Monday, May 22, 2017

The evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

"It turned out to be not a book at all but a wooden box trickily carved and painted to look like a calf-bound volume. Strange, I fiddled with it and found the catch and the box opened. Inside was a waxed paper parcel containing a thick roast beef sandwich. ... Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life really."

This is a description of a gift to Callie (Calpurnia Virginia Tate) by her Grandaddy.  None of her six brothers have even dared to talk to him but over the summer of 1899-1900 Callie ventures into his world - his workshop, his scientific endeavours and discovers her own passions and curiosity.  She reads the work of Darwin and her grand father shows her how to record her observations in her notebook - how to observe the world.

In 1899, though, a young lady is expected to learn sewing, knitting, cooking and housekeeping. Callie is eleven, almost twelve, and she has no interest in these things.

"My biscuits were like stone, my samplers askew, my seams like rickrack. ... My mother's life was a never-ending round of maintenance. Not one single thing she did ever achieve but that it had to be done all over again, one day, one week or one season later. Oh the monotony."

Callie does her best to rage against her mother's expectations so she can follow her desire to study plants and animals.  She has a warm relationship with her brothers but they do not share her interest. The title is simply perfect as we watch Callie evolve into a different girl aided by the gentle and wise encouragement of her precious grandfather.  Each chapter also begins with a quote from Darwin's famous book The Origin of the Species.

You can see this book is a Newbery honor book. I read all 338 pages in one day - yes it is that good!

Here is an excellent and very detailed review in the School Library Journal.  Read about Jacqueline Kelly and the sequel to The evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  Take a look at the Kirkus star review.  here is an interview with Jacqueline Kelly well worth reading.  Listen to this audio sample taken from page 14.

As an added bonus there are some wonderful words in this book :


I would follow this book with Chains and of course the sequel - The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges illustrated by Sophie Blackall

I mentioned in a previous post that we have been exploring picture books with an Asian focus with our senior classes.  One of the first books we looked at was Ruby's Wish and it certainly generated some deep discussions.

Ruby is living in China in the early nineteenth century.  Her grandfather has made his fortune on the Gold Fields or "Gold Mountain.   That was what the Chinese called California when many men left to join the Gold Rush there."  As was the custom of the time, Grandfather has many wives and many sons who also have many wives and they all live together in a magnificent home.  "So at one time, the house was filled with the shrieks and laughter of over one hundred children."

Life is good for Ruby. She like to wear red but this is traditionally meant for celebrations.  This does not deter Ruby who adds a red ribbon to her jet black hair when her mother insists she must wear somber colours.  Grandfather is generous and so all the children are provided with lessons.  In spite of this, though, things are not always equal for boys and girls.  Ruby observes that girls are expected to learn cooking, keeping house and embroidery while the boys are free to play after class.

Ruby is careful with her calligraphy and is noticed by her grandfather.  One day she uses her calligraphy skills to write a heart-felt poem.

Alas bad luck to be born a girl; and worse lucky to be born 
into this house where only boys are cared for.

Her grandfather is given the poem and Ruby is summoned to his office. This is where the real skills of Ruby shine.  Her grandfather asks for examples of this inequality.  Her first example is small and unimportant. The boys get better cakes, Her second is also fairly minor. The boys have splendid lanterns in the shape of goldfish and dragons while the girl's are plain. Finally she makes her most important point :

"the boys will get to go to university, but the girls will be married."

How will her grandfather react?

Here are a set of teaching notes, Kirkus review and illustrator web site.  A note at the end of the book explains that this story was inspired by the author's mother - the real Ruby who did indeed attend university as one of the first female students.  You can see the whole book here.

Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi

The cover of this book says
Diva and Flea a Parisian Tale
As told and shown by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi

On the last page it says (this made me laugh)
"Some names and places in this story have been altered to protect the privacy of the animals involved."

These two tiny details really set the tone for this a terrific book :

  • You will not predict the plot
  • You will not predict the relationship between Diva (dog) and Flea (cat)
  • You will enjoy the setting right beside the Eiffel Tower
  • You will learn new words such as 'flaneur'
  • You might marvel that Mo truly did meet little Diva in Paris

Diva lives in a Paris apartment.  "Diva took her job very seriously...   And if anything ever happened, no matter how big or small, Diva would yelp and run away. Diva was very good at her job."

Flea is a large cat.  "Flea did not have a fixes occupation ... he was a flaneur. A flaneur is someone (or somecat) who wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see. A great flaneur has seen everything but still looks for more, because there is always more to discover."

Flea and Diva will of course meet in this story but how their relationship unfolds will astonish you. When Flea first sees Diva she yelps and runs away.  This amuses and intrigues Flea and so for several days he plays the game.  He walks past the courtyard of 11 avenue Le Play and Diva yelps and runs away. Then one day Diva stops and asks "are you trying to hurt my feelings?" The next day Flea leaves Diva a dead mouse as a peace offering. Diva would prefer a ribbon and so the two share their first laugh.

I love their developing relationship.  Diva has things to learn from Flea about being brave and stepping outside and also about the wonders of the city of Paris.  Flea has things to learn from Diva about patience and friendship and life in a human home.

Look closely and you will see a picture of Mo Willems himself by Tony DiTerrlizzi near the end of the story and make sure you read the final pages about their inspiration for this warm story.

Here is the cover in French.  Read this review for more details.  Now take nine minutes out of your busy day and watch this video where Tony and Mo discuss their collaboration.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Junkyard wonders by Patricia Polacco

"Mrs Peterson showed us how to shine."

"In my old school ... all the kids knew that I had just learned to read ... that I used to be dumb. Everyone knew that I was always in special classes."

Sadly Trisha finds herself in the special class in her new school and even worse this class is called The Junkyard.  Luckily this class has the  best teacher!  Her name is Mrs Peterson and she looks at her class and sees a group of wonderful individuals.

Genius is neither learned not acquired.
It is knowing without experience.
It is risking without fear of failure.
It is imagination without boundaries.
It is creativity with out constraints.

The class form tribes.  I love the way this is done using scents - vanilla, almond, lemon and cinnamon. The talents of each child emerges.  Jody loves poetry, Gibbie loved to building things, Thom made everyone laugh and Trisha can draw. Mrs Peterson tells them the junkyard is a place "full of wondrous possibilities! What some see as bent and broken throwaways are actually amazing things waiting to be made into something new. Something unexpected. Something surprising."

The Vanilla team find an old wrecked model airplane and so their project begins - to get this plane into the air and make it fly to the moon.  They raise money for a motor and prepare for the school science fair.  There are obstacles of course.  Some of them seem insurmountable and totally unfair but this tribe keep persevering right up to the big launch day.

If the ending does not move you to tears the final page will.  Here you can read that this book was inspired by a real class of wonders and a real teacher called Mrs Peterson and yes the author Patricia was in her class.

This is a truly special and important book which I would like to share with all senior classes.  We have purchased this book to support a class unit on the book Wonder and it seems to be the perfect partner.  Take a look at Patricia Polacco's web site.  She is the author of 115 books!  You can see some books below which also feature wonderful teachers like Mrs Peterson.

Bee illustrated by Britta Teekentrup text by Patricia Hegarty

The art in this book is simply stunning.  Our students are so lucky to have access to books like Bee. Begin with the end papers - on the first spread you will see a few white and yellow flowers against a green background.  At the end the background is totally obscured by hundreds of flowers of all colours.  Such a celebration. Why?  Well the bees have been at work of course.

I have talked about bees in a previous post.  This book is a simple rhyming text and yet somehow the wonder and complexity of bees comes through.

"Carrying pollen from place to place, Bee always leaves a tiny trace."

On each page there is a hexagonal cut out as you can see here.  You can see some children's art here inspired by this book.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Applesauce weather by Helen Frost illustrated by Amy June Bates

I am not sure how I came to find this little verse novel but I am so glad I did.  This is a gentle story about a brother and sister - Peter and Faith and their Uncle Arthur.  Each year Arthur and his wife Lucy arrive at the farm in time to harvest the first apples but this year is different.  Sadly Aunt Lucy has died and Faith wonders if her precious Uncle will feel he is still able to come.


All day, Mom's been saying, Don't expect
him, Faith. Try not to get your hopes up.
Chances are, he won't come this year.

But where
         did this gingerbread come from,
                with the warm lemon sauce
                            he loves?

It's not it could magically appear
the minute Uncle Arthur
came walking through the door.
Mom had to buy the lemons
           and bake the gingerbread
                    so she could cut this piece
                    for Uncle Arthur
                    and he could ask for more.

Take the time to read this interview with Helen Frost where she explains the real life connections which inspired her story.  Here are a set of teaching notes.  Take a look in our library for another special poetry book by Helen Frost called Step Gently out.  Read this star review in Kirkus.

I would follow this book with books like Sarah Plain and Tall,  Pearl versus the world, Little dog, Lost, and  Missing May.  Here are some more verse novels you might try to find.

Hug this book by Barney Saltzberg illustrated by Fred Benaglia

Later in the year we will gather in the library with all our new Pre-school children and their parents for a night at school.  I am always on the look out for books to read on this night.

One is for 1 is always a winner and so is Tap the Magic Tree and Press Here. Now I have Hug this book!  Here is a little piece of the text :

You can read this book to a hippo
You can read this book in the bath
If you read this book being tickled
I dare you not to laugh!

This is a noisy joyous rhyming book with retro illustrations by French illustrator Fred Benaglia.  The final message is the most important one.

Even though this book is over
it isn't really the end.
You can start at the beginning
and read it to a friend!

I really love the writing of Barney Saltzberg.  Read my review of Crazy Hair Day.  One more thing - when you find this book make sure you look under the dust jacket - there is a lovely surprise.  Barney Saltzberg is also a musician.  I have one of his CDs.  Watch this trailer and hear this book as a song.