Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Remarkable Pigeon by Dorien Brouwers

Pigeon can fly freely around the city.  One day he lands at the zoo. All of the birds at the zoo are in cages but pigeon can only marvel at their amazing qualities. Toucan has a beautiful beak; the ostriches have huge babies; hummingbirds can fly backwards; and flamingos can balance on one leg.

"The pigeon started to feel sad. It didn't seem to be very good at anything and it felt ... rather boring."

The pigeon looks at other birds - penguins, an owl, some colourful songbirds and a huge heron. Then the pigeon realises something we have known all along. He can fly! He can fly away! He can see the world and have adventures. 

At the back of this book there is a picture glossary with further details about each of the birds including the pigeon - he is actually quite a remarkable bird. This book has the BEST end papers - filled with a glorious collection of feathers in every colour of the rainbow. 

The idea of comparing yourself with others is not a new one and it is explored in other picture books but this one has the most beautiful illustrations so I do recommend you consider adding The Remarkable Pigeon to your school library collection. As a bonus the paperback version of this book is very reasonably priced at under $18. If you want to explore the topic of being true to yourself try to find If Only by Mies van Hout; Frog is Frog by Max Velthuijs; Feathers for Phoebe by Rod Clement and Be who You are by Todd Parr.

The art in The Remarkable Pigeon book is, as I have already said, very special. It reminds me of art by Ruth Brown. Take a look here to see inside this book

Here is the publisher blurb from Salariya: When a pigeon visits the aviary, he feels very inferior to all of the other species of birds he encounters, with their colourful plumage and magnificent wingspans. But eventually the pigeon realises that he has something the other birds don’t – his freedom! The Remarkable Pigeon is a thought-provoking and stunningly-illustrated picture book that will enchant children and teach them the importance of not always comparing oneself to others and appreciating what one has. The large format is perfect for allowing parent and child to read along together and speak about the story.

Dorien Bowers is a graphic designer. The Remarkable Pigeon is her first picture book. 

Over the last few years there have been some terrific picture book stories about pigeons - especially Gary which was short listed for the CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year award in 2017. 

A Brief History of Underpants by Christine van Zandt illustrated by Harry Briggs

Yes - this a book about underwear. It will amaze you. It might shock you. It most certainly will give you a laugh. There are four chapters - Crusty old buns; Underpants around the world; Cheeky inventions; and Tushes today worldwide. See what I mean - even the chapter headings are funny and a little bit naughty.

Can you see the little wheel on the side of this cover. Readers are invited to spin the wheel to see different types of, gasp, underwear!

Sure there are tons of facts in this book but at its heart this is just a book to enjoy for fun. 

What is it about underpants that cracks us up?

How long has underwear been under there?

What's behind today's styles?

Who started the hole thing?

Publisher Blurb: A Brief History of Underpants explores the history of underwear with zany facts and illustrations. The cover features an interactive reveal wheel that turns to show underwear through the ages.  From bloomers to boxers, everyone wears underwear! One part humor, one part history, A Brief History of Underpants explores the evolution of fashions most unmentionable garment. Gain a whole new understanding of underthings as you:

• Learn which ruler was buried with over 100 pairs of underwear.

• Discover how people kept their underclothes from falling off before elastic was invented.

• Find out why some underwear was made from feathers.

• And much, much more!

Zany illustrations add to the humour, and step-by-step instructions teach real dyeing and washing techniques used hundreds of years ago. Interact with the topic directly by turning the reveal wheel on the front cover to see underwear evolve through the ages.

Full of puns and cheeky asides, Christine Van Zandt’s A Brief History of Underpants uncovers fascinating facts about these garments we take for granted while also revealing tidbits of historical, cultural, and societal traditions from earliest times to the present. Van Zandt’s breezy writing, punctuated by lots of “ewww”-inspiring descriptions, will keep kids laughing and learning and even the most reluctant reader riveted to the pages. Celebrate Picture Books

Here is a chapter by chapter set of discussion questions to use with this book. 

I do have a Pinterest collection of other books related to another aspect of this topic - "Fun stuff that comes from our bodies". Take a look at this post by my friend from Kinderbookswitheverything where she talks about, of all the most crazy things, National Underwear Day

Here are a few more books about Underwear:

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Amazing Meals of Martha Maloney by Margaret Wild and Dan Wild illustrated by Donna Rawlins

Martha and her class, with their teacher Mrs Sousa, are making a visit to the Museum of Famous People. Inside this fabulous place the students, especially Martha Maloney, discover so much more than a few dusty facts about "olden days" people. Perhaps because Martha is focused on her lunch but as we tour the museum Martha takes us into banquet halls, castles, dining rooms and palaces. At each location Martha describes the amazing meals eaten by each famous historic figure - King Henry VIII; Emperor Claudius; Princess Marie Antoinette; Emperor Puyi (from China); and Queen Nefertiti. There is so much to discover both from the descriptions by Martha, the alternating footnotes pages and the richly illustrated banquet scenes. 

This unique picture book weaves together fiction and non-fiction to create a delicious read for inquisitive young minds. Book

An amusing, well-researched and quirky insight into the dietary habits and foibles of significant historical figures. Reading Time

When you think of books where children make a visit to a museum  you might think of the very famous novel From the Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler. You could also take a look at my recent post about Museums for International Museum Day where I share other novels and picture books on this topic. I realise now I should have referenced this book too - The Amazing Meals of Martha Maloney.

Here are a few fun facts I discovered from this funny, intelligent and slightly quirky book:

  • Henry VIII enjoyed jellies shaped like castles and animals
  • Marie Antoinette did not say 'Let them eat cake'
  • Nefertiti means 'A Beautiful Woman'

As you would expect from an author like our national treasure Margaret Wild and a talented illustrator like Donna Rawlins when combined with one of our very best publishers - Walker Books - this book has been designed with so much care. The font for the title is simply perfect. I also liked the green check school uniform complete with large bright yellow tie.  This book is a 2022 CBCA Eve Pownall (Non Fiction) notable book. Margaret Wild was the IBBY 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Award nominee. 

Martha is a likeable character and young readers are sure to be fascinated by her insights into the eating habits of different famous characters from world history. The writing in this book is filled with energy which echoes the energy of Martha as she makes her museum discoveries.  Donna Rawlins has created rich, full page illustrations that seem reminiscent of court tapestries. The end papers are interesting and invite close study and this same line pattern is used on the cover. The fun fact pages are easy to read and contain just the right amount of detail to satisfy a reader’s curiosity. These pages could also be used as a springboard for further research.

It is unconventional to intersperse the notes pages throughout a book – these are usually either footnotes or included at the back but I think in this book, which is written for Primary aged children, the alternate foot note pages work well and the flow of the museum excursion is not interrupted. 

I just had one question - where did all the food Martha consumes on the excursion come from? She is not carrying a back pack and the foods do not come from the famous meals that she has ‘gate crashed’.  Martha eats a pie dripping in sauce; a banana and an apple; a lollipop; a jam bun with a fizzy drink; bubble gum; and a salad wrap!

Here is the publisher blurb: On a school trip to the Museum of Famous People, Martha Maloney wanders off and enjoys the culinary delights of important figures through time, much to the dismay of her teacher. Readers can experience history through the dining tables of King Henry VIII, Princess Marie Antoinette, Queen Nefertiti and more, with heaped servings of information about each time period and their culinary customs. This unique picture book weaves together fiction and non-fiction to create a delicious read for inquisitive young minds.

I am a huge fan of Donna Rawlins - here are some of my favourites:

Salih by Inda Ahmad Zahri illustrated by Anne Ryan

"We painted pictures of all we loved, daring to hope that, on this new shore, 
love will come to greet us."

"My name is Salih. I carry my home on my back, on long roads ... across fields and arid land. We are heading to the sea."

[About the name Salih: The name Salih is primarily a male name of Arabic origin that means Virtuous.]

This is the text above is from the first two pages of Salih. I hope it might make you curious:

  • Why is this child carrying his 'home' on his back? Is that even possible?
  • Where is this place? It sounds harsh - an arid land.
  • Will the child find safety at the sea? Where will his journey take him? Why does he have to leave?

Here is the next sentence:

"Many others carry what remains of their homes. We have left our entire worlds behind, fleeing with our memories."

Think about the impact of the word 'fleeing'.

Salih has memories of good times eating ice cream and enjoying school. 

He also remembers bombs falling and destruction. In the new place, a city of tents, Salih sees an old man painting on discarded paper. Salih gathers his friends from the camp and everyone begins to draw and paint. An old lady paints her rose garden. Go back and find this painting on the title page. 

Salih gathers up the paintings. He knows everyone needs to find a better place to live. This place of tents is only temporary. He rolls up the paintings and slips them into bottles. When the family reach the sea - which is the next part of their dangerous journey, Salih's bottles are tossed into the waves. If I tell you there is a rainbow on the last page you will know the family do reach safety.

Here is another text sample from this book. Think about the power of the language used here:

"The sea is angry for the homes we've lost. It rages about our shattered lives. Our empty stomachs lurch and the blistered soles of our feet thrum."

There is a gentle reference in this book to roses. The most popular flower in the world and the resemblance of passion, red rose, is the national flower of Iran. Rose or Gol-e Sorkh is used in Persian literature and poetry to represent the beauty of the loved one.

The paired down text of this book will allow readers to ‘join the dots’ about Salih and it is wonderful to see the way the illustrator has interpreted the text giving a deeper insight into the world Salih has left behind. I am especially thinking of the illustration where the child is blowing bubbles. The themes of displacement and hope are handled so well. This is a book you could share with a younger child or as an important discussion starter with older students. A great deal of skill has gone into this book and this can be seen in the way the illustrations and text complement one another. The pages where the ocean waves threaten to engulf the little wooden boat which now resembles the turtle shell, really stand out. Yes, there are lots of other books about the refugee experience, but this beautifully told story is a worthy addition to that literary cannon.  

Salih is a 2022 CBCA Picture Book of the Year Notable title.

Here is a set of very detailed teachers notes which includes discussion questions for each double spread in this book. And here is a second set from the publisher Ford Street.  Here is the web site for the illustrator Anne Ryan. Here is an interview with Anne where she talks about her process of illustrating this book. And here is an interview with the author Inda Ahmad Zahi

I would link this with all of these:

Pea Pod Lullaby (Scroll down through the post)

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

"People do need to ask big questions if they want to make big changes. 
We need to get everyone to ask the same big question."

The town of Stone-in-the-Glen was once a thriving little community - not perfect - but certainly a happy place to live, with most people in good jobs and enough money to support their children and important town amenities such as a school and a library filled with hundreds of wonderful books. Even better their town library was a place loved and used by the community. People liked to read books and they liked to discuss them.  

But as is the way with stories (and books) things are not destined to stay so idyllic. The library, had been at the heart of life in this village, but then it burned down and everything changed. A new Mayor arrived. He claimed to have slayed the dragon who caused the fire. He claimed to be the only one who could save the people. He set up new rules - rules which led to suspicion - pitting neighbour against neighbour. Crops failed, other buildings burned down, the school was lost and no one had enough to eat. 

The poorest of the poor in this town were the orphans (fifteen of them) living in Orphan House. In past times the people of the town had supported the orphans and their beautiful Matron and her gentle husband Myron, with food and other supplies but over time this has dwindled down to nothing. 

Then as chance would have it an Ogress sets up her home near this little village. She has lived for hundreds of years and in many different places but Stone-in-the-Glen feels like home. The Ogress is a very kind soul. The only thing missing in her life is the companionship of friends and neighbours. She does have the crows, her blind dog and some lost sheep but she is sure the people in the community will befriend her if she shows them kindness so she sets about baking and harvesting. Each evening, very very late at night, she makes deliveries of her cooked treats to the doorsteps of people in the village. She also places boxes of vegetables at the gate of the orphanage - not every day - but often enough to keep the children from starving. The Ogress does not know things are especially hard at the orphanage she just wants the children to be happy. 

Publisher blurb: Stone-in-the-Glen, once a lovely town, has fallen on hard times. Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the townsfolk to lose their library, their school, their park, and all sense of what it means to be generous, and kind. The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) 

Only the clever orphans of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town's problems are.  When one of the orphans goes missing from the Orphan House, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The orphans, though, know this can't be: the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen. But how can the orphans tell the story of the Ogress's goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbours see the real villain in their midst? The orphans have heard a whisper that they will 'save the day', but just how, they will have to find out ...

The other part of this story is about dragons but to say any more would be a spoiler.  

"As for dragons in particular, they are as diverse in their dispositions as any other creature. I myself have encountered dragons of very personality type - shy, gregarious, lazy, fastidious, self-centred, bighearted, enthusiastic, and brave."

There is so much to love about this book:

The food: "As her garden grew, the Ogress kept baking. Pies and breads and cakes and cookies. Muffins and turnovers and hand pies and rolls. She fire clay pots with tight-fitting lids and filled them with soup. She built boxes and filled them with vegetables. She built a handcart to help her make more deliveries. She delivered to as many people as she could, as many days as she could."

"A tart for the woman who used to light the lamps. ... A box of cupcakes for the former teacher - who the Ogress knew missed her classroom and missed her students so much it was like a needle in her heart. ... Acorn bread for the former street sweepers. Walnut pies for the day labourers. ... A jar of honey for the organ master."

The Ogress - you are sure to love her: "Like all ogres, the Ogress was quite tall - even sizable adults would have to crane their necks and squint a bit to say hello. She had feet the size of tortoises, hands the size of heron's wings, and a broad, broad brow that cracked and creased when she concentrated. Her skin was like granite, and her eyes looked like brand new pennies. Her hair sprouted and waved from her head like prairie grass ... sometimes spangled with daisies or dandelions or creeping ivy. Like all ogres, she spoke little and thought much. She was careful and considerate. Her heavy feet trod lightly on the ground."

The way Kelly Barnhill gives each of the orphans very distinct personalities: Althea is a logical girl who believes in evidence; Bartleby is a philosopher; Cass is a quiet hard working and very practical girl; and Elijah is a storyteller. I also love Myron - in fact this whole book is worth reading just so you can meet gentle Myron. 

The constant gasp moments where things are interpreted unkindly: "That terrible Ogress who has been ruining our lovely town for a generation ... Now she is no longer content with destroying out property and causing our crops to fail and our milk to sour and our buildings to dilapidate but now, now she is stealing children." And there are also dreadful propaganda speeches by the Mayor.

The "message" that books and libraries and reading are all important ways to unite a community.

I also loved the way Kelly Barnhill treats time in her book. This is not a linear narrative and the changes of time feel like the gentle motion of ocean waves. I also loved the narrator whose identity may surprise you. Read more hereThe author’s voice is descriptive and philosophical, and it’s shared in the manner of a storyteller YA Books Central

You might like to think about the role of light and heat in this story and compare this with a story like The Snow Queen which used ice and snow to control citizens. 

This is now my book of the year (so far). It is nearly 400 pages so reading this book is a marathon not a sprint but boy oh boy it is well worth every reading minute. I knew I was safe with Kelly Barnhill and I was sure she would give me that all important happy (and satisfying) ending but there were times in this story of greed, power and manipulation that I just had to stop reading and take a breath in the real world for a while. The awful mind games and propaganda metered out by the corrupt mayor were, at times, very hard to read. 

Combines realistic empathy with fantastical elements; as exquisite as it is moving. Kirkus Star review

The reader is immediately tossed into this fantasy, relying on the narrator to explain how life used to be in the town to counter the grim description of how it is now. The Mayor is a fantastic (though loathsome) villain, oozing charisma and evil in equal measures, and in direct contrast is the ogress, who asks permission of the bees to take their honey and secretly shares her baking gifts with the town.  Bulletin of the Centre for Children's Literature

The two covers above are from the hardcover edition (top) and the paperback.  I prefer the hardcover one and I do wish the publisher had not made this change. 

Here are some companion reads:

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Norton and the Borrowing Bear by Gabriel Evans

Wouldn’t it be fun to have a friend living right next door to you?  Well, as Norton discovers, it can certainly pose some challenges when that friend wants to borrow all of your favourite things. This is a story about setting limits and learning to accept your friends, flaws and all. Simon and Schuster

Norton, who lives at number 42 has a new neighbour - a bear. If you look closely at the title page you can see bear looking at a real estate agent window.

Each day bear borrows something - fluffy slippers; the teapot and teacup; Norton's yellow jumper (it is surely way too small); his yoga mat; and finally Norton's comfy chair. You can see some of these things on the cover. When you look at the end papers all of Norton's things are carefully set out but at the back there are way too many gaps. 

"Bear! Stop borrowing my things! You can't just take things and not return them. It's rude! It's Inconsiderate! It's not what friends do!"

It's probably an old child 'thing' but I am not very good at lending things - except of course library books! So I totally sympathise with poor Norton who feels utterly bereft as each of his precious things are taken away and not returned (especially those fluffy slippers). 

This book feels like a prequel to Norton and the Bear from the 2021 CBCA short list. Borrowing Norton’s jumper foreshadows future events when bear copies Norton’s fashion style in this previous instalment. 

There is a lot to talk about here, beginning with why Norton has a name and the bear does not. He doesn't even have a capital "B" for bear. The emotional content of this story is very strong and I am sure many young readers will relate to the feelings of loss when borrowed things are not returned. Even with his voluminous beard it is clear that Norton is fretting when we see him sitting up in bed worrying about his slippers.  

Having bear borrow very personal items such as the slippers and his cup and tea pot add to the fun but also to the sense of loss and indignation Norton must be feeling. This also leads perfectly in to the most important thing of all – finding a true friend. This message is clear without being heaving handed. The street scenes have a great sense of movement and crowding alongside the feeling of isolation as everyone walks alone focused on their personal destinations. The little assorted human and animal characters, with their quirky array of human clothing adds to the visual interest. Just like Gariel Evans, Australia illustrator Gus Gordon is also a master of this form.

I like the way the font changes colour to show the speaker - tan for bear and red for Norton. 

You might like to check out my Pinterest of books with Unlikely Friends.  This topic could make a terrific mini theme. And of course you will want to explore this quote from Shakespeare - Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Subway Sparrow by Leyla Torres

This is an obscure old (1997) book but the art is so brilliant I just needed to share it here. I am amazed to discover it might still be available.

"Moja apaszka'. 'Yeah, cover him with the scarf!' 'Si Cubramoslo'. 'Hurry, I'll pick him up."

A young girl is sitting in the subway train when a small sparrow flies in the door. In the carriage there is a man who speaks Spanish and a lady who speaks Polish. Somehow the girl, who only speaks English, needs to ask these people to help her catch the bird, gently, and then carry it off the train and set it free.

There is no translation of the dialogue in Spanish and Polish but somehow it is easy to understand that everyone has a common goal of helping this small, helpless bird, to escape from the train, to find freedom and blue skies.

Torres's first picture book ...  is a charming multicultural vignette. Kirkus

I am not going to say this is an essential purchase for a library or home collection but if you do stumble upon this book, as I did, I am certain you will enjoy the gentle story which captures a tiny moment in time and the small but important actions of a group of people on a train. The tiny moment in time idea reminds me of the special books by Bob Graham such as Silver Buttons; How the Sun got to Coco's House; Vanilla Icecream; and Home in the Rain. Here is a video of the whole book. Take a look so you can see the fabulous illustration of shoes worn by a boy on the train. 

I have read a few other books about subways recently:

Here are some other books by Leyla Torres: