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: