Saturday, March 6, 2021

My March and April reading pile

Huge thanks to Beachside Bookshop for these books. Just when I was nearing the bottom of my pile along came another eight delicious books to explore.

Jackie French, Night Ride into Danger

Due for publication 5th May, 2021

First impression - I am excited to read another book of Australian historical fiction because I really appreciate the way Jackie French completes extensive research and then she creates stories with such authentic settings. My favourite book (ever) by Jackie French is not from this genre - it is Tajore Arkle published in 1999. 

Harper Collins publisher blurb: Six mysterious passengers and seven dark secrets. Who can be trusted? It's a dark and dangerous journey for the Cobb and Co night mail coach, but when his coach-driver father is injured, young Jem Donovan must take the reins. Surely a boy like Jem can't handle a team of four horses and guide the coach on a rough bush track through fog and untold dangers? But there are six passengers on the coach tonight, each with a secret. And if Jem can't get them all to their destination by morning, the seventh secret could be deadly ...

Emily Rodda, Eliza Vanda's Button Box 

Due for publication 5th May, 2021

First impression - I wonder if this new book might be a little The Shop at Hoopers Bend or perhaps more like His Name was Walter. I do enjoy the writing of Emily Rodda especially her easy chapter books such as Bob the Builder and the Elves and Green Fingers. I do like the cover of this new book (which for me is an important consideration).

Harper Collins publisher blurb: Buttons three, attend to me! Take me where I want to be! No one saw Eliza Vanda arrive in Tidgy Bay that rainy winter afternoon. The sign advertising 'Cabins for Rent' was almost hidden by a pile of builder's rubble, but Eliza Vanda didn't seem at all put out by the mess. 'This is a nice little pocket,' she said. 'It should suit us very well.' Life hasn't been much fun for Milly Dynes lately. There seem to be problems everywhere she looks. She's always loved her home in Tidgy Bay, but at the moment she wishes she was somewhere -anywhere - else. Then Eliza Vanda turns up-and magic comes with her ... A sparkling new fantasy adventure from multi-award-winning author Emily Rodda.

Tazin Merchant, The Hatmakers

Published January 2021

First Impression - great cover! The publisher notes equate this story with A Pinch of Magic and Rooftoppers (one of my favourite books).

Blurb from Penguin: Cordelia comes from a long line of magical milliners, who weave alchemy and enchantment into every hat. In Cordelia's world, Making - crafting items such as hats, cloaks, watches, boots and gloves from magical ingredients - is a rare and ancient skill, and only a few special Maker families remain.  When Cordelia's father Prospero and his ship, the Jolly Bonnet, are lost at sea during a mission to collect hat ingredients, Cordelia is determined to find him. But Uncle Tiberius and Aunt Ariadne have no time to help the littlest Hatmaker, for an ancient rivalry between the Maker families is threatening to surface. Worse, someone seems to be using Maker magic to start a war.  It's up to Cordelia to find out who, and why . . .

Anna Woltz, Talking to Alaska

Originally published in 2018. Paperback edition due in May 2021. 

First impression - A dog story - I'm hooked already and who can resist that dog's face on the cover?

Publisher blurb: "A powerful story of two unlikely friends brought together by the love of a dog. It only takes one day at their new school for Parker and Sven to become mortal enemies. Parker's had a terrible summer and just wants to be invisible, while Sven is desperate to make an impression and be known as anything other than "that boy with epilepsy."  When Parker discovers her beloved dog Alaska – who she had to give away last year – now belongs to Sven, she's determined to steal Alaska back. Of course, that's easier said than done...

Ella Risbridger, The Secret Detectives

First impression: I like the cover and the idea the story is connected in some way with The Secret Garden.

Publisher blurb: When Isobel Petty is orphaned, she finds herself being taken away from her home in India and sent to live with a distant uncle in England. On board the S.S. Marianna, she witnesses a shocking act – somebody being thrown overboard in the middle in the night. But when the ship’s captain insists that nobody is missing, Isobel and her two new reluctant friends must solve two mysteries – the identities of both the murderer and the victim – before they reach England and the culprit has the chance to escape.  Inspired by The Secret Garden and the golden age of crime writing, The Secret Detectives is perfect for fans of Robin Stevens and Katherine Rundell.

Shirley Marr, A glasshouse of stars.

First impression - Such a pretty cover. Shirley Marr is a first-generation Chinese-Australian living in Perth. 

Publisher blurb: Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination. Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing's entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.

Two more just for fun:

Books I purchased which were already on my pile:

Leslie Connor, All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook

First impression - I have read other books by Leslie Connor (The truth as told to Mason Buttle and Waiting for Normal) and this book was recommended as perfect to read after The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli (see below).

Publisher blurb: Eleven-year-old Perry was born and raised by his mom at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska. His mom is a resident on Cell Block C, and so far Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them to be together. That is, until a new district attorney discovers the truth—and Perry is removed from the facility and forced into a foster home. When Perry moves to the “outside” world, he feels trapped. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry goes on a quest for answers about her past crime. As he gets closer to the truth, he will discover that love makes people resilient no matter where they come from . . . but can he find a way to tell everyone what home truly means.

Rebecca Lim, Tiger Daughter

First Impression - I have read Kids' Book review and this book sounds terrific. Yes I do like the cover. I wonder if this book will link with Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

Publisher blurb: Wen Zhou is the daughter and only child of Chinese immigrants whose move to the lucky country has proven to be not so lucky. Wen and her friend, Henry Xiao - whose mum and dad are also struggling immigrants - both dream of escape from their unhappy circumstances, and form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selective high school far from home. But when tragedy strikes, it will take all of Wen's resilience and resourcefulness to get herself and Henry through the storm that follows.

Currently Reading:

Dee White, Beyond Belief

This book is a 2021 CBCA Notable title for Younger Readers. I have read just over 100 pages. The threat of discovery of this Jewish child hiding in the mosque feels like scenes from Parvana which is a book that continues to haunt me many years after reading. At this point the writing is so powerful it's leaving me desperately anxious for Ruben and his safety. I expect I will finish reading this book tonight.

Lamont Standing Orders blurb: Inspired by the true story of Muslims who saved the lives of Jewish children in the Second World War. In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Ruben’s parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family. One hint of Ruben's true identity and he'll be killed. So will the people trying to save him. But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn't come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox's true identity. 

Recently completed waiting to appear in this blog:

Friday, March 5, 2021

Dominic by William Steig

Friday old Favourite

Dominic is a rich and very rewarding reading experience. If you are looking for a book to read to a Grade 4 or 5 class Dominic would be a perfect choice. I have talked about this book on two previous occasions (4th February 2013 and 17th February 2013)  but I just wanted to share it again because over the last day I have thoroughly enjoyed this story all over again. I picked up my copy from a pile of disposed books in a school library.  This quote from the back cover is perfect:

"William Steig has created an engaging hero, a dog with a heart of gold, nerves of steel, and the varied talents of Renaissance Man. Dominic Sallies forth to see the world and to earn gratitude and acclaim for her generosity, his courage, and his prowess at absolutely everything to which he turns his paw - including foiling of a dastardly troop of villains who have been preying on the community." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Fire Star by AL Tait

A maid with a plan.

A squire with a secret.

A missing jewel.

A kingdom in turmoil.

Maven is a maid to Cassandra. Cassandra, daughter of a baron, niece of an airl, has been promised in marriage to Sir Garrick Sharp, Knight Protector of Rennart Castle. This is not a love match it is happening for political and power seeking reasons. Cassandra has not even met Garrick and the wedding is due to take place in just three days.

"Marriage to a young, vital man meant a long life of servitude and obedience. Neither of these were traits for which Cassandra was renowned."

Cassandra has bought with her a special jewel. This is like her dowry. Ownership of the Fire Star is complex. It must pass down the female line and so when Cassandra marries Garrick, the Fire Star will be passed to Lady Anice.  All of this manoeuvring is being orchestrated by the father of Anice, the Airl Buckthorn (When I read the word Airl I translated it as Earl). As a powerful male he knows giving the Fire Star to is daughter is equal to giving it to him. 

"The stone will technically remain in the hands of a woman - Anice ... but as his daughter, Anice and all her possessions belong to the Airl, bringing him ownership of the Fire Star in all but name."

Cassandra is a striking figure but Mavern is the focus of this story. She is so much more than a mere servant. She is ambitious for Cassandra but also ambitious for herself. She has a plan - a plan that must succeed.

Now onto the other person caught up in these events. Reeve has come to Rennart Castle after his service for many years to Lady Rhoswen, wife of the Airl. He is in fact a wedding present.  Reeve will now work for Sir Garrick as Squire of the table. 

You have already guessed the Fire Star is stolen but who has done this, why this has happened and the intriguing role of Mavern and Cassandra who have their own complex plans will be sure to surprise and delight you.

I really enjoyed The Fire Star. The under tone of women's rights, feminist beliefs and political intrigue added so much spice to the traditional story of lost treasure, heroes who find the jewels and characters, who in the process of their endeavours, find themselves. You can read an extract here. I think this is a book for readers aged 10+. The complexity comes from the alternating voices of Maven and Reeve which is done through first person (Maven) and third person (Reeve). Once a reader grasps this structure the plot just races along but you do need to read carefully watching all the time for hints about conspiracies, relationships and motives. The simple lifting of a eyebrow can convey so much. 

There are some tantalising words in this book: destrier, jongleur, moue, and recalcitrant. I do enjoy stories of knights with their "chivalry, courtesy, etiquette and valour." I am thinking of the book series by Tamora Pierce which begins with First Test.

This book also reminded me of The Quest for the Sun Gem by Belinda Murrell.

The Fire Star is the first book in a series (Maven & Reeve Mystery) but I am so happy to report that this first book has a very satisfying ending so readers are not left "panting" for the next instalment due out in 2021. In this extended video Alison Tait talks about The Fire Star. 

I previously talked about Race to the end of the World also by Alison.

The Fire Star has been selected by the CBCA as a 2021 Notable title.

One more thing. The cover?  It is appealing BUT I wish it had the symbol of the Beech Circle:

"Inside the circle of the locket, behind the expected miniature portrait of her parents, is a little painting of trees and a red bird. The Beech trees, a symbol of knowledge and wisdom; the robin, which makes its home in hidden places but can fly as it pleases. Roots and wings, all in a circle."

"One of the gowns was shrouded in a light muslin cloth, stamped on the outside with a simple drawing of a tree and a tiny red bird - Lady Cassandra's wedding finery, Reeve assumed, wondering which of the kingdom's finest seamstresses had stamped this mark, which he did not recognise, on the overlay."

Aside from reading ‘The Fire Star’ for pure enjoyment, there is also a whole other (quite beautiful) layer to this story to be discovered.  Megan Daley

Wild is the Wind by Graham Baker-Smith

Who Has Seen the Wind?


Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you:

But when the leaves hang trembling,

The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads,

The wind is passing by.

Cassi is holding a tiny swift in the palm of her hand. We see the flock swirling through the sky above her.

"The land warms the air making it less dense and lighter. And being lighter, it rises. Cooler air above the ocean rushes in and the wind awakes! ... the tiny bird rises from Cassi's hands and, like a drop of water thrown into a river, disappears into the fleet-winged flock."

The wind continues on its way and we see it through the changes and actions it makes such as waves on the ocean, a wild cyclone, shifting sands of the desert, and monuments of carved rock. Meanwhile the little swift flies on and on eventually arriving in the courtyard of a house in China. She finds a safe place, lays her eggs, and once the new chicks grow big enough the mother bird joins her flock following the wind back to Cassi.

The language in my earlier quote shows you the lyricism of this writing.  

Here are some other phrases I love:

The swifts know the path through the "pathless sky."

"This pale revolving envelope of air ... "

"The wind is the ceaseless shaper of the Earth."

"The wind whips the waves, cresting each one - like a conjuror's trick - with wild white horses."

Wind is a natural phenomena we experience every day but how can it be explained (with illustrations) in a picture book?  Graham Baker-Smith has achieved this in a truly special book which follows on from his previous The Rhythm of the Rain. I highly recommend this book for all school libraries. I was pleased to see this beautiful book is not very expensive. Take a look here to see some of the illustrations.

Other picture books about the wind:

Of course you will also want to link this book with Bird Migration gathering books such as Circle by Jeannie Baker; Windcatcher; and  Follow the Swallow

Here are some lesson ideas if you are wanting to develop a unit of work around the topic of wind.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Over and Under in the Rainforest by Kate Messner illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

"At the base of a bridge, an orb spider weaver her web - 

a golden tapestry that will catch moonlight and insects tonight."

It is so wonderful when you make new discoveries about our world and the animals who share our planet though a glorious picture book or in this case Picture Non Fiction. Take a look at this article "Criteria for selecting nonfiction picture books."

There are twenty animals from the rainforest in this large format book. I knew or had heard of creatures such as leaf-cutter ants; three toed sloth; giant anteater; howler monkey and the famous toucan. But here are the others that are new to me.  I am so glad Kate Messner included some facts at the back of her book which I have now used as a starting point to discover even more. Read more here.

Montezuma Otopendola - this is a bird with a very distinctive nest shaped like a droopy sack

Long-nosed Proboscis Bat - they roost in trees, all in a line

Blue Morphos are among the biggest butterflies in the world with a 20cm wingspan. 

Eyelash Palm Pitviper is a small viper measuring 22-32cm. The name comes from modified scales that look like eyelashes. This viper comes in different colours  - red, yellow, brown, green and even pink.

Rufous Motmot are easy to spot because Kate Messner explains, their tails look like tennis rackets.

This is the fourth book in the nature series by Kate Messner illustrated by Chistopher Silas Neal. Kate first visited the rainforest of Costa Rica when she was in third grade on a school excursion.  Doesn't that sound amazing. Then she went back in 2010 with her family and again in 2017 partly to research this book but also to see all of these special animals again.

Part outdoor adventure, part animal nonfiction book, this exciting blend will delight children interested in fact and fiction. Kirkus

Blurb: "Under the canopy of the rainforest, hundreds of animals make their homes - from the slender parrot snake to the blue morpho butterfly. But up in the leaves hides another world, where toucans and pale-billed woodpeckers chatter and call, capuchin monkeys swing from vines, and slow-moving sloths wait out daily thunderstorms. Discover the wonder that lies hidden among the roots, above the winding rivers, and under the emerald leaves of the rainforest."

Animals brag about their Bottoms by Maki Saito translated by Brian Bergstrom

"My bottom is a round bottom - and so cute, don't you think?"

"Our bottoms are fluffy bottoms ...Our bottoms are spiky bottoms. They're amazing too, don't you think?"

Animals inside this book include: rabbit, hippopotamus, tiger, zebra, giraffe, polar bear, panda, tapir, mandrill, sheep, porcupine, armadillo and more.

We needed this book last year to read with the CBCA theme/slogan "Curious Creatures, Wild Minds."  I am sure this book will fly off your shelves - the title is so enticing.  This is Maki Saito's first book in English. I recommend you add this book to your library - it is a beautiful hardcover edition which is not too expensive.

Blurb: All bottoms are wonderful! Don't you agree? Each animal in this adorable book has a different reason for loving their behind-from cute and round to fashionable and striped! Talented illustrator Maki Saito makes kids laugh out loud with playful illustrations of the backsides of hippos, zebras, pandas, mandrills, and more of our favorite animals. Her traditional Japanese art techniques add a sophisticated, beautiful feel to a book about ... animal butts! Kids will love readling along to this wonderfully silly and unusually empowering book.

This humorous title delivers just what it promises ... Kirkus

The animals are proud of their behinds, often calling it cute, stylish, and simply amazing. Animals don’t really compare their bottom to other animals, which may be different or the same in shape or color. They take their body form in stride, with lots of self-awareness, and without any self-consciousness. Kids Lit Review

If you need a more serious book about animal anatomy look for this:

Or you could look for this one to read alongside Animals brag about their Bottoms:

Take a look at my post about Squiggle, Diddle Plop! for other ideas (hint these are books about poo).

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

You need to stop and think about the text in this book: Yaks yak; Bugs bug bugs; Flounders flounder; and Quails quail. My favourite page is the one filled with Hogs - Hogs hog. 

To add to your delight Linda Sue Park adds a word list at the back with origins of the animal names and an explanation of their accompanying action word. Did you know "to hog" first appeared in 1884 in the famous book Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

I do love word play and this book is filled with clever double sets of words.  Linda Sue Park is the surprise author. What a talent she is.  I have loved reading so many of her books including: A long walk to Water, A Single Shard, Kite Fighters and Prairie Lotus.

Take a look at other books illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

An excellent and entertaining vocabulary builder ... Kirkus

Here is another picture book by Linda Sue Park that I highly recommend you try to find in your local or school library. It is not related to Yaks yak but it is a terrific story to share with a young child.