Sunday, February 28, 2021

Littlelight by Kelly Canby


When you read this book to a group of children everyone will learn a new word: apoplectic. It means overcome with anger or furious. 

In this book we meet the people of Littlelight.  Lets think about that name - they don't live in the light - their town feels like the Dark Ages with no access to rich language, off beat music, and interesting books.  Littlelight is grey place surrounded by high walls. The Mayor loves his high walls because they give him power over his citizens. On the other side of these walls - north, south, east and west, there are people who enjoy delicious foods, they dance to their own music, the speak different languages and they read books! As the illustrations clearly show these other people have colour in their lives.

In the tradition of The Emperor's new Clothes, it takes the action of one small child to reveal the truth. One by one a small girl removes bricks from the high walls surrounding the town. Going back to the word apoplectic the Mayor is now very mad in fact he is furious. He seems to convince the town's people that the small girl has committed an horrendous crime. But then the people remember their delight as they discovered the different foods, music, words and stories. 

"The people of Littlelight looked around their town, now full of colour and light and wondered what, exactly, they were meant to be angry about."

They do still have a problem with their Mayor (read dictator) but the ingenious people of the town solve this issue in a most satisfying way.

'This little book packs some serious themes about keeping an open mind, staying connected, limiting elected authority, and the power of one person to make a positive difference.' Magpies

Kelly Canby lives in Western Australia. Here are a set of teaching notes to use with Littlelight. See inside the book here.  This is one of those wonderful picture books you could share with young children and then explore in an entirely different way with a senior Primary group. Think about themes of control; intellectual freedom; misuse of power; conflict resolution; and propaganda. You might also have some fun with fluro paints. 

You could compare this book with:

Suri's Wall - perfect for an older group

Here are two previous books by Kelly Canby:

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Haywire by Claire Saxby

"You think I want to be here? You think I had any choice? ... They just rounded us up like so many cows. Did they ever ask why we were in England? Why we'd left Germany? Did they ask what we thought about Hitler and his madmen. No. They just stuck us in a prison like we were criminals, then bought us halfway round the world and dumped us in the middle of a desert."

It is October 1939. Two boys live on different sides of the world. 

Tom Hallon, aged 14, lives in Hay, NSW Australia. Tom has two older brothers who have just signed up, an older sister on the cusp of falling in love with a young soldier, a baby sister, and his mum and dad. Tom has ambition - he hopes to win a scholarship and go to university in Sydney but with his brothers now gone Tom must leave school and help his father in the family bakery. 

Max Gruber, aged 14, lives in Bockhurst, Germany. He is an only child. Hitler has just invaded Poland and so his mother takes him from school and sends him off on his own to the safety of London where his Uncle Ferdy now lives. But London is not safe. Uncle Ferdy and Max are first sent to Huyton internment camp then they are put onto a ship which is supposed to take them to Canada - the Arandora Star - but the ship is bombed. It sinks. Max and his Uncle survive but his Uncle is badly hurt in body and mind. Once more they find themselves in a UK internment camp but the government don't want them and so they are ordered onto another ship - the Dunera. This ship is travelling to Australia and once again Max is placed in an internment camp - this time in Hay, NSW and this time he is alone.

This book is on CBCA 2021 Notable list for Younger Readers which is how I discovered it. Haywire is also on the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge in the 7-9 category. I think this book will be enjoyed by mature readers aged 11+. The story is told through alternating voices. Claire Saxby gives each boy a unique and authentic voice. Haywire is the perfect title - something to discuss with a class. I also need to mention the two bullies who regularly attack Max. They are so horrible. I was desperate for Max to find peace and for these two older boys to be caught and punished.

Here are some text quotes to give you a flavour of the writing:


"Papa and I will come soon.' She nods firmly. 'But now you must go now.' Her shoulders are tight and her brow furrows ... One side of her mouth lifts a little, but only for a second, and the smile does not fit with her worried eyes."

"Jump!' a sailor tells me. 'Then swim to the life raft. Understand?' ... The tilting ship gives a whale-size burp and makes the decision for me. I tumble over the railing into the water. I sink, then pop back to the surface, the life jacket around my ears. The icy water quickly finds the last warm parts of me, soaking through everything."

"I trip into something soft and squelchy. It's hard to tell, but I think it's a dead lamb. I feel bones inside the softness and deadness fills my nostrils. Even in this light though, I see maggots twist and squirm. I retch ... "


"I knew that working in our bakery wasn't just jam and cream, but I didn't realise just how hard the work is. Or how much carrying and cleaning there is. My arms ache, my back aches, my everything aches. ... Each morning as a crawl out of bed, I curse every German who ever lived. They started the war, they took my brothers away."

There are two scenes in this book that linger with me.  One comes after Max escapes. Tom tracks him down but the situation is very dangerous. A loner, a man damaged in the Great War, is holding Max captive. Tom knows he cannot fight this angry man so instead he reaches out to shake his hand. This diffuses the situation in such a perfect way.

The second scene is near the end of the story. Mrs Brandon visits Max in hospital. While Max was on the run he took food from their house. Mrs Brandon brings Max clothes and food. She hopes her son, who is away fighting in the war, might receive the same kindness from another mother far away.

 This story has an authentic Australia feel with expressions such as: don't get ya knickers in a knot; back-of-bloody-beyond; strewth; poor buggers; and stone the flammin' crows.

Publisher blurb: In 1939, 14-year-old Tom lives in Hay where his family runs the local bakery. Max Gruber is nearly 13. He is sent to his Uncle Ferdy in London, but is then interred and shipped to Australia aboard the Dunera. He arrives in Hay and meets Tom. The two boys become friends and find their lives and their friendship influenced by a far-away conflict in Europe.  Shortlisted, 2020 NSW Premier's History Awards.

Superbly written and presented, Haywire is a powerful read. It focuses historically, on the prelude to WW2 and the crumbling of people’s lives. Reading Time

This is a novel that deserves a wide readership among young readers with an appetite for learning something about our history while being taken on an adventure.  Claire Saxby’s prose is crisp. Short and sharp sentences provide bold, vivid images that carry urgency and tension equal to the characters’ actions and emotions. Kids' Book Review

Background reading:

BBC News  The Dunera Boys - 70 years on after notorious voyage

National Museums Liverpool Maritime tales - tragedy of the Arandora Star

BBC Liverpool  Wartime camps in Huyton

Take a look here to see other books by Claire Saxby.

Haywire is the second book in this series entitled Australia's Second World War.  Here is the first book by Sophie Masson:

There are other books for Middle Grade readers which explore the conditions in internment camps during World War II. This is a list of books set in camps for Japanese Americans. Here are four books I suggest as companion reads after Haywire:

Thursday, February 25, 2021

CBCA 2021 Notables announced

In a previous post I made my predictions of titles I hoped to see in the 2021 Notables.  I was right with some, wrong with others, and as usual disappointed some treasures didn't make the cut. I did especially "badly" with the Early Childhood selection. None of the Early Childhood titles (apart from The Small Blue Dot) have appeared on this blog, so in this post I will focus on Younger Readers and Picture Book of the Year.

Younger Readers (20 titles) 

  • Danielle Bink The Year the Maps Changed

I read this earlier in the year but it did not really appeal to me. The family situation is so complex and I wondered if children in 2021 would understand or relate to the refugee situation in Albania from 1999. Other reviewers loved this book.  

Children's Books Daily

Better Reading

  • Kate Constable The January Stars 

I read this earlier in the year too. This is heart felt story but again it didn't really appeal to me perhaps because the way realism (the plight of the grandfather) is blended with the time slip. I may re-read this one over the coming weeks.

Kids' Book Review

Better Reading

  • Kate Gordon Aster’s Good, Right Things

I gave this a four star review

  • Kate Gordon The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

I gave this a four star review but I am still very unsure about the appeal of the cover?

  • Steven Herrick Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus

Five star review - how wonderful to see a Verse Novel on this list.

  • Bren MacDibble Across the Risen Sea 

Five star review - the scenes near the start of this story where the children climb into a high rise tower building continue to linger with me. I was excited to see this on the CILIP Carnegie Medal Long List for 2021.

  • Amelia Mellor The Grandest Bookshop in the World

I read this earlier in the year but the construct and repetition of tasks which Pearl has to complete did not hold my interest. The history of the Coles family is interesting but this is a very long book which takes quite a bit of reading stamina. When I read this book I actually skipped quite a few chapters and jumped to the end which is something I very rarely do. 

Better Reading

  • Jessica Miller The Republic of Birds 

Five star review - this is a book I adored from start to finish.  The names, the word choices and complex vocabulary, and the world building made this book a very satisfying one.

  • Jaclyn Moriarty Kelly Canby The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst

In 2017 I read the first instalment of this series by Jaclyn Moriatry - The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst is the third book in this series. I did have a copy on my to-read pile but it didn't quite make it to the top before I had to return it. 

Paperbark Words

  • Sally Murphy Sarah Davis Worse Things 

Here is my review of Worse Things. This is a splendid verse novel (there are three books in this format in the Younger Readers Notables) but oddly I just don't like the cover. 

  • Katrina Nannestad We Are Wolves 

Five star review. Surely this will be short listed and hopefully be among the final winners. The hardcover edition is scrumptious.

  • Julianne Negri The Secret Library of Hummingbird House

Here is my review. I thoroughly enjoyed the rich vocabulary used in this book and the themes of political activism.

  • Allison Rushby When This Bell Rings 

I have added this to my "to read" list. We have a copy at the Westmead Children's Hospital Book Bunker where I volunteer so I can pick it up next week.

Kids' Book Review

  • Pamela Rushby The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle

The Book Muse

Kids' Book Review

Children's Books Daily

  • Kirli Saunders Dub Leffler Bindi 

Here is my review and YES this is another verse novel!

  • Claire Saxby Haywire 

I have added this to my own shopping list. Oddly I have not seen this book in any of the bookshops I visit each week. Here is a review from Reading Time. Here is my five star review.

  • A.L. Tait The Fire Star 

I'm keen to read this because some reviewers say it is a book for 12+, others say 11+ and a few say 10+ so I wonder should this book be in the Older Readers category?  (I have now read The Fire Star - here is my five star review).

Reading Time

  • Dee White Beyond Belief 

This is now the first book I have added to my shopping list - I plan to read it over the weekend - the cover looks very promising. (note I have now read Beyond Belief - it is an amazing book)

  • Sue Whiting The Book of Chance 

Five star review

  • Sean Williams Her Perilous Mansion 

Five star review.

Better Reading

Picture Book of the Year 

(20 titles)

Tamsin Ainslie Edwina Wyatt Sometimes Cake 

Liz Anelli Sue Lawson The Biscuit Maker 

Evie Barrow Maggie  Hutchings  I Saw Pete and Pete Saw Me

Freya Blackwood The Unwilling Twin 

Nick Bland Wolfred Philip Bunting Give Me Some Space 

Philip Bunting Not Cute

Philip Bunting Who Am I? 

Philip Bunting Wombat 

Kelly Canby Littlelight 

Gabriel Evans Norton and the Bear 

Bob Graham Ellie’s Dragon 

Armin Greder Diamonds 

Alison Lester Jane Godwin Sing Me the Summer 

Chris McKimmie Colin Cockroach Goes to Caloundra

Christopher Nielsen Nicole Godwin Jelly-Boy 

Matt Ottley Meg McKinlay How to Make a Bird 

Felicita Sala Maggie Hutchings Your Birthday Was the Best!

Danny Snell Jackie French The Fire Wombat 

Hannah Sommerville Mike Dumbleton Anisa’s Alphabet 

Scott Stuart My Shadow is Pink 

Jane Tanner Margaret Wild Girl from the Sea 

Anna Walker Hello Jimmy! 

Annie White Sue Whiting Good Question: A Tale Told Backwards

Anna Zobel Bernadette Green Who’s Your Real Mum? 


These are the books that were overlooked that I really think should be Notables for 2021.  Please try to find these and if you work in a school library I recommend you add them to your collection and also I recommend you read all of these to your students.

Scary Bird by Michel Streich - I am certain this will WIN other awards. I really thought this would be the 2021 Picture Book of the Year winner. Message to the publisher (Scholastic) - please send this book far and wide. Perhaps it might win a future Kate Greenaway Medal as Bob Graham did in 2002 for Jethro Bird Fairy Child or a Caldecott prize as we saw with Hello Lighthouse in 2019. Nop (Caroline Magerl) is on the 2021 Greenaway Medal Long List. I adore Scary Bird so much I plan to add a copy to my own picture book collection.

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon - I was sure this would be a 2021 Honour book. In my review I said:  "How lucky are our Australian children to see, touch and hear such a beautiful book which has clearly been crafted with love and care."

A Boy and a Ball by Phil Cummings illustrated by Phil Lesnie. Again I was certain we would see this book on the Picture Book of the Year short list. In my post about this and Anisa's Alphabet I said: "The topic of refugees is a complex but very important one and these books are perfect to use with senior primary school students and high school students. It makes me so sad to say Australia has a terrible record on the treatment of refugees but I celebrate the power of these books by Australian authors and illustrators."

Extraordinary by Penny Harrison illustrated by Katie Wilson - I wish this was on the Notable list - do make sure you add this to your library. In my blog post I said: "I think Extraordinary could be a contender for the CBCA list. Penny Harrison's rhyming words work really well. This is not always the case when authors choose to write their text using rhyme. Little children are sure to be attracted to the sparkles on the cover too."

Duck Apple Egg by Glenda Millard illustrated by Martina Heidczek - this is a perfect preschool level book which I expected to see on the Notables (Early Childhood). In my blog post I said: "It is so important for a picture book to employ equal partners - the author pens a brilliant text and the illustrator creates images both worthy of the words but also images that take young readers beyond the words into another realm of imagination."

Here are the Younger Readers titles I expected to also see on the Notables lists. I do hope you have these in your library:

Eloise and the bucket of Stars - I gave this four stars

Pierre's Not there - I gave this five stars (buy a set and perform the play)

Threads of Magic - I gave this five stars

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Night of the Notables 2021 Guest Speaker (me)

Tonight I had the wonderful opportunity to share books I read in 2020 - books I have talked about here on Momotimetoread - as guest speaker at the Night of the Notables.  This is an event hosted by the Children's Book Council of Australia (NSW Branch) where we celebrate the books selected for the Notable list in each of the five competition categories - Early Childhood Picture Book; Younger Readers; Older Readers; Picture Book of the Year and the Eve Pownall Award for Non Fiction.

I decided to talk about my 2020 reading journey and this blog -  momotimetoread. My blog began in 2008 and when I was thinking of a name I had two thoughts. Firstly I had held dear one novel I read before I became a Teacher-Librarian - Momo by Michael Ende. A young reader, the child of a friend, shared this book with me in about 1980. Momo is an allegory about time and the way, when adults give away their time (in this case to the evil time thieves), it means there is little or no time left for their children. Momo herself is the hero of the story. She witnesses the neglect of the children and sets about trying to thwart the dreadful time thieves.

Ende, Michael. Momo. Puffin (Penguin Random House) 

So I had the word Momo. The next ingredient I thought of all the children who visited my school library. Over 32 years I worked in five school libraries.  While this didn't happen every week, way too often a little child would return a library book, I would exclaim "wow wasn't that a great book" and the child would say "Mummy or Daddy or whoever the adult in their house - didn't have time to read it."  

In 2008 mobile phones were not quite as ubiquitous as they are now but let's put these ideas together.  Children need your time. They need to to hear you read books. They need time for reading themselves. There should be time in a family when children see adults reading. Looking at screens and not talking with a child makes me despair. The children in my former school were from affluent families and yet often no one could be bothered to take a little time to read a picture book (borrowed from the library) with their child. A picture book - that is ten minutes of your life! Hence we come to the name Momotimetoread. My hope is that adults will give time to their children - reading to them, reading with them, giving their children time to read, reading themselves, talking about books and more. 

You can buy thyme at the supermarket but you cannot buy or make time it is something we have already. We all need to think about how we use the time we have.

Your children will become readers if you give them the precious gift of time.

When I write my blog I have several audiences in my mind.  I am thinking of parents who might like to discover new books. I am thinking of a senior primary child who might use my suggestions next time they visit their school library. And I am thinking, and this is the main one, of my Teacher-Librarian colleagues who may not have time to read every book. For the teachers and Teacher-Librarians who read my posts I like to include extras - teachers notes, author and illustrator web site links, ideas for further reading, and occasional discussion ideas or thematic links. Lately I have been giving books a star rating. I only give two levels - five stars (I loved it) and four stars (I loved it but with minor reservations). I completed post number 2000 earlier this year. Here is a Pinterest listing nearly every book I blogged in 2020. 

Two of my topics for this talk link to IBBY Australia. We have held several events recently which focus on books translated into English.  You can find many titles in this Pinterest collection. IBBY also have a wonderful program where they collect wordless books. IBBY call these Silent Books. I have a Pinterest of these too but I called them "Textless Books"

Here are the books I talked about at CBCA the Night of the Notables 2021. I could have easily talked about many more books but my time was limited to twenty minutes so I needed to be selective. Titles in colour link to the post about each book. I divided my talk into sections: 

  • Picture Books translated into English (an IBBY Australia past event)
  • Wordless stories (an IBBY Australia forthcoming event)
  • New international Middle Grade novels
  • Two important picture books
  • I love Robots
  • Toon for the youngest readers
  • Novels for senior primary students
  • New Australian novels
  • International High School books
  • Quirky conversation starters
  • Notable predictions - novels (Younger Readers Category)
  • Notable predictions - picture books 

Picture Books translated into English

Dorleans, Marie.  The Night Walk.  Floris Books

Redondo, Suzana Gomez and Wimmer, Sonja. The day Saida arrived. Blue Dot Press 

Sorman, Joy and Tallec, Olivier.  Blob: The Ugliest Animal in the world.  Enchanted Lion

Wordless stories

Alonso, Cynthia.  Aquarium.  Chronicle Books 

Guojing.   Stormy: A story about finding a forever home.  Random House USA

Sterer, Gordon and Mariachiara Di Giorgio.  The Midnight Fair. Walker Books

New international Middle Grade novel

Grossman, Lev.  The Silver Arrow.  Bloomsbury 

Raphael, Amy.  The Forest of Moon and Sword.  Hachette 

Timberlake, Amy and Klassen, Jon.  Skunk and Badger.  Allen and Unwin  (Sequel late 2021)

Two important picture books

Claire, Celine and Leng, Qin.  Shelter. Kids Can Press

Naylor-Ballesteros, Chris.  The Suitcase. Nosy Crow

I love Robots

Applebaum, Kirsty.  Troofriend.  Nosy Crow 

Brown, Peter. The Wild Robot. Bonnier   (and sequel)

Cottrell-Boyce, Frank.  Runaway Robot.  Pan Macmillan

Hegarty, Shane.  Boot: Small Robot big adventureHachette  (and sequels)

Toon for the youngest readers

Ferry, Beth.  Fox and Rabbit, Abrams  (and sequel)

Keller, Laurie.  Potato Pants Henry Holt 

Sullivan, Mary. Nobody’s Duck. Houghton Mifflin 

Novels for senior primary students

Green, Julia. House of Light. OUP

Rauf, Onjali Q. The Night bus Hero. Hachette  

Venkatraman, Padma. The Bridge Home. Penguin Putnam 

New Australian novels

Greenberg, Nicki. The Detectives Guide to Ocean Travel. Affirm

Orr, Wendy. Cuckoo’s Flight. Allen and Unwin

Saunders, Kirli and Leffler, Dub.  Bindi. Magabala Books

Marwood, Lorraine.  Footprints on the Moon.  UQP 

International High School books

Blankman, Anne. The Blackbird Girls. Penguin Putnam  (High School title)

Drewery, Kerry. The Last Paper Crane. Hot Key Books  (High School title)

Laird, Elizabeth. The House without walls  Macmillan  (High School title)

Quirky conversation starters

Campbell, Scott.  Hug Machine, Little Simon 

Haworth-Booth, Emily.  The King who Banned the Dark. Pavilion Books

Mourlevat, Jean-Claude.  Jefferson. Walker Books 

Essential reading for ALL

Applegate, Katherine.  Wishtree. Feiwel and Friends 

Notable predictions - novels

MacDibble, Bren.  Across the Risen Sea. Allen and Unwin 

Brian, Janeen. Eloise and the Bucket of Stars. Walker Books

Nannestad, Katrina.  We are wolves.  ABC Books

Notable predictions - picture books

You can read about each of these on this blog by doing a title search:

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates

"By the front door there is an umbrella. It is big. It is a big, friendly umbrella. It likes to help. It likes to spread its arms wide."

Yes it is raining. Time for this umbrella to go to work. One person, two people, four people, tall, short, hairy, even plaid - they all need shelter and the umbrella is happy to help.

The Big Umbrella is a picture book about kindness. It is one of those wonderful books you could share with preschool aged children but you could also share it with a much older group.  The text I quoted at the start of the post comes from the first six pages of this book. You will want to talk about the themes of inclusiveness, tolerance, compassion, community, and perhaps diversity but you could also use this book to talk about the structure of a picture book. Pacing, word placement, page turns, and the use of pages with no words. The illustrations by Amy June Bates are perfect. The Big Umbrella was first published in 2018 and it is still available but here in Australia the hardcover edition is quite expensive. 

A subtle, deceptively simple book about inclusion, hospitality, and welcoming the “other.” Kirkus

This cheerful, inclusive book encourages the reader to share resources, not by demanding that everyone shares, but by showing how community grows when shared.  First Thursday Book Reviews

There’s a calming and happy tone to The Big Umbrella and a wonderful mix of realism with fantasy that makes it engaging, uplifting, and full of wonder. It expertly walks the line of impossible and possible. The Picture Book Review

The book I could use as a companion to The Big Umbrella is this one:

Rain is a very complex phenomena to paint but in this book you can almost feel and hear the rain drops.

I do like books about rain and umbrellas. Yes this book - The Big Umbrella -  is about so much more but here are some other books on rain and umbrellas:

I have been fascinated with umbrellas since I was a very young child and I read a story about a Chinese umbrella decorated with people who appear to be running when the umbrella is open. The story came from The Youngest Omnibus.  I decided (tonight) to begin a Pinterest collection of books about Umbrellas. I am also good at misplacing umbrellas - I wonder where they all go? I once had an umbrella decorated with umbrellas - sadly lost long ago.  I seem to have missed National Umbrella Day. It is celebrated on February 10th each year. I should also mention from time to time I do wish I had the umbrella used by Mary Poppins. 

It might be fun to fill your school library with Umbrellas or invite your school art teacher to create a display.

Image Source: Teachers Web