Sunday, 21 January 2018

My 5 Star Reads from 2017: Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry

At the beginning of the year, I always find myself surrounded by new books that have appeared on other people's "best of" lists.  I sheepishly go and pick up piles of reserves from the public library - when you have a lot you have to ask at the desk instead of getting them yourself from the reserve shelf.  I even reserve books on my mother's library card because her public library has a wider range of books than mine!  At the same time, I attempt to not become a hermit, and to pay some attention to my family.  It's not always easy!  Anyway, I have broken the spell long enough to finish off my best books from 2017.  My best picture books are here.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This is a beautifully written book about a girl, a witch, a swamp monster, a madwoman, a young man and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon.  It deservedly won the Newbery Medal last year.  A must read for any lovers of fantasy.

Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari
Mira Levinson is 12 and of part-English, part-Indian heritage.  Her grandmother, Josie, is dying of cancer and Mira has to work out how to deal with the imminent loss of a very special person in her life.  At the same time she is dealing with bullying, friendship and first love.

This is a very powerful book that would be suitable for mature Year 6 and up. 

Beetle Boy by M G Leonard
I loved this book about a boy, Darkus, whose dad has disappeared, bugs who can communicate with humans, an evil woman (who reminds me of Cruella De Vil, but with bugs), and bad men who want to turn Darkus into a pie.  There's lots of action, combined with facts about beetles.  It turns out that's a great combination!

The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen
Ade lives with his mother in a tower block.  His mother has become mentally unwell after an attack and Ade is having to shoulder more responsibilities to look after them both.  As if that isn't enough, strange plants appear, buildings start to fall down, and the world he lives in begins to change, while his mother sleeps on...

This is a fabulous, unusual, survival story, with well-rounded characters and some moments so tense I had to skip ahead a bit to make sure everything would be okay!

The Pest in the Nest (Rabbit & Bear #2) by Julian Gough, Jim Field (illustrator)
A bird arrives, makes a racket and really upsets Rabbit.  I love the developing friendship between Rabbit and Bear, and the patience Bear shows as he helps Rabbit, whose "brain is getting into a fight with the world".  One of our Year 2 teachers read this to her class, I thought they might be a little young, but they LOVED it!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale 
This book is funny and filled with action.  It has references to Marvel characters, squirrels with cool names, and an evil villain - a very enjoyable read!  (It was also nice to read a book with a great deaf character in it).

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
Roz is a robot who is shipwrecked and ends up on a remote island.  She has to adapt to the different conditions there, and deal with the local animal population, who think she is a monster.  Her adoption of an orphaned goose egg is a catalyst that leads to her and the other animals learning from one another.

A beautiful survival tale that celebrates nature, kindness and friendship. 

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
I'd highly recommend listening to the audiobook of this story, especially if you like the lovely Scottish accent of David Tennant.  He does great voices for the characters, and we loved the way he says 'spoon'!  The story itself is humorous, well-paced and full of interesting characters.


Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Don Tate, illustrator
An interesting non-fiction picture book about Lonnie Johnson, his life and his inventions, including his most famous invention - the Super Soaker.


Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka
I am not a huge poetry fan, in fact, this is the fourth year I've blogged about my 5 star reads and this is the first book of poetry I've ever included.  This is a very clever collection of shape poems, you really have to see it to understand how brilliant it is.  The poems and the shapes fit perfectly together, making a book ideal to share with people who claim they are "not a huge poetry fan"!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

My 5 Star Reads from 2017: Picture Books

Here are the brilliant picture books that I gave five stars to in 2017:

Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis
Some insects watch as a plant grows.  Such a simple premise for a story and yet it is turned into something very special.  The illustrations are quirky and fun, but it is the fact that the whole story is told with an invented language that brings this book to a whole other level (and it's not too hard to work out what it means).  This was a 2017 Caldecott Honor book.

Billions of Bricks by Kurt Cyrus
A counting book with rhymes that flow off the tongue.  As an added bonus, looking at a construction crew at work will be of interest to many readers.

My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems
Elephant & Piggie books are hugely popular at our school.  I'm not sure how I missed this one, but I'm glad I got there in the end.  Piggie has a new friend, Brian the Bat, and Gerald and Snake are worried they will be forgotten.  A sweet story about friendships.

Daft Bat by Jeanne Willis, Tony Ross (illustrator)
Last year, I learned about the wonderful work done by the Empathy Lab, and this book came up as one that is good for encouraging children to think from someone else's perspective.  Bat is new to the neighbourhood, and the other animals quickly decide that she is daft, after all, she has asked for an umbrella so her feet don't get wet!  Wise Owl encourages the animals to try looking at things from Bat's point of view, and once they are all hanging upside down from a tree it all makes sense.

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
In this, the very last Elephant & Piggie book, Piggie decides to thank all of her friends.  Gerald is convinced that Piggie will forget someone...but it's not who we think!  A very fitting end to a fantastic series.

The Covers Of My Book Are Too Far Apart by Vivian French, Nigel Baines (illustrator)
This is a must for libraries.  A fantastic book that gives answers to all those statements librarians often encounter, like "reading's rubbish", "I can't find a book I like" and "pictures are for little kids".  The fun illustrations ensure the book doesn't seem too preachy.

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson, Rebecca Cobb (illustrator)
I was blown away by this book.  The rhymes are effortless and a joy to read aloud.  It's a wonderful story about an imaginative girl and her paper dolls, the power of memory and the beauty of passing on shared activities between generations.  This was an easy pick for my four year old niece's birthday.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, Betsy Lewin (illustrator)
Farmer Brown's cows start leaving him notes asking him for things and when he doesn't give in to their demands they go on strike.  A very funny book that deals with the power of communication and negotiation.

My Pictures After The Storm by Eric Veille
This is a quirky book that deals with "before" and "after" in a hilarious way.

Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis, Tony Ross (illustrator)
This was another book that tickled my funny bone this year.  Tadpole and caterpillar fall in love, and caterpillar says "promise that you will never change".  Some good information about the life cycles of tadpoles and caterpillars, with a deliciously dark ending!

The Legend Of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, Adam Rex (illustrator)
This humorous book is an excellent read aloud if you can give it the drama it deserves.  There are lots of fun battles as we learn the legend behind the game rock, paper, scissors (or as I  would say "paper, scissors, rock").  When you're reading it with kids, allow time to play the game afterwards!

Something Else by Kathryn Cave, Chris Riddell (illustrator)
This was another book that was recommended as being great for sparking discussions about empathy.  It's about a creature called "Something Else" who struggles to fit in because he is different, yet when he meets another creature who is also different he initially treats him the same way.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Henry Cole (illustrator)
I learned about this sweet story at a Diversity in Picturebooks seminar.  It has caused a bit of a stir in some communities, as it is about two male penguins who become partners and raise a penguin chick.  It is based on a true story, which happened at Central Park Zoo.  I'm happy to say it has not caused a fuss in our library.

The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
This is a gorgeous book - the artwork is beautiful to look at.  It's also a lovely, offbeat story about making mistakes and fixing them by coming up with something even better.  Some of our teachers with students who are perfectionists have been particularly interested in sharing this book.

After The Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
It turns out that after Humpty Dumpty had a great fall he became terrified of heights.  Santat tells the story of Humpty Dumpty facing his fears with brevity, humour and sensitivity.  This is also an absolutely gorgeous book to look at, the cereal aisle is a particular standout!

Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
Another incredibly beautiful Oliver Jeffers book.  It came about after he brought his newborn son home from the hospital and started explaining the world to him.  It talks about things like being kind to one another no matter what we look like and looking after the world we live in.

Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks (illustrator)
In this sophisticated picture book, a magpie who can't fly and a one-eyed dog become friends, but then along comes fox.  The ending is so emotionally powerful, and dark, that it makes this one of the most unexpectedly shocking books I have ever read.

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen, James Foley (illustrator)
Another sophisticated picture book described as "a hilarious rhyming tale about a zombie bunny who comes back to visit his owner".