Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

Alex is sent a small toy robot by his grandfather. He has a large collection of toy robots - this is a shared passion with his grandfather. It is clear this robot is very old and so perhaps quite valuable.

"The old man picked up these toys on his travels around the globe and this newest robot - or rather, this oldest, for Alex sensed it was very old indeed - had just arrived out of the blue a few days earlier: a brick-shaped package in the post, brown paper tied with string, his grandfather's spidery scribble across the front."

There is so much to enjoy about this book. One aspect of the writing that I appreciated was the way Damien Love gives the reader important signposts - we know more than Alex but we cannot warn him.  For example very early in the story Alex picks up the robot. We have just read that it is:

"Angry and pathetic-looking, it was made from cheap, thin grey-green tin ... it grimaced with a mouth like a tiny letterbox, filled with jagged nightmare of ferocious metal teeth. Its eyes were two holes, framing a hollow interior blackness."

Read this quote again. Notice the warning behind words like jagged, nightmare, ferocious.

As I just said, Alex picks up the robot. The rough edges cut into his thumb.  Some blood is on the robot. Alex hopes not too much has leaked inside.  By this page alarm bells were ringing for me. At the end of next school day his grandfather arrives. He suggests Alex should accompany him to Paris so they can visit a dealer and find out more about this old robot. Alex has a few more days of school and so it seems he cannot go but that night things become very scary when Alex is attacked in his bedroom. He is woken by three tiny robots. One climbs onto his bed. It has a needle on the end of its arm and "thin brown liquid dripped from the tip. Only when the robot's arm came down with a violent jabbing motion did he realise it was trying to stab him."

Alex's grandfather comes to his rescue demonstrating amazing combat skills. There is no time to spare. The pair must head away now. Someone clearly wants this toy robot but why?

The robots in this book are fighting machines.  This is not a book for the faint-hearted. There are violent confrontations at every turn. There are fliers and life-sizers. In this scene the humans- a young girl with horrible scars on her arms and a tall man with a disguised face -  who are chasing Alex and his grandfather, arrive at the house of Harry an expert in toys.

"Around their feet, a vague parade of smaller robots trundled and stumbled over the snow, maybe thirty, bright little robot cars and robot trains and robot rocket ships, tiny space bull-dozers with robot drivers. Little things on legs and wheels and caterpillar tracks, things that walked and climbed and rolled, things that looked and hunted and tracked and hid, things that picked and drilled. Things that could slash and wound and worse."

I especially loved Alex's grandfather.  I loved his sense of humour, his love of delicious food, his wisdom, his amazing agility, his brilliant bag of tricks and most importantly of all his love of Alex. This is an action packed story leading the reader to a glorious but surprising ending which promises there will need to be a sequel. Many reviewers have used the word cinematic to describe this book and I agree.

You can hear the first chapter on the publisher web site.  This is an excellent way to gain a feel for the style of writing the the atmosphere created by Damien Love for his story. I highly recommed Monstrous Devices for readers 11+ just make sure you have a good supply of salt in your house before you embark on this wild fantasy adventure.

The sequel The Shadow Arts was published in March, 2020.

Monstrous Devices is based around the story of The Golem of Prague. You can read more about this story here. I would recommend doing this after reading Monstrous Devices. The golem is figure from Jewish folklore. Here is a quote from an academic paper that compares three texts that feature this story:

"In 1580, the Rabbi of Prague—Rabbi Loew (also known as The Maharal)—created a golem which would become the prototype of most golem figures in modern literature. Rabbi Loew was a 16th century scholar and mystic who created a golem upon realizing that his own strength alone was not sufficient to cope with the task of protecting his people. With help from two of his students, the rabbi created the golem out of mud found near a river, and brought it into being by invoking the forces of the secret names of God. The legend continues that the golem created was a powerful giant, but ultimately a robot, in that it was essentially soulless. This soullessness manifested in the golem's fundamental lack of communication—the absence of the desire, need, and ability to question, reason, and interpret both itself and its surroundings, and this notion was embodied within the golem's inability to speak.

If you have read Monstrous Devices go back now and re-read pages 195-199 and you can see the links to the story of the golem.

I would pair Monstrous Devices with Sweep by Jonathan Auxier.

Iris and Isaac by Catherine Rayner

All of us have disputes. Iris and Isaac need each other they just have to work out a way to heal the rift caused by the too small snow nest made by Iris. There are good things all around which they want to share with each other. Fortunately the do find a much better and bigger snow nest and their relationship is healed.

If you are not familiar with the glorious art of Catherine Rayner here are a few examples:

Sunday, April 5, 2020

International Children's Book Day, IBBY 2020

Hunger for Words

International Children's Book day is celebrated on 2nd April which is the Birthday of Hans Christian Andersen.  Every year IBBY invite one of their sections to prepare a poster and an ICBD message.  This year these come from Slovenia. You can see fifty IBBY people from around the world reading the message in a range of different languages.  Our Australian Children's Laureate Ursula Dubosarsky read the message which was written by Peter Svetina translated by Jernej Zupanic on behalf of IBBY Australia.

Here is a link the full message in English.

The IBBY ICBD poster was sent to the sections in the form of a cube.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Skyfire by Frank Asch

Yesterday was National Find a Rainbow Day.  I love this idea. Looking for rainbows seems like a beautiful thing to do especially during these difficult times around the world. Rainbows have always seemed some how quite miraculous to me.

Moonbear has never seen a rainbow. He thinks the sky is on fire. He rushes off with his pot of water and after climbing a hill he tosses the water at the rainbow. Just at the moment the rainbow fades away.  Little Bird knows the truth about rainbows. He knows you can find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and this is exactly what happens. Little Bird calls out to Moonbear and tells him to come over to the hollow tree. Inside they find honey!

"Bear made honey cakes.
After dinner they went for a boat ride.
For a long while they were very quiet.
Then Little Bird said, 'So it was a rainbow, and I found the pot of gold!'
'Oh no, it wasn't,' replied Bear.
'It was a sky fire ...  and I put it out!"

I love all the Moonbear books but my favourite is Happy Birthday Moon. This week we will have a full moon and as usual I will take a little time to talk to the moon just like Moonbear.

The series of Moonbear books by Frank Asch all contain four squares on the first page which explain or show the science principal behind the story. Here  are two examples:

This second one shows the changing seasons from the book Mooncake.

You are sure to need more rainbow books - my friend at Kinderbookswitheverything has set up a Rainbows Pinterest collection with lots of great titles to explore.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Moon by Alison Olver

Moon lives an over scheduled life. Homework, soccer, trumpet, tutoring, "stuff and more stuff blah blah blah." Moon completes her tasks diligently but she questions the pattern of her life.

"What would it feel like to be free?
To run. To yell. To be wild. 
Can you learn to be wild?"

One evening Moon finds some footprints outside and in her garden she finds a wolf. The wolf offers Moon a ride and the pair set off into the forest. Moon has a wonderful evening of freedom. She learns to pounce and howl but the most special thing she discovers is "how to be still. How to listen and feel."

This is an exquisite book and one you could share many times with a young child. I wanted to stroke the wolf - his fur looks so inviting and soft.  Here is a set of discussion questions.

Alison Oliver has just published a companion volume to Moon - appropriately called Sun. I have added it to my too read list.

Alison Oliver has created truly special illustrations for Moon. Take a look at her web site - Sugar.

I would pair Moon with a Australian book Ella and the Ocean because this is also a book about the way experiences can alter our mind set and world view.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Tomie dePaola (1934-2020)

I was sad to read yesterday that Tomie dePaola had died.  In 1994 I bought my little Strega Nona doll because I am a huge fan of this series. She has traveled to my schools and lived in various classrooms over the years. There are more than fifteen books with the character Strega Nona.

Along with the Strega Nona books I also love Oliver Button is a Sissy.

Tomie wrote over 270 books.  You can listen to Tomie talking about his books here - The Children's Book podcast - where he discusses one of his newest titles - Quiet. Make sure you listen right to the end and around the 40 min mark you will hear Tomie talk about the state of children's book illustrations today and the way many books all look the same.  Here is a final quote from this podcast "I wish (for) children to be happy and to read a lot" - Tomie dePaola.

Here are the first two books he illustrated back in 1965.

I also found a  Brightly (Penguin Random House) interview with Tomie where he talks about his early art experiences and shares his advice to young artists. To understand more about Tomie take a look at his book Tom and his book The Art Lesson.

Here are some of my favourite books by Tomie dePaola.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Wombats can't fly by Michael Dugan illustrated by Jane Burrell

Tuesday Treasure

One of my favourite books to share with young children is A house for Wombats. It is the perfect book to use when you are exploring the power of the imagination.

Wombats Can't Fly (1996) takes the power of imagination one step further. These young wombats truly believe they CAN fly and they won't let the adults and their rational arguments stop them.

Wombats can chew roots with their strong teeth.
Wombats can dig burrows with their strong claws.
Wombats can find their way through the bush on a dark moonless night.
Wombats can sleep snugly through the cold cays of winter.

The young wombats listen to these facts but all the while they are collecting parts to attach to the huge balloon they have found. Putting all the pieces together our little pair sail off up into the sky proving that wombats truly can fly!

Here is an interview with Jane Burrell by the Tasmanian Premiers Reading Challenge team.

This is the fourth book in a series about these cute wombats. My only small quibble is I wish this book had been made in the same format as the others - landscape not portrait.