Monday, October 14, 2019

The New Kid Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

What do you do when a new kid arrives in your neighbourhood? There are four kids in your group. Your mothers all say you have to be friendly.

"What's your name?' someone asks."

Is it teasing to take the name and twist it around? Ellie-in-the-grey-coat; Ellie-elephant.
If this was happening to you how would you react?

Ellie is smart. She does not react the way the other kids would expect, instead she turns their chanting taunts into a game. She makes her body move like an elephant and her shadow forms the shape. Then she charges at the kids and they run away. When they come back Ellie is acting like a performing seal. Three of the kids love this but our narrator is not sure.  He used to be the 'king of the kids' and now it seems the new kid has become the star.

What should this boy do? He could walk away. He could try to persuade his friends to follow him and ignore the new kid. No, we see that he is also clever. When the new kid turns her coat into a superman cape he copies her and the two of them race off to be superheroes. The other kids join in and soon everyone is having fun.

"There's a new kid on our street.
Her name is Ellie. And she's my friend."

I adore the light and shade in these illustrations and I like the way the kids all have different, quite textured hair. On this video you can see all the pages. I suggest you might like to read this book twice. On your second reading focus on the dog. His positioning and body language perfectly compliment the reactions and later acceptance by the group to the new kid.  I should also mention the end papers which are brilliant.

Vibrant, sensitively rendered paintings cover every centimetre of this thought-provoking book that demonstrates the power of the imagination in adversity. Red Reading Hub

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is from Ireland. She is the 2020 IBBY Ireland Hans Christian Andersen award nominee for illustration.

Marie-Louise was asked to contribute a page to this wonderful book which celebrates the Rights of the Child - We are all born Free. Some of the other famous names in this book are John Burningham, Korky Paul, Bob Graham and Axel Scheffler and lots more.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ella and the Ocean by Lian Tanner illustrated by Jonathan Bentley

Ella lived in the red-dirt country where the earth was as dry as old bones 
and it hadn't rained for years and years and years and years.
One night Ella dreamt of the ocean.

Dad have you ever seen the ocean? Mum have you ever seen the ocean? Ben have you ever seen the ocean? Gran have you ever seen the ocean? Does it crack open? Does it get tangled? Can you catch and tame it?

"I've dreamt about the ocean twice,' said Ella. 
'Now I want to see it."

Dad, Mum and Ben don't see the point of bothering but Gran knows dreams are important. The family make the long journey by car and plane over our wide Australian landscape. When they arrive at the ocean they see it is big, it is blue and it is beautiful. Everyone dives into the cool water for a delicious swim.

"and all their broken dreams were washed away."

The family then make the long journey back to their farm.  Everything is still in drought. The land is red and dry, the animals will still need hand feeding but the family look at their familiar environment with fresh eyes. They see the colours of the hills, they look up at the enormous sky and they hear the song of the birds. They have HOPE.

At its heart this is a book about pessimism and optimism. About the way we view the world. It shows how a small experience, like seeing the ocean for the first time, lead to an important change which helps everyone move forward.

When you pick up this book begin by comparing the end papers. They are the perfect way to introduce this book - orange, dry, dusty at the beginning and blue, green, watery at the end. I am going to predict this book will be included in the 2020 CBCA Notable titles (usually about 20 books) but I also hope it makes the short list of six in the Early Childhood picture book category.

Take a look here to see more picture books illustrated by Jonathan Bentley.

Ella and the Ocean is a powerful picture book about the harsh reality of farming in the Australian outback yet it is also a quiet reminder of the importance of hope, following your dreams and the importance of a supportive network of people. Educate Empower

When the family see the ocean for the first time it reminded me of the wonderful Margaret Mahy book The Man whose Mother was a Pirate. Take a look at my review where you can read some beautiful words about this experience. It would be good to compare these with the words used by Lian Tanner in Ella and the Ocean.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Squeak Street by Emil Rodda illustrated by Andrew McLean

Easy Fiction Treasures

This is a series of books that are 
perfect to read aloud

In 2002 Emily Rodda wrote the picture book Squeak Street illustrated by Andrew McLean.  In 2005 she developed this original story into a series of ten little chapter books each one with 58 pages and again illustrated by Andrew McLean.

This whole series is perfect to read aloud to a class of children in Kindergarten or Grade One. You could read one story each day for two school weeks.  The stories have all the ingredients - they are funny, there is a little tension and everything works out beautifully at the end. I also love the way each of the ten mouse has his or her own personality and talent/hobby.

Each book begins with a list of the ten characters.

Old Bun lives in Number One.
His piles of gold shine like the sun.

One-Shoe lives in Number Two
With precious things he'll show to you.

Fee-Fee lives in Number Three
With her enormous family.

Pink-Paw lives in Number Four.
She paints until her paws are sore.

Fat Clive cooks in Number Five.
He makes us glad to be alive.

Quick-Sticks lives in Number Six.
His band is called the Squeaky Chicks.

Kevin lives in Number Seven
He thinks old cars are simply heaven.

Tails the Great, in Number Eight,
Spooks us into an awful state.

Adeline in Number Nine,
Builds boats - all to her own design.

And post-mouse Ben, in Number Ten,
Is resting his poor feet again.

Every school and public library should have this set of books and the original picture book. The little individual books I have shown here are out of print but luckily the publisher has released two compilation volumes and there is also an audio version.  Here is a set of brilliant teachers notes. Take a look because these notes also include a synopsis of each story. If you have a young child or a junior class I highly recommend you hunt out these stories.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

"Cat always kept her brother in the back of her mind, except for the time he was at the front of it."
"On a good day Chicken liked to wander. On a bad day, Chicken would bolt. But no matter what, Cat loved him as wide a the Golden Gate Bridge, as deep as the sea floor, and as fierce as a shark bite."

Cat, or Caterpillar lives in San Francisco. Her best friend, Rishi has moved away to Georgia but the good news is Cat, her brother Chicken and their mother are set to visit the Krishnamurthys this summer. Disaster strikes, however, when the plane lands, and they discover Rishi and his family have left for India following news of illness in their family. This is a huge disappointment for Cat. As they wait in the airport in Atlanta mum suggests the children could perhaps stay with their grandparents in North Carolina - grandparents Cat and Chicken have never met.

Now go back to the text quote above.  Chicken is a complex boy. We are not given a label for his behaviour which seems at times to be quite out of control. The children's mother is a writer. She writes picture books for children and teaches writing to adults. Cat is often left to look after Chicken and she has become hyper vigilant about his welfare. She can read his moods and most of the time stop him from having a melt down.

The grandparents - Lily and Macon live on Gingerbread Island. This should be idyllic but there is a tension. Macon seems distant and Cat wants to know why he avoids talking to her mum. Perhaps this relates to her dad who has died. While she is working all of this out, Cat also needs to learn how to let go of Chicken. She needs to trust others to watch out for him and Lily is more than happy to take on this role. Time spent on this island, fishing and riding bikes, allows Cat to be a child.

Fishing becomes a way for Cat to break through Macon's closed manner. Cat enters the local island fishing competition, Her mum, it turns out, was a champion at the sport. Cat thinks this is the perfect way to reunite her family but of course nothing quite goes to plan.

There is so much to like about this gentle story of relationships.  Here is a Mr Schu interview with Gillian McDunn.

Click these links to read some review with more plot details:

An engrossing, heartwarming, beautifully written debut about building and rebuilding family ties. Kirkus Star Review

Richly drawn and yet still summer light, this novel is a delight. Waking Brain Cells

I could almost smell the salty air and feel the sunshine on my face. Bonus points for a beautiful cover too! This Kid Reviews Books

Caterpillar Summer is a tender, poignant story about family, friendships, learning to ask for help when it's needed and, most importantly, learning to take care of oneself. Randomly Reading

I think the relationships in the story are expertly done. Cat’s relationship with her brother and the battle between her love for him, her fears about something happening to him, and the frustration and disappointment every time her own needs or desires get overlooked feel so real and understandable. The Story Sanctuary

I would follow Caterpillar Summer with Junonia by Kevin Henkes; Rules by Cynthia Lord and Possibles by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Alpha Betty by Shoo Rayner

Easy Fiction Treasures

From birth Betty is fascinated by signs and words. Her early communication is via hand signals, then she discovers the alphabet when her mother feeds her some alphabet soup. Betty has one goal. To be a sign maker. When she grows up, she opens a little shop called Alpha Betty's Sign Shop. Her business flourishes until one day a new shop opens just outside of the town. It is called Tacky Tim's Sign Superstore.

"Tacky Tim's Sign Superstore delivered signs to your door and even had a drive-in, while-u-wait sign-making department. Tacky Tim made plastic signs on machines run by computers. He could make three hundred sticky-backed signs before Betty could open a pot of paint."

Now take a look at the name of the rival company - Tacky Tim!  Yes his signs are sticky or tacky but they are also tacky! Over time they fade and begin to peel away with hilarious results.


I am sad to say this little treasure, Alpha Betty, is out of print but you might find a copy in a school library. This is a perfect little book for a newly independent reader or as easy and funny read for an older child who is experiencing difficulty with their reading. Alpha Betty published by Walker books. Here are some other books from the Starters series. There were 16 titles in total:

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Albert and Lila by Rafik Schami illustrated by Els Cools and Oliver Streich

Tuesday Treasure

"The chickens and pigs were very polite to each other ... but the chicken never played with the pigs ... the pigs never played with the chickens either."

Things are happy on the farm but occasionally a fox breaks in and carries off a hen and this means the hens are not quite as happy as they could be. The fox does not worry the pigs and so all of them are perfectly happy. Well not quite all. Albert is not a happy pig. Albert is born white not pink like the other pigs. He is ridiculed and isolated. Luckily one day Albert meets Lila. Lila is an old hen and she is in danger from the farmer's cooking pot. The other hens won't help and the rooster chases her away. Albert and Lila become very special friends and together they are able to ignore the mockery and laughter of the hens and pigs.

One evening while they are sitting together gazing over the farm Lila sees the dreaded fox. She knows he is headed for the hen house. Albert has a brilliant idea. Lila opens the hen house door and Albert slips inside. Meanwhile Lila herself heads over the pigsty. When the fox looks in the broken window of the hen house he sees a huge pig. Albert explains to the fox:

"... we pigs are living here now. The chickens have been moved to what used to be the pigsty. ... but watch out, those chickens have put on a lot of weight recently."

The fox heads over to the pigsty. He takes a great leap and finds himself surrounded by kicking pigs. "This farm must be bewitched!' groaned the fox. 'The chickens have changed into pigs!"

Albert and Lila have saved the day. That fox will never return. The pigs are proud of Albert and the rooster thanks Lila but none of that really matters to our pair of friends who continue to enjoy life on this farm - together!

Albert and Lila is a wonderful trickster tale. Albert is a problem solver. That fox is a very real problem. It doesn't matter about the silly comments from the pigs and chickens, Albert and Lila are true friends and true friends help one another.

Have you ever thought about the ways you can identify a good book:

  • The cover of course and this one is colourful and quirky.
  • The creators - perhaps you know them perhaps you don't. In the case of Albert and Lila none of these names are familiar to me. I love researching authors and illustrators.
  • The publisher - in this case it is North South and if I was making a list of top international publishers of children's book North South would be near the top of my list along with Nosy Crow, Andersen Press, Walker/Candlewick Books, Gecko Press, Chicken House, Penguin Random House and Dirt Lane Press.
  • Books translated into English are often intriguing and different. Albert and Lila was originally published in Switzerland under the title Albin and Lila. The English edition was translated by Anthea Bell.

Rafik Schami was born in Syria. He moved to Germany when he was 25 and taught himself to write in German.  His book A Handful of Stars won the Mildred L Batchelder Award in 1991. In 2018 Albert and Lila was made into a play. I hope you can find this book in a library. It would be good to roll back time and restore this book to my former school library - this is a very special book with a funny and yet poignant story with terrific lively illustrations.

I do enjoy books about chickens.  Some favourite titles are:

Monday, October 7, 2019

Houndsley and Catina Through the Seasons by James Howe illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

Easy Fiction Treasures

In 2010, I talked about Houndsey and Catina and the Quiet Time. I adore this series - there are six titles. This book "through the seasons" contains four of these precious books:

Houndsley and Catina
Houndsley and Catina and the Birthday Surprise
Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time
Houndsley and Catina Plink and Plunk

The other two titles are:

Houndsley and Catina and Cousin Wagster
Houndsley and Catina at the Library

Each story contains three short chapters and just forty pages. In the first book Catina has decided to become an author. Her writing is dreadful but Houndsley does not want to hurt her feelings. I adore the emotional intelligence of Houndsley.  He decides to enter a cooking competition but on the day of the contest everything goes wrong. It is a total disaster. Later the pair talk about what happened.

"Trying to be the best made me nervous, and I did not have fun. If you do not have fun doing something you like to do, what is the point?"

Catina thinks about these wise words and she realises she actually does not like to write she just wanted to be famous. She decides to find something she likes to do and then practice until she can do it perfectly.

"I know something you are good at already,' said Houndsley, 'although you will never be famous for it.'   'What?'  'Being my friend."

These books are special for so many reasons:

  • They are easy to read and the stories are very satisfying
  • The colourful illustrations support and extend the text. 
  • Catina has especially beautiful clothes.
  • Each story contains gentle wisdom - very gentle
  • Each story also contains a problem which is solved, sometimes in a surprising way
  • These book are absolutely perfect for newly independent readers

You can see my five stars above. I think this series should be available in every school and public library.

Here are some pages so you can see the layout and text.

 Page from Houndsley and Catina and the Birthday Surprise
Page from Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time

After reading Houndsley and Catina I suggest you look for A friend like Ed.

Here are some other books you can read about unlikely friends.