Monday, September 25, 2017

Ice flowers by Jutta Goetze illustrated by Patricia Mullins

I first read this book in 1992 and fell in love.  Ice Flowers was part of a television series called Lift Off so the cover is not really appealing sadly.  You can see a little of the episode here and as you have guessed this book is out of print.  My friend and I wish we could give a shout out to a generous Australian book publisher and convince them to reprint this book (with a different cover).

Lisa needs a daffodil bulb for a school project.  All of the children are growing bulbs.  Lisa lives high on a snow covered mountain.

"So her father dug through the snow into the hard, dark earth ... But his spade bit the bulb and a piece was chipped off."

The children watch and wait over the coming weeks.  Eventually spring comes and "everyone had a flower to welcome it.  Everyone one except Lisa."

High in the mountains winter is going on and on.  Then one evening "Lisa woke to all the colours of the rainbow."

The most special feature of this book are the tissue paper collage illustrations by Patrica Mullins.  I have talked about Sea Breeze hotel, Jerry and Lightning Jack on this blog and her Christmas book The Magic Saddle is a treasured book in my school library and another book that most certainly needs to be reprinted.

You might also enjoy You can do it Stanley by Irena Green - a little book where the class all grow sunflowers but one girl has a plan to 'cheat' so she can win a prize for the tallest plant.  I recently went to an exhibition in Canberra by the National Centre for Australian Children's literature and they had a display showing the creation of this book.  I was amazed and thrilled.  I always thought this was such an obscure little title but clearly others love it too.

The little library cookbook by Kate Young

Eating and reading are two pleasures 
that combine admirably  CS Lewis

Well here is a first for this blog - an adult book and yes it is a cooking book or as the library term would say a cookery book.

On Friday I said goodbye to my school library and received an avalanche of gifts, hugs, events and even some poetry.  Our local bookseller presented me with this book The little library cookbook.  I am not sure how she knew this would be such an utterly perfect, unexpected and generous gift.  If you have been reading this blog for a long time you will know if a book mentions food I will mention the food they mention!  Also I am a cake nut.  In fact when students borrow 'cookery' books from the school library I often flip the pages and show them the recipes I think would be delicious.  I as they move off I say remember Miss L loves chocolate cake!

I don't think I have ever read a 'cookery' book from front to back but I read every word on every page yesterday of this book.  There are some things I would like to cook but more importantly there are references to books I have read and loved.  I smiled on every page.  If you are a reader and a cook you should hunt out this book.

To begin with I read contents list which is divided into before noon, around noon, after noon, the dinner table, midnight feasts, parties and celebrations and Christmas.  Reading this I discovered references to Australian children's and I was puzzled because the author Kate Young lives in London and has an award winning food blog.  It was in the introduction that I discovered Kate grew up in Australia - in Queensland and this is where she read and heard books like Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman, Wombat's don't have Christmas by Jane Burrell and of course Possum Magic by Mem Fox - no food book could miss that one and I imagine you can easily guess which recipes she has featured.

Kate Young had me hooked when she mentioned honey cake.  I have talked about this delight in several of my posts.   She says "the scent of a honey cake transported me to the back seat of our old car, listening to Alan Bennett read Winnie-the-Pooh on audiotape as we drove to Canberra."

Here are some of my favourite books/recipes from this book - I was especially excited to see the reference to Redwall by Brian Jacques - his books are filled with an abundance of delicious sounding foods. I am only listing the children's book references - of course there are adult books listed by Kate Young too.

Pippi Longstocking - Tunna Pannkakor
"they thought it was a very good pancake."

Redwall - Fruity nutbread -
"Matthias seated himself to an early breakfast ... nutbread, apples and a bowl of fresh goatsmilk."

Little House on the Prairie - Baked Beans
"Ma was busy all day long cooking things for Christmas ..."

Charlotte's Web - Blueberry Pie "Just in time for a piece of blueberry pie' said Mrs Zuckerman."
The tale of Peter Rabbit - Currant buns "She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns."

There are also recipes from The Little White Horse (I adored that book when I was about 10 and still have my copy), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone, Danny the Champion of the world and The Secret Garden.

Where to now?  Well I have a jar of honey given to me by a student last week from their own backyard hives so I will make the Fruity Nutbread which has honey and another favourite ingredient - walnuts.  I might also try the crumpets from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and apple pie from The Railway Children.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The big question by Leen van den Berg and illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire

 How do you know you love someone?

I love making connections between books and life.  A good friend and fellow Teacher-Librarian gave me this book a long while ago. I finally sat down to read it today. Meanwhile I had been reading and researching versions of Snow White for one of my classes this week.

The class celebrated Roald Dahl day last week and had enjoyed reading the famous book Revolting Rhymes.  As a part of this unit the teacher took the time to read a few versions of the traditional fairy tales including Snow White.  She mentioned one edition had worked especially well because the retelling included beautiful language and descriptions.  I mentioned my favourite Snow White version Snow White in New York.  On Friday this class and I explored this intelligent and inventive retelling.

In The Big Question the shy elephant raises the question "How do you know you love someone?" at the annual meeting which is usually chaired by Turtle but this year his wife is ill so Ant has taken over. Ant is impatient and dismissive but elephant gathers her courage and asks her important question.

Everyone has something to say using personal examples including Snow White (hence my connection) who responds :

"When I kiss my prince," said Snow White, "I forget all my troubles: wicked stepmothers, quarrels, sour apples ... Don't ask me why. That's what love does to you,  I think."

Various participants at the gathering answer Elephant :
Mouse "I felt as big and strong as an elephant."
Clouds "We always float in the same direction."
Apple "When I see my love, I start to blush."
Grandma "I pick out a beautiful poem. Then I read it in our favourite spot."
Child "I write my own poems and slip them into his pocket..." (illustration here on the left)
Stars "We don't need words ... We can be silent together for a thousand years."

We are not told how elephant feels about all the answers she receives but as the meeting closes she rushes away - I hope into the arms of her true love.  Meanwhile the grumbling Ant drops the meeting notes off for Turtle and then she rushes off to her carrying work "unable to understand why she suddenly felt so alone."

Here is another connection.  Recently a young bride asked for advice about a picture book to read at her wedding.  She had intended to use Dr Seuss Oh, the places you'll go but then it appeared as part of a television commercial and the magic was lost. I hunted around and asked a few people and settled on Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney.  If only I had read The Big Question this would be a completely perfect book to share at a wedding.  Yes I am a tragic romantic.

You can read an interview with the illustrator here and a detailed review here.

This book comes from the publisher Book Island.  They certainly have an eye for wonderful titles such as The Lion and the Bird - a truly special book.  We do have another book illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire in our library - Maia and what matters.  This was also a gift from my colleague.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Appleblossom the possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan

There are lots of possums in my neighborhood and they are quite noisy at times and of course leave their little deposits on my veranda but after reading Appleblossom the Possum I have new insights into this little fury survivor and the ways they have adapted to life in the suburbs.

As this story opens Appleblossom is born - yes she is actually inside her mum.  "And then push comes to shove and she's out."  She makes the long journey up to the pouch.  All first born possum babies have names beginning with the letter A.  Subsequent litters will use B then C and so on. "Mama Possum is a free thinker and she encourages her babies to find their own names."  So we have Antonio, Alisa, Abdul, Alberta, Ajax, Angie, Allan, Alphonse, Atticus, Alejandro, Augusta, Amlet and finally Appleblossom - the last born.  At seventy-seven days the thirteen possums begin their acting lessons especially death scenes.

Eventually Mama Possum leaves the youngsters to find their own way and food.  Appleblossom, Amlet and Antonio decide to forage alone but come back together each evening.  Appleblossom finds herself in a tree above a human home. Her mother has warned her about these monsters and to make things worse there is also a dog in their yard but the tree where she shelters is full of delicious treats and so the next night Appleblossom heads back to the same yard but this time she climbs onto the roof and accidentally falls down the chimney.  Now her adventures can truly begin and she will need to call on all her acting talents to survive.

There are so many funny moments in this book especially towards the end when the three young possums confront the dog using quotes from Shakespeare.

"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!"
"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none!"
"All's well that ends well!"
"Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow!  And dart not scornful glances from those eyes!"

Appleblossom the Possum has 275 pages but it is a very quick book to read partly due to the rapid plot but also the large print size (I appreciate this) and the use of white space.  The action really ramps up from Chapter 19. There are perfect full page illustrations drawn by the author's husband.

Here is an interview with the author.  Read the Kirkus review.  You can read Chapter 2 on the publisher web site.  Listen to an audio sample here read by Dustin Hoffman.  You can see some pages from the book here.  You might also like to read my review of Counting by 7s also by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

One word of caution - Australian children will pick up the error when Mama Possum is explaining marsupials and she uses the term koala bear.  All Australian children know our koala is not a bear but this is a very minor quibble and will not take away from your enjoyment of this sweet story.

Michele Shaw  School Library Journal

Friday, September 15, 2017

Picture day perfection by Deborah Diesen illustrated by Dan Santat

The funniest book in our school library about class photo day is Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg but now I have a perfect book to read alongside it - Picture Day Perfection.

I think of all my school photos and only one really pleased me. It was the one taken in my first year of teaching.  I even remember every detail of what I wore that day even though I am not a person who likes photos at all.

Our hero, on the other hand, loves picture day.  He has been marking off the days on the calendar, he has plans to wear his favorite shirt and the family even have a pancake breakfast tradition especially for photo day.

Of course everything goes wrong. He has the worst case of bedhead, his shirt is stained and wrinkled, there are syrup and paint disasters and the word cheese makes him turn pea green.

Yes the photo is a disaster but not in the way you might think.  This book has the perfect twist in the tale and I certainly did not see it coming.

Here is a trailer from the illustrator Dan Santat.  Here are some comprehensive teaching notes and questions. Read this blog post for ideas about how to use your ipad to create your own funny class photos.  I should also mention the end papers are a real treat.  If you have your own copy of this book there is a photo frame at the back where you can paste in your own photo.  Here is the Kirkus review.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sir Tony Robinson's Worst Children's jobs in History illustrated by Mike Phillips

If you follow this blog you will know I rarely talk about non fiction.  Taking this one step further if I AM talking about a non fiction title it must be really GOOD - and yes it is.

If you have students or children who enjoy the Horrible History series rush out and grab a copy of this book which won the Blue Peter Best Book with Facts award in 2007.

There are six chapters in this book each with an intriguing heading :

  • First get yourself some training
  • The great outdoors
  • No hiding place
  • Mean streets
  • Service without a smile
  • Slave to the machine

You can get a feel for the colloquial style found in this book from the very first page.

"Stop reading this book right now! Put it down, walk slowly to the kitchen and open the door of the cupboard under the kitchen sink.  Off you go!  Don't touch anything just look. Are you back yet? Did you see lots of plastic bottles ... they make jobs like cleaning ... quick and easy."

Of course if you'd been alive in the Middle Ages you would not have had access to any of these products and every job would be ten times harder than it is now.

What jobs are we talking about?  Here is a list of some that you may never have heard of and there are lots more too.

  • mudlark
  • costermonger
  • link boy
  • fuller's apprentice
  • jigger-turner
Here is the picture for a fuller's apprentice.  "You had to take off your shoes and socks and climb into a barrel full of other people's wee."  This was the way they processed woven wool.

Each job has an easy to read description and a little job score scroll.  Here are the details for a stepper - a young orphan girl sent from a charity home to scrub doorsteps for a penny each.

Job Score
steps all look the same
Hard Slog
work till your hands and knees are red
very little
nobody notices you

Each chapter ends with a detailed timeline and there is an excellent index.  This is a book you can read quickly or linger over ... you can dip in or read from the first page to the last.  What ever way you read this book you are sure to learn something new and fascinating and perhaps slightly gruesome.  Watch this little film where Tony Robinson visits an exhibition about the worst jobs.

I would pair this book with some fiction titles such as A very unusual PursuitBarnaby Crimes Curse of the Night Wolf, Midnight is a place and Lydie by Katherine Paterson.

I have discovered there are other titles in this series such as these books about World War I and World War II which are popular topics in our library.  These should go on the library shopping list.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The legend of rock, paper, scissors by Drew Daywalt illustrated by Adam Rex

Start with this publisher trailer for The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors - it will give you a good idea about the tone and humour of this story.

I was slightly amazed to read that the origins of this game can be traced back to Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).  

In this 'legend' rock, paper and scissors are looking for a worthy opponent.  Each player in turn proclaims their challenge beginning with Rock.

Rock lives in the Kingdom of Backgarden
Rock versus Clothespeg
Rock versus Apricot

"And yet, smooshing you has brought me no joy."

Paper lives in the Empire of mum's study
Paper versus computer printer
Paper versus a half eaten pack of trail mix

Both are defeated "And so, with heavy heart, Paper departed the Empire of mum's study."

Scissors lives in the tiny village of Junk Drawer
Scissors versus roll of tape
Scissors versus chicken nuggets

Then one day our three heroes meet in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage.  Who will win?  Will each find happiness? How can a friendship be forged?

This is an interesting book.  On one level it is quite violent in a cartoon sense but it is also very funny and the final resolution is very satisfying.  Here is a set of teaching notes.  I would also make use of the the Wikipedia page with older students.   Playing by the book has a set of songs you could use with this book too.  Watch this video to hear the author talking about his book.

You might recognize the illustrator Adam Rex from one of my favourite books Billy Twitters and his blue whale problem.