Saturday, February 24, 2018

Good Dog McTavish by Meg Rosoff

McTavish smiled, in the way that dogs smile, with a soft little woof and a squirmy sort of wriggle.

I really, really, really enjoyed this little book Good Dog McTavish but I am having a struggle deciding about the audience. The publisher says 8+  but I think older children might appreciate this book even more. Many years ago I read a similar little book called Spunky tells all and enthusiastically gave it to a Grade 3 teacher to share with her class but she returned it quite quickly because her class found it too confusing. I think they had difficulty with the concept of point of view - that Spunky as the family dog was telling his version of domestic life. McTavish also has opinions and ideas about making this family better but here it is not told as a first 'person' narrative.

The Peachey family are imploding. Mum decides she has had enough of the cleaning, organising and cooking so she steps aside to enjoy her yoga leaving the family to fend for themselves. Not surprisingly, quite quickly, everything falls apart. Take away and frozen meals (even horrid tasting ones) become the norm, dishes linger unwashed, clothes pile up all over the house - clean and dirty and everyone is late for work and school. Think of Anthony Browne and his classic Piggybook. The youngest child, Betty,  - old head on young shoulders - knows something must be done and done now so she suggests the family find a dog. They set off to the Cuddles Home for Unclaimed Mutts (C.H.U.M.).

"Betty screwed her eyes shut with longing and terror.  She did not want to browse dogs. All she wanted was to choose the smartest, waggiest, most shiny-eyed of all the poor doggies in captivity, take him home and love him to bits. Maybe then her family could return to a time when Ma Peachey wasn't doing yoga ... "

Betty finds McTavish - quite a lot of Scottish terrier, a bit of Jack Russell, a touch of poodle, a trace of Bichon Frise and a dash of Chinese Spaniel. Yes this is quite a mix but the main thing you need to know is McTavish is wise. Betty loves him. She makes him a wonderful comfortable bed using an old blanket and a sleeping bag which she washes and sews up carefully. McTavish settles in but he can see this family need urgent help.

"He observed the Peacheys in silence, needing to know what sort of family he had chosen and what his role in that family would be. ... McTavish was more a psychological mastermind. He liked to organise people, to fix situations that were not to his liking. And to arrange the world in way that made it most comfortable for himself." 

Betty confides in McTavish sharing her worries about the family and in turn McTavish comes up with three plans - A, B and C. As each plan is implemented the family move one step closer to normality and perhaps gain some of the wisdom Ma Peachley herself has been seeking through her yoga. McTavish, however,  remains a true dog throughout the story - he cannot talk, his special bond with Betty is just one of love between a child and her dog - but he can do doggy things such as chew shoes, hide clothes, bark and in plan C even stop eating.

One tiny warning - if you are planning to read this book aloud to a class there is one use of the word 'goddam' which may offend. On a happier note Meg Rosoff also includes delicious words such as clinched, matriarchal oppression, melancholy, foray, existential, rampage, hooligan and invigorating.

Meg Rosoff is the winner of one of the most prestigious Children's Literature awards - The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Here is an interview with Meg.

Read some reviews of Good Dog McTavish:
The Bookbag

At the back of Good Dog McTavish you will find a page of dog care instructions because "A dog is for life, not just for Easter."  There is also some information about Blue Cross which is a UK dog rescue organisation. Another book in our school library with a dog narrator is Dog by Daniel Pennac - translated from French. Whenever I find a senior primary student who loves dogs I place this book into their hands and nearly every reader comes back with a smile. Another book that follows this theme is A dog's life by Ann Martin.  I would also pair this book with Let's get a pup by Bob Graham.

Good news, we will be able to meet McTavish again in his second book due mid 2018.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

"And then came the last crate. It followed the same path as the others, but instead of crashing against the rocks, it sloshed against the remains of the first four crates. Soon, more waves were heaving it up out of the water. It soared through the air, spinning and glistening until it slammed down onto a tall shelf of rock. The crate was cracked and crumpled, but the robot inside was safe."

I love reading a book where I have an internal dialogue with the author.  All though The Wild Robot I was having a discussion with Peter Brown about his inventive plot choices.  Crates of robots wash up on an island after a ship wreck but only one unit survives - ROSSUM unit 7134 or Roz for short.  Roz sets about using her computer brain to make sense of her environment and find ways to communicate with the animals she encounters. Luckily for Roz this island has no human inhabitants.

"Once fully activated, I will be able to move and communicate and learn. Simply give me a task and I will complete it. Over time, I will find better ways of completing my tasks. I will become a better robot."

Readers can only guess the real purpose of a robot like Roz but she certainly has an important role on this island. Even though Roz cannot really feel emotions herself there are some very powerful emotional scenes in this story.  One example early in the story is when Roz accidentally falls down a cliff onto some trees and she smashes into a goose nest. The geese are dead and four eggs are smashed but one egg survives.

"The robot gently cradled the fragile thin in her hand. Without a family, the unhatched gosling inside would surely die."

The gosling hatches but Roz does not know how to care for him so she has to ask the forest animals for help.  They are all very suspicious of this monster and they find it incredulous that Roz does not want to eat them in fact she does not eat at all. Roz and Brightbill, however, seem made for each other. Roz has so much to learn, Brightbill is learning as he grows and their shared paths help forge their new friendship and lead to understanding among the other animals too. Roz brings 'human' things to the island such as fire, shelter and she even uses the skills of the beavers to fashion a new foot when hers is lost. Island life is hard but it does feel like utopia until the day an airship arrives carrying three RECOs who have been sent to claim the lost cargo.  Here is a shortened version of the first conversation with Roz.

'We are here to retrieve all ROZZUM units.'
'Where have you come from?'
'Do not ask questions,'
'Where will you take me?'
'Do not ask questions.'
'Why must I leave?'
'Do not ask questions.'

I said earlier there are no humans on the island.  For me this is an important point. Peter Brown is exploring the dynamics between a man made machine in this case a robot and nature. The inclusion of humans would have given us an entirely different story - possibly one that would not be so powerful or interesting.  This is a story with layers which at times feels like a fable.

The stage is set for book two which I am hoping to grab as soon as it becomes available next month.

This book would make a perfect class read-aloud. Here is a set of teachers notes. This review examines the way Peter Brown prepared to write his story of a robot in the wilderness. The School Library Journal also has a detailed review. Karen Yingling  interviewed Peter Brown for SLJ. I think this book is destined to become a classic - I do hope so.

I also enjoyed the way each chapter begins with italics and the generous illustrations which one commentator rightly suggested would look even better in colour.

Our story begins
As you might know
I should remind you

I do have a fascination with books about robots.  One of the books on my top book list is Eager by Helen Fox and the sequels.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder illustrated by Emily Hughes

Have you ever heard of a bedtime banana?  
Find out more - read Charlie and Mouse today.

This is my favourite thing - discovering a very satisfying story inside a book for a beginning reader. Charlie and Mouse is a perfect book.  It balances humour with events and relationships that the youngest children will identify with.

Chapter One begins with Charlie - there is a lump in his bed.

"Are you awake?' Charlie asked.
'No,' said the lump. 'I am sleeping.'
'How can you be sleeping?' asked Charlie.
'You are talking.'
The lump stopped talking."

Charlie convinces his brother it is time to get up because today is the neighborhood party and everyone will be there. As the pair head down to the park everyone joins their parade.  The park is empty but this group of kids are ready for fun.  "It was the best party ever."

The next day Charlie decides the boys need money and he proposes selling rocks. The boys set off with their rocks but things do not quite go to plan. Instead of selling rocks they end up collecting rocks and even though they are paid $2 by their neighbors they become so engrossed in getting those rocks home they miss a perfect ice cream opportunity.

Are you still wondering about that bedtime banana? Sorry all I can say is find this book!

The other strength of Charlie and Mouse is the wonderful words such as sustain and moaned used by Laurel Snyder author of Orphan Island a book, for older students, which I adored.  Here are a very detailed set of teaching notes from the publisher.

Here are some review comments :

Yet when I read this story what I found was a quietly subversive, infinitely charming, eerily rereadable early chapter book not just worth reading but worth owning.  School Library Journal

A top-notch early reader, with words and art in perfect step. Kirkus

The adventures we share with the brothers are simple, and at the same time they are rich. Through the looking Glass

Charlie and Mouse is the winner of the (Theodore Seuss) Geisel Award.  Try to find some past winners if you are looking for utterly perfect books for your youngest readers.  I am looking forward to reading the second book in this series. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Moo a novel by Sharon Creech

Newbery Medalist Creech touches on themes of loss, friendship, and belonging in this appealing tale of a young girl’s unlikely relationship with Zora, an enormous belted Galloway. Kirkus

Moo - why was I keen to read this book?

  • It is by the wonderful Sharon Creech
  • Sharon Creech once commented on this blog making me love her even more!
  • I adore belted Galloway cows (even though I have never seen one)
  • Moo is a partly written as a verse novel. I so admire writers who use this genre.
  • Ever since I read The Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt I have sought out books set in Maine

Driving through city traffic Reena's mum says "let's get out of here".  She means let's leave this hectic city life.  But where will they go. Reena says Maine.

"My parents met in Maine many years ago and when they spoke of Maine their voices had the glint of sea and sky. In the car that day, Maine just popped out of my head. I hadn't expected they would take me seriously. I'm glad I didn't say Siberia."

Friends, family, neighbors, strangers all warn against the perils of Maine - especially the cold. But there are also good things - lobsters, blueberries, coastlines and mountains.  When the family arrive mum and dad send Reena and her brother Luke (a seven-year-old complexity) off for a ride around the town - this is unheard of freedom. 

In the city where we'd lived

there were few safe places
for us to ride - 
few places where we weren't competing
with cars and trucks and buses
and surprise clumps of kids
armed with sticks and stone
or wobbly bearded men spitting

but here in this little town by the sea

there were wide sidewalks
and quiet, curving lanes
spreading like tree limbs
from the trunk of the town centre
and you could ride and ride
the whole day long.

Their mother meets the eccentric Mrs Falala and volunteers Reena and Luke to help with a cow called Zora.  Reena and Luke know nothing about cows. Zora is ornery, moody and stubborn not to mention caked with mud and dust.  Somehow Reena and Luke need to make friends with the strangely abrasive Mrs Falala and with Zora, her cow, and then complete the seemingly impossible task of preparing Zora for the country show. But please don't go thinking this is just a book about kids and a cow - it is so much more. Read this book slowly, then read it again. This is story telling at its best.

Listen to an audio sample here from the first few pages of this book.  I would follow Moo with The girl who Bought Mischief and Fly Away.   Of course you should also pick up Love that Dog and Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech.

A heartfelt tale that will be embraced by Creech’s fans, work well as a classroom read-aloud, and find a spot in book groups. School Library Journal

Many children’s books depict a quest or journey, or a huge event in the main character’s life. With MOO, Creech acknowledges the fact that an unlikely friendship with an elderly woman --- and an ornery cow --- is all the drama a children’s book needs in order to shine. KidsReads

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hark, it's me, Ruby Lee! by Lisa Shanahan and Binny

By the end of the book, you’ll feel as if Ruby Lee is a real person — that you know her personally. Her hopes, dreams, disappointments and flaws are all exposed, pulling you into the story so you experience the same sadness, joy and pride as Ruby Lee does through the book. Kids Book Review

Children love to take on class 'jobs' such as lunch monitor, line leader or messenger.  Ruby Lee is desperate to be the messenger. She is the best in her class at announcing :

Hark, it's me, Ruby Lee
Fear not I am the bearer of good news

For some reason Mrs Majestic-Jones never seems to pick Ruby Lee. Her friend, with the delightful name George Papadopoulos, tries to help but on Monday Siena is chosen again and Ruby Lee is made litter patrol officer. At least the birds love her because she shares the lunch scraps. On Tuesday Siena is absent. George suggests Ruby Lee try sitting quietly as still as a mouse. It works and she is now the class messenger but her excitement and exuberance means things do not quite go to plan.

This little cautionary tale is a delight to read aloud.  It is filled with delicious invented words like:

Spockled Frocklewockle!

I especially enjoyed the opening sentences :
Ruby Lee loves pockets, peaches, puddles and polka dots.
She loves humming and hopping and handstands at dusk.

It would be fun to read this book with a class at the start of the school year or term when you are deciding on your class roles and responsibilities. Perhaps you could make a chart with the jobs and then add the personal qualities required for each task and compare these with Ruby Lee and her classmates.

I wonder if this book might be short listed for our CBCA awards which will be announced in a few weeks - it certainly deserves to be. You can see some of the illustrations here. You might also take a look at the illustrator web siteLisa Shanahan is the author of one of my favourite read aloud titles Bear and Chook by the sea.

After reading Hark, it's me, Ruby Lee try to find Jennie's hat by Ezra Jack Keats.

Friday, February 9, 2018

My reading pile

Leaving my school library last year I knew I would miss having access to new (and old) books but I seem to have found plenty from other sources and somehow my reading pile is now quite huge.  I will talk about some or all of these over the coming weeks.

The Most important Thing by Avi
From the blurb : Avi introduces seven boys seeking acceptance, guidance, or just someone to look up to. ... Each story shines a different light on the question 'What's the most important thing a father can do for his son?'
Kirkus give this book a star review. I have read the first two stories and I am hooked.
Source - my public library

Prisoner of the Black Hawke - The Mapmaker Chronicles Book Two A.L. Tait
From the blurb : In the second book in this thrilling series, mapmaker Quinn is far from home in an exotic land filled with dangerous creatures and ruthless enemies. When he is betrayed by someone close to him and comes face to face with boodthirsty pirates, he has to decide once and for all who is a friend and who is a foe.
Check out my review of the first book in this series.
Source - a friend

Moo by Sharon Creech
I am a massive fan of everything Sharon Creech has written.  When I saw this on a review site last year I knew I wanted to read it especially since it is partly written as a verse novel.
From the blurb : When twelve year old Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents move to Maine, Reena doesn't know what to expect. She's ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can idea. Instead her parents 'volunteer' her to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs Falala, who one very ornery cow named Zora.
Kirkus give Moo a star review.
Source - Gleebooks

The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
I picked this up because the cover looked good and the blur intrigued me.  I know realise it by the author of Under the Egg which I read last year.
From the blurb : Nothing is what it seems and no one is who they say they are. A eccentric recluse. A self-absorbed newspaper tycoon. A shady footman. A mansion with a secret. And one girl who has the moxie to see everything for what it is.
The Kirkus reviewer enjoyed this book.
Source - local bookshop

The house of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne
I picked this up because the cover looked interesting and this is a new book published in 2017.
From the blurb : It was a special house, assembled stone by stone and brick by brick. Twelve rooms, seven fireplaces, a floor for each season. Horatio, the immortal who built  it stood in the sunlight streaming through fifty-two windows and was pleased with himself. A perfect Calendar House, ideal for its purpose.

The Kirkus review says this book is satisfying.
Source - my public library

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
I have seen this book mentioned several times in book lists and in the School Library Journal review Elizabeth Bird gave it a very positive review.  I do like the art of Peter Brown and we have several of his picture books in our school library including The Curious Garden, Children make terrible pets and My Teacher is a monster.
From the blurb : When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is - but she knows she needs to survive. But as Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home - until one day, her mysterious past comes back to haunt her.
Kirkus gave The Wild Robot a star review.
Source - Gleebooks

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A case in any case by Ulf Nilsson illustrated by Gitte Spee

I am just going to talk about this book - number three in the Detective Gordon series - very briefly because you can read how much I enjoyed the first installment.  My main message is go out and grab this book and read it with or to your young child as soon as you can. I guarantee both of you will enjoy every page.

Gordon has taken a holiday (a long holiday) and left Police Chief Buffy in charge of the station. She is missing Gordon. One night she hears some mysterious sounds late in the night right outside her window.  She sees a large shapeless figure disappearing through the garden. When all of this happens again on the second night Buffy decides to head over to Gordon and ask his advice. Gordon is delighted to see her but just as they begin to discuss the case (Gordon knows more than he is letting on) a kindergarten group arrive with their teacher.  Two of the little students are missing. A squirrel named Evert and a young rabbit named Karen. 

It is lucky Gordon and Buffy are working together on the case but while they are piecing together all the clues your young reader will delight in solving this one themselves well before our intrepid heroes.  I suggest you begin this series with book one and continue in reading order.

 Nilsson’s third Detective Gordon mystery is as charming and droll as the first two. Filled with silly and sweet songs, anthropomorphic animals who all get along (except the fox), and a naïve sensibility, it should easily please fans of the first.  Kirkus

 Life lessons are imparted within these pages but with a gentleness and brevity that allow a simple yet engaging plot to move forward. School Library Journal