Wednesday, December 28, 2011

23rd December Keiko Kasza

Reading Happy Birthday Author blog today I learned that on the 23rd, it was Keiko Kasza's birthday. She is an illustrator that I only have a couple of books by so I was pleased to learn about her and that she has more books for me to search out. She was born in Japan, but lives in the USA and while studying there she learned about Leo Lionni. What a wonderful introduction to children's book illustrating he would have been! On her website there is also a particularly good teacher's guide for many of her picture books.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

25th December Christmas Day

Happy Christmas. It has been a very happy family Christmas here and instead of going to the country, the country cousins have come to us for the first time. Despite dire long-term predictions, the weather was warm and we ate our hot lunch outside. But it was not a scorcher, there were no bushfires and we did not swim. In fact the only words from C.J. Dennis' A Bush Christmas that applied were
Ah, well," says Dad.  "I got to say I never spent a lazier day."
This poem first published in the Herald on Christmas Eve in 1931 tells the story of an outback family who invite a lonely neighbour to join them for Christmas. Although it is a hot day, and the family struggles with heat and the hardships of rural life they enjoy the neighbour's tales of Christmas in the colder climate of the Northern hemisphere. This poem has been made accessible to young children through Dee Huxley's illustrated picture book. It depicts a Christmas that is far removed from the urban, multicultured Christmas most of us enjoy, but it is good to be reminded of rural Australia and what it was like for early settlers.

Friday, December 16, 2011

13th December Russell Hoban RIP

Terrible news. Russell Hoban has died aged 86. Together with Dick King Smith this means two greats of the Children's Literature world have gone this year, one at the beginning of the year (January 5) and the other at the end.

I get so much pleasure watching and listening to children when I read Hoban's Whitbread prize winner How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen and my favourite Ace Dragon Ltd to them. They are also very animated about the Frances stories because they realise that Frances is really them not a badger.

Perhaps publishers will acknowledge Hoban's great contribution to children's books by reissuing Ace Dragon Ltd and I will pay homage to him by watching the wonderful Glenda Jackson movie of his book Turtle Diary.

Monday, December 12, 2011

14th December Whose view?

Yesterday while writing and thinking about nativity stories, I realised how many there were where the narrator was an onlooker at the birth of Jesus and how often this was an animal. This is an interesting way to add some new interest to a well-known story. It allows the reader to look anew, to move their focus and to see different perspectives of an event.

I particularly like Michael Foreman's Cat in the Manger. I love the illustrations and the way they move the focus. I love Foreman's use of the colour 'blue', not a colour that you necessarily think of when you think of the nativity story and I like that the narrator is a cat, not the donkey, a sheep or a cow, animals you expect in the stable.

But there are others:
The Witness: A Christmas Story by Robert Westall and Sophy Williams is also told from a cat's point of view. Here the cat is looking for somewhere to have her kittens and she finds a stable, the one where Mary is about to also give birth. The cat witnesses the birth and forms a bond with the family.
On This Special Night by Claire Freedman and Simon Mendez. Here a mother cat and her kitten are asleep in their own barn when they are visited by other animals who are travelling to see a bright star in the sky. They too decide to set off to see what the star is for and they learn that it is indeed a special night.
Room For a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell and Jason Cockcroft. Here Kind Ox invites all weary travellers to share the stable, including Old Dog, Stray Cat, Small Mouse and Tired Donkey who is carrying Mary by saying, "There's always room for a little one here."
The Ox and the Donkey: A Christmas Story by Gunter Spang and Loek Koopmans. Here there is a lazy ox who eats more than his share of the food and a gentle donkey sharing the stable. When Mary and Joseph arrive, their kindness transforms the ox into a decent caring animal and the protagonists who were enemies, inspired by the miracle of Christmas become friends.
Home For Christmas by Sally Grindley and Karin Littlewood. Unlike the others, here the focus is on a homeless child who sees Mary and Joseph at a market in the village and he wonders what it would be like to experience the warmth of a family. During the night he is awakened by a crying child and a bright light. This story explores the themes of home, family and belonging in more than one way.

While none of these books offer anything amazingly new, they are all by well known and revered picture book authors and illustrators, they do offer a different slant, a more personal touch for readers to connect to, each is specifically designed for a very young audience and each has very beautiful artwork which adds to the specialness of the event.

13th December

An Australian Christmas Part 2.
Two Australian books that look at the nativity story:
1. The Nativity by Julie Vivas
In this book Julie Vivas has illustrated the nativity story using the Gospel of St Luke from the King James Bible version with characters who look very human and earthy. There is no mistaking Mary's pregnancy and there is no doubt that Julie Vivas is the illustrator. This book was first published in 1986 and has had many reissues with numerous covers. The biblical language is old fashioned and may be hard for very young children to understand but those who know the story are more than absorbed by the illustrations and the lull of the reader's voice. Who can resist an angel in Dr Martens? What joy!

It is interesting that a new, albeit not illustrated by an Australian, nativity story has been issued this year (The Story of Christmas by Pamela Dalton), so many years later, that also uses the King James version and relies on its amazing illustrations to relay the magic and awe of the birth of Jesus. Publishers must still think it is relevant.

2. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King
This is a modern twist on the nativity story set in Australia among droughts and bushfires and told from a pig, Applesauce's point of view. The text is so far removed from that in the Julie Vivas story, but the analogy is not missed by very young children and we had fun listing the similarities and differences.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

12th December

For many schools in Australia this is the last full week of school before the summer holidays. Most classes will be reading about Christmas in other parts of the world where there is snow, it is green and probably cold. It is wet here at the moment and for the first time in many years it is green, there are not water restrictions, there is not the threat of bushfires and there isn't drought. Usually Rain for Christmas by Richard Tulloch and Wayne Harris is what I get out to share with classes each Christmas, but this year it is time for a change.

So what to read at Christmas that is Australian? Today some fun, tomorrow those with a more serious message.

New this year is the third book about that wombat, Mothball, Christmas Wombat. Here Santa's reindeer have to fight with Mothball for the carrots that the children left out for them. Mothball then gets to ride on the sleigh and as always Mothball is causing mischief. It seems as if wombats are a hit at Christmas as this follows the success of Mem Fox and Kerry Argent's Wombat Divine and Michael Dugan's Wombats Don't Have Christmas.

Also by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley and also about those characters from Shaggy Gully is Emily and the Big Bad Bunyip. Here Emily the emu is determined to make grumpy bunyip smile and be happy on Christmas Day. This book is joyous and noisy and fun to share with preschoolers who want to make tuba noi

Grug and his First Christmas by Ted Prior is one in a very long series of books about Grug, a creature created from the top of a native Australian burrawang tree. Hard to explain to someone who hasn't read a Grug book before, but Grug and his friends make good reading and he has a dedicated following of young readers.

And the last one about an animal, albeit not an Australian animal, I Love Christmas by Anna Walker. This is one in a wonderful series of books for very young children. The magic and excitement of Christmas is brought to the fore through rhyme and by Ollie, a zebra who loves wrapping presents, making decorations and partaking in all the Christmas preparations. A good starting point for discussions and writing about what the children in your class like about Christmas.

And a non-animal one that also has illustrations by Anna Walker is Santa's Aussie Holiday by Maria Farrer. In this story Santa goes on a well-deserved holiday. He travels around Australia visiting places such as the Great Barrier Reef and Rottnest Island that everyone wants to visit.

Monday, November 28, 2011

28th November Tomi Ungerer (1931)

Tomi Ungerer is 80 today! He has joined those other wonderful octogenerians of the children's lit world, Russell Hoban, Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, Brian Wildsmith, Judith Kerr and Shirley Hughes. It is so good that they are still having plenty to say and either doing new books or having old ones reissued. Tomi has just had three of his books reissued in time for Christmas presents. They are the adventures of the Mellop brothers. These pigs are back to excite a new generation of children and the new covers are much more inspiring than the old. Now all I need is for his wonderful version of Red Riding Hood to be reissued. When I first started teaching I read it to a Year 5 class and they were still getting over the fact that RRH married the wolf, weeks later. They were shocked. It just was not meant to happen. Many see his books as being subversive. He says on his interview (that is for you and not children) here "Children have to be faced with the absurd because the world is absurd."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

25th November Shirley Climo (1928) Mordicai Gerstein (1935) Jim LaMarche

I have just come back from the shops where I picked up a copy of Bear's First Christmas by Robert Kinerk and Jim LaMarche for half price. What a good way to be reminded that it is Jim LaMarche's birthday. I love the illustration of the moose, the bear and the crow seen from above scratching at the iced bog. The bear in this book is so adorable looking, very huggable looking, and it makes it hard for children here in Australia who have never seen a bear to perceive of them as wild animals to be feared. LaMarche has given the animals human-like personalities and made the snowy environment look very inviting.

I thought it was Mordicai Gerstein's birthday yesterday, but Anita Silvey's almanac website says it is today and she is such an authority on American children's literature that I will write about him today. He is an American author/illustrator who has a large number of books to his credit, but here in Australia, he is really only known because of his 2004 Caldecott Medal winning book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. This book tells of the amazing feat performed by French high-wire trapeze artist Philippe Petit who walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in 1974.

American author, Shirley Climo's stories are often based on folklore. She has said that her love of folklore began in her childhood and she has taken these stories and retold them for new audiences. She has written several versions of the Cinderella story. In the library we have
* The Egyptian Cinderella illustrated by Ruth Heller
* The Persian Cinderella illustrated by Robert Florczak
* The Korean Cinderella illustrated by Ruth Heller
* The Irish Cinderlad illustrated by Loretta Krupinski

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

24th November Gloria Houston

It is Gloria Houston's birthday and she is the author responsible for one of my all time favourite children's books with a Christmas setting and it is that time of year again when I can enjoy reading it to and discussing it with classes. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is set in Appalachia during World War I, a time and place that is quite foreign to my children in Australia but the task Ruthie performs leaves them awestruck and inspired. I have never had this story fail.

While on the topic of must-read Christmas books, here are other long picture books that I enjoy reading and the children sit transfixed for:
Fair's Fair by Leon Garfield and Margaret Chamberlain (this edition is out of print but worth looking for in a library because its illustrations capture the time and mood of the story perfectly, in a way that later editions that look like small chapter books do not)
The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

Monday, November 21, 2011

21st November World Hello Day

Today is the 39th annual World Hello Day. Anyone can participate simply by greeting ten people. This demonstrates that you think personal communication is important for preserving peace. World Hello Day began in 1973 in response to the conflict between Egypt and Israel. The day is observed now in 180 countries as an opportunity for people to express their concern for world peace. Your simple greeting sends a message to leaders encouraging them to use communication rather than force to settle conflicts.

There are several picture books which you can use to start the idea of greetings as a means of communication. Choose from:
Two suitable for very young children
Hello, Goodbye by David Lloyd and Louise Voce
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka
Two which expose children to 'hello' in many languages
Hello World! by Manya Stojic
Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora
and a poignant story about a boy who feels left out and alone while other children play together which has an underlying message about how it doesn't take much to just say 'hello'
Say Hello by Jack and Michael Foreman.

Friday, November 18, 2011

20th November Marion Dane Bauer (1938)

Today is the birthday of American author Marion Dane Bauer. My favourite and the children's favourite of her books in the library is If You Were Born a Kitten. Whenever it is on display it doesn't stay there long. It has a partner book Sleep Little One, Sleep which has a very endearing basset hound on its cover. Marion's more recent book about Owen, the hippopotamus who was rescued after the tsunami off India and sent to animal refuge where he befriended tortoise, Mzee, is also well borrowed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

14th November Miska Miles (1899 - 1986)

Miska Miles, a pseudonym for Patricia Miles Martin, is the author of that classic, Annie and the Old One. This story was a Newbery Honor Book in 1972 and then made into a film. She began her working life as an elementary school teacher but after accidentally taking part in a creative writing course became a published author. She particularly liked animals and wrote many novels about horses. She was also inspired to write about things that happened to her while living on a farm in Kansas and a Navajo reservation.

While the illustrations by Peter Parnell inaccurately depict many aspects of the Navajo Indians life, the sentiments expressed in the story and the relationship between Annie and her grandmother provide much that is realistic and well worth discussing. Annie refuses to believe that her grandmother, the Old One will die, but she learns that she cannot change the course of life and in doing so grows in understanding and empathy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

8th November Gloria Rand

I have just found out that today is Gloria Rand's birthday! She is the author of my son's all-time-favourite picture book...Salty Dog. I bought it at a jumble sale because it was about boats and my son loved boats (still does). It had no dust jacket and a plain cover. It was published in the year he was born and he was already seven so it wasn't new and I had never seen it in Australia before. Recently I tried to give it back to the charity shop and my now adult son said, 'You can't give my favourite book away! I still need it.' Given that he struggled with learning to read and knew the whole story off by heart I guess it really was a special book. In the story Salty is a puppy who very much wants to go to work each day with his master, Zack. Eventually he gets himself out of home and off on the ferry to find Zack building a boat. It is beautifully and realistically illustrated by Gloria's husband Ted.

Friday, October 28, 2011

30th October Grandparents Day

Grandparents have always played a valuable role in our society by offering care, love and guidance to their children and grandchildren.

On Sunday 30 October 2011, the NSW Government will officially recognise this contribution with the inaugural Grandparents Day. Join us in celebrating the important role grandparents play in our community.

At school we have Grandparents Day in September and the students invite their grandparents to school for a concert and to look in their classrooms. And while they are there many grandparents donate a book to the library in their grandchild's name, so I too am very grateful to grandparents.

There's a myriad of books out there about how special grandparents are, that it is hard to decide what to highlight. Perhaps I should only recommend Australian ones!

Three newer ones by Rosemary Mastnak make being a grandchild seem like fun:
* Dancing with Grandma
* Cooking with Grandma
* Adventures with Grandpa
Two for very young children by Anna Walker
* I Love My Grandpa
* I Love my Grandma
Two by Margaret Wild
* Our Granny illustrated by Julie Vivas
* Piglet and Granny illustrated by Ron Brooks
A Bob Graham
* Grandad's Magic
A Gretel Killeen
* What'll We Get For Grandma? and
* Over the Hill and Around the Bend with Granny and Bert (and Me) by Helen Lunn

Monday, October 24, 2011

24th October International School Library Day

School teacher librarians need to shout out loud at every possibility. We need to make ourselves so indispensable. To quote the Statement on School Libraries in Australia

The school library is a vital teaching and learning environment in the school community.

Having access to a well resourced school library and the services of a fully trained and qualified teacher librarian is the right of every student in an Australian school.

I am very fortunate to teach at a school that is committed to libraries and in fact has three to cater for students from preschool to Yr 12 and IB, an Early Childhood, a Junior School and a Senior School one, each catering to different bodies of students and having very different focuses. But I do feel for colleagues who need to fight for their funds and their status in the school they work at. In the time I have been in this job the way school libraries are funded and staffed has changed greatly. There is a perception that the move away from books and towards technology requires less staff and different staff. Not so, it is still a big and multifaceted job and more than ever needs commitment from governments and funding bodies.

Something that has surprised me over the last year is the number of picture books that have been published extolling the virtues of the book and /or libraries, so they are not forgotten by all. As well as Lane Smith's It's a Book and It's a Little Book there has been, probably among others:

Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson
Homer the Library Cat by Reeve Lindbergh
Book Speak! Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas
Dinosaur vs the Library by Bob Shea
Library Lily by Gillian Shields and Francesca Chessa

Saturday, October 22, 2011

23rd October iPod Day

In 2001,the very first iPod was unveiled, and then went on sale on November 10th of the same year for $399.00 USD. iPod Day commemorates this launch, and recognises just how big a contribution the iPod has made to the accessibility and portability of music. To celebrate this day you must see the dolphin page in A Filth of Starlings. This amazing book by Patrick George illustrates collective nouns in a very novel manner and here is a pod of dolphins wearing iPods. The whole book is bright, clever, different and laden with teaching possibilities. It has a companion as well A Drove of Bullocks and together they warrant serious browsing!

Friday, October 21, 2011

21st October Count Your Buttons Day

When I was a child my mother had a jar full of buttons that she used when she made us dresses, waggas (what she called bed quilts), jumpers etc. She collected them. She even cut them off worn out clothes. Then when it was a rainy day and we were inside we would pull out the bottle and sort them, by colour, by size, by texture, make patterns with them, sew them on to things and count them! It was a fun activity. I can't imagine the children I teach, being interested in counting buttons too often, but recently when we decorated cardboard birds as a follow up activity to Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot (Anna Brandford & Sarah Davis) a large number of children chose to decorate theirs with coloured buttons of varying sizes that I had put out with the other collage materials. And I was surprised to see some choose to give a red button the pride of place on their bird ... no doubt as a result of the story where Violet finds a red button in the dirt at the Saturday markets.

While investigating this day further I learned that there is also World Button Day on 16th November, so I thought that I better think some more about picture books with buttons as a focus. A recent purchase, Button Boy by Rebecca Young and Sue deGennaro is about a boy called Banjo who collects buttons and takes them home to his grandmother who then sews them onto his favourite jumper. He is an endearing character and this story of friendship is about much more than collecting buttons.

Another book that would fit with this theme is Button Up!: Wrinkled Rhymes by Alice Schertle and Petra Mathers. This collection of poems is about clothes so buttons feature in some, but in particular the one that the anthology is named for. The interest here lies in the fact that the articles of clothing have been anthropomorphised and the poems are told from the clothing's point of view.

Moomin and the Birthday Button was the first of a new set of picture books about the Moomins, fictional characters of Tove Jansson which was released to coincide with the Moomins' 65th anniversary. It would also make a good starting point for a study of buttons.

There is also a book in Michael Dahl's 'Know Your Numbers' series called Bunches of Buttons which is about counting in tens. If you have a bottle of buttons this could make a fun maths activity with prep classes.

There, five books to get you started on buttons! And, I haven't even mentioned Corduroy by Don Freeman and none of them are craft books!