Gleebooks Education 

February 2008

Gleebooks Bookshop - Friday, February 01, 2008

No 31,  February  2008

The big news is that Ron and I are now grandparents.  Baby Noah was born on 29th September.  He is a lovely baby boy with dark hair like his parents.  It is a very special time and we are now travelling as often as possible to Sydney in order to see him grow up.  So many changes - it is wonderful to watch.  We spent Christmas and New Year in Sydney and had a wonderfully relaxing time swimming and walking and being with baby Noah and his parents.  He is of course an exceptional child but I have never read stories to a child so young.  Mem Fox of course talks about reading books to young babies but Noah has already a number of favourite books:  This Little Chick by John Lawrence (a board book with animal noises and repetition as little chick discovers the noises the animals on the farm make, Board book $12.95 pb $15.95).  One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root (a wonderfully exuberant story with rhyme, rhythm and repetition about a duck stuck in the muck and the animals that come to help her, Board Book $12.95 pb $15.95 and Big Book $39.95) and Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins pb $16.95 hardback $27.95  (such bright colours and so many different types of fish.)  Noah studies the books with rapt attention and when he becomes excited his arms and legs flail in all directions.  It is all such fun and we are missing him very much. 
  
I hope to see many of you in Berlin for the ECIS (European Council of International Schools) Librarians Conference in Berlin from February 29th to March 2nd.  Since the Conference is aimed especially at librarians and is only held every three years, it is very special. The speakers (some of whom are authors) are always very interesting and there is a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Unfortunately the Conference is now booked out but if you want to know more about the next one (the Conferences are held every three years) the website is: http://www.my-iexperience.com/experiences/ecis/ecisindex.htm 

I am often asked about cataloguing of Australian titles and have to advise that unfortunately we are unable to provide this service.  However SCIS (Schools Cataloguing Information Service) provides a wonderful service which is used by 85% of Australian Schools, all Schools in New Zealand and many International Schools round the world.  If you are interested, check out the website www.curriculum.edu.au/scis 

They provide bibliographic records of a wide range of educational materials including books, audiovisual materials and electronic resources.  Materials are mainly from Australia, New Zealand but also from the UK and US.  If you would like more detailed information on the service and products offered, then Tricia Nathan at SCIS will be happy to answer any queries.  Write to: Tricia.Nathan@curriculum.edu.au

I don’t think I have ever just reviewed books which kids would enjoy for recreational non-fiction reading.  But have recently come across these and if you haven’t seen them, then you could be interested.

 

Recreational Non-Fiction Reading

Dinosaur Encyclopedia (DK) by Caroline Bingham  hardback $35.00
This is an impressive book and I enjoyed reading it in spite of myself.  (I think I still haven’t recovered from dinosaur overload when my two sons were little and obsessive about dinosaurs.)
The book is beautifully set out and designed in a way which encourages and facilitates reading.  (I find that some DK books have information overload.  There are too many bits and pieces.)  There is an excellent general introduction and then the book is divided into periods from Triassic through Jurassic and finally the Cretaceous.  There is also excellent description in text and photos of fossils – how they were made and also how archaeologists investigate finds and how they make replicas of the bones for museums.  Other forms of life in the sea and also in the air and the possible reasons for the extinction of dinosaurs are also described.  Published just in 2007 and therefore the information is very up to date.  There are some very interesting descriptions of how some dinosaurs looked after they had just hatched out of their eggs and I didn’t know that magnolias were some of the first flowers, appearing in the Cretaceous period.    (7 – 10 years)

Skate Boarding by Clive Gifford  hardback $24.95
The world of skateboarding and its special language describing the various moves and venues are all new to me.  But even I found this a very interesting book.  A brief introduction to the history of skateboarding is followed by detailed information on the boards and how they are made and on the many different types of wheels and their importance.  Safety aspects are also emphasised and especially directions on how to stop and how to fall.  Clear instructions on how to carry out various tricks accompany sequential photos showing the trick in progression.  A number of young skate boarders, both girls and boys are featured in the photos.  This will be a very popular book.  The glossary explains all the terms used.  Published in 2006.     (9 – 12 years)

Forensic Science by Alex Frith  pb  $20.00
Kids will find this fascinating.  There are many short examples of crimes solved by forensic science.  Some are described in words and others in short cartoon format stories each showing how scientists have solved perplexing crimes.  The chapters gradually work through different techniques such as detection of bloodstains, DNA, clues from nature and gun ballistics, handwriting and clues found on computers and how these can be used to reveal exactly who has committed a crime.  Published in 2007.    (9 – 14 years)

Kingfisher Knowledge:  Forensics  by Richard Platt pb  $16.95
For students wanting to follow up and gain more information about the study of forensic science then in this book Richard Platt gives more detailed information in a more conventional style.  (9 – 14 years)

The Usborne Internet-Linked Children’s World Cookbook by Angela Wilkes and Fiona Watt  hardback  $24.95
More than 40 simple recipes from countries around the world are included.  The book contains lots of detailed information and photos showing what is eaten traditionally in these countries and also the ingredients used.   Recipes are simple, tasty and easy to follow.   (9 – 13 years)

The Usborne Book of Art Skills by Fiona Watt hardback $34.95
There are great ideas here for painting, drawing, printing and collage.  The ideas are simply explained with step-by-step instructions and the resulting examples of artwork are very striking.  It will give children many ideas for their own artwork, using a variety of art materials.  (8 – 12 years)

Art School by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom pb $15.95  (Due March 2008)
I really like Mick Manning’s books and this new title is equally interesting.  He has set it out as though he is conducting an art course and he takes children through a wide variety of projects and activities.  He encourages children to think of art as an exploration – of the senses, of the world around them and also of memories or dreams.  This book is absolutely full of ideas, hints and tips for children and will extend their interest and their skills, either at home or at school.  (8 – 12 years)

Animal Records : Amazing Feats and Fascinating Facts by Mark Carwardine  hardback $32.95 
This is a fascinating book with exceptional photos and a huge amount of information.  It has a very different feel from a book such as the Guinness Book of Records.  It is not at all sensational but it lists in great detail amazing feats and unusual behaviour of a huge number of animals and it seems to be in awe of the many amazing things that animals can do.  It has been published by the Natural History in London in 2007 and so this would explain the more scientific approach.  Each of the major animal groupings (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes and invertebrates) has its own section and where appropriate these are further divided up into orders, families and species.  The book aims to include the records that are most relevant and interesting for each type of animal and it does this very effectively.  For example, did you know that a mother kangaroo is able to suckle two youngsters of different ages simultaneously by producing two kinds of milk: one slightly diluted for the younger and the other more concentrated (with extra fat) for the older.)   This is a beautifully produced book containing 256 pages of fascinating information and photos of animals of all sorts and sizes throughout the world.  (9 years up)

 

Non-Fiction

I have previously reviewed for the Middle Year Programme of the International Baccalaureate, Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan.  There is now a new edition of this book and it has been published with a companion volume, Know Your Brain. Both were published at the end of 2007.

Blame My Brain – the amazing teenage brain revealed  by Nicola Morgan  pb $16.95
New scientific research points to real biological reasons behind some of the erratic behaviour of teenagers - their mood swings, their risk-taking and difficulties with learning.  As the mother and teacher of teenagers and also a writer for teenagers, Nicola Morgan brings an extremely interesting mixture of scientific knowledge which she has related to the social context of teenage behaviour.  During the teenage years, the brain undergoes great changes, especially to the cortex and it is these changes that scientists believe produce much of the erratic behaviour teenagers are renowned for.  Nicola Morgan discusses these changes and she has many suggestions to help teenagers deal with powerful changing emotions, erratic sleep patterns, difficulties with learning, depression and other problems.  There are a number of quizzes about aspects of personality and a very interesting discussion of the differences between girls and boys.  This is an extremely informative and entertaining book.  At times it is very funny and I think teenagers, parents and teachers will all find it very useful to help them understand why teenagers can sometimes behave so erratically.    (11 years up)

• Know Your Brain: Feel It, Test It, Stretch It  pb $16.95
In this book Nicola Morgan discusses in her very conversational tone the amazing qualities of the human brain and how it differs from animal brains.  She talks about things we can do to make our brains even more brilliant and lists things that can cause damage to our brains.  She discusses in detail the different types of intelligences, and also how we can recognise where our skills lie.  She gives examples of people who did not do well at school or did not fit in well but were great successes later in life.  (Dr Seuss apparently was voted the student least likely to succeed.)   She includes a number of quizzes and tests to discover the strengths and weaknesses of our brains and also training in remembering facts and in how to concentrate.  There are also tests to find out which learning style is best suited for each person and then activities to develop these further.  The tone is always lively and conversational and the subject matter is informative, interesting and often humorous.   This book will be extremely helpful for students interested in understanding how their brains work and how they can improve its capacity and performance.     (11 years up)

 

Fiction

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo illustrated by Michael Foreman hardback $24.95
When a young reporter is given by chance the opportunity to go to Venice and interview the famous violinist Paolo Levi, she is told not to ask about the Mozart Question and not to ask personal questions.  But she is so nervous that she asks him how he came to play the violin as a child.  Surprisingly the violinist makes the decision not to keep his past a secret anymore - he decides to tell the full story.  And the story that he tells describes how, as a young boy, he learnt to play the violin in secret and through his teacher he discovered that his teacher and his parents had all played the violin in an orchestra in the Nazi concentration camps.  It was their playing that kept them alive but they saw thousands sent to their deaths in the gas chambers.  His father had smashed his violin when he got back to Venice and vowed never to play again.  Paolo promised his father that he would never play Mozart, for Mozart was the music his parents had to play in the concentration camps and his father just couldn’t bear to hear it played.  This book is written with heartfelt simplicity and is beautifully illustrated with watercolours by Michael Foreman.  Both the story and illustrations are full of the beauty of Venice and the horror of the Nazi concentration camps and its devastating effect on people’s lives.    (9 – 15 years)

To the Boy in Berlin  by Elizabeth Honey and Heike Brandt  pb $15.95  
This is a most unusual story since it is the result of the collaboration between well-known Australian children’s author Elizabeth Honey and her German translator, Heike Brandt.  Together they have produced a story about a girl, Henni who lives in Melbourne, Australia and who communicates mainly by email with a boy, Leo Schmidt in Berlin.  I have read other novels involving email correspondence and have often found them tedious as it is very difficult to sustain a convincing and interesting plot.  However this book is a welcome exception.  While Henni is staying at a house in Cauldron Bay (this story is told in the novel Ballad of Cauldron Bay pb $15.95) Henni discovers that a German family and a boy called Leopold Schmidt lived in the house in 1915.  She leaves a note in a box of German books with her address and is amazed when she receives a postcard from a boy Leopold Schmidt living in Berlin.  So begins an intriguing correspondence as they work out how Leo came to write to Henni and they endeavour to find out more about each other and the boy called Leopold Schmidt who lived in 1915.  Henni becomes so interested she decides to research it as a topic for her school project and this provides much fascinating historical documentation about early German immigration to Australia and the treatment of Germans in Australia during the 2 World wars.  This book is not at all dry; it is extremely lively and the two characters come vividly to life.  The emails fly backwards and forwards providing much amusement and also glimpses of the difference and similarities between their lives.  Whene one of Leo’s friends turns out to be an illegal immigrant and Leo becomes involved in trying to hide and help his friend and his friend’s mother from being deported, we learn incidentally about some of the problems of immigration in Germany and Australia today.  I especially liked the humour in the emails, especially humour concerning the difficulties of translation and also some of the extraordinarily long German words that exist.  This is an exuberant book which children will enjoy reading and will be an excellent book for discussion on a variety of topics.   (10 – 14 years)   

The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda hardback $30.00
A new fantasy series by Emily Rodda is an eagerly awaited event for young readers.  In this book the old music box which has been passed down in Leo’s family for many years is the key to Rondo.   Leo has always respected and followed the rules of its use but his least favourite cousin doesn’t and so they are both plunged into an exciting quest in the very strange world of Rondo.   It is a world in which many characters seem familiar and children will soon recognise that many are taken from nursery rhymes and from fairy tales.  Some play central roles and others are just peripheral.  With more books to come, children will enjoy this new adventure fantasy series though I must admit that so far I prefer her other fantasy series Rowan of Rin and the Deltora Quest.     (9 – 14 years)     

Throwaway Daughter by Ting-Xing Ye with William Bell pb 15.95
Grace is adopted and now lives in Canada with her parents and older sister Megan.  She knows almost nothing about her Chinese background except that she was abandoned as a baby and left at an orphanage.  Grace rejects most of her mother’s attempts to make her more aware of her Chinese heritage but she does learn Mandarin and becomes more involved after seeing the traumatic events of Tianamen Square on television.  The unfolding of the story is very interesting as there are a number of narrators; there is Grace herself and also her Canadian mother and in Part Two some of the background of her Chinese family is given by her grandfather as well as her father.  It is unusual to have so many different narrators but it works well and gives us a much greater insight into Grace’s story and her background and also into the situation in China at that time which involved the Cultural Revolution and also the One Child policy.   When Grace is sixteen she goes to China for a language course and manages to locate her family and her mother.  This is a very moving story giving us a vivid picture of Grace growing up in Canada but also of the hardship and tragedy of a family in China and the very different personalities involved.    (11 – 17 years)

You probably already know that the first two books in the extremely popular Alex Rider series are now available in graphic novel format.
Stormbreaker The Graphic Novel  by Anthony Horowitz and Antony Johnston  artwork by Kanako Damerum and Yuzuru Takasaki  pb $19.95
And also Point Blanc The Graphic Novel  pb $19.95
I much prefer the original novel but it is very interesting to see how the action in the novel is so condensed and yet still makes sense.  The graphics are great and I can see why they would be of such appeal to a younger generation.  A comparison of the novel and the graphic format would make an interesting study.  (11 – 16 years)

After the Death of Alice Bennett by Rowland Molony  pb $13.95
This is an extraordinarily moving book.  After the death of their much loved mother, Becky who is in 6th Form and Sam still in primary school and their father struggle to keep on surviving. There is such silence and such emptiness in their lives.  Sam is struggling to understand what happens to people when they die.  His Mum had said just her body was dying and she also said she was just going into the Next World, on the Other Side and so why couldn’t he get in touch with her?  His memories and the way he just ached to touch her again are very convincingly and movingly portrayed.  Sam gets his mother’s mobile and texts a message to a contact number in his mother’s handwriting that has been left on the fridge and when he receives a message back, he is convinced it is from someone who is in touch with his mother.  The story of who Sam is really texting makes for an absorbing story and brings into the book several other vital and very likeable characters.  This is a book which is very difficult to put down and to stop reading; it is totally absorbing.  It is a story about life, death and the impact of our lives on others in life and in death.    (11 years up)

 

Picture Books

All about Me by Selina Young hardback $28.00
This delightful book describes all the things that happened to Alfie as he grew from just a tiny baby to when he was 3 years old.  Alfie’s grey cat and his toy lion also comment on each of Alfie’s activities throughout the book and this adds to the humour and also our understanding of the effects of Alfie’s activities on other family members.  This is a child’s eye view of growing up - from crying and smiling, to crawling, to learning to walk and ride, to birthday parties and reading books.  The book is quite long for a picture book but there is a lot to talk about.  (3 – 6 years)    

So Few of Me by Peter H Reynolds  hardback $24.95  pb $15.95
Peter leads such a busy life that it is difficult to fit everything in.  He tries making lists, he tries prioritising but life is still a rush.  He imagines another Leo come to help, and another and another but even with nine Leos there just seems nine times as much work to be done.  Finally Leo slows right down and just daydreams.  The other Leos disappear and he decides that life is best if he just tries to do his best and makes sure he always keeps some time just for dreaming.  This is a simply written picture book well worth discussing when children’s lives are so full of activities.  (6 – 10 years)     

When I Grow Up by Colin McNaughton hardback $24.95  pb $15.95
Perhaps this has a slightly similar theme.  At the school musical performed at the end of the year, each of the children act out what they want to be when they grow up.  Very amusing illustrations and rhyming verse make this great fun.  However the last act is a small boy dressed as a deep- sea diver who suddenly becomes traumatised and cries out “WAH! I don’t wanna grow up! “  Whereby he is consoled by the teacher who says “There, there, sweetheart, don’t you fret, You don’t have to grow up yet. (I know lots of grown-ups who Still don’t know what they want to do.)  Enjoy your childhood while you may – Growing up is years away.”  Maybe we do rush children into thinking about what will happen later rather than let them just enjoy being children.  
(6 – 8 years)

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen  illustrated by Kevin Hawkes  hardbak $27.95 pb $15.95
This picture book has a wonderfully old-fashioned feel with illustrations which match so well the rather dignified language of this story about a lion who wanders into the library and is so captivated by the story-telling that he comes back every day.  He helps the librarian Miss Merriweather and very carefully abides by the library rule of no noise and no running, until the day of Miss Merriweather’s accident.  This is a warm, amusing and engaging story which reads aloud so very well.  Young children will be entranced by the library lion and wish that he would also appear in their library.  I am sure the book will generate lots of discussion about libraries and rules and the delights of stories.     (3 – 8 years)

A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton  hardback $27.95
Again this would be a delight to read aloud to young children.  Bear lives alone and doesn’t like visitors, but one morning as he makes his breakfast, a mouse “small and grey and bright-eyed” appears.  When Bear goes to the cupboard the mouse appears again and then leaves when sternly admonished and told to go.  But the mouse appears again and again until Bear in desperation agrees to give him a cup of tea and a bit of cheese and then Bear enjoys the company of this small mouse so much that they become firm friends.  The text is simple but works extremely well with the illustrations in building up the suspense.  Will the mouse reappear in the teapot or the in fridge or in the bread drawer?  And then there is the repetition of the phrase, “there was the mouse!  Small and grey and bright-eyed.)  The illustrations are a delight, showing all of Bear’s growing frustration and then his contentment with his new friend.  (2 – 6 years)

Going North by Janice N Harrington,  pictures by Jerome Lagarrigue  hardback $31.95
I was asked to suggest some picture books on racism and came across an excellent review of Going North and so ordered it and when it arrived I was very impressed.  The illustrations have an impressionistic feel and they are warm and expressive in their depiction of a black family leaving their friends and family in Alabama and making their way north to Nebraska.  A young girl describes in free flowing verse the apprehension of her family (father, mother and younger brother) as they leave in 1964 in the hope of a better life up north.  The journey north has its dangers and when the car, almost empty of petrol, pulls up at Joe’s Gas with its friendly black faces the relief is heartfelt.  However nothing is explained.  The fact that it is understated makes the impact all the more powerful of the implied possible consequences of coming to a stop at a gas station with white owners who perhaps would not serve a black family.  
“ I think about Daddy’s hand all knuckle-tight,
I think about Mama’s prayer 
and the gas gauge running out.
Maybe the North will be better – 
may be   
may be   
may be  “
The family is described as pioneers journeying north in the hope of a better life.  A marvellous picture book which can be used for discussion with many different age groups.  (6 – 13 years)
      
The Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson  illustrated by Kazumi Wilds  hardback $32.95
Nanami has two grandmothers: Baachan who lives in Japan with Nanami’s family and Gram from Maine in the US.   When Gram comes to visit her granddaughter in Japan, Nanami is the translator between the two grandmothers who discover they have much in common since they both live near the sea and have a love of things to do with the sea.  They go gathering wakame, a type of seaweed which is dried and then eaten in a variety of recipes (some of these are given at the end of the book).  Bachaan is astounded that in Maine there is a lot of seaweed but it is not harvested and eaten.  I very much enjoyed Holly Thompson’s description of the wakame gathering and the interaction between the two grandmothers and how Nanami translates for them.  The conversation is slowed because most words have to be translated but the sudden delight at understanding is evident.  It is unusual for a book to capture the excitement of learning new words in a new language.  As Baachan describes her own childhood in this seaside town and how she gathered wakame but then had to flee to the mountains to escape the bombing, there is a pause as they reflect that at that time the countries of the two grandmothers were at war.  This is a delightful book which shows a growing affection between the two grandmothers and which touches on the similarity and differences of these two cultures.  (6 – 10 years)

 

Collections

Around the World in 80 Tales by Saviour Pirotta illustrated by Richard Johnson  hardback $40.00
These 80 tales come from all six continents.  The stories are lively, often humorous and are well told and would read aloud well.  They reflect the very different cultures from which they are taken.  Colourful illustrations by Richard Johnson complete this very attractive and useful book.  (6 - 11 years)

Fairy Tales and Fantastic Tales by Terry Jones Illustrated by Michael Foreman  pb $25.00
This new book could also be listed below in the back in print section for Fairy Tales was originally published in 1981 and Fantastic Tales in 1992 and both collections have been out of print for some time and so it is wonderful to see them back in print in one marvellous collection.  Terry Jones has a wonderful ability to create quirky, funny stories which are like folk tales but are his own invention.  Some of his stories have fantastical elements but they also blend humour and morality.  Some are sad and some are silly and others are witty but they are always well told and beg to be read aloud.  Michael Foreman’s inventive and lovely illustrations make this a book a treasure.     (7 – 13 years)

 

Back in print

My Place in Space by Sally & Robin Hirst and illustrated by Roland Harvey & Joe Levine  pb $14.95
It is so good when books that are real favourites come back into print.  My Place in Space by Robin & Sally Hirst was first published in 1988.  Back then it seemed so innovative and in fact it is still innovative.  When the bus driver in a small country town in Australia asks Henry and Rosie if they know where they live, he is dumbfounded when they answer the question in extraordinary detail, giving not just their address in Gumbridge but also providing complete and up to date information about the astronomical whereabouts of earth in the universe.  This takes some time as you can imagine.  And this is where the innovation in the design of the book is so stunning.  The written text is just a few lines at the bottom of each page while above the text is a coloured cartoon illustration of Rosie and Henry’s bus waiting in the main street of Gumbridge.  This is drawn in Roland Harvey’s distinctive style and also drawn in his distinctive style are the many strange occurrences in the town.  If children look closely they will see that robbers are robbing the local bank, that the bull which is first seen in the paddock comes charging into town and actually charges the butcher in the butcher shop, that the name on the bank keeps changing as does the advertising hoarding on the side of the bus.  The name on the bus changes from Read More Books to Eat Raw Chooks and Read Four Books.  Above these strange happenings, the sky also changes as Henry and Rosie describe our place in the universe.  As Henry describes the planet earth, we see a wonderful swirling air brushed painting of the earth in all its blue beauty. As he describes the Solar System within the Solar Neighbourhood, we see the sky lit up with thousands of stars, we see later the Milky Way Galaxy and so on  …  As you can see plenty of innovation!!  However I found it very interesting that in this new revised and updated edition, the text has been altered.  From what I remember, it was Henry who held forth with most of the information.  Rosie was the quiet little sister whereas in this edition they share the stage equally.  Also the astronomical information has been updated.  Here they refer to Pluto as a dwarf planet and give more information about the Solar Neighbourhood and the other stars and also more information about the length of time it takes for light from these planets, or stars or galaxies to reach us.  A final additional page of information at the end of the book provides still more information about the universe.    This book is a treasure.  Make sure you get it before it goes out of print again!  (7 – 14 years)

It is so good that this series is also back in print again.  They were part of the Read and Wonder series and have now been republished as Nature Storybooks.    Librarians do have to be alert!
All Pigs are Beautiful by Dick-Smith illustrated by Anita Jeram  pb 415.95
I find this book most engaging as Dick King-Smith talks about his love and admiration for pigs.  The illustrations are equally delightful, showing a wonderful variety of breeds of pigs but also individual pigs such as Monty, an enormous but very gentle pig who loved to be scratched on the top of his head.  We learn a lot about the types of pigs and how they breed, what they eat and their likes and dislikes.     ((4 – 8 years)
Other books in the series (each book is $15.95) are:
One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies illustrated by Jane Chapman 
Growing Frogs by Vivian French Illustrated by Alison Bartlett 
Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace illustrated by Mike Bostock
Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies illustrated by Nick Maland  Due April
Caterpillar Butterfly by Vivian French illustrated by Charlotte Voake  Due April



 
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