Monkey and Me
Monkey and Me
pbk., 240pp., RRP $A14.99
ebk., RRP $A10.99
Jez Matthews (aka Beanie) is nine years, eleven months and seven days – not yet in double digits so not yet old enough to join his brother Mark’s gang. But following an Extraordinary Meeting of the Executive Council, in which Mark had the position of power and the casting vote, Jez is allowed to be a part of it on probation. However, he is determined to prove himself worthy of full membership when he does turn 10 so he does a little bit more and tries a little bit harder than the others. When the gang is in need of a new meeting place, it is decided that they will try the deserted house commonly known the Black Gate which is known to be not only haunted but inhabited by monsters.
Jez, being Jez, is braver than the others and finds himself inside and indeed, it sounds like there is a monster there. But what Jez finds is not a monster – but a monkey. Or a chimpanzee to be exact. One that is scared and hungry but which knows sign language. And so begins an engaging tale of Jez’s determination to save Malcolm (as he calls him) from the scientists and experiments that Jez is certain has been Malcolm’s life till now. It’s a remarkable adventure that involves keeping Malcolm hidden, protected and safe from two dodgy characters and the police – and, as the story unfolds, we learn that Jez has leukaemia. This is not a big deal in his eyes, although it has certainly impacted immensely on his family’s life, but as the story builds to its climax, the illness makes things more urgent than ever.
Setting aside the fact that monkeys and chimpanzees are not synonyms, this is an absorbing story with splashes of humour that make the reader feel for both Jez and Malcolm and want to find out what happens in the end. That is a mark of quality writing. Told by Jez himself, it gives an insight into the life of a sick child who really just wants to be an ordinary boy first with being ill somewhere else on the list of things about him you should know. Is it the boy that drives the illness or the illness drives the boy? This is a story that can be read alone by an independent reader but is also an excellent candidate as a read-aloud by a teacher or parent because Jez is a most endearing character and it’s good to find a novel that is different and has a depth that provokes thought and discussion.
Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Stories
Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Stories
Andrew Grey (illustrator)
Based on the Winnie-the-Pooh works by A.A. Milne & E.H. Shepard
Chirpy Bird/ Hardie Grant Egmont 2014
hbk., RRP $@4.95
This is a collection of three Christmas stories starring Pooh, Piglet, and all the other favourite characters brought to life by A. A. Milne.
In the first, Pooh’s Snowy Day, Pooh and Piglet decide to build Eeyore a new house. But something goes awry, as usual. In the second, Pooh’s Christmas Adventure, Pooh find himself snowed in. He uses his honey pot to dig himself out and then realises he is out of honey. Perhaps his friends will have some. But they too are snowed in and so it becomes a very busy afternoon, culminating in them all building a magnificent snowman. The third story in the collection is Pooh’s Christmas Letters. Pooh is stumping home through the snow from Christopher Robin’s house, humming a little hum, when he has an idea. Next day, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Eeyore and Owl all receive mysterious letters telling them to go to the North Pole at luncheon. Piglet is very worried that Pooh has been kidnapped by Hostile Animals or a Heffalump so they all go to see Rabbit for advice. But Rabbit also has a letter, and, appointing himself in charge, he leads them off to the North Pole where they find …
Illustrator Andrew Grey has captured the essence of Shepard’s original illustrations and this colourful interpretation is a wonderful way to introduce yet another generation to the timeless tales of this delightful bear and his friends. Perfect for being one of the traditions of the Christmas season.
Where are Santa’s Pants?
Where are Santa’s Pants?
Little Hare, 2014
pbk., RRP $A9.95
Santa has been on a diet – perhaps he has been paying attention to all the messages about healthy eating – and now he’s so trim his pants have fallen off!! Shock! Horror! Christmas cannot have a Santa with no pants and so the readers are challenged to find them hidden in these brightly-coloured, strikingly-detailed, double-spread pictures that cover a variety of locations from the North Pole to the Post Office. Each pair is a different colour and pattern so they blend in well with the background. There is also a lucky sixpence (the UK equivalent of Australia’s 5c) as well as eight reindeer to be found, adding to the puzzle as well as the shareability of the book – each child can search for something different. And as they search within particular contexts, there is much to see and talk about.
In the style of “Where’s Wally?”, this Christmas title proved a winner with Year 3-4 on Friday! Given over 30 brand new books to choose from, this one created the most interest and the person who “won” was so engrossed in the puzzles that she didn’t get around to doing the review. That says it all to me. If you’re engaged with a picture book for over 45 minutes, then it is offering something special.
Puzzle books of this nature intrigue younger readers (even Year 6s like the challenge, and, in this case, even adult eyes were tested) and they all contribute to the development of the child’s visual acuity – the ability to see fine detail and essential for writing, spelling and information literacy as they examine pictures for clues. This is a new, seasonal addition to your Pick-a-Puzzle section that will delight a new audience each year.
A peek inside…
Emus Under the Bed
Emus Under the Bed
Leann J Edwards
The Little Big Book Club/ Allen & Unwin 2014
hbk., 24pp., RRP $A19.99
On Saturdays I visit Auntie Dollo. ‘What would you like to do today?’ she says. ‘Do you want to help me make some feather flowers?’ Auntie Dollo has all kinds of feathers. She has feathers from moorhens, magpies, galahs and cockatoos.” But the greatest surprise is what is under Aunty Dollo’s bed – six little emu chicks!
This is a vibrant story which shows how a modern indigenous child continues to connect with the traditions of the past through her family. The relationship between the environment and the people is very clear as they make a headdress of feathers dropped by local birds, and as they create it, Aunt Dollo tells the story of its origins. Written by a descendant of the Mara tribe from the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Wiradjuri tribe from central New South Wales, it celebrates the handing down of an ancient culture through its people and ensuring “They are the pool of inspiration all the time.” Having tried various ways of expressing her family history and culture, particularly through a career as an Indigenous artist, Leann Edwards was inspired by others to write and tell her story and this book was produced through the Emerging Indigenous Picture Book Mentoring Project, a joint initiative between The Little Big Book Club and Allen & Unwin, assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. The artwork is most striking and has many of the elements we associate with indigenous art, and shows the artist’s experience both in Australia and overseas, with colour and pattern predominating against blocks of solid colour.
Most importantly, this book ticks all the selection criteria for acquiring and using indigenous literature that Lorraine MacDonald identifies in A Literature Companion for Teachers (p122-123).
There has been a number of books produced recently which feature our first peoples celebrating their landscape, culture and heritage in the most exquisite ways. How wonderful if we could use these as models for our non-indigenous students to tell their own stories so they could leave a similar legacy.
Bella Dancerella Loves to Dance
Bella Dancerella: Ballet School
Bella Dancerella: Concert Night
Bella Dancerella: The Big Test
ABC Books 2014
pbk., 48pp., RRP $A14.99
Bella loves ballet and every movement she makes is based on a dance step. As she moves through her chores on the farm, she whirls and twirls, skips and leaps entertaining the barnyard audience, but getting into trouble with her dad because she forgets to do all she has been asked. Even though he knows she loves to dance, and would dance in her sleep if she could, he sees it as a waste of time and would prefer her to like something useful, like fishing. So even though she would dearly love to attend Miss Tweedie’s Ballet School, it’s unlikely he will agree…and so her farmyard friends hatch a plan to persuade him to say yes.
It seems little girls of a certain age like one of two things – ballet or horses. Bella Dancerella Loves to Dance is the first in a series that caters for the ballet-lovers and Miss 8 had her nose in it as soon as she spotted it, living her own dreams through Bella. Brightly illustrated (albeit in a Disney-esque fashion) with just the right amount of text for the newly independent reader, she enjoyed all four of the series I had, particularly Concert Night which focuses on Swan Lake, a ballet she and I have attended many times.
There is a website with lots of activities and an online search suggests that there may well be other accessories, such as how-to DVDs, all developed some time ago by a Melbourne mother Mary Toniolo. Certainly a search of YouTube shows that there is more to the series than the books, including this clip which demonstrates the five basic positions.
While the books themselves will be a popular addition to your collection, suggesting it to parents as a possible present for Christmas may well be a smart move – they will thank you for it and many little girls will be very happy.
The Wild One
The Wild One
hbk, 32pp., RRP $A24.99
Charlie met the wild one when he was young. His kite got stuck in the branches of the tree and there, sitting on the bough beside it is a barefoot, slightly dishevelled little boy – looking remarkably like Charlie himself. All day they did things that little boys liked to do running, jumping, splashing, playing in the water, rolling in the mud, hanging from trees and scattering the leaves of autumn. At the end of the day, it was time for Charlie to collect his kite and he was surprised to find that his new friend didn’t have to go home. “Here is where I live,” he said.
Whenever he could, Charlie visited the wild one and played and explored the wonders of nature. They caught tadpoles and saw the tiny legs; they watched caterpillars spin cocoons and spiders weaving webs; and they hooted to the mopoke who stared at them through feather goggles. But such an idyllic life cannot last and Charlie had to go to school to learn mathematics and history and science. Every now and then Charlie visited the wild one and he had not been forgotten but as life intervened the visits became fewer and fewer … until one, day, with his own son in his arms, he cannot find him at all. Is he lost forever?
This is a most gentle story of a boy who finds another side to himself, but loses it as life intervenes but as the sun rises and falls and the moon circles the earth, he discovers it again in time to share it. Beautifully illustrated by Lucia Masciullo – this is the third partnership between the pair – it celebrates the joys of childhood and shows that the magic never quite leaves us, even if we cover it with layers of adult life. The passage of time and the cycle of life are inexorable but deep down we never lose the wonder of our earliest days, and the need to replicate it for our children and our grandchildren.
Like all excellent picture books, this appeals to so many ages. It’s perfect for helping the very young understand that time passes and things change, yet at the other end of the scale it would also be a perfect addition to a more abstract, conceptual theme of belonging or journeys or discovery. The more you read it, the more you discover.
Allen & Unwin, 2014
hbk., 32pp., RRP $A22.99
It’s been a strange week – one of those ones where something you rarely think about keeps popping up in front of you. No one on this planet could ever describe me as musical – when that talent was given out I was not only not behind the door, but I wasn’t even in the room – but for the third time in three days there has been something significant about music that has caught my attention. Firstly, this poster from The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra about the importance of music in a child’s life came through my FB feed and I had to share it with my teaching colleagues, all of whom are talented enough to act on it.
Then there was a news report about research about the effect of music on literacy learning and today, the review book on top of my pile is called Let’s Play and is a delightful introduction to the instruments of the orchestra by Gabriel Alborozo. I’m certain the elves were in my office last night and moved it up because clearly it was meant to be the next one!
In Let’s Play a group of very young children are introduced to the orchestra by a man who looks like the epitome of a stern conductor but who actually is much gentler than that as he isn’t bothered by the children moving and clinging to him as he takes them on a journey through the percussion section, the brass, strings and woodwind, and, finally, the piano and harp. His love and passion is clear and the children are just as fascinated as each gets to try one of the instruments. However, this is not a dry, factual, encyclopaedic explanation. As they go to each section, there’s a comment to each musician that adds an element of humour and individuality and the superb illustrations which tell the real story and lift it into the realm of the special and unique. While the conductor and the children are line drawings, the instrument is in colour and each page has the sound it makes interpreted in shape and colour, until the whole becomes joined in a celebration of both colour and sound which is “Magnifico!”
There are so many reasons this book should be in your collection – it’s the perfect textual extension to Prokofiev’s’s Peter and the Wolf as well as the many online sites which enable students to hear the sounds as they see the instruments. (My favourite has always been Energy in the Air: Sounds of the Orchestra created by two young boys for the Thinkquest Jr project but there are many others.) It is also the perfect stimulus to having the students interpret the sounds of the instruments and musical pieces into their own art pieces, which might then lead on to their thinking about the sorts of instruments or compositions which might accompany pieces of literature.
While it’s clear the target audience for the text is early childhood, in the hands of an imaginative teacher it could be used throughout the school. A treasure indeed.
Bloomsbury Australia, 2014
pbk., 32pp., RRP $A15.99
Bubble Trouble is a very apt name for this book. Rueben and Felix had always lived next door to each other and they were best friends. They were exactly the same age, same height (except for their ears), they were both left-handed and the LOVED to blow bubble. Really, REALLY BIG bubbles! It was a perfect activity to do together until one day Rueben said, “ I bet I could blow a bigger bubble than you”. And so the contest is on – with each trying to blow the biggest bubble, building the most amazing bubble-blowing contraptions. But as the machines become more and more complex, the fun gets less and less. Even rules and judges and spectators didn’t help. All they could think about was winning! Until one day…
Illustrated very gently in a lift-the-flap format and quite different from his Skullduggery Pleasant work, (read this interview with him about his creations) this is a book that has many layers to it. Each time I read it I thought of a new way that it could be used in the classroom setting. Firstly, there is the maths aspect of comparing sizes accompanied by the languages aspect of the use of comparative and superlative language. Then there was the aspect of how bubbles are made, why they are usually round, and investigating whether the shape and power of the “blower” affect the shape of the bubble. There’s the design aspect of creating a bubble-blowing machine or something that will help them solve the issue at the end; and throughout all, the concept of what friendship means. My review copy was destined for a pre-schooler I know but I’ve decided to tuck into my teaching tool-kit instead. Stories which can provide a whole day’s across-curriculum teaching are rare!
Kick with My Left Foot
Kick with My Left Foot
Allen & Unwin, 2014
hbk., 24pp., RRP $A19.99
I pull the sock on my left foot
I pull the sock on my right foot
I lace up the boot on my left foot
I lace up the boot on my right foot …
It’s time for footy!
This is a charming story of a little boy who loves his footy and can do everything well with his right and left hands, except for when it comes to kicking. When the tries to kick with his right foot, the results are less than great. But kicking with his left foot is a totally different matter! In a place where footy is an integral part of life, being able to kick well is an important skill and there is great excitement when his left foot kicking is the clincher.
Accompanied by illustrations that depict the emotions of both the boy and his dog perfectly, this story really appealed to the younger readers in my family who are struggling with left and right, as well as with throwing and kicking. In fact, Miss 3 and a half immediately went outside and practised with both feet to see which one worked best for her. Many times the results were those shown in the pictures but with practise she began to improve, and now has also sorted out that left/right confusion.
The book is one of the Emerging Indigenous Picture Book Mentoring Project a partnership between the Little Big Book Club and Allen & Unwin in which six previously unpublished Indigenous writers and illustrators will have their work showcased in four picture books during 2014. Each creator has been partnered with a renowned mentor in children’s publishing including Nadia Wheatley, Ken Searle, Nick Bland, Ann James, Bronwyn Bancroft, Boori Monty Pryor and Ali Cobby Eckermann to share ideas, techniques and inspiration for their first published work. The project has been funded by the federal government through the Australia Council and it means that not only will our cohort of children’s writers be enriched but our students will have access to authentic texts that will work towards the understanding and harmony between our cultures that is at the heart of so many of the Australian Curriculum outcomes. Even though it is written for an early childhood audience, there is a lot that offers scope for comparing and contrasting lifestyles and landscapes that would enable younger students to continue the development of their critical thinking skills. Even determining which code of football is being played requires observation and justification!
Macavity the Mystery Cat
Macavity the Mystery Cat
T. S. Eliot
Faber & Faber, 2014
hbk., RRP $A22.99
In 1939, T.S. Eliot wrote his iconic Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which became the foundation for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats. Within that collection, is a poem which begins
Macavity’s a mystery cat
He’s called the Hidden Paw…
It’s a tale that stays in your head forever and begs to be shared with others, read aloud with its rhyme and rhythm savoured as they roll off the tongue. So when I read this 75th anniversary edition to a group of six-year-olds, I was not surprised that they loved it and begged to hear it again. They didn’t need to know the exact meanings of some of the phrases to enjoy it and understand that here was a cat of most devious tricks who is also a master of disguise and alias-building. They used words like “cunning” and “mischievous” and “naughty” to describe him showing that Arthur Robins has illustrated it perfectly to underscore the concepts of “a fiend in feline shape” and “a master of depravity”. They then delighted in sharing their own stories of the dastardly deeds their own cats have got up to, and what was going to be a five-minute-filler when I popped it in my bag for the day became a fun-filled thirty minute sharing session!
Yet, at the other end of the scale, it’s just as much fun for older readers and a group of Year 6 students had great delight in exploring the language choices and appreciating how such a complete story with its come-to-life description can be told in just 400 words, proving that great writing transcends all age groups!
Definitely one to put in your collection and promote!