Monday, 25 July 2016

The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin [Intermediate Fiction]

The Dog, Ray
By Linda Coggin
Hot Key Books, 2016
ISBN 9781471403200

Here's a novel with a lot of heart, and that guarantee for a good story - a dog in trouble.

Daisy (age 12) is killed in a car crash (car meets horse, not your usual accident) and her father is paralysed.

Daisy finds herself in that space in between - a waiting room for souls to find their new destiny; Daisy is to become a dog. Because she doesn't follow instructions correctly she is a dog who can remember her life as a girl.

She is taken home from the pound by a rather ghastly boy and his mum who make her sleep in a kennel outside and don't treat her particularly kindly, and when she has the chance she dashes away, determined to find her way home and become an assistance dog for her father, but that's not to be, they have moved away.

Daisy meets a homeless man, and a boy called Pip, who has run away from his foster home; his mother has died and he wants to track down his father, who doesn't even know he exists. It is Pip who gives the name Ray to the dog, and they make a fine pair.

I won't share more of their adventure as it will spoil your reading of it, but there is excitement, emotional upheaval, adventure, and some new friends along the way.

Ray tries to communicate with everyone as she would have when she was a girl, but it's only heard as barking, and as she lives in her dog-self, her girl-self slowly starts to fade, whilst maintaining her loving, courageous character.

A charmer, but then I'm always a sucker for a dog story.

9-14, though obviously adults might enjoy it as I did!


Friday, 22 July 2016

The Mystery of the Clockwork sparrow by Katherine Woodfine [Intermediate fiction]

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
By Katherine Woodfine
Egmont Publishing, 2015
ISBN 9781405276177

A marvellous mystery set in the early 1900s in London where Sinclair's Department Store is just about to open. Our heroine, 14-year-old Sophie Taylor has been hired to work in the millinery department, where the other girls treat her as though she is a snob, although she's really just very shy and nervous of beginning her life in the working world, having been thrust out of education after her father's death and being required to find a way to make her living.

Also in the cast is a young porter, Billy, who is constantly in trouble fore being sidetracked and seeking out-of-the-way hiding spots where he can read his story paper mysteries, and a homeless lad he befriends on the street. Lillian (Lil) Rose is one of the so-called 'Captain's girls', who model all the fine fashions in the store and is also an aspiring actress who has just scored a role in the chorus of a new show. She and Sophie make friends and both take Billy under their wing.

As part of the opening festivities there is to be a grand exhibition featuring an intricate jewelled clockwork sparrow which sings a different tune each time it is played. On the night before the store is to have its grand opening there is a robbery and the sparrow, along with other jewels, is stolen. Sophie happens to have been seen at the store just before it happened and suspicion falls on her.

There's a dangerous gang involved, and danger inside the store as well as outside, culminating in a marvellously exciting scenario which makes heroes of them all.

Sophie, Lil and Billy make a fine team, following clues and facing dangerous and life-threatening situations. They are all better for being friends, and I look forward to following their exploits in further books in the series. I have a lot of girls at school who ask for mystery stories and I'll be happy to add this series to the library stock for them.

10-16.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Classic: Stig of the Dump by Clive King [Junior fiction]

Stig of the Dump 
By Clive King
Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
Puffin Modern Classics, 1993
First published in 1963
ISBN 9780141329697

This is the 50th anniversary edition of this classic tale of eight-year-old Barney who falls into the chalk pit behind his Granny's house and discovers a caveman - Stig, living there. The story is set in a village called Ash, in Kent, where author Clive King lived as a boy, his home on the edge of a chalk pit, just as the setting for this story is.

I'd requested the book from the library because it had an introduction by Julia Eccleshare (children's editor at The Guardian, and commentator on all things to do with children's books in the UK. She's coming to New Zealand soon for the IBBY Congress and I'm going to interview her and write about her for Magpies magazine so I've been getting my hands on everything I can in the name of research. 

I've been trying to fill a few gaps in my reading history - classics that I feel like I've read, because I've read so much about them, but haven't actually read the books. Stig seemed like a good place to start as I'm constantly looking out for good 'boy books' for the many reluctant readers I deal with in my job as an intermediate school librarian.

It's a marvellous adventure story. Safe in that it mainly takes place around Barney's Granny's home area, but at the same time seems to be entirely separate. It's a reflection of the times, of course, when children could leave after breakfast and not reappear until tea time and no-one would much worry about them. Not only does Barney disappear for hours at a time, but he takes supplies and tools from the house, which never make it back again, and gets wet and dirty, but no-one much worries about that either.

Barney meets Stig and they make friends, Barney helping to make Stig's primitive living conditions better, and Stig teaching Barney how to do the things Stig knows about like using a spear. Stig can't talk very well, but they make themselves understood somehow. Even when long amounts of time go by, when Barney has to go back home etc, when he returns they just carry on as usual. Barney doesn't keep Stig a secret, but his family obviously think Stig is made up, until his sister comes on an adventure on a hot summer night and meets Stig too, when they are somehow transported back to Stig's time and meet his people who are amazingly setting up the Standing Stones.

Being written in 1963 the language and the details of Barney's daily life are, of course, old fashioned, but it's into the action quickly and it wouldn't take much perseverance for the reader to get into the excitement, and just as the time difference between where Stig is from, and Barney, is easily crossed, so can the distance from our contemporary reader to the chalk pit and all the excitement that takes place there.

The story has twice been adapted for television, and I was also astounded to discover there is a rapper and a television producer who both go by the name Stig(g) of the Dump!

7-10.


Perfect by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood [Picture Book]


Perfect 
Written by Danny Parker 
Illustrated by Freya Blackwood 
Little Hare
ISBN 9781921894848
Hardback

This picture book is one of those gems that are just right for sharing with pre-schoolers who love to see the details of their daily lives on the pages of a book. It is amazingly simple, with brief lyrical text from Danny Parker. Writing text like this for a books is, I think, one of the hardest things to do, to keep it simple but still somehow magical.

It's been illustrated by one of my all-time favourite illustrators, Freya Blackwood. It's definitely worth having a read of her post about illustrating this book.



The story follows three children and their cat, as they move around their home and yard, from one activity to another as the day slides by. From breakfast on the step, to drawing on the footpath...



Some very messy baking and making (and fixing the bowl which had been used for the making but is now broken in pieces). and a walk/hop/climb/run around the yard...


I'm constantly captivated by Freya's ability to capture the child's body with her pencil and paint, the perfect curve of a calf, the tilt of a head, the sticky-out hair. It reminds me of that other great picture book artist, Shirley Hughes. The ordinary child and an everyday environment - an Australian scene with the sandy clay colourings, depicted in such a way that you feel you are there, and could scoop up one of the warm and lovely children for a cuddle. But there are no adults seen here, as the children move on out to wider countryside, flying hand-made kites, then home for food then finally the younger two giving in to sleep, arms flung to the side, while the eldest child reads a book. Perfect.

I borrowed this book from the library, but if you go and buy a copy, there is a free Perfect print inside the book. Treasure indeed.




Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald & J.P. Coovert

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading
Written by Tommy Greenwald
Illustrated by J.P. Coovert
Square Fish
ISBN 9781250003379

This book came with the Reading Enrichment loans for school from National Library. I'd asked for books for mainly male reluctant readers and this fit the bill very well. It was issued as soon as I showed it and whenever it came back would go straight out again, so I thought I'd better actually read it before I sent it back, and having done so I'll buy it, and I'll get some others in the series (there are six).

Charlie Joe (aka CJ) is a determined non-reader, and has all sorts of ways of getting out of reading whenever he can, including a handy arrangement with a friend where CJ reads the first and last chapters of an assigned book, then his mate, in exchange for an ice-cream sandwich, reads the rest and tells CJ what it's all about. One thing I like about CJ is that he doesn't dislike stories, and he doesn't have any difficulty reading, he just doesn't want to read the whole book. As you'll see in the book trailer, he's happy to listen to an audio book or watch the movie of a book and is actually a fan of the library where not only can you get audio books and movies, but there are girls.


As a librarian, of course I hoped that in the course of the story CJ would learn how great books could really be, but he's still a fairly determined non-reader at the end, but in the process of writing the book (a punishment for some particularly bad non-reading behaviour) he tells us all the things that are great about books.

I've had a couple of students at school who stated in no uncertain terms when they came into the library for their English class: "I DON'T READ". And yes, they told me in loud capitals. I, of course, am determined to find something they will find irresistible, and this might be that book.

It's funny but with underlying serious issues, like how to treat friends, be trustworthy, and own up when you're in the wrong. The cartoon illustrations will also ensure you lure in all those determined Wimpy Kid readers who don't want to move on.


Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky & Isabelle Arsenault [Picture book]

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois 
Written by Amy Novesky
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN 9781419718816
Hardback, with beautiful cloth spine.

I studied the work of Louise Bourgeois when I was doing my design degree a few years ago, yet in this picture book was much information that I never knew, and now her work makes much more sense to me. I've also been surprised, as I've talked to people about this book, that so many have never heard of her. I hope this picture book will bring many readers to discover this complex artist.

Louise was born in 1911 to a family of tapestry repairers. They lived by a river that played a big part in her life. When she was old enough she learned to help with the tapestry work. Her mother taught her how to weave the broken threads together, to sew, to appreciate colour and form. She was the primary influence on Louise's art. (What they don't tell you in the book, which I learned in this excellent review, was that she was also motivated by the bad feeling towards her father, who had an affair with the governess, creating uproar in their lives). Her father didn't work in the family business, but travelled a lot for his job, always bring back a beautiful dress or other garment for Louise.

She went to Paris to university, studying mathematics, particularly geometry and cosmography (the stars), but when her mother suddenly died, Louise dropped her studies and began to create art - painting, drawing, sculpture - her best known work being a huge (30 feet tall) spider called Maman (Mother), in tribute to the mother who could repair the threads of broken fabrics, just as a spider repairs her web.



This was the work I was familiar with from my study, but I didn't know about the many other amazing creations:

Louise gathered all the fabric of her life - all the dresses and the garments her father had brought her; all the bed linens, towels, tablecloths, her new husband's handkerchiefs - and she cut it all up. And then she spent the rest of her life putting it back together again.

This spoke to my own attachment to things from people I love have left me - I have a trunk full of fabric which includes some belonging to both my grandmothers, much loved clothes of my own and my children. I can't seem to give it up. Perhaps I'll make something with it myself one day.

The text, which is set out on each page like a poem, in a tidy hand-drawn capitals, tells the story of this life in a straightforward but poetic way, delicious vocabulary capturing the passion of the life and work. 

The illustrations are by Isabelle Arsenault, who I had first discovered in the beautiful book Virginia Wolf, written by Myo Maclear, about a little girl who is depressed and takes to her bed, and her sister who paints a marvellous garden on the walls of the room to draw her sister out of her gloom.
The illustrations for Cloth Lullaby are just as wonderful, rich in pattern and texture, while limited to blue, red, black and greys, with a tiny touch of yellow. Each page is a wonder that I've pored over, wondering how she had achieved each texture and the way each element relates to Louise Bourgeois life and work so well.

I was very lucky to be gifted this book by the lovely Jackie Taylor from Miller Books who came to see me at school so I could purchase some books for our library, though not as many as I would have liked as it's getting to the end of the budget at this time of year. When I'd picked out all the books I could buy, I was still clutching Cloth Lullaby in my arms, but couldn't justify putting it in the library at the moment, there were greater curricular needs. So thank you Jackie, this is real treasure.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

May B. A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose

May B. A Novel
By Caroline Starr Rose
Schwartz & Wade
ISBN 9781582464121

I should keep a better record of where I read about books, which I then request from the library, but have lost track of why by the time the actual book arrives. This was a little gem. A verse novel - which is becoming one of my favourite forms. When I recommend them at school I try not to say the word 'poetry' too loudly as so many readers have been put off poetry (a sadness in itself), but emphasise the shortness of the sentences, and say that 'like good poetry, ever word counts, so you get maximum story without excessive words'. Great for reluctant or struggling readers to get maximum story for their reading buck.

Set in the early settler days in Kansas, May (12) is told that she won't be allowed to go back to school, but has to go and work for another farmer and his wife 15 long miles away 'just until Christmas' says her Pa. She has a learning disability but longs to learn and to make the words stay still so she can read, taking along her slate and reader, determined to keep trying. The farmer is newly married and his wife miserable in her new situation. They live in a sod house - a soddy - which I hadn't heard of before. Built from blocks of peat, leaky, dark and damp. Finally the wife can't stand it any longer and runs away, with her husband later setting off to find her, leaving May alone with not much food and no idea how to get home. She is resourceful and determined, and finds way to feed herself and keep herself warm when the house is buried in snow. The writing is spare and precise, nothing wasted, just as May must waste nothing if she is to survive.  This is not just a marvellous story of survival, but a trip back in time with the many details of how life was lived way back when. 9+.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Dash &  Lily's Book of Dares 
By Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Alfred A Knopf
ISBN 9780375866593

This is another book that I requested pretty much because it's set in a place I really want to go to - New York, and New York at Christmas time at that, and because one of the authors is David Leviathan (His Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a big favourite of mine). He's written it jointly with Rachel Cohn, in alternating chapters, DL writing the Dash chapters and RC Lily's. It's a love story.
Dash is in a bookshop when he discovers a notebook between the books on the shelves. In the notebook is a challenge - follow the puzzle, when you solve it write your own puzzle answer and if she likes it the notebook owner will respond.
Dash is a smart bloke, and appreciates the challenge, though some of the books involved are a bit odd, and so the dares begin - dares because the places they have to go to leave the notebook each time are not places they would normally go to, but are places that add to their growing knowledge of each other. Dash is a pretty dour character, full of complaints and down on his divorced parents, left alone in the city at Christmas time, Lily too although she's an altogether more cheerful character, so not too many interfering adults to get in the way, though Lily's extended family are very useful for the various notebook locations, and she goes to her excellent aunt when things turn bad - as they must in all good love stories, until everyone learns their lessons and attempts to live happily ever after.
It's not a brilliant novel, but entertaining in a YA chicklit holiday reading way, which was just what I needed at the time.
Levithan & Cohn have written other novels together in a similar vein - Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List.


Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (YA Fiction)

Isla and the Happily Ever After
By Stephanie Perkins
Dutton Books | Penguin
ISBN 978052542563

If I'd known this was book 3 of a series called Anna and the French Kiss it's very likely I wouldn't have read it at all. But I didn't know, and read about it on a blog long forgotten, and it sounded good enough to request from the library, and arrived just in time for the school holidays, when I was much in need of something light and enjoyable to read.
The fact that it's set in a boarding school in Paris was probably all it took for me to think I might like it. I've never been to Paris and love to visit vicariously when I can. Isla is around 16, smart, disciplined, not very popular, and with an interesting best friend who is a boy with a touch of Autism.
Isla has had a long-term crush on Josh who is definitely part of the 'in' crowd and a talented cartoonist. When he starts to pay attention to her Isla can't believe it's happening. Their relationship evolves, falls apart, they grow from the experience, and things work out pretty well.
This is certainly chick-lit for teens, great setting, nice quirky characters - I particularly liked that Josh was a cartoonist and his work plays a big part in what we know about him. {Wouldn't it have been great if there were some visual sections?}
The couple of sex scenes are sweetly unrealistic, with little mention of contraception. ('have you got...?')
Apparently (thank you Goodreads) the three books in the series are related, but about different girls, and it's recommended you read them in order or will experience spoilers. I wasn't planning to read any more but this did pleasantly occupy me for a day or two.

Isla and the happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (YA Fiction)

Isla and the Happily Ever After
By Stephanie Perkins
Dutton Books | Penguin
ISBN 978052542563

If I'd known this was book 3 of a series called Anna and the French Kiss it's very likely I wouldn't have read it at all. But I didn't know, and read about it on a blog long forgotten, and it sounded good enough to request from the library, and arrived just in time for the school holidays, when I was much in need of something light and enjoyable to read.
The fact that it's set in a boarding school in Paris was probably all it took for me to think I might like it. I've never been to Paris and love to visit vicariously when I can. Isla is around 16, smart, disciplined, not very popular, and with an interesting best friend who is a boy with a touch of Autism.
Isla has had a long-term crush on Josh who is definitely part of the 'in' crowd and a talented cartoonist. When he starts to pay attention to her Isla can't believe it's happening. Their relationship evolves, falls apart, they grow from the experience, and things work out pretty well.
This is certainly chick-lit for teens, great setting, nice quirky characters - I particularly liked that Josh was a cartoonist and his work plays a big part in what we know about him. {Wouldn't it have been great if there were some visual sections?}
The couple of sex scenes are sweetly unrealistic, with little mention of contraception. ('have you got...?')
Apparently (thank you Goodreads) the three books in the series are related, but about different girls, and it's recommended you read them in order or will experience spoilers. I wasn't planning to read any more but this did pleasantly occupy me for a day or two.