We want to help create motivated and engaged young readers. This blog is about children's and YA literature (especially New Zealand), literacy research, and ways to get, and keep, kids reading.
What I like about these books is the way the process of setting up a business or event is laid out in a clear step-by-step plan that children can quickly follow. Steps include: beginning with a written plan, making business cards and posters to advertise, keeping customer records, expenses, and of course profits!
A wide variety of jobs are suggested including; selling, looking after pets, yards, and homes. Included is sensible advice about being responsible and trustworthy with customers, and safety tips for everyone involved.
Review by Karen
image by puuikibeach
Somebody is re-enacting the Ripper murders in London and Rory Deveaux is a key witness. In fact, the young American exchange student is the only person who has ever set eyes on the killer. He doesn’t show up on CCTV (though the Ripper's victims do) and the police are stumped. Rory just wants to adjust to her new school (and maybe get to know that cute boy with the curly hair), but her ability to see the Ripper puts her in the middle of an investigation led by a mysterious group of people she doesn’t quite trust. She’s going to have to learn to work with them though, because time is running out. The Ripper knows she can see him and he’s coming for her.
This is a great read for those legions of paranormal romance fans at your school. Maureen Johnson is a very funny writer, and she balances the hilarity of Rory’s voice and the spooky setting well. I highly recommend checking out the author’s website and following her on Twitter, where she is legend.
Review by Carrie
image by hey mr glen
Merry Christmas, Splat by Rob Scotton
The big day is almost here and Splat the cat is very excited! He’s been super good all year and is now ready for a really big Christmas present. His little sister however is not so convinced and casts doubts about his worthiness for a big present.
Splat’s confidence falters… Maybe he hasn’t been good enough after all?
In a last minute attempt to prove himself, Splat sets about “helping” his mother with chores around the house - whether they need doing or not. In true Splat style, things don’t go quite to plan. There is mess and chaos and finally, much to his mother’s relief his helping comes to an end.
Will Splat’s extra efforts to make good be enough and will Santa bring him a big present?
Appeal to young readers
For many young children the highlight of Christmas is the presents and not necessarily the giving of them. They will very clearly understand Splats concern about wanting a big present!
We first met Splat in Splat the Cat and Love Splat and have become familiar with his mischievous ways, and funny antics. Splat is a popular and lovable character with obvious appeal to young readers. He’s super cute and very silly, but best of all is his fail proof ability to mess things up so perfectly.
This book is not about the generosity of the Christmas spirit but it is about the importance of family and caring for one another. A great Christmas message.
“Children’s literature is a place where a young, open mind can catch life-changing glimpses into the majesty of the written word.” Bryce Milligan, writing for the San Antonio Express News.
Librarians will recognise, in Milligan’s words, one of the drivers which make it so satisfying to connect children with books – to put the right book in the right hands at the right time. The book he was writing about in this instance is Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath (a Newberry Honor Book, 2008), which engages and amazes on so many levels, and then some. Appelt creates a world where the echoes of a mythological story connect with a current landscape – a bayou backwater inhabited by an old hound dog, chained ‘Underneath’ the porch of his master’s derelict shack. When a calico cat has her kittens in the Underneath, Ranger is immediately their brave protector and champion. But there is a limit to what an old dog can do to protect the kittens’ from their natural curiosity about the world outside the Underneath, or the consequences that follow when they inevitably set out to explore.
The language of this book is magical, and the book resonates with all the big themes – the transforming power of love, the imperative of hope, the necessity of forgiveness, and ultimately, the choice between light and dark. The animals and humans who populate this ancient, swampy, landscape are richly drawn, and real, and involve us completely in the narrative which weaves all their threads together.
Read this book, or, better still, read this book aloud with a child near you…
“The main thing is that everybody has a choice between love and fear - the two things that motivate us to act. Nobody is forced to choose, but they always have that choice. At critical moments they can either turn to face the light or turn to face the dark. Kids understand that at cellular level.” Author Kathi Appelt, quoted here.
review by Linda
image by frank3.0
A young boy’s Christmas treasure hunt produces unexpected gifts, including the chance to grow closer both to his father and to the New Zealand bush; the plight of the blue duck, and how we can help, is told in a story accessible to even the youngest children; and a taste of kiwiana is offered to the famous old lady who swallowed…well, just about everything.
Christmas in the Bush begins with an initial disappointment for a young boy visiting his father, when he wakes on Christmas morning to find his worst fears have been realised. The absence of any obvious Christmas planning at dad’s place had not really prepared him for the fact that there would be no presents either! However, all is resolved in a wonderful way that brings a new closeness between Josh and his father in a bush setting beautifully depicted in Lyn Kriegler’s illustrations. The message here is that Christmas does not have to come in a fancy wrapping with tinsel draped all around. Josh’s treasure hunt features none of these things, but the end result is a satisfying expression of family love and outdoor adventure that will have a value well beyond Christmas.
Christmas in the Bush is more attractively produced than Lindy Kelly’s earlier bush-themed picture books, and should appeal to middle primary-aged children, particularly boys with a sense of adventure.
This book is squarely aimed at a younger audience, but its conservation message is less subtle. Like Christmas in the Bush it imparts a bit of bushcraft along the way— a lost, weary tramper is able to find her way to the river and safety by following the ‘Whio, whio’ call of the bird named after its distinctive call. Mainly this is the duck’s story, however, followed from egg to adulthood and fraught with danger at every turn. Illustrated by Renee Haggo in misty blue-grey tones, this is a beautifully produced New Zealand book with great visual appeal. A good read-aloud, it can be used to awaken awareness of the fragility of our unique wildlife environment in even the youngest child, as well as getting the message across that we do not have to sit back helplessly every time another species is threatened. (Not to be confused with Chris Gurney’s The Little Blue Duck, a Kiwi Corkers variant of the Little Red Hen).
The title character of There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Weta –she’s never felt better!—is not a conservationist. This old lady with the iron-clad digestive system has been around for more than fifty years now, and has gulped down an incredible range of living things in many variations on the well-known children’s song where she starts out by swallowing a fly. In this Kiwi Corkers version, written by P.Crumble and illustrated by Errol McLeary, she chomps her way through a wide variety of kiwiana before she is arrested for –horrors!—swallowing an actual kiwi. Fortunately all the creatures are seen escaping at the end. Unfortunately the escapees include the stoat (which she swallowed in order to catch the jandal, which she swallowed to whack the bat, etc etc.). I’m not quite sure how the jandal escaped, but I suspect it had some help. This nonsense book is good harmless fun with catchy rhymes and should have wide appeal. But tell the kids Not to Eat Any of These Things at Home!
Reviewed by Cecily
Clem’s background is very working-class but the girl he has his first relationship with is wealthy, travelled and the daughter of the local Lord. This happens at a time when there is a power struggle between Khrushchev of Russia and Kennedy in the USA and peace is threatened by the Cuban missile crisis.
World-wide everyone realises that if this situation gets out of control, then life could be annihilated. This catapults Clem and Francoise (Frankie) into feeling they should consummate their relationship before the world ends. So they choose a quiet beach where no-one will find them, a beach that was plastered with mines during WW2.
For me the first part of the tale, the family backgrounds, was interesting but I felt too long but it is well worthwhile hanging in there. Part two covers the author’s depiction of the politics and strategies of the Cuban crisis. His portrayals of Khrushchev and Kennedy are so pithy, it is as if he was drawing a cartoon of each man. Interspersed with the author’s entertaining version of a very fragile time in the 20th Century, are chapters (some with very funny headings) following the developments in Clem and Frankie’s relationship. These show how innocent lives are so tragically affected by larger world events.
The ending very cleverly ties everything and everyone together. I want to own this novel so I can read it again. The author’s reputation as a writer of acclaim is thoroughly deserved. It could be considered as a class text, as the book raises many issues to consider. Not only a book for young adults, but one I recommend to teachers.
Review by Jill
image by dok1
Creating a reader! Christmas books
What a year! Not long now until the end of the school term and the beginning of a well-earned break for everyone. It’s also the end of this ‘Creating a reader ‘ series and time to review the progress of ‘our little reader ‘ over the last couple of months.
When Tessa started school in August this year she could read and write her name, but not too much more. We have never formally taught her any reading or instructional skills, but we have read aloud to her most days, and we have supported her school work by ensuring her homework is done and she reads her levelled books.
Now after nearly two terms at school we are blown away and very proud of how quickly she has learnt and the amazing job her teacher has done.
Tessa can read! She loves reading by herself, she loves her parents and other family members reading to her and she particularly loves it when she can share a book with her friends
Books for Christmas (and other special occasions)
Christmas is a huge deal for kids and Tessa has been dropping hints all term about what she would like. Top of her Christmas wish list is a scooter, a pet, a mobile phone, shoes with roller blades, and other assortment of toys. She has also, for the first time included a book in her long list.
She’s not getting everything but one thing that will always be in Tessa’s Christmas stockings is a new book. It’ll have a short message on the inside cover and the date it was given.
Reading is important and giving books on special occasions reinforces this message.
As Tessa’s personal collection of books grows she is now even letting her friends lend her books. There is a fantastic site that lets you print out free book plates to stick inside you books – a great tool to instil some pride and a sense of ownership. Colour book labels
Knowing her authors
One of Tessa’s highlights this year was a visit by Margaret Mahy to her school a few weeks ago. She’s loved ‘The Lion in the meadow’ since she was very young. It was a huge thrill for her to meet Margaret Mahy - literally bringing books alive for Tessa. And now she has a signed copy which she will treasure.
Importance of summer reading
Tessa is hooked. The important thing now is for us to keep the reading momentum going, keep up her interest and build on the gains she has made over the last couple of terms.
You can read more about the summer reading slump and holiday reading here.
Tips to avoid the holiday slump:
• Ensure your children have access to a supply of reading material over the holiday break
• Talk to their teacher about their reading
• Keep reading aloud to them with the focus on the FUN element.
• Include books or reading material in their Christmas stocking
• Find out what holiday programmes your local public library is offering - they are always loads of fun!
Although this post ends the “creating a reader’ series, it’s just the beginning of a very exciting time for Tessa and other children who have just learnt to read – there is a fantastic world to discover!
If we continue to read aloud to Tessa, keep the reading fun, support and communicate with her teachers and offer her plenty of reading material in a variety of formats then she will continue to thrive with her reading and most other things should fall into place.
Back in my first post I stated, “how very important reading is as a precursor for success. However, it is not enough to just to learn to read – one of the strongest indicators of positive engagement in school and learning was the enjoyment of reading.” Rivers, J., Wylie, C. et al. (2006). Growing independence: a summary of key findings from the Competent Learners at 14 Project, p.25
With a strong love of reading, we are confident our little one will go well!
A big thanks for your comments throughout this series. We have thoroughly enjoyed sharing Tessa’s reading story with you and hope you have found some useful tips and strategies to try with your own children or students!
This story follows the lives of neighbours from one street in the San Francisco Bay Area, and covers only one action-packed day, from 9 a.m. to around midnight.
Two gormless brothers, endowed with cunning, but not many clues, want to make a quick buck and try to rob a bank. A sister and brother (who has just returned injured from the war in Iraq), also have an urgent need for money. They settle on making their money, from the reward they could get, by reporting the brothers robbery to the police. But they have to protect the sister’s myopic boyfriend who has innocently taped dangerous conversations whilst out recording bird song.
This is a funny, fast-paced captivating tale. The author has a very clever turn of phrase which allows him to describe a scene or feelings in very few words. He lets the characters tell the bulk of the story through their dialogue and their actions. This talent is very appealing and produces a novel that would entice a reluctant reader of either sex. The book cover has immediate impact and the font is a bit larger than usual.
However don’t restrict the reading audience, as ‘Flash’ will have universal appeal. I really loved it and can understand how it became a National Book Award finalist.
Review by Jill
flickr image by chrisstreeter
Mesmerising! That’s the word that describes both the content and the lyrical writing style. The gripping first chapter opens with 7 year old Matthew making a solo journey into town to spend his hard earned 5 cents pocket money on candy at the local store. But he disappears and nothing is ever the same.
This coincides with the arrival of a stranger in town. He promises much wanted rain to a parched environment. The townsfolk are mesmerised by his promises and magical “tricks” and somehow Matthew seems to be forgotten … but not by his brother Robert.
Robert sees through this stranger and has metaphysical visions which both fascinate and scare him. On the verge of manhood, it is up to him to take action, to find his brother and to solve the mystery of what is mesmerising his family and the townsfolk.
Suitable for mature readers, this unusual tale of souls, family, coming of age and good country values is exceptionally well told. Dust takes you past the physical reality of daily life into the metaphysical and will certainly exercise and excite the reader’s imagination.
More information about this book is available on Arthur Slade’s website.
Review by Glenda
image by USDAgov
Tessa’s Top Title: Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake
Simon is an adorable little bunny with a gap in his front teeth almost as wide as his cheeky smile.
But this adorable bunny has a potty mouth. If his mum asks him to do something, he says “Poo Bum”. If his dad asks him to do something he replies “Poo Bum.” It appears “Poo bum” is the only thing Simon can say.
One day he crosses paths with a hungry wolf and has to be rescued by his father. It seems Simon has a change of heart – he is now polite, extremely well spoken, with exquisite manners, and completely reformed. But is this too good to be true? Next morning when his dad asks him to do something Simon says …
Appeal to young readers
This boldly coloured picture book is another of Gecko Press’s wonderful translations with excellent illustrations and a little bit of shock value.
Sure, it’s toilet humour but obviously ‘Poo bum’ is not meant to be taken seriously – read it in the vein intended and it's a great fun read aloud. I’m not sure I’d be game to read to a class of giggly children but one to one it does work really well.
‘Dirty Bertie’ was a firm favourite of Tessa’s so there is no surprise that this has been met with equal enthusiasm. The novelty for young kids at hearing an adult say ‘poo bum’ out loud and their double take is priceless. Adults will probably be divided about this book and will either love or hate it. Children on the other hand, will love it for sure!
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