Monday, September 23, 2013

Pup by John Heffernan

This novel is an engaging follow-up to the books Chip and  Spud by the same author, and focuses on the life of Pup, another one of Farmer Morton's abused dogs. It follows the friendship of a young boy called Jack with the young kelpie whom he rescues from his cruel master. On the advice of one of his father's friends, Jack sets out to train Pup to a professional level in the rounding up of sheep. Jack doesn't enjoy school is currently struggling with reading, and is the brunt of ongoing jokes and verbal abuse at his school. Pup bring a new joy to his life and slowly things start to improve with his studies. Morton whose wife has left him along with his daughter, has spiralled further into the ugly tunnel of alcohol abuse and he is determined that Pup be returned to him. He is reckless in his pursuit of all he has lost. It is a hard book to put down and very suitable to an upper primary audience.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eric by Shaun Tan

How excited was I when I found this little gem! I have a large collection of Tan's works and was not aware of this existence of this littler number. Turns out that this is a mini gift edition of one of the most loved stories from the multi-award-winning, internationally lauded masterpiece Tales from Outer Suburbia. Despite the fact that in general we tend to think of book with fewer words are reserved for children, this is really a book for all ages.

Some years ago we had a foreign exchange student come to live with us. We found it difficult to pronounce his name correctly, but he didn't mind.

Thus begins the story of the very amiable  "Eric," the name he chose for himself to make life easier for others. Eric chooses to live on a shelf in the pantry rather than in the freshly decorated room the family had provided for him.  Tan showcases Eric's interest in the smaller and less obvious things in the world; those things we often neglect to notice. His illustrations are what make this book so memorable as they are unique and whimsical, with the final illustration which makes you go tingly inside. It is a beautiful and fitting conclusion which makes everything else in the books suddenly very meaningful.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Dog So Small by Philippa Pearce

First published in 1962 this book may not appeal to many of today's young readers as they may not be able to relate to everything in the text. But, some will find it quite enchanting, especially if they enjoyed Philippa Pearce's award winning novel Tom's Midnight Garden. Ben, the main character, would dearly love a dog and when his grandfather promises him one for his birthday he is very excited. However, his excitement turns to dismay on his special day when he receives a hand embroidered picture of a chihuahua in a frame from his grandparents. It seems nobody thinks a dog is a good idea when you live in a small abode in the middle of a busy city like London. As it so happens, the reader learns, that this picture has special significance to his grandmother and was lovingly stitched in Mexico. As the novel progresses we see Ben visit his grandparents, as he does regularly, and enjoy the company of their dog Tilly. Upon his return to London he starts to obsess over the picture of the miniature chihuahua dog to the point where it nearly costs him his life. Some readers will find Ben's attitude in the final chapter very disconcerting and unexpected. Avid upper primary readers with good comprehension skills would definitely take away more from this book than a less capable reader. It contains some powerful insights into life.

He saw clearly that you couldn't have impossible things, however much you wanted them. He saw that if you didn't have the possible things, then you had nothing.

Ink drawing by Anthony Maitland are regularly dispersed through this book and are very representative of the way children's novels were illustrated in the sixties and seventies. I really enjoyed the illustrations as much as the story.

The hand embroidered picture

One of Ben's visions
Click on the link below to hear famous actress Judy Dench tell part of the story:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spider and the King by Diana Kidd

Sam leaves home without thinking it through. He is tired of not been noticed, and jealous of all the attention his sister Kate is getting since her life-changing accident. However, life on the streets in the city is not all it seemed cracked up to be and Sam feels an intense loneliness. Not only this, but he is also hassled by a gang who seem out to cause him harm. Then, it's Rissole to his rescue and little by little Rissole tests him and allows him into his life. They both share a love of a stray kitten called Pinball and both have their own issues to come to terms with. Rissole wants desperately to find his mum and Sam, now nicknamed Spider, struggles to come to terms with his feelings of guilt at having left home and the enormous obstacle that his sister faces.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French

Mark, Anna, Ben and Little Tracey have a game they play each morning as they wait for the school bus; they make up stories. This time it's Anna's turn and she has an enthralling one to tell about Hitler's daughter, a daughter only a few select people in the Third Reich know about. Mark is particularly captivated with the story and Germany's dark history. But what is reality and what is imagination? It's difficult to tell until Anna reveals some startling news at the end of her two week narration. This book skips between the two stories, the one about the lives of the bus stop friends, and the one about Heidi, the unacknowledged daughter of Adolf Hitler, story set back in World War 11 Germany. It throws up many questions, like what it would be like to be a child of someone evil?  How can someone love someone who commits terrible crimes? This novel was first published in 1999 and has sold over 100, 000 copies in Australia alone. It has also received a lot of critical acclaim in many countries and it would be great if every upper primary student had the opportunity to read this book.

The Cabbage Patch Fib by Paul Jennings

One evening around the tea table Dad insists on intelligent discussion, and that's when Chris pops the question, "Where do babies come from, Dad?" Well, Dad doesn't give an intelligent answer at all, in fact he tells Chris that they grow out of cabbages at night. Intrigued by this, later that evening just before bedtime Chris grabs a torch and begins his search for a baby in the family's cabbage patch. Bingo! He finds one and it  is a little boy and it is green. He is suitably impressed, but about to find out the hard way just how demanding caring for a baby can be, especially this one which starts to change colour and die if he so much as hands it to anyone else to care for for more than a minute. He has to take it to school with him, miss out on his favourite lessons and playing British Bulldog in the breaks, and what's even worse, he has to change the disgusting yellow nappies whilst the whole class looks on! So what can he possibly do to make his life easier? Craig Smith's ink illustrations are entertaining within themselves.  This book is an easy read but entertaining.

This one of Jenning's stories included in the Round the Twist series. Click on the link below to preview it. It is a little different from the story but just as enjoyable as the book.

The Monster Diaries by Luciano Saracino & Poly Bernatene

The Monster Diaries is a monster-sized book and is not a story so much as a series of diary entries from twelve different monsters including the well known ones like Dracula, The Abominable Snowman and Frankenstein. "The Federation of Fright" believes that human children have run out of nightmares and is running a competition to find the grisliest ghoul and will be judging each of the entries on their terror tactics. Each diary entry is accompanied by a photo of the in many cases hapless writer engaged in one of his/her favourite pastimes. There are some links made between some of the characters but generally speaking each entry is self-contained.The dimensions of the book may make it a difficult hardback to add to your bookshelf having the dimensions 250mm x 340. However, it is a stunning hardback book. It is also a  humorous read with many play on words which could even result in some readers laughing out loud. The large, detailed illustration are a strong point of the book. And, as to who deserves to win the competition? Well, you decide for yourself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Viking Longship by Mick Manning & Brita Granström

Into Vikings? Ever wondered what life would be like on board a viking ship? Mick Manning and Brita Granström share their knowledge mixing up illustrations and text in all kinds of interesting and unique ways. In this book you can explore skilful ship builders at work, spend time at a Viking farm, be part of a battle, visit the markets of that time and also listen to tales about the Viking Gods as you warm yourself by the fire. Viking women had more rights than women in many other countries as Vikings considered men and women as equal. A few down points were that everyone it seemed had nits and fleas and the discovery of Jorvik poo showed that they were infested with tapeworms too. So much for having the toilets close to the house and the drinking wells! Decide for yourself whether they Vikings were bloodthirsty barbarians or not.The story begins a very long time ago in 864

The authors' website is also well worth a visit:

Here is a Vimeo clip of Brita at work painting in the freezing snow in Sweden:

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (pop-up style) illustrated by J Pavlin and G Seda

This beautiful pop-up book of Gulliver's Travels was published by Octopus Books Limited in 1979 in Prague, Czechoslovakia using the illustrations of J. Pavlin and G. Seda. It was originally published in 1977 with text in Czech by Artia. It is obviously a condensed version but very well done I think. In the story, Gulliver finds himself in a tumultuous storm and the ship he is sailing in meets a sad end. Gulliver, the sole survivor, finds himself washed ashore in a strange land called Lilliput.  To these tiny people called Lilliputians he is a giant. Initially, he is not kindly received as he can't speak the language and make himself understood and so he is locked up. Finally, he receives a pardon but only on one condition.

New Patches for Old by Barbara K. Walker & Ahmet E. Uysal

This Turkish folktale retold by Barbara K. Walker and Ahmet E. Uysal will appeal to all ages. It was published back in 1974 but the humour is timeless. It's holiday time and Hasan decides to buy something new in the way of clothing for the members of his family to celebrate. After accomplishing this, he buys some trousers for himself even though they are too long and the tailor has no time to shorten them. He then begins his quest to find a family member with time to do the task, but to no avail. It seems everyone is far too busy to help dear old dad out. But it seems they also have a secret, and this secret has funny consequences, well for the reader, but not so much for Hasan who is not impressed with what was supposed to be a pleasant surprise for him.

Some students have made this delightful story into a presentation:

A House in Town by William Mayne & Sarah Fox-Davies

A fox mother, Vixen, returns one day after stalking prey along the hills to find machines in the process of demolishing the house where she has been rearing her cubs. She must act quickly and get them to a safe haven. En route with the youngest in her jaws she is set upon by a pack of dogs. Workmen in the streets cheer for the foxes. The story follows her as she desperately tries to exit the town. The ending is satisfactory and this book would suit a middle primary to an upper primary student gaining confidence in reading. The gentle illustrations by Sarah Fox-Davies are stunning and mirror the text closely which would help students with the reading of the book.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jack the Giantkiller by Tony Ross

A violent book about killing giants which some parents might very well turn their backs on. Highly acclaimed writer, Tony Ross, renown for his comic updating of traditional tales, really hits the mark with this one. The main character, Jack, will appeal to the rebellious instincts in young readers, as he sets about systematically killing off all the feared giants of the region. He begins with the capture of Cormoran goading him into his killing pit with insults before mercifully clubbing him to death with a well-aimed single blow. Little does Cormoran's brother, Blunderbore, know that he is next on Jack's quite extensive execution list. His abominable neighbour (who just so happens to be with him) becomes collateral damage. It's then onwards to deal with the two-headed giant, Elvarach, the Thunderdell, and then suddenly dragons and a magician enter the story... and much to his delight, a princess. This is the true stuff of fairy tales, all but with a modern twist; twist of the sword that is! I know many young children who will just love this picture book by Ross, printed just so it happens on acid free paper, ensuring it will be around for a bit.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Landing A Night of Birds by Katherine Scholes

"Each great wing was as long as a man is tall. But in this wild wind the bird was tossed along like a paper plane - struggling over long mounds, bumps and heaps of troubled air. It flew with its head slung low and eyes half closed against the beating hail."

The story begins with a master of the winds, a beautiful, ageing Wandering Albatross, desperately carving his way through a violent storm. The next chapter switches to Annie, who along with her grandfather, Old Joe, awake to a violent gale to discover a sea of dead and exhausted birds struggling to survive in their yard. Quickly, and in difficult conditions, the two collect the living birds and give them asylum in their boathouse not far from their cottage. Annie is fastidious in her search for birds, not willing to leave one living bird out in the cruel elements. As it turns out, the birds are mutton birds (Short-tailed Shearwaters) returning from their marathon flight from the Aleutian Islands, off Alaska. Throughout the story the reader is continually questioning the relationship between the albatross struggling out at sea and the stranded mutton birds back on shore.  The story then takes a fantastical twist with Annie waking one night to feathery noises, and finding she can communicate with the birds. She learns of the legend of the mariner and the albatross. Interwoven with Annie's encounters with the Bard and the other birds is the struggle of the albatross. Eventually, the two stories collide.The illustrations by David Wong include water colour plates and ink sketches, and both masterfully bring the stormy tale to life. In the back of the book there is are some interesting author's notes containing information about the Wandering Albatross, the Short-tailed Shearwater and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner along with other information pertinent to the tale. I have two copies of this hardback book in our little library of rescued books for students to enjoy and share. 

A captivating illustration by David Wong
I could really relate to this story as one year whilst visiting Nek Beach on Bruny Island I was sad to see the hundreds of mutton birds who did not quite complete their epic journey. They were still graceful in death. Every year we go down to the viewing platform at Nek Beach to see both these beautiful birds and the little penguins over the summer holiday period.

Death at the Nek 2008

Short-tailed Shearwater

Graceful in death