Word Number 2: despondent The bird is despondent. In fact, she is so sad that she hops off the table to look for something to cheer her up.
And so begins this new story from Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) that continues his penchant for quirky but thoroughly engaging stories. Bird hops off the table to explore the cake (Word Number 3) that is in the box under it and is joined by dog (word Number 4). Together they eat the cake and then while Bird gets busy (Word Number 5) Dog goes off in his convertible (#6) and meet Goat (#7) and together they look for things that might cheer Bird up. They decide on a hat (#8) and so continues a wonderful tale that compels the reader to make connections between words like “haberdashery”, ‘panache’ and ‘mezzo-soprano’.
Giving life to the words are the amazing illustrations of Maira Kalman which have been described in the Kirkus review as “gorgeous, Matisse-like, gelato-colored”. They force the reader to engage with them drawing you in to discover a range of unexpected delights that are just as original as Snicket’s storyline. It’s as though SNicket and Kalman have decided to take the iconic format of a children’s basic word book and turn it upside-down. Not only have they used words that kids know but they’ve also chosen some of those that they love to learn. What kindergarten word list contains “panache” and “despondent”? Add to that, instead of the words being isolated and disconnected, they’ve turned them into a story that puts them in a context that demonstrates their meaning and makes a most appealing story.
This book works on so many levels apart from just being plain fun. Students could make a list of the most delicious words that roll of their tongues; they could make their own list of thirteen words and try to weave them into a story; they could make a chart of all the different types of hats and classify them as sunsmart or not; and given that Bird is still despondent at the end of the story they could speculate on what might make her happier. It’s a book that keeps on giving and has something for each age group you share it with.
Deep in the forest, just as the sun begins to rise, little Peep is woken from his slumbers by the most beautiful song. Stretching his wings and fluffing his feathers he sets out to find out where it is coming from. But if it’s not Owl or Mouse or Frog, who could it be? AHA! There on an enormous tree on the top of a hill are lots and lots of birds, all singing their hearts out. It is the Dawn Chorus and their job is to sing lustily each morning to let the world know a new day has begun. Because Peep loves to sing, he wants to join and the conductor invites him for an audition the next morning. But Peep doesn’t make it in time the next day, and the day after he was so tired all he could do was yawn!
“Perhaps you’re not meant to sing”, sighed the conductor.
Peep is so disappointed. “Why can I sing in the evening but not in the morning?” he asks. And suddenly, he has the answer – one that lifts his spirits and his voice and brings joy to all!
This is a beautifully illustrated book by new author and illustrator, Suzanne Barton. A combination of collage, drawing and painting, the gentle colours and delicate patterns are enchanting and very appealing.
Anyone who has heard a real dawn chorus wonders at the diversity of sounds as each bird adds its greeting, and this concept is enhanced by each bird in the tree being different. However, even though as individuals each has a song to sing, it is when all are singing together that the true magic happens. But as well as celebrating unity, there is also the ability and need to celebrate difference, as Peep discovers. What a wonderful way to introduce those concepts to young learners. I’ve put this one aside for when I work with a Year 1 class next week – I can see myself working with it, and that’s the greatest compliment of all from a teacher librarian.
Max and Bob are great mates. They live by the sea and during the day, Max keeps Bob company in his fish and chip shop (Max loves both fish and chips so it’s a perfect partnership) and in the evening they go fishing together.
How can that scenario make for a most enchanting story that kept 9 and 10 year-olds engaged for over an hour and wanting more?
Well, Max is a seagull, who’s a little bit cheeky and a little bit mischievous, and this is the story of a friendship that endures even after Bob has to close his shop because of a lack of business. When Max comes to the shop one morning, Bob has gone, and even though he waits and waits and waits, his friend does not return. Without Bob there is no attraction for Max and so he decides to leave – but as he flies high over the city looking for another home he smells a familiar smell…
Marc Martin won the 2013 Crichton Award for Australia’s best new illustrator and the illustrations for ‘Max’ add so much to its message and its charm. Using a variety of techniques, vignettes and full-page spreads, (the class laughed out loud at Max sitting on top of the No Seagulls sign) they are rich and exquisite, providing so many more layers to the story than just the text alone. For example, while there is no written explanation for the downturn in business, the picture of cranes soaring high above the funfair, the main drawcard of the area, tells its own story and opened up a discussion about the impact of tourism on local economies (particularly pertinent where I live). Later, the reason for the dismantling for the funfair is also evident and sparked a debate about “you can’t stop progress”. What seems like a simple tale for a preschooler to enjoy is so much more.
As well as an enthusiastic discussion that ranged from personal stories of feeding seagulls hot chips, recalling other seagull stories we’ve read such as ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch” and “Samantha Seagull’s Sandals” to the importance of the snow-oriented industry on our region, to country versus city living, the students also embraced the task of imagining what Max would have seen as he flew over our town and then drawing a birds-eye view map of it. Suddenly that concept made sense to them! What started as a story to share because I loved it became a rich and rewarding experience for all of us that went far beyond the focus and timeframe I’d allocated. But when you’re on a good thing…
lived a huge flock of parrots, who loved to have fun.
They would scratch in the dirt, and splash in the creek,
Sing raucous songs and then dance beak-to-beak.”
And among them was a handsome and arrogant young cockatoo who was not yet ready to go to sleep. He liked to play tricks, and if you are familiar with the traditional tale of The Boy who cried Wolf, you can predict the storyline of this Australian version. But what happens when the real dingo comes? Are the other parrots sick of his tricks and do they ignore him? Does Cocky escape with a valuable lesson learned?
The rhyme and rhythm of this story have it bouncing along and young listeners and readers will join in with the chorus in delight, shouting out for help. They will be on edge as it reaches its climax and shiver when they see those fierce dingo teeth. It can spark discussion about telling the truth and be the perfect forerunner to Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? a free unit of work based on the original tale available from the National Digital Learning Resources Network (ID# R11580).
The pairing of Morrison and McKenzie is perfect – the colourful, whimsical illustrations are just right to build the tension but not overwhelm with fear. A must for any school library collection which supports a values curriculum.
Two somewhat drab but curious curlews find an artist’s brush and some paint, and run off with yellow, red and blue. It’s not long before they are no longer drab. Then Bowerbird gets busy with the blue paint, and Brolga with the red and suddenly this trend has gone viral! So many colours and so much fun, and off they go to show their friends. Then along comes the very tired wombat from Renee’s first book and puts his body down for a nap, right where the paints have all merged into a brown puddle. But those curious curlews that caused him so much grief in that first book come back … and they have paint brushes!!!
Ms Treml seems to have her finger on just what makes a great picture book for younger readers. Rhythmic, rhyming text, colour, humour, fun, an ending that leaves room for the imagination and some tidbits about the birds is the bonus and could lead to an interesting investigation of why birds have colours, and how there were so many variations from just three tubes of paint.
Living where I do, I see a range of beautifully coloured birds every day – they have certainly dipped into a paint palette as rich as Ms Treml’s imagination!