquent than mine.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

"Atmospheric horror at its best. 
Chillingly tender."  Kirkus

School is torture for Olivia. She has an intelligence well beyond her classmates in Grade Seven. This is not, however, the cause of her sadness. She has a desperate need to keep away from sympathy, from those knowing looks. Her dad is sad too. His way of coping is to cook. He makes delicious treats for Ollie as a way to show his love but Ollie cannot cope with this either.

"Now he was going to be understanding. She hated understanding voice as much as she hated sympathy face."

Ollie seeks solace down at the swimming hole. The autumn colours are bright and the sunshine is warm. She is surprised to find someone is already there. A woman holding a book which she appears to be intending to throw into the creek. Ollie is horrified. She reaches out and grabs the book.

"Listen to me ... I'm going to tell you one thing, because I'm not a bad person. I just didn't have a choice. I'll give you some advice, and you give me the book. ... 'Avoid large places at night,' the woman said. 'Keep to small."

When Ollie gets home she begins to read this strange book. It recounts events of the past when two brothers made a deal with the Smiling Man.  These events are connected with a local farm and in the coming days the whole class will visit this farm and Ollie will have to think fast, remember the advice about small spaces and rely on new friends in order to survive the ordeal that awaits her.

Just one more thing - you may never look at a scarecrow in quite the same way ever again after you read this book!

I think we all love a scary book - don't we? Nothing too frightening but a story that gives you a shiver or too can be good. I didn't know anything about Small Spaces except I had seen the cover on a few book lists. When I picked it up in a book store the comment on the back cover made me laugh out loud:

"This book scared the snot out of me. Fast-paced and spinetinglingly delightful." Jonathan Auxier.

I really loved Ollie's dad. He has filled their house with colours and he cooks the most delicious food. Luckily for Ollie, on the day of the excursion, he fills her lunch box. I sighed a huge sigh of relief when, the midst of all the terror, Ollie had food to share with Coco and Brian.

"He reached into the back seat and thrust her lunch box out the window. Ollie undid the clasps and peered into the depths. Carrot sticks and peanut butter cookies - way too many of both - and a very large turkey sandwich, cut in quarters on home made bread. Maple granola, with sugared walnuts. A chocolate chip muffin. Dad really must have baked all night."

Good news this is a fairly new book - well newish here in Australia. It was published in 2018. My paperback copy arrived in the bookshop in July 2019. Did you know you can discover this from the price sticker in some shops - I like to think about books sitting on a shelf waiting for a reader - like me! I highly recommend this book for 11+.  It reminded me of His Name was Walter in the way both books contain a book within a book.

 In her review below Betsy Bird talks about the brilliance of the first page in this book. You can hear that page in this audio sample.

A good horror novel for kids shouldn’t just feel increasingly creepy. There has to be something truly terrible at its core that is going to get you and do something unspeakable to you. If the threat isn’t real, the tension isn’t going to work. But don’t worry. In this book the threat is real, the bad guy is terrifying, and the tension . . . well, let’s just say you could cut it with a knife hanging off of a smiling scarecrow’s arm.  Elizabeth Bird School Library Journal

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Applet

As the title suggests the setting for this story is a swamp in the east Texas bayou.  Sugar Man swamp is home to a number of animals but of importance in this story are two raccoons, a rare bird that mayb even be extinct, some alligators, dangerous rattle snakes and the Sugar Man himself. He is a bit like a yeti or a Sasquatch. Growing in the swamp are various wonderful tall trees and some very special sugarcane. From this cane you can make muscovado sugar.  Paradise Pies Cafe use this sugar to make delicious fried pies - fresh baked each morning.  Also waiting to be found in this swamp is an old car.  It is a 1949 Sportsman DeSoto

The true blue scouts of the title are two racoons named Bingo and J'miah. The live in the old car and when lightning strikes, the radio in the car springs to life with words of wisdom, warnings and a weather update. Right now, though, the most dangerous thing in the swamp as far as Bingo and J'miah are concerned is a large group of hungry wild hogs who are heading straight for the sugarcane. Our scouts need to warn the Sugar Man but how do you do this when he is asleep and likely to be real angry if woken too soon.

For the humans who live near the swamp there is another danger:

  • Who is the enemy? Sony Boy Beaucoup who wants to drain the swamp.
  • Who is the hero? It is Chap (full name Chaparral) who plans to save a boat load of money to pay off this vile man. It is Chap who plans to find that missing car, and the missing rare bird (Ivory-Billed woodpecker) and hopefully prove the Sugar Man is not a myth. But maybe this last part might not be such a good idea?

I adored, I am going to say that word again - adored reading this book.  I had read The Underneath by Kathi Appelt so I was very keen to experience another of her books. Oddly it has taken me almost a year to do this.

Can you imagine in taking 2 or 3 or 4 or even 5 story lines and tossing them all up in the air. I am sure you are visualising this as a huge tangle. NO Kathi Appelt does this with the ease of a consummate circus performer. Some how she blends all these story threads and gives her reader an utterly splendid story set in the swamps of Texas.

I knew from the beginning, from the very first chapter, I was going to enjoy this story. I read the whole book in one go while sitting on a train travelling to southern NSW. I think Kathi had me hooked with words and phrases such as:

'Houston we've got a problem'
'It was glory hallelujah, get out the biscuits, my-oh-my-oh-my.'
'He was clearly up the tree without a parachute.'
'Those pies kicked their stripy booties.'

This book gives you such a strong sense of place and the people and it is so funny yet poignant too. Here is a description of Sonny Boy Beaucoup the man who plans to sell the swamp and turn it into a Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park.

"... the man was all decked out in a fancy blue and white seersucker suit with a red bow tie. He wore white wing tip shoes, with the thinnest socks Chap had ever seen. The socks were so thin, Chap could see the light-colored hairs of the man's legs through the sheer knit. How would they ever protect his ankles from the biting fleas that lived in the swamp?"

If you read this book with a group (and I'd suggest this would be a terrific thing to do) here are a set of Book Discussion questions from the publisher. You can listen to an audio sample of the first chapter here.

Penny series by Kevin Henkes

Easy Fiction Treasure

My easy fiction treasure posts are focusing on beginner books that have recently been culled from my former school library.  The Penny series titles are: Penny and her Song; Penny and her Doll; Penny and her Marble;  Penny and her Sled. These are so SPECIAL I simply cannot fathom why they were removed from the collection. Kevin Henkes is one of the best US writers. His famous titles include Chrysanthemum; The Year of Billy Miller; Junonia (one of my most favourite books of all time); and Wemberly Worried.

Penny and her Marble and Penny and her Doll have Kirkus Star reviews. The first three Penny books are available in paperback and are very inexpensive.

In the first book Penny comes home wanting to sing her song but her mother explains the babies are sleeping.

From Kevin Henkes web pages

Penny and her Song
Penny is an energetic young mouse with a song she just can’t wait to sing. Her mama’s name is Jane, her papa’s name is John, and her twin baby siblings are Tilly and Pip. Meet Penny and her family (and her new doll!) in this brand-new series for brand-new readers.

Penny and her Doll
When Penny receives a surprise box in the mail from Gram, she is thrilled. The surprise is a doll, and she is absolutely perfect, from her head to her toes. Penny loves her immediately. She introduces her new doll to Mama and to the babies and to Papa. But then Papa asks what the doll’s name is, and Penny realizes that she doesn’t know.

Penny and her Marble
Penny found a marble as blue and perfect as the sky. The marble is smooth and the marble is fast, but the marble does not belong to her. It belongs to her neighbor, Mrs. Goodwin. Now Penny is worried she’s taken something important, but a chance encounter with Mrs. Goodwin puts all her fears to rest.

Penny and her Sled
Patiently, Penny waits and watches for the snow to appear. She puts on her scarf and hat. She sleeps with her mittens. Maybe if she’s ready, the snow will finally come. But day after day, the snow does not arrive. Finally, Penny decides she will use her sled for other things—it’s too wonderful not to!

With a little imagination, the sled becomes a bridge for her glass animals to cross. It becomes a bed for her doll, Rose. It becomes a magic carpet that takes Penny and Rose on adventures all around the world.

These gorgeous books should be in every Primary school library. They are books to treasure and share with young readers who are gaining confidence with independent reading. Add them to your shopping list today!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Mouse soup by Arnold Lobel

Easy Fiction Treasure

Mouse Soup - the publisher blurb:

Weasel is ready for his dinner, and poor Mouse is it. Can Mouse stop Weasel from serving up mouse soup for supper? The clever mouse tells the weasel four stories to make the soup tasty—then manages to trick the weasel and get home safely.

Listen to an audio sample here.

"It has no stories in it.
Mouse soup must be mixed with stories to make it taste really good.”
“But I have no stories,” said the weasel.
“I do,” said the mouse.
“I can tell them now.”
“All right,” said the weasel.

“But hurry. I am very hungry.”

Arnold Lobel (1933-1987) is an important and timeless book creator. He won the Caldecott Medal for his book Fables in 1980. Every library should have copies of his Frog and Toad books along with Mouse Soup (1977) and Mouse Tales (1972). Luckily if you don't have them they are both still in print.

Once again Lobel demonstrates that a beginning reader can be gentle in humor, resourceful with limited vocabulary, and even subtle in simplicity. Kirkus

Mouse Tales contains seven little stories one for each mouse and one for each night of the week!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Little Blue series by Margaret Ryan illustrated by Andy Ellis

Easy Fiction Treasure

Here is the publisher blurb.

Little Blue is an intrepid little character who lives in an upturned boat with his mum and dad off the coast of Southern Australia. His friends are Rocky, a baby rockhopper penguin with a bright yellow crest, and Joey, a little kangaroo. His enemies are Fick and Fin the wisecracking sharks, and Big Grey and his gang of burly kangaroos.

Sadly all the books in this series are out of print but if you can find them in a library they are perfect to share with a newly independent reader. Margaret Ryan was a Scottish children's author. She died in 2019.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

In a Dark Dark Room and other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz

Easy Fiction Treasure

The youngest readers visiting my Primary school library often ask for a "scary" story. I love this little book because it contains several "scary" stories. Some are quite creepy so I would suggest it is for readers aged 7+.

In a Dark Dark Room was first published in 1984. An anniversary edition was published in 2017 so this book is still available. This is another title that has been culled from my former library. Hopefully a replacement will be purchased.

The stories and poems in this book are: “The Teeth,” “In the Graveyard,” “The Green Ribbon,” “In A Dark, Dark Room,” “The Night It Rained,” “The Pirate,” and “The Ghost of John.”

In a Dark Dark Room links well with A Dark Dark Tale by Ruth Brown which is one of my favourite 'scary' read aloud books. I read this every year to Kindergarten.

You can read more details about the stories and listen to an audio of The Teeth on this blog post by Once my looks go, I've got nothing.  In this post by Betsy Bird for her blog Fuse8n'Kate she compares the two illustrators for this book - Dirk Zimmer and Victor Rivas.

Here is a audio reading of the whole book.

Here are some other scary books I love to share:

The Flat Man by Rose Impey illustrated by Moira Kemp

You might also look for another book from this series by Alvin Schwartz - Ghosts

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Pal and Sal - Pal the pony series by R.A. Herman

Easy Fiction Treasure

In my experience the main fans of books about horses and horse riding are very young girls. There are plenty of middle grade novels and some good non fiction books on this topic but I get so many requests for books about horses and horse riding from children who are just gaining confidence with reading. 

Four of these Pal the Pony titles are out of print but you can still buy Pal the Pony. The stories are heart-warming and they are absolutely perfect for young readers who love horses. Here is the newer cover:

Pal the Pony Publisher blurb:
Pal the Pony is the smallest pony at the rodeo! He’s upset because he can’t do what the big horses can do. But he discovers there is one thing he’s better at than anyone else on the ranch.

Pal and Sal Publisher blurb:
Every day, Billy rides Pal to school. Then Pal waits alone, while Billy plays with his school friends. If only Pal had a friend, too?.Our favorite pony rides again in this easy-to-read sequel to Pal the Pony.

There were five books in the Pal the Pony series - Pal the Pony; Pal and Sal; Pal and Sal's new friend; Pal and Sal to the rescue; and Pal the Pony saves the day.

I was excited to discover these books were illustrated by our Australian illustrator Betina Ogden. Betina is the illustrator of one of my most treasured books - A Rabbit Named Harris. She also illustrated a beautiful anthology of pet stories "Can I keep him?" which you might find in an Australian Primary school library.

Here is another series of books you could look for on this topic: