Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The plant sitter by Gene Zion illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham



First off a warning - The Plant Sitter is a very old (1959) book and so it is out of print.  Many months ago I stumbled across this illustration by Margaret Bloy Graham and I liked it so much I used it as my ipad screen image.  I knew Margaret Bloy Graham from her glorious Harry the Dirty dog books but until today I did not know which book contained this picture.



With Summer holidays approaching this is a book to share.  "You said I could do whatever I liked this summer because we weren't going away on holiday."  Tommy is an enterprising boy.  He finds a job as a plant sitter and he gets a penny a day for each plant.  You can see in the picture above he will be making lots of money!  He also a boy who knows how to care for plants :

"He put those that needed shade on the shady side - and those that needed sun on the sunny side. He watered them carefully - some a lot - and others just a little."

The plants grow and grow and take over the house but Tommy is also a problem solver.  He heads off to the library, reads a book or two about plants and comes home knowing how to propagate cuttings.  When the plant owners return from their holiday they collect their thriving plants and Tommy is able to give baby plants to all the children.  His father has not coped with having a jungle in his house but when it is gone he realises he liked them.  "It was like being in the country ... How about a holiday ... And the very next day they went to the country."

Here is a generous review with many of the pages.  On this blog the author links three books together with a gardening theme.  Here is the Kirkus star review.




Mr Stink by David Walliams illustrated by Quentin Blake

Last weekend David Walliams visited Sydney and I went along to hear him and so did 1200+ others!
Books by David Walliams are so popular in our school library (they never stay on the shelf) which is something that I do understand because they are funny and easy to read and have bright inviting covers and yet it also puzzles me.  How did the children 'discover' his books?  Why single out this author and not one of the hundreds of others? Who told everyone these books were so good?

The publicity and publishing machine have certainly 'pulled out all stops' for David Walliams.  His web site is bright, inviting and slick.  Using highly talented illustrations such as Quentin Blake and Tony Ross was a master stroke.  Coming to Australia to promote his new book, Bad Dad, David was on a whirl wind tour - 3 days in Australia followed by 2 days in New Zealand.



It would be too easy to dismiss works by David Walliams as just light reading but books like Mr Stink are so much more.  This is a story which demonstrates the magic of kindness and compassion, along with the importance of listening and love.

Chloe lives on the outside of her family.  Her sister is the star, her mother is preoccupied with her political ambition and community status and her father is distant and sad.  Chloe's mother wants to be elected to the government.  She writes her manifesto. Here are some of the contents :

(4)  The wearing of leggings to be outlawed in public areas, as they are 'extremely common.'
(5)  The national anthem to be played in the town square every hour on the hour.
(10) Mobile telephone devices to have only classical music ringtones from now on ...
(15) The local library to stock only the works of Beatrix Potter.
(20) All homeless people ... are to be banned from our streets.

It is this final 'rule' that pushes Chloe into action.  After days of personal struggle she has finally found the courage to talk to 'Mr Stink' - an old man, who does smell and who sits with his dog on a park bench in her town.  She is now desperately worried for his safety so she offers him a  place in the shed at the bottom of her garden.  In her mind she imagines all the possible reasons why this gentle and well mannered man has become homeless but even though she gathers lots of clues the truth is long way from any thing she could have imagined.

Clearly there are lessons for her fanatical mum, we need to discover what has happened to dad including the mystery of a burnt out guitar found in the shed and Chloe and Annabelle need to have heart to heart talk about life in this family.  At the end of the book Mr Stink is still Mr Stink but perhaps opening his heart to Chloe about his tragic past life might mean he can begin to heal just as he has helped this family to heal.  I certainly hope so.


Here are a few facts about David Walliams :

  • His name is really David Williams - he changed it when he found another actor had the same name
  • His first book was The Boy in the Dress in 2008
  • He has written 12 novels and several picture books
  • Six of his novels have been adapted as television movies
  • David has an acting part in each of these movies
  • Many of his books are available as audio editions with David reading his own work
  • You can listen to audio samples of his book here
  • Teachers can download ideas packs here
  • David has swum across the English Channel to raise money for a charity
  • This song celebrates his swim
David Walliams at City Recital Hall

There were some excellent procedural things in place for the Sydney event with all those eager readers.  Every one was given a little show bag with stickers, a poster, post card, bookmark and of all things a balloon.  David Walliams handled this so well.  He gave the kids a quick minute to make their noises and then expected (and achieved) a quiet audience.  Towards the end the compare Julia Zemiro asked for questions.  Usually these questions make me cringe but David Walliams had a brilliant idea.  He had ten signed book packs.  He offered these to the children who asked the 'best questions' and YES the questions were really good.  Two of the best were - what is your favourite aeroplane.  David talked about the time he flew in a real spitfire living scenes from his book Grandpa's great Escape.  His whole face lit up when he talked about the excitement of this experience which was like driving a sports car in the sky.  The second question I liked was about the character Raj.  The child asked when will will Raj have his own book and this received a huge clap from the audience.  David may need to seriously consider this idea.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Lollylegs by Pamela Freeman illustrated by Rhian Nest James

Lollylegs was a gift from a friend and how I wish I had seen this book last year.  Our school has a spectacular school fete each year.  We do have a wonderful picture book called Our School Fete by Louise Pfanner which is actually based on our fete but I have always struggled to find other books which explore this type of community event.

Lollylegs is a lamb and she is set to be auctioned at the school fete.  Laura's dad brings the lamb home a few days before the big event and of course Laura falls in love with his cute face and soft wool.  Then she discovers that the winner might want to eat her lamb!  About one hundred tickets will be sold.  Laura urgently needs to raise money and buy those tickets.  She cleans, sweeps, washes and tidies but on fete day some of the tickets have already been sold.

Laura can't eat. She can't enjoy the fete. She is desperate to save Lollylegs.  Who will win?

Here is a set of teachers notes.  These are perfect beginning chapter books.  Each has three stories or three chapters, line drawings and a satisfying story by some of the best children's writers from around the world including our own Bob Graham.  Pamela Freeman is also Australian and I have talked about Victor's Quest and Cherryblossom and the Golden Bear in the past.  When you look at the review of Cherryblossom you will see a comment from Pamela herself!  You can also see the amazing Sonya Hartnett on this list with her story Sadie and Ratz.

There are thirty books in the Walker Book series and we have a few in our school library but for some reason we missed Lollylegs.

  • Handa's Surprising Day - Eileen Browne
  • Little Witch - Juliette MacIver
  • Mr Tripp Smells A Rat - Sandy McKay
  • Lollylegs - Pamela Freeman
  • Our Gags - Catriona Hoy
  • The King's Shopping - June Crebbin
  • Happy Birthday x 3 - Libby Gleeson
  • Robin Hood's Day - Josephine Feeney
  • What Mona Wants, Mona Gets - Dyan Sheldon
  • Glog - Pippa GoodHart
  • Sylvie's Seahorse - Mara Bergman
  • Nick Mack's Good Luck - Mara Bergman
  • Parrot Park - Mary Murphy
  • Sadie and Ratz - Sonya Hartnett
  • Not Like Me - Marguerite Hann-Syme
  • Ellie and Granny Mac - Elizabeth MacLennan
  • Jack's Little Party - Bob Graham
  • Leon Spreads His Wings - Wendy Lee
  • Jake's Cave - Lou Kuenzler
  • Grandad's Bench - Addy Farmer
  • Toffee and Pie - Pippa Goodhart
  • Nelson - Tor & Jude Freeman
  • Drusilla and Her Brothers - Dyan Sheldon
  • A Heart For Ruby - Franzeska G. Ewart
  • Mia's Magic Uncle - Lindsay MacLeod
  • The Lost Treasure - Jan Strandling
  • Kasia's Surprise - Stella Gurney
  • Comings and Goings of Parrot Park - Mary Murphy
  • Drawing Together - Mimi Thebo
  • My Dad, the Hero - Stella Gurney

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell illustrated by Hannah Horn

"They had become a pack.  Or, an expedition, 
he corrected himself. That was what you call a group of explorers."

"Every human on this earth is an explorer. Exploring is 
nothing more than paying attention, writ large. Attention."




Why did I pick up this book?  The author is a favourite of mine.  The cover looked very appealing.  The Amazon setting sounded intriguing especially since Journey to the River Sea is a book I totally adored  and it is set in the same location.

Four children (two girls and two boys) are travelling in a small plane across the Amazon jungle.  For different reasons the children are going to Manaus in Northern Brazil. They don't know each other.  Fred is excited to be flying but he notices the pilot is struggling :

"The pilot grasped Fred's wrist hard for a single moment, then his head slumped against the dashboard. And the sky, which had second before seemed so reliable, gave way."

With the pilot now dead and the plane a burnt out wreck the four children must now find a way to survive in a jungle that seems to be filled with so many dangers.  Fred, Constantia (Con), Lila and her five year old brother Max really have no idea about how to find food, shelter and water.  Fred has done a little reading about explorers and he is a resourceful boy but really it is just good luck that they stumble on an old unused shelter.  Over the coming days they experiment with things to eat and because it is the jungle they do eventually find bananas and pineapples.  In the shelter they find some flint stones and using Fred's broken watch they manage to make a fire.

It is little Max who seems to observe the world in a different way.  He sees some monkey's gathering honey from a bee hive.

"The monkey's washed their hands in the ants and then they fought the bees."  The children watch the monkeys and then gather the ants and rub them all over their skin.  The smell is like ammonia.  Fred and Con climb the tree and, even though it is utterly terrifying, they gather some honey and in the process find a pouch containing a map.  It is at this point their adventure takes a sharp turn.  Clearly someone has been there.  Fred has already made a raft so now the group know they need to move on, follow the river and the map and find the city of Manaus and perhaps even find the map maker.

I like the way Katherine Rundell gives small but very meaningful insights into the back story and personality of each child.

Fred - "Inside Fred was hunger, hope and wire... Fred's mind was quick with sharp edges. He wanted more from the world than it had yet given."

Con - "She moved stiffly, as if unaccustomed to using her own body. Her clothes seemed to sit on her like a bear trap."

Lila - "She was small and moved on the edge of her muscles, like an animal - a deer or a lemur - as if she heard things other people did not."

Teachers could make good use of the descriptions in The Explorer.

"His shoes were made from what looked like alligator skin, with very thin vines for shoelaces. A jacket sewn nearly from black furs, hung over his shoulders. The buttons were caiman teeth."

It is easy to see Katherine Rundell did quite a lot of research for this book. Apart from an actual trip to the Amazon she includes interesting and at times gruesome details about eating tarantulas, catching fish even piranhas, stripping vines to make rope and the dangers of bullet ants.

There is a link between the title - The Explorer - and finding of the map because the children do find a man.  He won't give his name.  He is an explorer, or at least he seems to be, he is living in the jungle and has the knowledge the children need to survive their journey back to civilisation but the man demands a promise from the children.  He needs them to understand why this environment is precious and why it needs protection from the outside world.

The Explorer would link well with Journey to the River Sea, Hatchet and The Island trilogy by Gordon Korman beginning with Shipwreck.  In this video Katherine Rundell explains the thinking behind her novel and in this one Katherine reads the first chapters of her book.  It is interesting to read this interview with Katherine by Kirkus.

I did enjoy The Explorer but I would like to know a little more about why these four children were travelling alone across Brazil.  Also in the final scenes (can't tell you too much) when Fred becomes the hero I wanted Con and Lila to shine a little more.  My favourite character is Max - he is funny, honest and very grubby.


Rundell’s rich, descriptive prose will transport her young readers to a mesmerising world where they can swim with river dolphins, eat a tarantula and discover a ruined city. The mystery deepens when the discovery of a map suggests they are not the first humans to find this place.  The Guardian



Monday, December 4, 2017

Nevermoor - The trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

"Death is boring.  Life is so much more fun. Things happen in life all the time. Unexpected things. Things you couldn't possibly expect because they're so very ... unexpected."




There is quite a buzz in the children's literature world about Nevermoor.  I actually bought a copy the week it was released but then I gave it away to a friend before I even had a chance to begin reading.  I picked up another copy last week from my local bookshop.  Last night and today I devoured the whole 450 pages.  This is such a great story with so many inventive ideas, scenes and memorable characters.

You can read more about the plot here.  I thought I might just share a few of the very special moments that I enjoyed :

The opening sentence filled me with curiosity - "The cat was dead and Morrigan was to blame."

The Ages are marked by the Skyfaced Clock - "... a round glass face, with an empty sky inside that changed with the passing of the age - from the palest-pink dawn light of Morningtide, ...  into the dusky, darkening blue of the Gloaming ... and the fifth and final colour of its cycle: the inky, star strewn blackness of Eventide."  Eventide is marked as the time Morrigan will die, that is until Jupiter North rescues her and transports her to Nevermoor.

Morrigan has to go through four trials spread out over the year. in order to become a member of the Wundrous Society.  There are 500 candidates this year.

1.  Book Trial to see who is honest and quick thinking
2.  The Chase Trial to see who is tenacious and strategic
3.  The Fright Tial to see who is brave and resourceful
4.  The Show Trial

This fourth trial is the most terrifying one.  Morrigan has to demonstrate her talent, skill, knack or gift.  Morrigan is convinced she does not have anything to share.  When you read about the performances of her fellow competitors you are sure to gasp.  In these final chapters Jessica Townsend's inventive writing really soars. I won't spoil this section except to say read Chapter 21 and then read it again.

For the Chase Trial all the competitors wear white.  This is because they have to ride a living steed with no fewer than two legs and no more than four and as they ride they have to strike a target. "Each one blasted a cloud of brightly coloured powder all over the candidate's face and clothes."  There is some talk Nevermoor will be made into a movie - this is a scene that is sure to be spectacular.

For the Book Trial, the answer books catch on fire when the children do not deliver 'correct' answers.  I relish words like conflagrated, tendril, impertinent and pristine and all of these are in just one scene in one chapter.

Jessica Townsend has really balanced her characters - Morrigan has so many worries and such low self-esteem, Jupiter North lightens every scene with his quirky comments and positive outlook, Hawthorne is a perfect friend and the Magnificat Fenestra is simply marvelous.

Here are some excellent teachers notes by Robyn Sheahan-Bright.  Read some connections between Nevermoor and the Harry Potter series.  Here is an interview with Jessica. You can hear and see the author reading an extract from her book.  I am sure this book will feature on the CBCA short list for 2018.

There will be a sequel but I am happy to say enough is resolved at the end of this first installment to leave you satisfied and not in despair that you will have to wait for book 2.

Whimsical worldbuilding, humorous dialogue, and colorful supporting characters complement an adventurous, magic-filled plot that champions bravery, self-confidence, and hope.   Publisher's Weekly

The magic of Nevermoor is shiveringly, thrillingly wonderful. Open its pages and discover a hotel room that changes to suit your personality, a large talking cat with exactly the right amount of cattitude, and children with awe-inspiring magical abilities. This novel is an absolute treat.   Readings

Waylon - One Awesome thing by Sara Pennypacker illustrated by Marla Frazee

"No wonder he blurted things out.  This world was so amazing, how could anyone hold it all in?"

I enjoy saying the name Pennypacker  it seems perfect for an author of quirky little chapter books.  Have you met Clementine? Waylon is in her class and this book is his story.

In this time when we are focusing on STEM  - Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths - Waylon is a book and a character you need to meet.  He adores science and uses his knowledge to solve problems.  Right now his problem is with school friendships but this might not have such an easy science solution.

The class cool kid Arlo has set up a gang which he calls The Shark Punchers.  Waylon does not see any point to this.  He has friends in both groups.  Perhaps he can be an isthmus - a bridge between both groups.  Actually he needs to be an isthmus between his parents and his sister too and also find a way to reach the new boy Baxter Boylen - a boy who everyone, teachers and kids, is afraid of.

His sister is called Charlotte Bronte Zakowski (dad is a writer hence the famous name) but she has decided to change her style, personality and name to Neon. She "had undergone a complete metamorphosis. Instead of spinning a chrysalis around her, she had walked into her bedroom and painted it black."  Neon no longer talks to her family and Waylon misses the games they used to play.

The new kid, Baxter is both scary and fascinating.  He arrives with a 'beard' and a scar.  He seems to know a lot about the police. The rumor is he has been in jail but it is Waylon who discovers the truth.

While all of this is going on Waylon is also grappling with his own new feelings :

"Recently, a strange thing had been happening, and it was happening now. The strange thing was : he imagined how he appeared to others. As though he was outside his body."

"Seeing himself from the outside made Waylon feel dangerously sheer, as if he were a hologram instead of a solid boy."

There are some really funny moments in this story.  Waylon asks his dad for advice with the gangs at school.  "In galactic time, his father wasn't that much older than he was - only about thirty years. But in terms of helping with fourth grade problems, he might as well be from the Jurassic Period."

The truly heart warming part of this story comes when Waylon meets a dog, called Dumpster Eddy, who being held at the police station. Baxter and Waylon need to work out a way to save this dog because he is on death row and, in doing so, members of both class gangs really need to pull together.

"Eddy locked his gaze on Waylon's. And suddenly there were no bars between them. There was no boy skin; there was no dog fur. Waylon and Dumpster Eddy grokked each other's souls ... "  Grokking is a "science fiction term that meant to connect with something so totally that you practically merged with it." At the end of One Awesome thing the stage is set for the sequel.  Luckily my copy had a chapter sample so I know Waylon and Baxter will continue to look for ways to save the life of Dumpster Eddy.

I would follow Wayon with The Dunderheads and the Stuart books also by Sara Pennypacker.  You might also pick up One dog and his Boy by Eva Ibbotson.  Sara Pennypacker is also the author of a wonderful book for older readers called Pax.


In Pennypacker’s skillful hands, Waylon is an appealing every kid whose passion for science just might spark readers’ curiosity as he contemplates ideas from angstroms to alien hand syndrome.  School Library Journal

An upbeat celebration of lively imagination, friendship, family, community, and the exuberance of childhood. Kirkus




Sunday, December 3, 2017

What would she do? by Kay Woodward

I don't usually comment on the price of books but this book is such good value at only $20.  It is book to dip into and then revisit.  The illustrations are are wonderful and each of the 25 women is given a detailed profile along with a real-life 21st Century problem for the reader to solve.  I did enjoy the quiz at the end which has 8 "multiple-choice questions to find out which fabulous woman you are most like".  I am like Harriet Tubman because "I enjoy helping others."

There are quite a few new books available on this topic but I feel the links to real life problems and the vibrant illustrations make this one a stand out. Eight illustrators contributed to this book.  If you have an art class in High School is would be well worth taking time to check out each of these links.

Andrew Archer from New Zealand
Anna Higgie from UK
Jessica Singh originally from Perth Western Australia
Jonny Wan lives in UK
Kelly Thompson from Melbourne Australia
Pietari Posti lives in Spain
Sofia Bonati lives in UK
Susan Burghart lives in UK

The contents of this book are presented in chronological order from Cleopatra and The Trung Sisters who took action in Vietnam 2000 years ago right through to Malala Yousafzai.  Each woman has a short introduction, a more detailed profile and a "what would ... do? page.  I was particularly fascinated to read about Dame Zaha Mohammed Hadid - Architect, Valentina Tereshkova - Cosmonaut and Elena Cornaro Piscopia - Philosopher.

We have excellent single biography picture books in our school library about some of the other famous women in this book - Rosa Parks, Wangari Muta Maathai, Dr Jane Goodall, Emmeline Pankhurst, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace.  Hopefully reading What would she do? will inspire students to read further.

Here is a short trailer from the publisher where you can see some of the art.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam Up, up and away! by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton

This is my third post in recent days about easy chapter books and here is another winner.

Mo Willems  “I only write 49 percent of the book and the audience puts in the rest,”

This mindset will help a young reader when beginning Shifty McGiffy and Slippery Sam - Up, up and Away!  This is one book in a set of seven from the brilliant publisher Nosy Crow and it is not the first.  There are also picture books about these characters. You can begin with this book as it does stand alone.

If you enjoyed any books from the Dixie O'Day series then this is the perfect book for you to pick up next.  There are three little stories in this book :

  • Up, up and away!
  • To Catch a thief
  • The Mystery Parcel

In the first story our heroes have entered a race across the countryside.  They are driving their Bakemobile. Lots of their friends are also in the race which should be fun but then a serious rival arrives.  Red Rocket is driving a tank and he is well known for his cheating ways.  Our heroes do win on the day but not in the way you might expect.  This is a story to warm your heart and show genuine kindness in action.  

Tracy Corderoy has some excellent easy chapter books.  The Hubble Bubble titles are very popular in my school library. I have plan to read some of the earlier books about Shifty McGifty and his friend Slippery Sam.  My local library has two from the series so watch this space.  You can see one book here on Bookaboo.  In these books there is also plenty of cake to enjoy too and joyous colour illustrations by Steven Lenton.


Leroy Ninker saddles up by Kate DiCamillo illustrated by Chris van Dusen

“Yippee-i-oh.” Kirkus



This book and the others in the series have been in our school library since 2015 but for some reason I had not read one even though I am a HUGE fan of Kate DiCamillo.

As I search for junior novels for children in Grades 1 and 2, I picked up Leroy Ninker Saddles up at my local bookstore.  This is another gem from Kate and it is an ideal book for those younger children who want a laugh or two and a very satisfying story.  Leroy Ninker works at the drive in theater in the concession stand.  Yes you will need to talk about the very first sentence - but this is the joy of reading - to share places and ideas beyond the known world of the child.  Leroy sells drinks and makes buttered popcorn and for him the world is a 'Yippie-i-oh' place except for one thing.  Leroy longs to be a cowboy.  He has the hat, boots and lasso but, as the delightfully named Beatrice Leapaleoni, points out, he needs a horse.

Leroy sees an advertisement :

"Horse for sale ... Old but good. Very exceptionally cheap."

Good readers will see two key words here - old and cheap but all Leroy can see is a horse.  He does not think about where the horse will live or what the horse will eat he just sets off on foot making an all day journey to the home of the horse.  Beatrice tells him to "Take fate in your hands" and "wrestle it to the ground."  She also tells him to check the teeth and hooves. 

Along the way Leroy decides his horse will be called Tornado - Yippie-i-oh!  But when he arrives the woman who owns the horse, Patty LeMarque, tells him the horse is named Maybelline.  I can see Kate DiCamillo smiling when she decided on that name, such a contrast with the horse of Leroy's imagination.

Patty explains there are three things about Maybelline. 

"she is the kind of horse who enjoys the heck out of a compliment. You gotta talk sweet to Maybelline."

"she is a horse who eats a lot of grub ... A. Lot. Of. Grub."

"Maybelline is the kind of horse who gets lonesome quick.  ... Do not leave Maybelline alone for long or you will live to rue and regret the day."

Leroy has not really been listening to all these instructions. When he climbs on the horse he is filled with joy and distractions.  "The colors were deeper. The sun shone brighter. The birds sang more sweetly."

Every young reader will see disaster is just around the corner but not little Leroy - his is such a happy optimist.

Here is a link to Kate's web site.  Listen to the first chapter.  We first meet Leroy in the Mercy Watson series.  In this video Kate talks about her Mercy Watson series and how she then went on to write this series Tales from Deckawoo Drive.  Take a look at this review in the School Library Journal. It will absolutely convince you this is a perfect little book.




Thursday, November 30, 2017

Our very own dog by Amanda McCardie illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Kirkus Star review




Our very own dog is an excellent book for young children who have a new dog.  It is a combination of story and facts - Sophie, the Jack Russell, comes to live with a new family after they rescue her from the dog's home.  The new owner, a little girl aged four, has a lot to learn but she is very sensible and shares her knowledge with readers though little captions scattered on each page in a different font.

Here are a few facts - some I knew, some I appreciated hearing again :

  • Training works best when it is kind, patient and the same every time.
  • A shy or nervous dog may feel threatened if you look too closely into her face.
  • A dog's sense of smell is ten thousand times more sensitive than a person's.


Sophie is not perfect and Salvatore Rubbino's illustrations perfectly show her joyful antics - stealing sausages, rolling in the mud and shaking the mud off all over the parents!  The end papers might inspire a young artist, the index is useful and there is also a reading list on the last page.  This would be an excellent book for a school or pre school library.  Take a look at this review.



The real boat by Marina Aromshtam illustrated by Victoria Semykina

Lyrically told and with illustrations that are arresting and demand exploration for their artistry and technique, this modern fable is a thoroughly rewarding read. Red Reading Hub




Some picture books just astonish me.  I sigh with happiness at the beautiful story and exquisite illustrations we can share with our children.  Books about ocean travel, ships and under sea locations are always popular in my school which is located near a beach.

The Little Boat by Kathy Henderson has been a favourite of mine for a long time and now I have found The Real Boat and together these will make a perfect pair.

"The pond seemed very big and deep to the little boat."

But then he talks with a frog and a duck.

"Real boats sail on the ocean. I want to sail there too ..."

And so the journey begins.  The little origami boat sails along the stream and into a wider stream where he meets an old row boat. The stream joins other streams and eventually the paper boat is in a river.  There he sees a motor boat and a riverboat, a barge and a tug boat.  The tug shows him the way to the harbor where there are passenger liners, container ships and lots of seagulls.  Tall cranes are loading the shipping containers and one even contains two giraffes. He sees a car ferry and a huge passenger liner which "shone like an enchanted city."

After a long day and a long journey the little paper boat falls asleep and so he misses the departure of the ocean liner.  A fish trawler offers to show him the way to the ocean but disaster arrives in the form of a huge thunder storm.  "The paper boat was now completely filled with water, and he had started to sink."  Will the little paper boat ever be found?  Where will this journey end?

Take some time to look at the art of Victoria Semykina - it is wonderful.  She is a Russian illustrator who lives in Italy.  You can see more pages from this book and a little film here.

The Real Boat was originally written in Russian.  It always makes me happy when I see books from around the world making the journey into English and then arriving here in Australia.  This is a longer format picture book which you should explore slowly.  This book would make a beautiful gift for a young boat enthusiast and together you might be inspired to make a sail your own little origami boats.






One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell illustrated by Emily Sutton



In just one week I have been invited to talk to a group of parents and their children about some of the books I have been reading.  I wanted to include a Christmas book and when I saw this one - One Christmas Wish by an author I adore (Katherine Rundell) I was keen to add it to my huge pile.

I wish this blog was tactile because you need to run your hand over the cover.  It is embossed and covered with gold embellishments.  It would also be good if I could show you under under the dust jacket and reveal the other beautiful cover.  Again this is gold and highly tactile.

The illustrations are one of the stand out features of this delightful book.  Emily Sutton also illustrated another one of my favourite Christmas books - The Christmas Eve Tree. Take a look at some of the art work at The Illustration Cupboard in London.  You might know also her from the book Clara Button and the magical hat day.

As this story opens Theodore is struggling to open the box containing Christmas decorations.  He finds four old decorations in very poor shape.

  • a rocking horse - the rockers had been part eaten by woodworm
  • a robin - with a bald patch
  • an angel - with moulting wings
  • a tin soldier - with a rusty drum


Theo hangs them low on the tree.  There is no one to help him reach higher.  His parents are at work and have no time - they have not even bought presents just vouchers.  His babysitter is asleep "with her nosed pressed against her phone."  Perhaps this is a sad indictment on the modern family.

Theo looks out of the window and he sees a star "shooting across the sky, blinking red and green."  Like any sensible boy he makes a wish "I want not to be alone. ... to be un-alone."

You may have guessed each of the decorations now comes to life.  Each needs restoring in a different way and as Theo attends to their needs they show him a magical Christmas eve.

They way the parents are absent and the careless babysitter might worry adult readers.  The reviewer in Books for Keeps explains this in her review (spoiler alert).  I do think, however, the magic of the ending, where Christmas is restored, will make revisiting this book part of your family Christmas tradition.   Listen to an audio sample here.  One thing to watch as you are reading.  The rocking horse keeps eating and eating anything and everything.  Why?  So he can grow big enough to give Theo a ride across the town.

You might also enjoy The Magic Saddle (sadly long out of print) illustrated by Patricia Mullins and some of the other books listed here.

Ballerina dreams by Michaela Elaine DePrince pictures by Ella Okstad

I am on the hunt for easy to read beginning chapter books WITH a worthwhile/good/engaging story.  I have found one here.  This little book ticks quite a  few boxes

  • Ballerina Dreams is a true story (read more at the back of the book)
  • Ballerina Dreams is about ballet which is a popular subject with young students
  • Ballerina Dreams is very easy to read but does not use simplified language
  • Ballerina Dreams has perfect and colourful illustrations
  • Ballerina Dreams contains real emotions


Michaela lives in Sierra Leone. Blowing in the wind one day she finds a magazine picture of a beautiful ballerina :

"She wore a short pink dress that stuck out around her in a circle. She had pink shoes on her feet and stood on the tips of her toes. She looked very happy."

Michaela now dreams of ballet. But she lives in an orphanage in one of the poorest countries in the world and worse she has a skin condition called vitiligo which means she has white marks on her brown skin.  The wonderful thing is the way none of these things matter.  Michaela is adopted by Elaine DePrince in America.  She attends ballet classes and through hard work and determination achieves success at the highest level.  You can read more about this here.  Adult ballet fans might also enjoy the book Hope in a Ballet Shoe.  My friend at Kinderbookboard has a good selection of other ballet stories for you children to enjoy.



At its heart is the core message that hard work and determination are the keys to making any dream come true.   Kirkus

Ballerina Dreams is a wonderfully uplifting story about what must have been a truly difficult upbringing. Yet, it is told in such a gentle manner that always leaves room for hope and understanding.   Read and Seek

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ollie's Odyssey by William Joyce

"... homemade toys ... within their stitching and fabric, bits of their makers past can be felt or heard like an echo."

"Favorite. 
That was a very big word.  In the realm of toys, 
being favorited was a special distinction. It was a yum as it got."



When Billy is born the doctor explains there is a small hole in his heart.  To cope with this agonizing news his mother makes Billy a very special toy.

"This toy that Billy's mother was sewing was already special.  It was made of various kinds of deliciously comfortable fabric, which she had chosen with great care.  ...  (then) she gently sewed into its chest a small heart. The heart was made from a scrap of fabric ... " and a tiny bell from a toy she had loved as a child - a doll called Nina.  Billy recovers and Ollie becomes his best friend and most loyal companion.

"Keeping Billy safe was Ollie's favorite thing to do. He'd put his head on Billy's chest and listen to his heart."

William Joyce uses alternating chapters in Ollie's Odyssey setting them decades apart to give us the 'back story' about Nina and her fun fair companion Zozo.  Both are toys in a games booth where contestants throw soft balls at suspended toys trying to knock them down.  It actually sounded quite brutal to me.  Zozo enjoys his 'job' because he can see the beautiful Nina nearby but one day she is taken away and adding to his heart-break the carnival gradually falls into disrepair and ruin.  Zozo's own heart changes.  He wants to take revenge and he targets the 'favorites'.  To execute his plan he makes new creatures called Creeps. He plans to destroy all of the favorite toys.  And be warned the Creeps will really give you the creeps.

At times this is a very dark story especially when Zozo's heart becomes bitter and furious but this is balanced by some funny moments.  Here a couple I enjoyed :

"Since Billy carried Ollie with him everywhere, when Billy got too stinky it usually meant that Ollie got something called 'P.U.' ... and P.U. always meant 'a trip to the wash."

"Once 'in trouble', it seemed to take forever to get out of it. Trouble time went 50 times slower than regular time and 377 times slower than fun time, which went faster  than any other time."

"But then suddenly the lady and man up front were kissing.  'Whoa, lots of slobber ... Major slobber alert."

Now I have done some further reading about William Joyce and I can perhaps see his trajectory culminating in this wonderful story.  In 1995 William Joyce created two of the major characters in Toy Story. When his daughter was gravely ill she took comfort from her Big Teddy - her talisman. Adult readers should click the link to read more.

One interesting aspect of this book is the use of coloured paper.  The dark scenes involving Zozo have a brown sepia tint and the scenes with Ollie are on bright white.  I also like the concept of patchpaw as a way to define left and right but I will leave you to read the story yourself to more fully understand this idea.  You also need to discover the importance of fireflies - a little insect that utterly fascinates me.

William Joyce :  "I’m very interested in the humanity we bestow upon our favorite stuffed animals and blankets from childhood — the emotional force that these pieces of fabric and stuffing have for us, and how that emotion echoes through our entire lives. It’s very powerful and poignant.  I hate clowns and have always wanted to have a scary clown villain."

I read this book in two sittings and I did not draw breath.  Yes it is THAT good!  Huge thanks goes to a Grade 3 class at my school - their excitement made me rush out and buy this book for myself. Watch this YouTube review and then read some comments by Grade 3 children :


Ollie's Odyssey is a magnifcent book!!! It has adventure, feeling and a sizzling start with the first sentence being "When Billy was born he was nearly lost." It involves a favourite toy, a boy called Billy and a heartwarming adventure. I highly recommend you read this book.

Ollies Odyssey is a beautiful book about a toy, a boy and their imagination. If you like adventures this is the book for you. I think it deserves a 100 stars.

Ollie's Odyssey is a wonderful book with great adventures in it. Every time I read it I can't put it down it is now my favourite book. I am so glad you wrote this book.  Did you know about half my class has bought it so they can read it over and over again and there are 28 people in my class.


Ollie's Odyssey is a beautiful book. Ollie was made by Billy's mum the day Billy was born. Billy was born with a hole in his heart which was scary for Billy's parents.
There is a lot of A-ventures (adventures)
And a lot of Super sneaking and Ninja moves.
But there is a down side. There are bad guys called "THE CREEPS". There is creep 1,2,3,4, Super Creep and their leader Zozo. Zozo was once happy but you have to read Ollie's Odyssey to find out about this story.
Do you want to read Ollie's Odyssey now? I hope I have persuaded you.

I would follow Ollie's Odyssey with : 

Here is a teaching guide from the publisher.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Pip Street A brotherly bother by Jo Simmons illustrated by Steve Wells

"They understood that this was their last hope; their final chance to save Mr Keiths and keep Walter off Pip Street. They were on a quest. ... A thrilling, noble, car-boot-sale-to-fix-a-mobility-scooter quest. And that's the best kind of quest there is!"



When I wrote my comments about the first book from the Pip Street series the author (yes yes the author) wrote a comment!! This is so thrilling for me.

I really enjoyed the first installment and now I jump forward to book four - A Brotherly Bother  I think you might understand the premise, setting and characters if you take the time to read the other titles in this series.


Once again we have a serious problem which will impact the lives of the people living on Pip Street and once again it is up to Bobby and his friends to "save the day".  A stranger arrives riding a "chariot-sleigh-thing" pulled by five malamutes.  He is on the hunt for oil and gas and he intends to start digging under number 8 - the home of Richard Keiths.  Our intrepid friends visit Mr Keiths and discover another disaster.  His trusty mobility scooter named Pegasus has broken down.

"It's an apostrophe, isn't it, Bobbby?' said Imelda  "Catastrophe," said Bobby."

The scooter can be repaired but the price is so high - way more than Mr Keiths could ever pay - 500 pounds! Adding to this series of issues Mr Keiths explains that his bother, Walter, can claim number eight for himself under the conditions of his mother's will which specified Mr Keiths can only keep the house if he lives there but without his Pegasus he will be forced to move.

So now Bobby needs to raise 500 pounds and save their street from the excavators.  A little hint about how this might be achieved comes in chapter 3 entitled "How Much?"  This is the name of a television program where people bring items to be valued and when they hear the amazing amount everyone shouts 'how much?'

Since he may have to move Mr Keiths begins to clear out his garage.  Wait a minute though I know you are anticipating a treasure worth a fortune will emerge from this clutter and perhaps it will but in the meantime there is some serious money raising to be done involving the cat Conkers, a bake and car boot sale and even some time spent in a dressing gown!

Here are a few of the chapter opening sentences which will show you just how very funny this little book is :

"The next day was Wednesday, the day that almost always follows Tuesday."
"The next day was Friday, one of the most popular days of the week."

Imelda will make you smile too with her quirky vocabulary mishaps.

"What in the name of spangles was he on about?"
"Bobster ... you have a heart made of silver and gold and extra-sweet jam."
"You have caused so much trouble since you first mushed onto this street."

Jo Simmons has a terrific web site where you can play games and learn more about the characters in this series.  You can listen to some audio samples of titles from this series here.  If you have trouble finding this series you can buy ebook versions.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Rabbit and Bear - The pest in the nest by Julian Gough and Jim Field

"Wow,' said Rabbit very quietly. 'I thought the world was Small, 
and full of Me; but it is Big and not full of me at all.' 
'Yes,' said Bear. 'Yes yes yes,' said Woodpecker."



Winter is over.  "Spring has sprung!"  Time for Rabbit to move out of Bear's cave and get on with spring cleaning his burrow.  He ejects a slow tortoise and settles down in the sunshine when

Bang! Bang! Bang!



There is a woodpecker in the tree near his burrow and she is making such a racket.  Rabbit it furious but Bear makes an excellent suggestion.

"What are you looking for?' said Bear. 
'A rock. A big one. To throw at that Woodpecker menace.' 
'Why don't we help her, instead?' said Bear.  
'Help her?'
'Yes, help her.'
"Help her DRIVE ME CRAZY?' said Rabbit. 'What kind of friend are YOU?'
'No,' said bear. 'Help her finish her job faster, so she doesn't drive you crazy."

Even though Rabbit calls Bear a traitor, Bear climbs the tree (he's had a lot of practice looking for honey).  He discovers the view is spectacular and so he gives Rabbit a lift up to the top of the tree so he can share this wonder.  Rabbit changes his outlook on life but on returning to the ground there are still things that infuriate him.  As Bear explains - "Maybe you could just think about the world differently ... Maybe you could accept it."

I love the way this book shows young readers how we can all make choices about our reactions to situations and to one another.  This book also talks about taking responsibility for these reactions and actions but not in a heavy 'teacher-talk' way.  This is little book is a true gem which will warm your heart and make you smile.  It might also make you want to climb a tree to see the mountains behind the mountains behind the mountains.

I adored the first book in this series about rabbit and bear and so I was exited to discover the second one.  I have been spending some time recently looking for junior chapter books which I can recommend.  Both books in this series are on the top of my list.  Here are some of the pages from this book.

Good news early next year you can read the third book in this series.  If you click this quote you can read a more detailed review of The pest in the nest.



Warmth, tenderness and humour fill every page of this enchanting story. Simply written and utterly engaging, it effortlessly exemplifies the way to wisdom and wellbeing. Children's books for Keeps