Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kill Order by James Dashner

This prequel to The Maze Runner really had my attention. In fact I found it a more enjoyable read than the  original trilogy. It is set thirteen years prior to the cage landing in The Glade which introduced the reader to the original dystopian novel. I certainly feel closer to Mark and Alec than I did the majority of the characters in The Maze Runner with the exception of maybe Chuck because the main focus of the narration is for the major part on these two alone. Life in the solar flare-ridden pre-maze adventure beginning in the tunnels under  New York really draws the reader in. Mark, Trina and soldiers Alec and Lana survive a dismal existence in the city after the Sun Flares, and the ensuing tsunami  which leave them stranded in a sky scraper. After two weeks they endeavour to make their way to safer territory in the Appalacian Mountains of Northern Carolina. The novel is narrated on two levels, in that these first challenges and battles they face against the Sun Flares are interwoven as dreams relived by Mark within the present (one year on) where the main characters have to deal with the  ravages of the virus the Flare which has been released on the surviving population by an elite group playing God. The remaining world's population turns on itself and Alec and Mark must make some serious decisions and question their own humanity in order to survive and rescue friends. I look forward to Dashner's proposed novel which will provide the final link between this plot line and The Maze Runner triolgy

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

True to James Dashner-style, this is a fast moving novel. It is a cyberpunk thriller which is set in the future in the virtual gaming world. It follows three teenage hackers, Michael, Bryson and Sarah, as they search for rogue "gamer" Kaine who is holding people hostage online in "the Sleep"  (a virtual reality known as VirtNet) as well as harming them in "the Wake" (the real world.) One criticism of the novel is that it is hard to find a real connection with the characters and to be able empathize with them and both their situation and losses due to the fact that the plot drives the action rather than the characters who are only developed in a shallow way. Any ideas formed about the characters has to be arrived at only through their dialogue and actions in the games they play in order to track down the ever-elusive Kaine.  Maybe this is intentional given one of the major twists near the end when the reader discovers something rather disturbing. The characters determinedly trek along the Path through a very bloody war game, a surreal  Alice in Wonderland-like setting and a volcanic landscape as they endeavour to reach the Hallowed Ravine. The futuristic language such as EarCuffs, Tangents, NewsBops, KillSimms, and so on will be a draw card for readers along with Dashner's refreshing use of similes. I really enjoy his books and recommend them to the more sophisticated and mature readers in my classroom. This novel has many twists and turns and the chapter headings (Through the Floor, Three Devils, The Floating Desk etc. ) are another interesting dimension to the story line.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Anna's Dream House by Jean Paul Leclerq and Marie-José Sacré

Anna has always wanted a real home after so many of years of roving the country roads with her dad in their Gypsy wagon. One day they chance upon an abandoned house and decide to spend the night there.  Anna finds a mysterious old picture in a decorated frame and takes a liking to "Mr Moustache" as she names the man in the picture. That night she dreams and all the furniture comes to life. The man in the frame tells her the story about the carpenter and his wife who in earlier days created house in which every room was filled with joy and sunshine. Then came the sad day when they died and a stranger entered the house and everything suddenly changed. 

This is a simple but  beautiful and moving story  which I used to to teach a successful lesson on punctuation to upper primary students. The illustrations by Belgium illustrator Marie-José Sacré are bold , captivating and add to the surreal dream aspect of the book. This first Australian edition did not disappoint me and the kids seemed interested enough.The loved the fact that the complexion of some of the characters were sometimes green and sometimes flesh-coloured.

Crazy Book of Sick Jokes with Glen Singleton

Well I must say that this Crazy Book of Sick Jokes really lives up to its name. A few had me wincing at their political incorrectness...but I know the students will find them funny. Some are even disturbing, especially the "Mummy, Mummy" jokes. It has all the classic "Doctor Doctor" jokes, some witty waiter ones as well as many riddles. There is a smattering of vampire jokes and cannibal jokes as well. Below are a few of the inclusions in the book.

Mummy, Mummy, can I play with Rover"
We've already dug him up three times this week.

Mummy, Mummy, Dad's going out.
Shut up and throw more petrol on him.

Why did piglet look in the toilet?
He was looking for Pooh.

What did the cannibal say when he was full?
"I couldn't eat another mortal."

Doctor, doctor, I keep thinking I'm a dog.
Well, get up on this couch and I'll examine you.
I can't I'm not allowed on the furniture.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Little Tang by Sally Grindley and John Butler

The  picture book Little Tang is set in Indonesia and it basically follows the life of Little Tang, a seven year old orangutan  who is in the midst of learning lessons which will enable him to  become independent from his mother, Kara. It is a trying time for him but a essential part of the life cycle of an orangutan. The publication pictorially captures the facial expressions of these amazing animals and offers some insight into their lifestyle high in the tree tops where they build their nests. I for one, learnt a little about the durian fruit which is one of their preferred fruits. All but one of the illustrations are double page spreads which allows the reader to fully appreciate the majesty of these animals and the beauty of their habitat. Some interesting orangutan facts are supplied on the last page of the book.

Beautiful orangutan facial expressions

Monday, October 20, 2014

First Light by Gary Crew & Peter Gouldthorpe

First Light by Gary Crew, is a great book to explore with middle or upper primary students and deals with a father/son relationship. The main character who is referred to only as "the boy" until the second last page of the story, is quiet and shy and enjoys constructing model planes in the privacy of his bedroom. The reader is given the impression that he does not normally spend much time with his father and he is often harshly judged by him. One morning before the first light of the day, his father takes him on a special fishing trip, maybe as an attempt to break the distance and silence which has grown up between them. His father obviously means well but is off-hand and gruff towards his son. It is only after a scary experience that the reader senses a change in the father's attitude. It is a subtle tale, poetically written and beautifully illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe showing  evocative scenes from above and below the waterline.

To learn more about this well-known Australian author click on the link below:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner is the first dystopian novel in a trilogy by American writer James Dashner. I love the genre of young adult fiction and after reading this and seeing the film I can see why this novel would appeal to many teenagers and young adults alike. I allow students to read this genre of with parental permission as sometimes they do contain violence both explicit and implied.  It is racy and the characters are well-rendered meaning readers become attached to characters unlike some books in which the action completely takes over. 

The story begins with Thomas, the protagonist, awakening to find himself in a cage ascending  a shaft to a place called The Glade. He remembers nothings except his name as his memory has apparently been wiped. He finds himself in an all-boy society, each with well-defined roles and straight away feels drawn to the role of being a Maze Runner. The Glade is surrounded by an immense maze and the only way out, the boys believe, is through it. Throw in Grievers (half animal and  half machine -, menacing nightmares) which cause much more than grievous bodily harm, and there you have it, the main components of the book. Thomas often dreams of his past and feels that these dreams will eventually help him piece together the past that has been taken from him.

When Thomas arrives, he is obviously disorientated and takes time to adapt to the new imposed lifestyle. A young and very talkative Chuck  befriends him and is one of the reasons he is so driven to solve the maze problem; to get Chuck back to his parents or at least a normal lifestyle. Wicked, the apparently evil society driving this dystopian societ,y is never far away and for ever throwing deadly challenges at the boys. Big characters in the novel include fellow champions of the maze Minho and Alby, and Newt, with his leadership qualities, and Frypan an organised but slightly gruff cook. Then there is Gally, a very worthy antagonist who increasingly  throws a few spanners in the works as the plot progresses.. The language used by the Gladers may at first be disconcerting to some readers but after a few chapters will seem normal. And...then there is the sudden appearance of a girl,the enigmatic Terese...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

Bink & Gollie is something entirely different to the picture books I have been reading lately. It is somewhere between a picture book and a graphic novel and has three stories in it; two of which are interconnected through the symbol of a brightly striped sock which makes and appearance on the top of an imaginary mountain peak at the end of the second section. The stories involve two precocious girls who disagree on quite a few different things and who are trying to work out their relationship. Bink is an irrepressive blonde with unruly, spikey hair and half the height of her friend Gollie, who is tall and thin, but no less adventurous than Blink. The stories involve buying socks, visiting the Andes and the advantages and disadvantages of owning a pet, namely a goldfish. The amazing graphics by well-known animator and illustrator, Tony Fucile, drive the story along with their gentle wit. This book has been followed up by Two for One and Friends Forever.

Below is a link giving a preview to the first book in the series.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl

True to Dahl's witty style and brilliance, this book doesn't fail to entertain. One day, a young lolly shop aficionado called Billy sees an old sweet shop, The Grubber, which has been recently sold. Whilst standing goggled-eyed and wishing it had been him who was the lucky purchaser, a porcelain lavatory comes flying out the window, followed by a kitchen sink and an empty canary cage. The reader is engaged immediately. As it turns out the building is being renovated by a giraffe, a pelican and a monkey; a very unlikely trio. They are however, a very enterprising window-cleaning team and it seems that one of the richest men in Britain requires their services. The Duke cannot believe what service this team has to offer; a giraffe with an extendable neck is one marvellous thing but their criminal-foiling abilities is quite another. They are simply indispensable and so who will look after The Grubber in their absence? Quentin Blake comes to the party as always with his comical sketches adding greatly to the eccentric and bizarre characters who inhabit the books of Dahl. This is a short novel which will be quickly devoured by primary school children as well as being appreciated by adults. 

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You can listen to the unabridged version by Hugh Lorry:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Belinda in Paris by Amy Young

As you can see from the cover, Belinda has rather large feet for a ballet dancer, and it is precisely this which drives the action in the book. You see, Belinda's pointe shoes (ballet shoes) have gone missing in transit; they are on their way to Pago instead of Paris. Belinda is concerned and nervous about dancing in Paris despite her notoriety and the excitement her visit has generated in the city. What shoes is she possibly going to wear? She visits La Danse store which specializes in ballet shoes but alas they do not have her size. This results in her trekking around Paris trying to problem solve. She visits shoe maker Monsieur Luc who has never seen such large feet and then it's on to see Madame Sophia about silk fabric. The plot also strangely involves a baguette which becomes a part of the solution. So, do the ballet-loving citizens of Paris get to see Belinda perform?  The illustrations are exquisite and showcase many of the well-known sites and buildings of Paris including the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gates and the Jardin de Luxembourg. This is an usual topic for a children's picture book but it will surely appeal to aspiring ballet dances three years and plus.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Horrible Hair by Gerald Rose

Horrible Hair by Gerald Rose is a children's  picture book would be an appreciated addition to any preschool or early childhood library, being witty, with both worthy phrase  repetition and a certain amount of intrigue, it will equally appeal to a mother or maybe new age dad experiencing a bad hair day. Lion has been invited to a riverboat party, not any old party mind you, and for sure he wants to look his best; I mean after all he is supposed of be king of the jungle. He passes the entire day trying out new hair styles and seeking the approval of his close jungle friends as indeed we humans often do in our people world. Well, finally Lion settles on a style, but unfortunately or fortunately due to hippos over-exuberant dancing the riverboats sinks and all the guest end up in the drink. What the happens to Lion's much thought-through hairstyle? I guess the moral could quite easily be "be appreciated for who you are."

Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar is a fast and very entertaining read. Although it appears simplistic, it does in fact conceal an incredibly clever structure that is full of surprises. The story is about the oddly named Stanley Yelnats, who finds himself arrested for stealing a pair of sandshoes and then being sent to Camp Green Lake which as it turns out is not a camp and is not a lake either. It is actually a juvenile detention and correction facility where wayward boys are sent to dig endless holes, five feet deep and five feet wide, in the expansive dried terrain under the scorching sun and the ever-watchful Warden. As the story progresses, Stanley realises there is a reason to this seemingly pointless labour. His survival, his friendships and his eventual salvation provide the impetus of the narrative as many secrets buried in the past surface in unexpected ways. Zero, who becomes close to Stanley, is a very endearing character who has a great deal more to offer than his peers give him credit for. Stanley always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and as a consequence takes the blame for many deeds he hasn't done. Interestingly enough, the book was originally to be called Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Kid. However, with Zero at his side, things start to take a turn for the better.  It was adapted into a film by Walt Disney in 2003 of which I have a copy which students could borrow ater reading the novel. Students could also listen to this audio of the novel as the read along in the book. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dirty Beast by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl's Dirty Beasts is a treat of humorous (slightly black) poems about animals. Poems include The Pig, The Crocodile, The Lion, The Scorpion, The Anteater, The Porcupine, The Cow, The Toad, and lastly, The Tummy Beast. They are all written in rhyming couplets and take ordinary animals and turn them into people-eating monsters, usually for reasons of self-preservation or because of some misunderstanding. This book is perfect for reading out loud and Quentine Blake's illustrations are as lively as ever. The one about the emaciated anteater who eats an aunt is good fun, but my  favourite poem is probably The Porcupine. You can watch an animation of it below:

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Friend Whale by Simon James

This award winning book makes a powerful splash. How amazing would it be to swim with a great blue whale every evening? Simon James' book My Friend Whale introduces young children to the realistc plight of whales. It is a beautifully moving picture book which could provide the basis of some discussions about whales for very young children. It is an imaginative story with an important message. The author himself says he tires a little of book with polite messages and happy endings. Well, this book certainly has an honest ending tinged with sadness, however James does not allow this sadness to overtake the description of the truly  majestic creature presented earlier in the story. I bought this for my grandson Archie and will now be looking for more books from Simon James. Below is a fabulous animation of the book I found on Vimeo:

Monday, September 15, 2014

More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

Thank you so much to my lovely neighbour Sonia for this humorous book. I really enjoyed reading it and even though some of the comments may be tricky for students to decode or fully appreciate I have taken this book to school for students to enjoy if they wish.  The illustrations serve well to illuminate the comments. One of my favourites is the following from a young girl in relation to a book in The Cat in the Hat series:

I firmly believe that each job comes with its own unique challenges and no-one really "gets it" unless they do that job. Only yesterday on a flight from Melbourne to Hobart an air stewardess was telling me a passenger got cranky because he wanted to store his luggage directly above his seat and asked very indignantly, "Who brought the bloody life raft on board?" I mean you just have to laugh don't you?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Billy and the Big New School by Catherine & Laurence Anholt

This book by Catherine and Laurence Anholt is about the anxiety that some children feel before starting school for the first time. Billy is quite concerned and worried about the big new school with the great big children. His mum tells him he is just like a litttle bird who doesn't want to leave its nest. Billy loves birds and takes some comfort in this and tells the birds he feeds in the garden all about his worries. That's when he finds a little sparrow who can't fly properly and who is being harassed by other birds. So Billy decides to take him under his human wing. And soon...just as the bird has to go back out into the big skies, so must Billy go to school.  And is school as bad as he thought? Pre-schoolers and adults alike will enjoy sharing and discussing this beautiful picture book with its insight into the joys and trepidations of  starting school.

Good Old Rosie by Jane Maxey

The picture book Good old Rosie basically revolves around a sheep called Rosie, and comes to you right out of  the land of sheep, New Zealand. It focuses on a carefree, young girl, Jessica who lives in the country, and her relationship with her family and her pets; her favourite pet being Rosie the white sheep with the black face and legs. Rosie is evidently named after Great Aunt Rose on account of her black stockings. Then one day she finds Rosie in a predicament and wonders if she can get her out alive. The detailed black and ink illustrations are a real feature of the book. The story line itself is uncomplicated but fun. It was published by Oxford University Press in Wellington in 1980
Jessica and Rosie

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Plants that Eat Animals by Linna Bentley and Colin Threadgall

This natural science picture book written by Linna Bentley and exquisitely illustrated by Colin Threadgall was well worth salvaging from a recent library cull. The illustrations alone have so much artistic merit. This edition was published in 1975 but was first printed in 1967. It basically deals with carnivorous plants which with their clever baits and traps endeavour to ensure the survival of their species. Over forty years on, it is still a fascinating read.  Following the successful capture of their prey these amazing plants are able to dissolve solid animals with some being as big as mice and small birds, absorb them and then reset their deadly traps. The traps have been categorised into four basic types: sticky-surface trap, the jug-of-water trap, the suction trap and the snap trap; the latter being my all time favourite. Indeed, I had one of these, a Venus fly trap, in my loungeroom. However, it unfortunately only survived a year: too many little fingers triggering the snap mechanism I am guessing. Anyway, this interesting book cover plants such as the Sundews, the Pitcher Plants (American, Australian and the tropical),  the Venus fly trap, the Bladderworts and the Underwater Bladderworts. There is a contents page at the beginning so the reader can quickly find what they are looking for.  The drawings, as stated previously, are just amazing. I am glad to add this beauty to the Little Library of Rescued Books.

 Tropical Pitcher Plants by Colin Threadgall
Venus Fly Traps by Colin Threadgall

My Brown Bear Barney in Trouble by Dorothy Butler and Elizabeth Fuller

This is a beautiful story which is the sequel to My Brown Bear Barney continues the story of the friendship of a preschool girl and her beloved teddy bear. She and Barney are inseparable and each day brings a new outing and a new mishap. They spend time in the garden, time with Fred, her friend, ride climb their special tree, go shopping, visit the dentist and the library. Finally, they visit Granny. It's a busy week and the days are sprinkled with incidents with an accident prone Barney. However, come Sunday, the little girl and her constant companion are so tired they spend the day reading stories and taking a nap. They need all of their energy for the upcoming week which promises to be just as hectic as the one that is now over. The appealing, cleanly designed water colour illustrations by New Zealand illustrator, Elizabeth Anne Fuller,  add warmth to this familiar story. In fact they are what really make this text and would make text prediction attainable to most infant children.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The third book in the series by Veronica Roth is Allegiant and you will discover all in the first two stories is just a mirage. It's basically one city invading the rights and privacy of another and manipulating them to the extent of being able to eliminate their minds, their memories and their very existence. Just how many times is each city of factions reset you surely must ask yourself. A masterstroke as far as an author is concerned especially given that the majority of her audience is aged between twelve and eighteen. This is a real plot twister. Note Veronica's hair gets considerably shorter with each book promo. Does that mean she will be bald when she promotes her prequel Four? Anyway, this novel continues the story of Beatrice Prior and her romantic interest Four. Mind you, I would only give this semi-romantic and somewhat dubious love interest a three for his performance as the secondary narrator to Tris; a new feature introduced into this final novel in the triology. Can't have been that great as Roth feels the need to write a prequel to the whole series trying to explain and maybe exonerate the dismal appearance of Four in this novel. Whilst I enjoyed it, I feel it lacked the drive and charisma of the first two novels, a characteristic it shares with the third book in the  Hunger Games triad.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

In the second book Insurgent,in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, things are hotting up in the city of factions especially between the Erudite and the Abnegation factions. Tris and Four are caught between loyalties to their old faction and the ideal of avoiding a total societal breakdown in the city. In this novel you see the emergence of a more assertive, if not at times an aggressive verging on somewhat cruel Tris. She now faces questions of grief, forgiveness, loyalty, politics and most importantly identity. As a reader, you start to question her motives and actions. Dauntless is torn apart as Erudite try to establish dominance and suddenly Tris and Four are fugitives and have to seek refuge in the Amity sector. Dauntless traitors abound and action now needs to be taken to ensure a total bloodbath does not occur threatening the whole existence of all five factions, and the factionless, who have gained a power unforseen by all the legitimate factions suddenly become a power to contend with. But who is watching all of this unfold? There is a much bigger picture, maybe they are just all pawns.  All is to be revealed in the final book of the triology, Allegiance. 

If you would like to hear an excerpt being read, click here:

Divergent by Veronica Roth

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games series, you will most likey enjoy this dystopian debut novel by Veronica Roth and the three other books which make up the set in a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago. The story is told through the eyes of sixteen year old Beatrice Prior as she tries to find out who she really is in a society that defines its inhabitants by their personality-related affiliation to five different factions. There is Candor, Erudite, Abnegation, Amity and Dauntless. At age sixteen all adolescents must attend the Choosing Ceremony and select their faction. This will be their faction for life unless they are rejected and exiled to the poverty stricken sector of the factionless.  For Tris (Beatrice), her choice means leaving the relative safety of the Abnegation faction to join the Dauntless, one where traits of strength, courage, ruthlessness and recklessness are actively encouraged. During the rigorous initiation process, she meets and becomes close to Four, who endeavours to look after her despite her determination to forge her own future. If anyone discovers that Tris is in fact a a rare personality type known as "divergent" she faces possible death or the the very least expulsion from the faction.  The following video of author Veronica Roth discussing this book is well worth viewing. All four books are available for borrowing from The Little Library of Rescued Books.  What faction would you choose if you had to? Watch out for Jeanine, the malevolent presence and purveyor of others' lives in the first two books. She's the character you love to hate...along with the big bombastic initiate Molly endeavouring to win a position of dominance in the Dauntless faction. Peter's no angel either.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Max by Bob Graham

 Max is an appealing and large hardback book (25 x 30 cm) which will capture the imagination of toddlers through to lower primary school children. This book was winner of the 2000 Nestle Children's Book Prize Gold Medal and its easy to see why. Author and illustrator Bob Graham goes straight to the heart
of children’s experiences, creating gentle dramas from familiar situations. He masterminds an instantly recognisable world within which children feel secure and can relate to. Baby Max lives in an ordinary street in an ordinary town, but his house is far from ordinary; its big and yellow and the shape of a lightening bolt that  reaches high above the other residences towards the sky. He is the son of two superheroes, who dressed in their Superman-like attire, fly around the world tracking down thieves and bullies. These are the big footsteps in which Max is expected to follow, however, he is finding learning to fly an exceedingly difficult task despite the encouragement and cajoling he receives from his parents. Then one day a baby birds falls from its nest and Max has to take action. Woven into the very heart of this fantasy story are issues of identity, bullying and difference. Bravery and heroism, are equally valuable, whether applied to big or small causes. The illustrations are bright and bold and a mix of full page ones, double page spreads and a series of comic strip style layouts. All in all, good fun.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Looking Out For Sampson by Libby Hathorn and Ann James

Looking after a younger sibling can be loads of fun but sometimes downright frustrating. This story follows the highs and lows of  Bronwyn who is increasingly put in charge of caring for her younger brother Sampson. To complicate matters, a family friend is staying with the family, and her daughter, Cherlyl,  is nothing short of obnoxious and likes nothing better than to criticize Bronwyn and put down her family and their way of life.

"I mean it does look a bit funny a big man like that in a tiny little apron. It's great that he wants to do the cooking but  must say its very unusual about the apron" 

She's the character you love to hate. Then one day they all go for a beach outing and once again Cheryl does her best to dominate the family's attention and steal the limelight. Bronywn feels hard done by and then... Sampson suddenly disappears.

This book is a great bridging book from picture books to novels written for the 7-12 age range. Each double page of text is accompanied by an illustration underscoring the Australian way of life. This is a welcome addition to The Little Library of Rescued Books and I know there are some students in the class who could really relate to this very Australian story. 

Mummy Goes to Work by Kes Gray and David Milgrim

First published in 2006, this is a great book for all working mums explaining the love for their little one despite the realities of having to return to work. It simply explains that mum would like to be home doing lots of fun activities and it also explains that when mum is home the phenomenal effort she puts in; same could easily be said of the working dads. It is a cheerful; comforting picture book which will strike a chord in any home with a working parent. Author Kes Gray resides in Essex with his wife and young son, young family a menagerie of animals. He has already won awards after only one year of publishing his first book.David Milgrim has illustrated some 15 books. The bright illustrations leap of a stark white background clearly reinforcing the words of a mother's dedication to her son and also the humour that comes with Mum doing "SO MUCH!". I liked this one so much that I bought it for my grandson Archie who now goes to childcare.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

School Days: Cartoons from the New Yorker

This is a collection of 100 cartoons which focus on a variety of situations and characters, including teachers (the undervalued and the outstanding), students (slackers and leaders), and parents (uninterested through to the demanding ones.) However, sadly, much of the humour will only be truly appreciated by the north American audience. Most of it will go over the heads of my students but it will assume a place in the "Fun Stuff" section of our classroom library anyway. I particularly enjoyed the following cartoon: 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fireflies in the Night by Judy Hawes and Kazue Mizumura

How do fireflies light up the night? It's a process scientists are still investigating, but this very accessible book for young children provides some of the answers through the eyes of a young boy who collects them in a jar to make his own cool light lantern. The book offers interesting facts about the use of these insects in lanterns in Japanese gardens, in operations and jungles, their mating habits, as well as some information on the chemicals they use to light up. Illustrator, Kazue Mizumura, employs accurate scientific pictures of them as well as beautiful water colour scenes of gardens and jungles. This is the Crowell Crocodile Edition published in 1976. The book was first published in 1963 and has recently been revised and reprinted using the illustrations of Ellen Alexander. This time the protagonist is a young girl.

Firefly lanterns in a Japanese garden

Fox Eyes by Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams

"Whiskerchew," is the catchphrase in this retro picture book which made its debut in 1951.  It is also the word uttered by the old fox as he goes about his daily activities and notices the hiding places of other woodland animals and their secret stashes of food. They are unnerved by the red fox and are panicked into departing from their daily routines. Author, Margaret Wise broom  published over a hundred children's books and unfortunately for the literary world only lived to be forty-two. This little gem which introduced many a ninety-year old to reading is now sadly out of publication. The above Collins Picture Lions edition was published in 1980. Below is one of the beautiful illustrations by illustrator  Garth Williams and you can see the fox spying through the rocks.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Just Macbeth by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

New to the classroom bookshelves is Andy Griffith's Just Macbeth. It is a must-read for all diehard Griffiths fans. This is the seventh book in the Just series. It is written as a play and blends the characters from the Just series with the story and characters from Macbeth. Andy, Lisa and Danny are rehearsing the famous witches' scene from the play in preparation for a performance they are doing for their English class. They concoct a disgusting potion and then dare each other to try it. Suddenly, they are transported back in time into the battle scene of Act 1. Andy is mistaken by the three hags as Macbeth and told his future, that he should become a king. The book then pretty much follows the plot line of the original play with Andy, Lisa and Danny taking on the roles of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Banquo. The language is a mix of colloquial kids' language with sprinklings of Shakespeare's famous lines. The illustrations and quips of Terry Denton, as always, do justice to the book giving humorous advice and suggestions to the reader as well as deviating from the plot with other ridiculous but very funny reinterpretations of historical events.

The stage show was a hit.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sydney and the Sea Monster by David Elliot

This is the first book I have read by New Zealander author/illustrator David Elliot and I was impressed. It proved to be a superb tool for teaching my students how to write a narrative focusing on character development, conflicts and resolutions. It also affords some nice examples of literary devices such as similes, personification and the deft use of adverbs. My upper primary audience really appreciated the humour in the book, especially the "candles with strange long wicks" which the main character Sydney Penguin discovers in a mysterious box that has been thrown up out of the swell of the sea. The story focuses on this would-be inventor and an Antarctic community of animals who live in constant fear of sealers and whalers. day indeed they do arrive:

Next morning, the monstrous shadow of a sailing ship loomed out of the mist. It bristled with harpoons and cudgels and a feeling of menace. 
A boat was lowered over the side. The terrified animals began to run.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Magic Hat by Mem Fox

True to Mem Fox style, quirky and with repeated rhymes designed to get your child to read, this picture book is the full package. It is a funny, dynamic read-aloud book which both entertains and allows for prediction from page to page. The illustrations by Tricia Tusa brings to life both the magic and the unpredictable nature of the marauding hat which flies into town out of the blue. It adorns a toad, a baboon, a kangaroo, a bear and then suddenly its wizardly owner appears...This book is now part of my grandson Archie's collection.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Archie and the Pirates by Marc Rosenthal

The illustrations as well as the title of the book drew me to this publication.  Apart from Archie the ship-wrecked monkey being an ingenious designer and builder, he is also a selfless hero who values his friendships with Clarice the ibis and Beatrice the lonely tiger. The main conflict in this book involves the rescue of his new-found friend Beatrice from Captain Pequod and his band of supposedly fierce but in reality hapless advocates. The sentiments of the importance of having good neighbours is a strong one. The last double page spread is priceless. I really loved this book...and hope my grandson Archie will too. The main characters are pictured below:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Archie and Archie by Ruth Rendell

This is the first book, written in 2013, by well known British crime fiction writer Ruth Rendell for younger readers. Archie, the golden cat with golden eyes, and Archie, the quiet King Charles Spaniel, are neighbours and they inhabit a street full of feline friends and foes. When Pearl, Archie's pussy cat house companion dies suddenly Archie takes more notice of the dog Archie who lives next door and also of Gracie the cat next door. And then there is Tess, Rosie,  Boat Cat and White Leg and of course the Bengal cat, Loki. This small book has a huge cast of characters. Whilst this book may well appeal to animal lovers, it is very thin on plot and really much more of a lyrical run down on the personalities of moggies and mutts who happen to live in the same street.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Robber Girl by Margaret Wild & Donna Rawlins

This book by Margaret Wild is probably best suited to upper primary students due to the language which is heavily influenced by traditional literature and its themes of physical and emotional isolation. That's not to say that the book isn't accessibe to, or couldn't be enjoyed and unpacked by a younger audience; depends on their experience with literature I guess. The illustrations by Donna Rawlins place Wild’s tale in the deep and unrelenting winter of a pre-industrial Europe with Wild drawing on many familiar motifs from this time, notably the feral child, the stolen child and groups of three in terms of animals and events. The main character "the robber girl" yearns for human companionship, yet finally understands that a person cannot really enjoy or justify keeping what is not rightfully theirs. The story centres around a young girl who ekes out an existence in an untamed forest which is harsh and unforgiving during the long winter months. Her closets companions are a wise old bear, a wolf and an owl. Despite their protective and nuturing ways, she feels overwhelmed by lonliness during the dark wintery months and when a farmer's son, Josiah, strays far from the house one day, the "robber girl" is compelled to do what she does... 

"Robber girl" with her companions, old bear, fox and owl

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Mystery of the Woods by Mary Stolz

Rules are made to be broken? Well, not according to Grandfather Fanshaw. Young Will, his grandson, finds living by the daily rules and being obedient to the clock makes life somewhat repetitive and dull. This well meaning old gentleman's routines which include oatmeal for breakfast every morning and bedtime strictly at eight, would drive anyone out of their minds. 

All day long the clock directed activities in the house. The clock was a grandfather too, so Will figured he had two grandfathers, both of them telling him what to do.

Grandfather Fanshaw especially worries about the woods that surround his house and it is this irrational fear in some part drives his crazy rule-making ways. Suddenly one evening something really refreshing happens in their lives, a "mewowing" cat enters into their lives and the old bloke has to start thinking about doing somethings differently. Now truthfully this book, whilst containing some small philosophies about the drawbacks of being too rigid, probably wouldn't hold too many kids' attentions these days. I'll run it by some students in my class and see what they have to say about it. I did actually enjoy the illustrations by Polish artist Uri Shulevitz who is now  well known for his own stories, his award winning Snow, and his most recent Dusk.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Farmer Schulz's Ducks by Colin Thiele

Farmer Schulz's ducks were the loveliest ducks in the world. There were brown ducks and grey ducks and speckled ducks. There were ducks with necks of opal and wings of amethyst; their colours gleamed in the sunlight, their feathers shone like jewels. There were ducks with the sheen of emerald, of sapphire and turquoise and jasper, like the glint of Aladdin's treasure. There were ducks like burnished gold.

Farmer Schultz's Ducks by Colin Thiele, first published in 1986 by Walter McVitty Books, is now out of print, yet but this beautiful story set in the Adelaide Hills is still relevant to the young readers of today. Farmer Schulz's beloved ducks keep on dying undignified deaths. His farm farm is close to a highway and the ducks become potential  road victims every time they cross the highway to the Onkaparinga River. Rapid urban development has seen an increase in the traffic and also an indifference to the fate of the ducks by motorist tearing along to meet their busy work schedules. Farmer Schulz's daughter Anna has a few ideas to solve the problem. Farmer Schulz soon incurs the disapproval of government and the family has to rethink their whole approach to the problem. The illustrations by Mary Milton, a South Australian artist, are subtle yet detailed reflections of a myriad of breeds and personalities of the ducks described in the text. They also richly portray family life on this farm. Colin Thiele was born in South Australia in 1920 and his German ancestry was certainly a big influence on the book.
Farmer Schulz