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The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery

Deborah Abela

Random House Australia, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143786689

In Yungabilla, Australia, Toronto, Canada and Wormwood, England three young people are receiving invitations to an event that could change their lives forever.  Having proved their ability as champion spellers, each has been invited to compete in the Most Marvellous International Spelling Bee in London. But, like all children, each is unique and faces their own difficulties in getting to London.

India Wimple who won Australia’s  The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee is so shy that she cannot compete without her family by her side but the organisers will only pay for the contestant and one chaperone; Canada’s champion Holly Trifle’s family is reminiscent of the Wormwoods in Dahl’s Matilda and see her competing only as a way to promote their weight-loss business; while bullied, lonely Peter Ericksson hopes that maybe his absent dad will see his face on television, recognise him  and come home because it’s been 2922 days since he walked out and left a dad-sized hole in Peter’s life.

With incredible insight into the lives of children, Deborah Abela has crafted an engaging, unputadownable story that weaves the  lives of India, Holly and Peter together as well as the familiar faces of Rajish and Summer as they compete while trying to get to the bottom of some mysterious mishaps.  

Independent readers will relate to all three characters – if they are not mirrors then they will know someone like them – and will become engrossed as they follow their struggles to overcome their personal obstacles as much as their competitive ones.  Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the characters is the most important way to ensure the page is turned to see what happens to them and Abela has the ability to do this in spades.  Miss 11 is going to LOVE this sequel.

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Vandenberg sets her 5th grade class a poetry project and then says, “Pick a partner.”  Within seconds the only one left for Irene is you-never-know-what-he-is-going-to-say Charles and for Charles it’s hardly-says-anything Irene.  But that’s not the main difference they see – Charles is black and Irene is white.  Nevertheless, an assignment is an assignment and with no boundaries they select everyday topics like buying shoes, their hair, going to church and the beach to write about, each using blank verse to describe their experiences.  For Irene who is painfully shy and likes her “stringy, dishwater, blonde” hair because it’s a curtain she can hide behind, her first poems focus on how she would like to be like the popular girls in class.  “I’d rather be sun-burned than sugar-sand white.” For Charles, for whom words fly off the page and out of his mouth, they’re about how he too, would like to fit in better but is shunned because of the colour of his skin and the confusion that that sets up inside him.

But as they write and share their poems, the topics getting more personal and revealing, gradually a greater understanding grows and they realise they have many more similarities than differences, seeing each other as individuals, and that they are both so much more than black and white. However, the poems don’t just explore their growing connections – they also explore their personal conundrums.  Charles watches the news and sees people walking by as black people are being “choked, pummelled, shot, killed by police officers” and yet he has a special friendship with local (white) Officer Brassard; Irene is shunned by Shonda in the playground but when Shonda presents her family tree draped in chains, Irene feels the need to say, “Sorry”.  

Subtitled, Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship,  this book grew from a friendship that began as an email but evolved from all that had gone before in the authors; and illustrators’  lives to shape them into their current personalities.  Imagining what it would be like if they had met in a modern-day 5th grade class, rather than a book of unrelated poems this one tells the story of an evolving friendship between two people with seemingly distinct lives, diverse experiences and different perceptions using the format of the poem to be the voice of each, and each shedding light on innermost thoughts that illuminate a path that few get to tread.

Unlike other books with “we’re-all-the-same-on-the-inside” messages, this one tackles the issue of race head on so that conversations can be started and differences can be explored rather than ignored.  Because even though we may be the same on the inside, all that has gone before us even before we are born has gone into the making of who we are now, and while that makes us unique individuals regardless of skin colour, it is that skin colour that can be the greatest division as first impressions are so deeply shaped by existing attitudes, perceptions and preconceptions.  Charles was picked first for the basketball team simply because of his skin colour and lanky legs, but things changed when he muffed an easy shot.

This is a complex book with so many layers that it risks being left unopened on the shelf if it is not shared with the child by an astute adult, either parent or teacher, who can begin and sensitively guide the conversations.  Cultural differences – racial, religious, sexual, lingual, socio-economic – are a big issue in our schoolyards as the focus on bullying demonstrates, so something new that approaches the issues in a radical way can be a catalyst for change.  What is we were all Mrs Vandenbergs and set our students a similar challenge, instead of the one-size-fits-all novel study, and insisted that students work with someone they have never worked with before?  

Extraordinary.

If you are in an Australian school and would like my review copy of this book to use with your students, be the first to contact me and ask for it.  Please include your name and postal address.

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781925335828

In one village on one side of the mountains live the LACs – Little Anxious Children who constantly look for danger and who only have negative self-talk; in another village on the other side of the mountains live their enemies the Calmsters who can take life as it comes because of their positive self-talk.  The two sides are constantly battling because when one wins, the other shrinks.

One day Loppy the LAC decides to climb the mountain and spy on the Calmsters but his anxiety goes through the roof when he spies a Calmster looking back.  And not only looking back, but coming to meet him! Who will win the impending battle? Does there have to be a winner and a loser?

Anxiety amongst children in on the increase.  According to a recent national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents, approximately 278,000 Australian children aged between 4 and 17 struggle with clinical symptoms of Anxiety. (For a summary see kidsfirst children’s services) Therefore books which shine a light on this condition which affects 1 in 7 of those between 4 and 17 and which can be used as a starting point to help the child manage the symptoms are both important and welcome, particularly as mindfulness and mental health are gaining traction in school curricula. While there are almost as many causes of anxiety as there are children affected by it,  such as not being perfect, helping children turn their self-talk around, as Curly did for Loppy, is a critical starting point and many classrooms are now displaying images such as these…

 

Not only do such explicit statements give the anxious child prompts for the new words, but they also acknowledge that anxiety is real and that there are others who are anxious too.  While climbing that internal mountain as Loppy did can be hard, knowing that there are others who also battle can be reassuring. While teachers are not clinical psychologists like the author, having tools like the Loppy books in the mindfulness collection and using them not only to help the Loppies move forward but also to help the Calmsters learn that some of their friends may be like Loppy so deserve  and need understanding rather than ridicule can be a starting point in achieving harmony in the classroom.

Teachers’ notes which extend the story into practical applications are available.

 

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Juana Martinez-Neal

Candlewick Press, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780763693558

Sometimes parents give their babies names that are bigger than they are- even when the baby grows up! And so it is with Alma Sofia, Esperanza Jose Pura Candela.  So she turns to her Daddy to explain why she has six names and as he tells her, she learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; the spiritual Pura and her activist grandmother Candela.  As she hears the story of her name and her history, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell.

Parents choose our names for so many reasons – my own was changed to be the initials of the harbour board of which my grandfather was the chief engineer, initials which were on the risers of the steps leading to his important office so I was convinced they were my personal stairway to heaven – and to discover those reasons can be a fascinating insight into what life was like for our parents at the time, just as it was for Alma. But despite, or because of, our names we all remain unique individuals who will, in time, have our own stories to tell – just as Alma does.

There are so many cross-curriculum activities that can be done just by playing with and exploring our names – my students loved to see how much their names were worth if each letter had the dollar value of a Scrabble tile – that to have such a clever, poignant but fascinating story such as this to kickstart the investigations is just perfect.  (If you’re looking for suggestions scramble through your Teacher Resource section and see if you have a copy of Maths  About Me, written in 1991 under my other name of Hosie.)

Maths About Me

Maths About Me

Parvana – a graphic novel

Parvana - a graphic novel

Parvana – a graphic novel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parvana – a graphic novel

Deborah Ellis

Allen & Unwin, 2018

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99

9781760631970

In 2000, Canadian author Deborah Ellis told the story of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who living in  Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother Fatana, her father, her older sister Nooria, and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali when Taliban soldiers enter her house and arrest her father for having a foreign education and beginning a fascinating, intriguing, award-winning series of books which include Parvana’s Journey , Shauzia  and Parvana’s Promise that shone a spotlight on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan that continues to this day.

As a series it is an amazing, true-to-life story of a young girl living in circumstances that the rest of the world knew little about but which has now led to the establishment of international organisations which support not only Afghan women but the recognition and provision of education for girls in male-dominated countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As a story, it is one of courage, resilience, determination and grit that is inspirational as well as educational.  So many young girls that I know who have read this have commented about how it puts their own issues into perspective.

Renamed The Breadwinner in the US, it was made into a film of the same name and now that has been adapted into graphic novel format which will enable so many more to learn about Parvana’s story and perhaps continue to read the entire series.

If this series is not on your shelves for your Year 5/6+ readers, it should be.  If it is but has not circulated, perhaps it is time to promote it to a new audience.   In my opinion, it is a modern classic that should be read by all as an introduction to the world beyond the Australian classroom.

 

NB If you are searching for the series it also has the titles The Breadwinner (1),  Mud City (3) and My Name is Parvana (4)

I’m a Duck

I'm a Duck

I’m a Duck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a Duck

Eve Bunting

Will Hillenbrand

Candlewick Press, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780763680329

Imagine being a duck that is afraid of water!

But that’s the problem of this little one who rolled into the pond as an egg, and although quickly rescued by her mother, she has been left with a morbid fear of deep water.

Now I’m a duck who’s scared to go

in the pond or lake, and so

I cannot swim, and that is bad.

A landlocked duck is very sad.

Despite the encouragement of family and friends like Frog and Owl, Little Duck just can’t pluck up the courage to have a go.  She eventually has a go in a puddle, practising all day and night, but even though she’s well prepared, when it comes to the pond she’s really, really scared!  And then one day…

This is a gentle book, both in tone and palette, focusing on overcoming fear that will resonate with many young readers who will have have had to pull their big-kid pants on and have a go at something that has terrified them.  No matter how supportive those around you are, how much they offer to help you, as the little ducking observes, “I’d love to have you help me through it, but I’m the one who has to do it.”

It’s a story about moving at one’s own pace, practising and preparing, and doing things your own way that will offer comfort and support to those facing what seem to be insurmountable challenges and the joy of going from trepidation to triumph. No doubt little listeners will each have their own tale to tell as they reflect on similar situations and then give themselves a high-five for having mastered their fear. 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Amy Curran

Pink Coffee Publishing, 2018

48pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95

9780646239307

Bobby was the last of Peggy’s litter of Australian cattle dogs to find a new home – some of his brothers and sisters had  already moved to new homes – but he was OK with that because he was just a puppy.  His mother consoled him and told him not to worry because he would find friends and “be accepted by others.”  Because Booby was different.  Instead of having the regular markings and patches of his breed, his face was plain.

He didn’t know he was a bit different until the other cattle dogs at his new home, when a farmer finally came to claim him, wouldn’t play with him and this saddened him  In fact it wasn’t until he befriended Mother Duck and she had him look in a pool of still water that he noticed the difference.  Was he going to spend his life being different and alone? It would seem so until something happens that makes Bobby a hero and finally he is accepted for who he is inside rather than what he looks like.

Based on a real dog and his experiences with other dogs, this story has a strong message of being accepted for who we are rather than what we look like.

Bullying, in all its facets, is certainly at the top of the agenda in these weeks following the suicide of Amy “Dolly’ Everett and there are calls from all quarters for it to be addressed, with the brunt of the expectations falling squarely on the shoulders of schools.  While the other dogs don’t nip or bite or otherwise abuse Bobby in what is the overt form of bullying, excluding him because of his looks is just as damaging and it makes a good discussion starter to raise the issue with young children so they can understand that bullying can take many forms and each can have unforeseen and unseen consequences.

Written for young, almost independent readers, this is the first in a proposed series that is designed to teach young children to look beyond exteriors because “It’s what on the inside that counts.”  There are teachers’ notes available as well as a plush toy that will give the story extra meaning.

 

 

 

 

The Art Garden

The Art Garden

The Art Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art Garden

Penny Harrison

Penelope Pratley

EK Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925335590

Sadie loves playing with colour and finding patterns and shapes in unlikely places, looking at details of lines and texture with the eye of an artist.  More than anything she wants to be a painter, just like her best friend, Tom whose brush dances across the page, swooshing and swirling into shapes and stories and drawing Sadie right into them. .   But whenever Sadie picks up a paintbrush her colours slip and slurp, splatter and splodge and her paintings don’t look anything like the real thing. So instead, she spends her time working in the garden or playing with Tom.

But, one day, when she ends up painting herself instead of a picture,  Sadie chucks a tantrum in frustration and climbs her favourite tree – and suddenly gets a look at things from a different perspective and makes a big discovery about herself and her own creativity. 

This is a unique story, charmingly illustrated in water colour, that will offer a new perspective to those who don’t see themselves as creative just because they cannot paint.  It opens up lots of potential for discussion about how each of us is creative even if “we can’t draw a straight line”, whether it’s working in a different medium such as stone or fabric or in a different field such as words or music or movement. While we each interpret our environment differently. each one of us is creative and it is creativity that drives us forward. 

Like many kids, Sadie focuses on and is frustrated by the things she can’t do rather than paying attention to that which she does well and her self-talk of doubt takes over.  Sadly, sometimes negative language is all that some of our students hear so they need to learn to think “I can…” rather than “I can’t…” with the help of visible affirmations so maybe get the students to write a personal “I can’t …” statement relating to something they really want to achieve, then rephrase it into an “I can …” mantra that can start to change their inner voice and the thinking that drives it.

Quality picture books are like the seeds that Sadie planted … an engaging story that is the  beautiful flower but so much more beneath the surface that is grounding it and helping it grow.  This is quality.

Don’t Leap, Larry

Don't Leap, Larry

Don’t Leap, Larry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Leap, Larry

John Briggs

Nicola Slater

Pavilion, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781843653387

Lemmings are small rodents that live in the Arctic regions and are best known popularly known for the misconception that they commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs, So when one little lemming decides to stand out from the crowd and not do as they do, there is great confusion and consternation.

This little lemming, who wants to be known as Larry, does not want to look like, sound like or act like his peers. When he is asked if he would jump over a cliff, he says, “No, ” but fronting up wearing a mask and fins just in case he has to.  Instead of digging a tunnel to keep warm, Larry goes sledging with the puffins; while the others squeak and squeal be plays bongos with the seals; and while they nibble moss from under a rock he prefers pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and hot sauce!  He is certainly a very different lemming who stands out from the crowd.

So when the other lemmings call a meeting and unanimously decide that all lemmings should be the same, Larry knows it is time for him to move on.  But he finds life with his other friends a little different from his expectations – sometimes the grass is not always greener.  Is there a new and better life for Larry or is he doomed to join them on that inevitable, fatal leap over the cliff?

Humour and appealing illustrations which begin with the front cover with Larry firmly attached to a parachute as he leaps off the cliff make for a quirky tale that nevertheless has a strong message about remaining true to yourself and encouraging others to question, interpret and think for themselves too.   A great discussion starter about being individuals even in a culture that has children dressing alike, looking alike and learning alike. 

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear (series)

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Never Fear

R.A. Spratt

Random House, 2018

256pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9780143784203

A new school term and Friday is dismayed to discover all her stuff is being moved out of the room she shares with best friend Melanie.  There is another surprise when she goes to investigate why with the Headmaster and instead of curmudgeonly old man she is expecting, she is greeted by a “woman in the mid-thirties, not much taller than Friday, wearing a smart fashionable suit”. To Friday’s dismay, Dr Belcredi has ordered that she be promoted to Year 12, away from Melanie and Ian and into a clique that doesn’t like the status quo being threatened by a young upstart, and a seriously intelligent one at that. She is concerned that she is one step away from being ousted from the one place she regards as home and where, despite her social awkwardness, she is nevertheless now liked and admired.

Sneaking out of school with Melanie to visit the old headmaster in hospital where he is in the cardiac ward, Friday gets the first hint that all is not as it should be but he has been paid off by the School Council and cannot afford to say any more. Solving a mystery for the nurses while she is there, Friday’s detective antennae are bristling and she knows that there is something afoot.

Combined with strange men in grey suits and a government car, dodgy builders who blow up a barn full of asbestos, a new headmistress who is not what she appears on paper and the underlying mystery/legend of the gold of Sebastian Dowell the founder of Highcrest Academy, this is an intriguing finale to this popular series – one that Miss 11 was delighted to find in its entirety in her Santa Sack and then to discover #8 sitting in the review pile was too much.  I was given 48 hours to read and review it!!

With Friday being so much like Miss 11 and so many other young ladies -intelligent, quirky, and a bit different from her peers but very comfortable in her own skin, yet deep down wanting to be just like them – she will be missed by her legion of followers but the beauty of this series is that it is one that can be read and read again, each time offering something new. Spratt has hit the mark with her target audience in this series and we eagerly await the new one, The Peski Kids.