Monday, April 23, 2018

Wings of Fire Book One The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T Sutherland

I am a little late coming to this series which began with this first book in 2012.  In my school library these were such popular books that students even took to hiding them on other shelves so I was keen to see why? I actually did not expect to like this book but I quickly became caught up in the action and found myself rapidly turning the pages. There are now seventeen books in this series but don't panic if they are new to you too. This first book The Dragonet Prophecy is the first in a set of five which can stand alone although be warned by the end of book one you will want to rush out and grab book two.

It is a time of war. Dragon wars. Ruthless and terrifying and all about gaining power! Who will save the day? Five dragons who come from eggs that hatched on the brightest night.

MudWing - Clay

"He wasn't a natural-hatched hero. He had no legendary qualities at all. He liked sleeping more than studying and he kept losing chickens in the caves during hunting practice."

SeaWing - Tsunami

"Her deep blue scales shimmered like cobalt glass in the torchlight. The gills in her long neck were pulsing like they always did when she was angry."

SandWing - Sunny

"There was something not quite right about the littlest dragon. Not only were her scales too golden, but her eyes were grey-green instead of glittering black. Worst of all, her tail curled into an ordinary point ... instead of ending with a poisonous barb."

NightWing - Starflight

"His black NightWing scales made him nearly invisible in the dark shadows"

RainWing - Glory

"... her long, delicate snout, glowing emerald green with displeasure, rested on her front paws. Ripples of iridescent blue shimmered across her scales, and tonight her tail was a swirl of vibrant purples."

The Dragonet Prophecy centres on Clay. He has been told he is dumb but he demonstrates amazing emotional intelligence when the five are captured and taken to perform for Queen Scarlet.  These performances are battles where the loser is killed.  The queen has a champion - a dragon aptly called Peril. "No one can even touch me. I was born with too much fire."

All five dragons and Peril have to escape but they also have to work out who to trust AND try to outwit the cruel queen and her guards.  There is also the problem of their old minder Kestrel.

I do enjoy books about dragons but the strength in this book, for me, comes from the way Tui Sutherland gives each of the five dragonets strongly defined personalities.

Kirkus gave the graphic novel of this book a STAR review. This book series comes from Scholastic and they have made a very impressive web site with links to puzzles, a trailer and forums. Here is a detailed review.  Here is a podcast with Tui T Sutherland.  I would follow this series with the Dragon Keeper books by CaroleWilkinson and  Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn

Just as relevant today as it was in 1965, this is a heart-warming story about children who want to feel special and appreciated for who they are.  Book Depository

This is a very old book but luckily it is a classic and so it is still in print.  Andrew Henry's Meadow was first published in 1965 and so it seems odd that I had not heard about this book nor had I encountered Doris Burn who is such a skilled illustrator.

Andrew Henry lives in the town of Stubbsville. Andrew Henry is an inventor. He makes the most wonderful devices - a helicopter in the kitchen, an eagle's cage in the living room, a merry-go-round for his sisters Marian and Martha and a "system of  pulleys" for his brothers Robert and Ronald. Sadly his family do not appreciate his creativity so he packs his tools and sets off to build a house for himself. Sam, his dog, is left at home. Andrew Henry finds the perfect location and he builds a splendid house using clay, rocks and poles. Andrew Henry enjoys his solitude but he is not alone for long. Alice Burdock arrives and she asks Andrew Henry build her a tree house. As the days go by George Turner wants a bridge house and Joe Polasky wants a dugout house. Jane O'Malley and Margot LePorte request a castle and a tee pee.  Meanwhile all the parents are frantically searching for their missing children. It's time for Sam to save the day!

When Andrew Henry comes home things change. He is given space for building and he makes something for every member of his family.

"He built a roller coaster for Robert and Ronald's toy cars. By using a bucket and parts of an electric fan, he made a hair dryer for Marian and Martha. The coffee mug he made for his father worked the same way as a bird feeder does. And he was especially proud of the automatic table setter he made for his mother."

You can see more of the illustrations here and here. You can see a video reading of the whole book.

I would pair Andrew Henry's House with Building our House, The Junkyard Wonders, Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and Whatcha building by Andrew Daddo.  If you have a child who loves to draw grab this book because the pencil sketches are sure to inspire them. Also why not take this book outside to read and then make a construction, invention or house yourself. The fun you and your children will have might amaze you.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Toby by Margaret Wild illustrated by Noela Young

Ah yes, the dogs and other animals ... Noela's are so realistic, they seem to crawl, fly or scurry off the pages. Their eyes sparkle with so much life that the reader practically expects them to blink. Karen Jameyson Magpies Magazine

In an interview in Magpies Magazine Karen Jameyson asked Noela an important question which relates to books like Toby:

"Time after time Noela's talents have been called on to capture life's more piercing moments, often a sick or dying pet or grandparent. How is that she has repeatedly been able to rise to the occasion with exactly the right touch?
I can feel them ... I can just feel them all.
But how can she bear to keep travelling around these emotional carousels?
I have to keep reminding myself that it's not real."
Mapgies volume 31, issue No 4, September 2016.

I wonder if this is really true. The book Toby feels so real and this is due to the perfect combination of text (Margaret Wild) and illustration (Noela Young) but surely also both Noela and Margaret have experienced the death of a loved pet. The sadness as we watch Toby grow old is very powerful as is the emotional reaction of Sara.  Mum explains this to her brothers. "Everything is changing for Sara. Next year she starts high school, ... she's growing up, and she's not sure that she likes it. ... Sara doesn't want anything else to change. She doesn't want Toby to get old and die."

I have been reading books illustrated by Noela Young this week. I am sure this one will be in all Australian school libraries as it was short listed by our CBCA in 1994. Sadly this is another title which is now out of print. When you do pick up this book take some time to look at the first illustration of a tennis ball under some flowers and then notice how this image is repeated on the final page.

Having said that, when the subject arises, Wild - Australia's best picture book author, bar none - handles death with a frank compassion that goes beyond mere sensitivity. Judith Ridge The Age

Wild describes the realistic events with touching simplicity. Young's beautifully observed watercolors are less impressionistic than Shirley Hughes's, and include more literal details, but they are in the same richly empathetic spirit.   Kirkus

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Keep Out by Noela Young

When I was researching Noela Young for my recent post I found some beautiful words by Maurice Saxby.  He compared the children at play in Keep Out with those by Jane Tanner in Drac and the Gremlin.  Both are books about imaginative play. Making use of simple objects to create stories. In this case a tyre swing.

Here is the one from Drac and the Gremlin :

Compare this with one by Noela Young:

Today I borrowed several books by Noela Young from a library including Keep Out. This is a wonderful book, not just because the illustrations are, as Maurice Saxby said "the best ever drawn" but because  this book celebrates 'people power'. A group of inner city children have nowhere to play. Each time they begin a game the neighbours and shop keepers chase them away until one day they discover a fence and a locked gate with the sign "Keep Out".  They kids go inside.

"Inside they found the ruins of old houses that were being pulled down. There were piles of bricks, old doors, and windows - even an old stove, tucked away in the chimney, which was still standing. All sorts of rubbish had been dumped here, including a wrecked car. Everywhere there were things to break and no one to say, 'Don't'."

The children enjoy several days of wild and wonderful play although their choices may seem a little sexist to a modern audience with the girls playing house and the boys building a rope swing. Eventually the 'game is up'. The council team arrive to clear the space. Ironically there are plans to use this ground for a new "nice tidy park."  The children protest so the workers invite their boss - the Council Engineer. "Then came the Mayor, the Town Planner and a young architect, followed by three aldermen."  Not only do the children save the day but they are allowed to share their ideas for the new  playgound including the name - Adventure Playground.

Here are some wonderful images from this book which was published in 1975 and is now out of print but you might be lucky and find this book in an Australian school library like I did.

Beetle soup Australian Stories and poems for Children compiled by Robin Morrow illustrated by Stephen Michael King

The anthology includes stories and poems on every topic, from rubber thongs to the seasons to bulldozers, and with different moods and styles. The special appeal is that this is an anthology specifically for Australian children from Australian authors, so the Australian tone is strong.  Sally Murphy Aussie Reviews

When I was talking about A Boat of Stars recently I realised I had not mentioned Beetle Soup which is one of my favourite Australian short story and poetry anthologies.  In 1997 it was short listed for our CBCA awards and we shared nearly every poem and story with our classes. Dr Robin Morrow must have enjoyed the process of selecting all of these wonderful poems and short stories. There is art by Stephen Michael King scattered generously throughout this book celebrating the joy and exuberance of each poem and story.

One of my favourite poems is The Sock Funeral by Gwenda McKay. It has two parts here is the cheerful version:

Where do they go, those missing socks
Whose partners wait in an odd-sock box?
Tired of warming people's toes
They're off to a land that no one knows.
Reds and blues and stripes and spots,
Greens and yellow and polka dots,
Dancing away to have some fun
Leaving our feet with only one.
Alas and alack, they'll never come back,
They'll never come back,
They'll never come back.

My favourite story, which I have used over and over again, is Up the Creek by Penny Matthews because it is a great way to talk about explorers and mapping with younger children.

There are some absolutely huge names in Australian Children's literature represented in this book such as:

  • Colin Thiele
  • Robin Klein
  • Libby Hathorn
  • CJ Dennis
  • Pixie O'Harris
  • Judith Wright
  • Max Fatchen
  • Jean Chapman

Sadly Beetle Soup, which was republished as And the Roo jumped over the Moon, is long out of print but I am certain it will be found in most Australian school libraries. If ever see a copy of this book in a charity shop or used book store grab it with book hands - this is a book to treasure and share.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift by Kallie George illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

"All those nights worrying about a gift and working on the rug. It seemed so important. But it wasn't really. Friends were important. Friends and food and the Heartwood. Those were the biggest gifts."

A few days ago I talked about the first installment in the Heartwood Hotel series - A True Home. Over the weekend my friend gave me the second book - The Greatest Gift and the third book - Better Together.

Often the second book in a series can be disappointing BUT this is absolutely not the case here. I enjoyed The Greatest Gift even more than A True Home.  In this second story it is Winter. Most of the guests are safely tucked away downstairs hibernating. After competing her chores Mona joins in the St Slumber festivities and watches as gifts are given to all the Heartwood Hotel staff. Mona is given a new apron with a tiny heart sewn on the front pocket, a cheese crumble covered in blueberry sauce, a subscription to the Pinecone Press, and a "walnut case, like the one she had lost in the fall."

"This cannot replace the one you lost,' Mr Heartwood said, 'nor is it a case with which to roam. It's a place to store your things, now that the Heartwood is your home."

Mona now puzzles over the gifts she can give to her new friends. A new and very grand guest arrives at the hotel - a rabbit called Duchess Hazeline. She is very bossy and demanding and announces that wants a carpet for her room - the penthouse - she tells Mona she must deliver the beautiful one from the lobby.

"The rug was an important part of the lobby. It was made from tree moss, a beautiful minty green, and it was the first thing you saw when you came into the Heartwood."

The rug is delivered as requested along with the delicious crumble which was only just given to Mona. The Duchess is horrified that this is a gift for Mona and she flings the crumble onto the floor. The beautiful rug is ruined.  Mona is so upset but she is also a problem solver. She decides to make a new rug as a gift to everyone at the Heartwood.

While all of this is going on it seems someone is taking their food. A thief has been sneaking around the storeroom and supplies are dwindling and then a further disaster strikes. Their supply shipment is stuck in a snowbank.  Mona will once again save the day. She discovers the truth about the thief, finds and rescues the shipment and best of all helps the Duchess to own up to her bad temper and take on a better role in the forest.

You will be rewarded if you can read these books in order but they can also sand alone which is good news for young readers impatient to find the next book.

You might also enjoy The Vegetable Thieves by Inga Moore (sadly out of print).  You can read about book three - Better Together here.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Noela Young - celebrating her amazing contribution

Noela Young 1930-2018

"Her child figures are among the best ever drawn for an Australian picture book: leggy, cheeky, nonchalant, eager, vociferous - never resting."  Maurice Saxby on Keep Out (1977) in The Proof of the Puddin' Australian Children's Literature 1970-1990, Sydney: Ashton Scholastic.

"We salute the achievements of this wonderful illustrator, whose pictures have delighted and inspired Australian children of several generations ...  Here was such a meticulous artist, especially talented at depicting the outback, rural life and animals, but brilliantly observant too of the nuances of exchanged human glances (look again at Grandpa). She will be deeply missed, but her legacy lives on in many an illustrated page." Dr Robin Morrow in behalf of IBBY Australia

Last week one of our wonderful Australian children's book illustrators died. I knew her work best from the NSW School Magazine (in this ABC podcast you can hear Noela) and of course the Muddle-Headed Wombat but I also knew Noela had illustrated many more books so today I started digging.

Take a look inside this book because you will find examples of Noela's work from all her years illustrating the NSW School Magazine.

Many years ago I found a little book called John the mouse who learned to read (1969) and it was a story that made me smile. Imagine my surprise when I discovered today that Noela Young was the illustrator of this little gem.

If you have a copy of Magpies Magazine (Volume 31, issue 4, September 2016) you can read an excellent article by Karen Jameyson entitled Noela Young - Visual Magician.

Among her body of work I discovered Toby by Margaret Wild, Grandma Honeypot which is a book from my childhood and probably the oldest book in my school library and the covers of books by Emily Rodda, Patricia Wrightson and Duncan Ball.

The National Library of Australia cataogue has a comprehensive list of Noela's work.

Take a look in your school library for these treasures:

  • The Muddle-headed wombat and sequels by Ruth Park
  • Something Special by Emily Rodda
  • The Best kept secret by Emily Rodda
  • Pigs might fly by Emily Rodda
  • Grandpa by Lilith Norman
  • Keep out by Noela Young
  • The Bilbies of Bliss by Margaret Wild
  • Toby by Margaret Wild
  • The Ghost and the gory story by Duncan Ball
  • An older kind of Magic by Patricia Wrightson
  • The problem Pony (Aussie Bites) by Sherryl Clark

By some amazing chance I kept three old copies of the NSW School Magazine from 1970. Here are some pages with Noela Young's illustrations.