Author Archives: Jo

International Book Giving Day

This Wednesday, February 14th, is not just Library Lovers Day, but also International Book Giving Day. First conceived in 2012, this volunteer initiative is now held in over 30 countries. The aim is “to get books into the hands of as many children as possible… [thereby] increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books” (International Book Giving Day, n.d.). The International Book Giving Day website provides three easy ways to celebrate the day, while their Facebook page allows you to connect with others who are participating in the event. There are also a number of resources available for use, including bookmarks, bookplates and posters. This year, these have been created by Elys Dolan, a children’s author and illustrator from the UK. They are fabulous and free to download from the website.

International Book Giving Day 2018 poster by Elys Dolan

Book Giving Day

Image used with kind permission of International Book Giving Day

So get involved by buying or donating a book to a child. They might just catch the reading bug as a result of your kindness. Whatever you choose to do, have a happy International Book Giving Day (and Library Lovers Day) on Wednesday!

 

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Love letter to a library

In February, there are several events to celebrate the love we have for both libraries and books. In Australia, one of these is Library Lovers Day, which is held on February 14th. An initiative of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the theme this year is love letters to libraries and focuses on “the love that we all hold for libraries and how they help to shape our national identity” (ALIA, n.d.). With that in mind, here is my love letter to the library of my childhood…

Askew Road Library

Dear Askew Road Library,

You captured my heart from the moment I walked through your doors as a small child. You weren’t grand or beautiful like some of the other libraries in Hammersmith. In fact you were quite unassuming and plain. You may not have been much to look at, but inside you were rich with treasures. And I loved you. You opened up a world of imagination and knowledge to me. I spent hours with you, browsing your shelves and finding a quiet spot to read. I have so many happy memories of growing up with you. Although there have been many other libraries since we first met all those years ago, you have always had a special place in my heart.

Thank you for being a big part of my reading journey and for sharing your books with me.

The ALIA website contains ideas and resources for celebrating Library Lovers Day in your library. There are also a series of love letters written by Australian authors, such as Jackie French and Natalie Jane Prior. Here’s a very funny one from Tony Wilson, who wrote The Cow Tripped Over the Moon and Hickory Dickory Dash

Love Letter

Image used with kind permission of ALIA

Join in the fun and celebrate all that is wonderful about libraries. Maybe you could write your own love letter to a library or go on a blind date with a book. Whatever you choose to do, let your library know how much it is valued and appreciated.

Guest post: Olivia’s top five favourite books

To kick off the New Year, we have another guest at Tales From The Children’s Library. I’ve invited Olivia, my seven-year-old niece, to share her five favourite books with you. Over to you, Olivia…

Here are my top five favourite books:

Olivia's Books

1. Up the Faraway Tree
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Mark Beech (cover)

Up The Faraway Tree

One day, Robin and Joy read about the Magic Faraway Tree in a book and decide to go meet Joe, Beth and Frannie themselves. The five children have all sorts of exciting adventures together, including being captured by the Enchanter Red-Cloak in the Land of Castles, a birthday treat for Joy in the Land of Wishes, and a delicious visit to the Land of Cakes!

It’s a book that is funny and cool at the same time. It makes me happy when I read it. My favourite character is the squirrel that brings the cushions up the tree. He is really cute.

This is the fourth book in The Faraway Tree series, the first two being The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree.

2. The Folk of the Faraway Tree
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Mark Beech (cover) and Jan McCafferty (interior)

The Folk Of Faraway Tree

Stuck-up Connie refuses to believe in the Faraway Tree-until Joe, Beth and Frannie take her to the Land of Secrets and the Land of Treats!

But then the tree starts dying, and nobody knows what’s wrong. How can they save the magical Faraway Tree?

This book makes me laugh and it makes me feel happy. My favourite story from it is ‘Up the ladder-that-has-no-top’.

This is the third book in The Faraway Tree series.

3. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

We're Going On A Bear Hunt

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

I like this book because when I was little, we used to read it a lot and I like the illustrations. My favourite page is going into the big dark forest.

4. Violet and the Hidden Treasure
Written by Harriet Whitehorn and illustrated by Becka Moor

Violet And The Hidden Treasure

Can you solve the case of the hidden treasure?

Violet has spent her holiday exploring India, including visiting the beautiful palace of the eccentric Maharajah where she meets his very special cockatoo. But when she returns home, Violet is surprised to receive a visit from the Maharajah’s butler, asking her to look after the bird. Because the cockatoo holds the secret to the Maharajah’s fortune, and someone is trying to bird-nap her to claim the treasure!

Can Violet discover who the culprit is?

In this book, Violet has to solve the mystery of the hidden treasure, which is a cockatoo. I like it when Violet finds the cockatoo. The characters in the story are Violet, Rose, Art, Angel and Rajesh.

This is the second book in the Violet series, the others being Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, Violet and the Smugglers and Violet and the Mummy Mystery. The next installment, Violet and the Mystery of Tiger Island, will be released in July 2018.

5. Harper and the Night Forest
Written by Cerrie Burnell and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Harper And The Night Forest

When Harper and her friends visit the mysterious Night Forest, their plan is to capture the magical Ice Raven. But little by little the fairy tale secrets of the forest come to light. The children soon realise what it would mean if the Ice Raven left the enchanted woods for ever…

I like this book because it’s a very mysterious book. My favourite character is Smoke the wolf (mine too), because wolves are one of my favourite animals. Harper is a girl from the circus of dreams. She has a magic umbrella and a cat called Midnight. She goes on adventures with her friends, Nate, Liesel and Ferdie.

This is the third book in the Harper series, the others being Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella, Harper and the Circus of Dreams, Harper and the Fire Star and Harper and the Sea of Secrets.

Thank you, Olivia for sharing your favourite books with us. Maybe she’s inspired you to try a new book or author!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb of the book.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Image by monicore: CC0 1.0

I would like to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year. May it be filled with peace, love and goodwill…and continued recognition of the importance of libraries! I look forward to sharing more ideas, information and, of course, books with all you lovely readers in 2018.

 

Twelve Books of Christmas: Part II

Continuing with the festive celebrations, here are six books to complete the Twelve Books of Christmas. Again, I have chosen some for their rituals, some for their meaning and some for the story they tell about the birth of Jesus.

Twelve Books Of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Coming Home
Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman

Coming Home

A plucky little robin sets out on an epic journey. Through dark forests, driving rain, clapping thunder and flashing lightning. Across frozen wastes, huge mountains and stormy seas he flies. And all the while he’s dreaming of home. Of her. But will he ever get there?

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a robin journeying from the cold, dark forest across mountains and seas to be his lady love again. Michael Morpurgo’s text reads like poetry, with lyrical turns of phrase conveying a range of emotions. I found myself willing the robin on as he battled the elements and predators to reach home. The last page of the book contains facts about robin migration.

I have included several books by Michael Morpurgo on previous book lists, because his work is outstanding. This book is no exception, but it does differ in that the writing is more poetic and evocative. The focus is on the words and images they convey, rather than the storyline. This is the first book that Kerry Hyndman has illustrated. She has also worked with David Long on Survivors.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Mog’s Christmas
Written and illustrated by Judith Kerr

Mog's Christmas

Strange things are happening at Mog’s house. So she runs up on the roof and there she stays…until she returns to the house with a bump!

I love the Mog books! Perhaps it’s because they remind of growing up in Britain in the 1970s (all funky clothes and decor). Perhaps it’s the gentle humour and warmth found within the pages. In this book, Mog is put out by the preparations for Christmas: baking and decorating the house. But when Mr Thomas arrives with the Christmas tree, she is terrified and runs up the side of the house and onto the roof. Nothing can coax her down. Then the snow melts and she falls down the chimney, just like Father Christmas! After a bath, Mog is ready to enjoy the festivities with her family.

Between 1970 and 2002, Judith Kerr wrote sixteen Mog books, ending with the emotional Goodbye Mog. Then in 2015, after a break of thirteen years, she collaborated with Sainsbury’s to create a new Christmas story about Mog; Mog’s Christmas Calamity. It was accompanied by an advert featuring a CGI Mog, who saves the day (again). It was wonderful to see one of my favourite cats brought to life on the small screen!

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Great Joy
Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Great Joy

Deep in the purple dusk of winter, a monkey and an organ grinder appear on the corner of Fifth and Vine. Frances watches the monkey hold out his silver cup to the busy passersby. Sometimes, when the traffic is very quiet for just a minute, she can hear the organ’s sweet, sad music.

But Frances is troubled when she notices that the man and the monkey are still on the street late at night. Where do they sleep? She can’t stop thinking about them, even while she’s practicing her line and getting her costume ready for the local Christmas pageant. When the moment finally comes for Frances to speak, the gift of compassion allows her to share the perfect words with everyone, at just the right time.

Great Joy celebrates the generosity and kindness associated with the festive season. Frances watches the organ grinder and his monkey from the window of her apartment. She worries about where they go at night, especially now it is snowing. She stays up at night and sees them still on the street corner in the cold. When she asks her mother if they can come for dinner, she is told, “No…They’re strangers”. On her way to the Christmas pageant, in which she plays the part of an angel, Frances puts a coin in the monkey’s cup and invites them both to the church to see the play. Then, as she is about to deliver her line, “at the back of the sanctuary, a door opened” and in walks the organ grinder and his monkey. This beautiful story shows us how a child can embody the spirit of Christmas and set an example for those adults around her.

Kate DiCamillo has been awarded the Newbery Award twice and is best known for her children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora and Ulysses. Great Joy is her first picture book. She also collaborated with Bagram Ibatoulline on The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

The Christmas Eve Ghost
Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

The Christmas Eve Ghost

When Bronwen and Dylan are frightened by ghostly noises on Christmas Eve, they run straight into the arms of their neighbour, Mrs O’Riley. Stepping next door for the first time, what will they find on the other side of the wall?

1930s Liverpool is brought alive in this inspiring tale that recognises the richness of human kindness, even in times of hardship and poverty.

In this book, Shirley Hughes recalls growing up in Liverpool in the 1930s. Bronwen and Dylan have moved with their Mam from Wales to Liverpool after the death of their Da. Although they live next door to the O’Rileys, the family keep to themselves, with Mam working hard as a laundress. One Christmas Eve, Bronwen and Dylan are left alone whilst Mam finishes her shopping. After she leaves, the children hear a strange noise coming from the wash house. Afraid it might be “that horrid ghostie coming down the chimney”, they run out screaming into the street, straight into the arms of Mrs O’Riley. She takes care of them until Mam comes home and discovers the kindness of her neighbours. One of the things I love about this book is the way Shirley Hughes weaves into the story information about the work undertaken by a laundress before the washing machine and steam iron were invented. I have a number of ancestors who took in laundry in the ‘old days’, so to see what that actually involved is very humbling.

I love the work of Shirley Hughes. Her illustrations evoke days gone by, whilst her stories, although simple in terms of their plots, contain a depth of emotion and gently challenge how we view the world and one another.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle
Written by Glenda Millard and illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Applesauce And The Christmas Miracle

One orange evening, tiger-striped with blackened trees, a pig sat, reminiscing…

Against a rural Australian setting of drought and bushfire, a little pig called Applesauce learns that Christmas comes from the heart.

This is a touching story set in the Australian bush. Paralleling the Nativity, it tells how a bushfire destroyed Joe and Marigold’s house, forcing them to live in the shed with the blistered door. Their pig, Applesauce, feels “it would be a miracle if Christmas came at all”, as there will be no celebrations, no special dinner and no gifts this year. Then, high on the hill, the Shepherds see a star above the shed and head down through the burnt-out bush to visit them. On Christmas Day, Marigold’s three aunties arrive, bearing gifts: a plum pudding, some shortbread and a crate filled with hay. Into this, Marigold places her newborn baby. When Applesauce sees the infant, she feels something change inside her as she lets “Christmas fill her heart”. Just wonderful!

I love the work of both Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King. They have created a number of books together, including the Kingdom of Silk series. Glenda Millard has written a range of books from picture books through to ones for young adults. Her latest one, The Stars At Oktober Bend, was a Notable book in the Older Readers section of the 2017 CBCA awards. As an author and illustrator, Stephen Michael King is responsible for, amongst others, the delightful Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat and the wonderful Mutt Dog.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Little One, We Knew You’d Come
Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jackie Morris

Little One, We Knew You'd Come

Evokes for children the excitement of the day they were born–and the wonder of the birth of God’s baby son.

Little One, We Knew You’d Come will touch new parents and children alike. Jackie Morris’ beautiful illustrations and the lilting, lyrical text bring this beloved story vividly to life. A celebration of life and the miracle of birth. It is a classic, simple retelling of the Christmas story that can be read at Christmas, and on every child’s birthday, as well.

(Synopsis by Sally Lloyd-Jones)

This is the story of the Nativity told from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. As with any good picture book, the reader gains as much from the illustrations as from the text. The gorgeous images from Jackie Morris perfectly complement Sally Lloyd-Jones’ poetic language and gentle refrains (“On the day that you were born” and “Little one, we knew you’d come”). There is much for children and adults to share and discuss in the pictures and the storyline. I would also highly recommend The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas, as a companion to Little One, We Knew You’d Come.

On her website, Jackie Morris talks about how Little One, We’d Knew You Come became The Newborn Child when she regained the rights to the images. Both books tell the story of Jesus’ birth without mentioning him, although anyone familiar with the Nativity will recognise the characters and events. What I like is the intimacy and love present on every page, with the focus on, as Jackie Morris says, “the waiting, the hoping, the dreams and desires” (Morris, n.d.).

I hope you have enjoyed the Twelve Books of Christmas. I would like to wish you and your loved ones a very happy Christmas. May it be filled with love and laughter.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.

 

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Twelve Books of Christmas: Part I

To celebrate the festive season, I’ve chosen twelve books about Christmas. Some are about the rituals associated with this festival: the tree, the presents and the food. Others focus on the meaning behind this special time of year: hope, peace and love. And of course, I’ve included several that tell the story of the first Christmas.

Twelve Books Of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Queen Victoria’s Christmas
Written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Queen Victoria's Christmas

There’s a mystery in the palace.
What can it be?
There are lots of spicy smells…and a large green tree!

Join Queen Victoria’s dogs as they discover the magic of Christmas in this hilarious new royal adventure by award-winning duo Jackie French and Bruce Whatley.

This wonderful book, which is a companion to Queen Victoria’s Underpants, tells how the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree was introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. In the palace, the dogs and the parrot are excited by the sights, sounds and smells of the festive season. But they are puzzled by the arrival of a large tree. The mystery is solved on Christmas Day when they discover the tree has been decorated with tinsel, candles and baubles. The family exchange presents and sit down together for a feast. But under the flap on the final page, we discover the dogs are already enjoying their Christmas dinner!

Jackie French is a well-known Australian author, who has written over 170 fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. She was the Australian Children’s Laureate in 2014 and 2015, during which time she advocated for “the right for every child to be guided to the books they’ll love” (Jackie French, n.d.). She has worked on a number of books with Bruce Whatley, including Pete the Sheep and the much-loved Diary of a Wombat. As an author and illustrator, Bruce Whatley has created picture books including  The Ugliest Dog in the World and the Christmas story, The Little Drummer Boy.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers
Written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers

Slinky Malinki, the most rapscallion cat of all, is watching and waiting in the shadows while the glimmering, shimmering Christmas tree is decorated. Will he be able to resist the twinkle and tinsel of the glorious, tempting tree?

Even at Christmas, Slinky Malinki is up to mischief. He destroys the beautifully decorated Christmas tree as “he knotted the tinsel and swatted the bell, he batted the baubles and trinkets as well”. After the family put everything back in place, they discover the fairy is missing from the top of the tree. But Slinky Malinki knows how to fix that!

As usual, Lynley Dodd’s rhyming is spot-on. This book, like her others, is a joy to read out loud. I particularly love her use of more complex words, ones that are often not seen in picture books for younger readers: magnificent, mischievous, glorious and smothery. Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers can be enjoyed alongside the four other books about the adventurous black cat.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas
Written and illustrated by David Melling

Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas finds a new magical friend on his hunt for the PERFECT Christmas tree.

Hugless Douglas is a bear “full of hugs”. In this book, he enjoys the snow with his friends, the Funny Bunnies and Little Sheep. Whilst playing in a winter wonderland, they meet Rudi the blue-nosed reindeer, who uses Christmas magic to make a tree. At the end of the book, there are two pages of things to do at Christmas time. Each page also has Little Robin on it for readers to find. I love the humour in this book, which is conveyed through both the text and illustrations.

Hugless Douglas has his own website, which includes fun stuff for younger readers and links to an interactive book app. There are a number of other Hugless Douglas books, including the one that introduced the lovable bear to the world: Hugless Douglas. David Melling has illustrated over 60 fiction and picture books and has worked with well-known authors, including Vivian French, Ian Whybrow and Francesca Simon.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Shooting at the Stars
Written and illustrated by John Hendrix

Shooting At The Stars

Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I who experiences an unforgettable Christmas Eve. In a letter to his mother, he describes how, despite fierce fighting earlier from both sides, Allied and German soldiers ceased firing that evening and came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday. They sang carols, exchanged gifts, and even lit Christmas trees. But as the holiday came to a close, they returned to their separate trenches to await orders for the war to begin again.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a true story that John Hendrix wonderfully brings to life, interweaving his detailed illustrations with hand-lettered texts. His telling of the story celebrates the kindness and humanity that can persist during even the darkest periods of our history.

This moving and thought-provoking book tells the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when the Allied and German soldiers, who had been fighting one another on the Western Front, laid down their arms and came together in No Man’s Land on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Through a letter written by a fictional soldier, Charlie, to his mother, John Hendrix details what life was like in the trenches: mud, rats and artillery fire. He then describes how the soldiers on both sides set aside their weapons to sing, play football and bury their dead. The feelings of the men are expressed by one of the Germans; “Why can’t we just go home-and have peace?” The themes and illustrations make this story suitable for older readers. There is also additional information about the conflict at the beginning and end of the book. It could easily form the basis for discussions around the issues of war and peace and is highly relevant as we head into the centenary year commemorating the end of the First World War.

John Hendrix has written and illustrated his own books, including Miracle Man and John Brown, as well as illustrating the work of other writers, such as A Boy Called Dickens and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek with Deborah Hopkinson.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Father Christmas
Written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Father Christmas

Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, this classic picture book has been treasured by generations for more than thirty years. Raymond Briggs’s irreverent look at Christmas is one of his best-loved picture books.

Despite being over 40 years old, Father Christmas is still enjoyed by children and adults today. Its comic-book format makes it readily accessible to reluctant and emerging readers. In an interesting article in the Guardian, Raymond Briggs shares how he made the book. His Father Christmas is reimagined as a real man doing the things that need to be done before delivering presents to children around the world: making a cup of tea, going to the toilet, getting dressed and having breakfast, whilst complaining about the weather (“Blooming cold!”). Then he sets off on his sleigh, which is pulled by two reindeer. I love the cut-away scenes where we can see into the houses as Father Christmas makes his way across roofs and down chimneys. And there is the gentle humour present throughout the book. A wonderful story to share with a child.

Raymond Briggs is a much-loved author and illustrator, who has been awarded both the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. His work includes The Snowman, Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows. He also illustrated The Elephant and the Bad Baby, written by Elfrida Vipont, which is a firm favourite with young children because of all the naughtiness in the book!

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

The First Christmas
Illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski

The First Christmas

The shepherds said one to another,
Let us now go to Bethlehem.
And they found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

The text for this book, which tells the story of the birth of Jesus, comes from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew in the King James Bible. The illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski are stunning. Silver gilded branches stretch across each double-page spread bearing roses, mistletoe, holly or berries. The images accompanying each verse are composed of silhouettes against a coloured background. Despite the apparent simplicity of the solid black figures, Jan Pieńkowski effortless conveys movement and emotions, from the wonder of the Annunciation through to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. As with Shooting at the Stars, this book is perhaps best suited to older readers, as the language is beautiful but challenging. Another book I would highly recommend, but was unable to find in my local library, is Jane Ray’s The Story of Christmas. With equally stunning illustrations and biblical text, it would compliment The First Christmas perfectly.

Jan Pieńkowski is known for his distinctive silhouette illustrations, used in The First Christmas and The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken. He also worked with Helen Nicoll on the Meg and Mog series of picture books, which began in 1972 and are still in print today. Jan Pieńkowski also created a number of pop-up books, including the wonderfully scary Haunted House, a book I remember well.

Later this week I’ll share the other six books with you. Until then, enjoy your Christmas preparations. Just under one week to go!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.

Guest post: Ellie’s top five favourite books

This week, we have a guest at Tales From The Children’s Library. I’ve invited Ellie, my sixteen-year-old niece, to share her five favourite books with you. So let’s handover to her…

Here are my top five favourite books in descending order:

Ellie's Books

1. A Court of Mist and Fury
Written by Sarah J. Maas and illustrated by Adrian Dadich (cover)

A Court Of Mist And Fury

Feyre is immortal.

After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people-nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand’s dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.

She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

A Court of Mist and Fury is the second book in A Court of Thrones and Roses series. It is my favourite book because reading it allowed me to feel really connected to the people and their world, far more than most other books do. I like the way Sarah J. Mass has written the characters and the setting. I also like how many of the events in the story are unexpected, so you can’t put the book down because you have to know what happens next.

2. The Book Thief
Written by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up an object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and it is her first act of book thievery.

So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

I love The Book Thief because it taught me a lot about the time period in which it is set. It presents a different perspective to the one World War II is usually told from, giving the reader a chance to understand the similarities between the people living in this era. I liked it because it made me feel the emotions of the characters. Even though the narrator told you some of the events beforehand, this didn’t make the reading of those words hurt any less when the time came.

3. Empire of Storms
Written by Sarah J. Maas and illustrated by Talexi (cover)

Empire Of Storms

Blood will run. Dreams will shatter. An army will rise.

The assassin-queen has sworn not to turn her back on her kingdom again. Especially when she might be the only one who can raise an army to keep the Dark King from unleashing his beasts upon them all. But Erawen will wield Aelin’s past, her allies, and her enemies against her.

With a powerful court trusting Aelin to lead them, and her heart devoted to the warrior-prince at her side, what-or who-is she willing to sacrifice to spare her world from being torn apart.

Empire of Storms is the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series. It is one of my favourite books because everything I wanted to happen did. And after reading four other books in the series and a collection of novels, it was good to get everything I wanted from the book. I find Sarah J. Maas creates characters that are impossible not to get attached to and even more impossible to forget once you finish one of her books.

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Written by J. K. Rowling and illustrated by Jonny Duddle (cover)

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone

Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter ‘H’.

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rebus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

An incredible adventure is about to begin!

You rarely find a top five book list that doesn’t include the Harry Potter series. But the reason why this book is one of my top five favourite books is because when I was little, my dad read it to me. I remember every night we would sit down and he would read some to me until we eventually finished the whole series. Then later, when I read them for myself, I found I was very attached to the characters and could picture Harry, Ron, Hermione and all the others so clearly, as well as the settings in the books.

5. A Game of Thrones
Written by George R. R. Martin and illustrated by Larry Rostant (cover)

A Game Of Thrones

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must…and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

A Game of Thrones is the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire series. I love it because I found it very interesting to see how the show (which I watched first) compared to the book. I enjoyed the elaborate world and cast of characters George R. R. Martin has created and seeing how they are all connected. I liked trying to work out what was going to happen next and seeing how there could be so many possible outcomes, but having to narrow it down to the most likely. I had a lot of fun reading this book.

Thank you, Ellie for sharing your favourite books with us. Maybe she’s inspired you to try a new book or author!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb of the book.

 

Save our school libraries!

This week, on Twitter, there were two tweets about the decline of school libraries in the UK. The first was by Laura and chronicles the slow death of a secondary school library. Split across two sites, in 2014, it was staffed by two librarians. The following year, this was reduced to one part-timer working across both sites. After the librarian left in October 2016, the library was left without staff. Laura is a volunteer at the school and is trying hard to promote the library and to encourage staff and students to use it. In her tweet, she shares the borrowing statistics for the winter term across the four years. In 2014, there were 1508 issues. This fell to 665 in 2015 and 338 in 2016. Heartbreakingly, there have only been 48 issues this year. This clearly shows the effect having (and not having) trained staff has on children’s engagement with libraries. As Rachel Ward so eloquently put it in the ensuing conversation: “The numbers say it all, don’t they? It’s about reading, of course, but also about nurturing. I’ve seen how school librarians encourage and support students, and really help them to cope with school”.

Because trained staff…

Trained Staff

Summer Reading 2013 Kick Off by Chattanooga Public Library: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

a designated space filled with resources…

turns children into readers

Readers

Storytime by michel bish: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The alternative is an empty library

Empty Shelves

Empty Library by libraryonthemove: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The second tweet shared an article in the Guardian, which highlights the decline in school libraries, from which “an estimated 30% of the school librarian workforce has been lost” (Flood, 2017). An open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, has been signed by 150 people, including well-known and well-respected authors: Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Cressida Cowell and Roger McGough. The signatories are calling for an end to the cuts in staffing and the closure of school libraries. The statistics provided in Laura’s tweet are included in the letter and are used to highlight the slump in library usage across the country, resulting from a lack of staffing, and linking it to falling literacy levels: “It is the case that children are not receiving the support and encouragement they need in order to become readers” (quoted in Flood, 2017). Hopefully the letter will have the desired effect and the UK government will realise the folly in not making libraries mandatory in schools (as they are in prisons, a point made by Jo Clarke on Twitter).

The value of school libraries within a community cannot be underestimated. I think Matt Haig, who also signed the open letter, sums them up beautifully:

Children are reading and loving books as much as they ever did and school libraries and librarians are the perfect gatekeepers to help cultivate and sustain that early passion for books. Libraries turn a love of reading into something communal and their value is social and even psychological as well as academic. A good library is the beating heart of a school.

Matt Haig (quoted in Flood, 2017)

So please do what you can to save school libraries. They are empowering and magical places, because each day they turn children into readers.

National Non-Fiction November

National Non-Fiction November is a month-long “celebration of all things factual” (Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG), n.d.). It advocates for “all those readers that have a passion for information and facts and attempts to bring non-fiction celebration in line with those of fiction” (FCBG, n.d.). In this way, both reading for information and reading for imagination can result in children reading for pleasure. This year, the theme is The World Around Us and the FCBG’s website has lots of ideas and resources for promoting non-fiction in schools and libraries.

To celebrate Non-Fiction November, I pulled out a book, Wildlife in Towns (written by Cathy Kilpatrick), that I was given as a prize for “general progress” when I was in primary school. Published in 1976, it was a good choice for a child who loved animals and birds, but who lived in inner London surrounded by bricks and concrete. Looking through it, I realised how much non-fiction for children has changed over the last 40 years.

Wildlife In Towns

Wildlife in Towns, written by Cathy Kilpatrick

The book is very text-heavy, with pages filled with writing interspersed with black and white photos and a couple of pages of colour pictures. It looks and feels more like a textbook, which was probably not uncommon in the 1970s. Whilst I loved it, it is not an enticing book for a reluctant reader. Nor is it likely to attract the attention of a child browsing the shelves of a library or bookshop.

So I went to my local library and borrowed a selection of non-fiction books from the children’s section. I chose those about animals to see how they compared to my wildlife book (and by happenstance, this is also the theme for 2017’s Non-Fiction November). And I unearthed some real beauties.

A Seed Is Sleepy

A Seed is Sleepy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long

Like A Seed is Sleepy, most of the books I found contain illustrations rather than photographs, making them very appealing to young children. They have a picture book quality to them, which is enticing. The variety of artistic styles and ‘looks’ make for an interesting, rather than a homogenous, non-fiction collection.

Creaturepedia

Creaturepedia, written and illustrated by Adrienne Barman

Creaturepedia is published by Wide Eyed Editions, which “creates original non-fiction for children and families and believes that books should encourage curiosity about the world we live in, inspiring readers to set out on their own journey of discovery” (The Quarto Group, 2017). Another beautiful book from their catalogue is Atlas of Animal Adventures. This includes a double-page illustration on honeybees, containing snippets of interesting information about these creatures so familiar to me from long summer days in England.

Atlas Of Animal Adventures

Atlas of Animal Adventures, illustrated by Lucy Letherland and written by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins

This approach, which differs greatly from my 1970s wildlife book, is a feature of today’s non-fiction for children. Images, either photos or illustrations, are peppered with sentences rather than paragraphs of information. It makes for a less overwhelming read for those who are learning or are less confident. It also encourages the use of pictures to make sense of the text, an important strategy for emergent readers. Another publisher that uses this approach very successfully is DK, with their Eyewitness series.

Mammal

Mammal, written by Steve Parker

Another means by which information is conveyed to young children in an appealing way is through the picture book format. Using storytelling alongside facts engages readers and allows adults to share a non-fiction book with children in the same way as they would a fiction book. This encourages the concept of reading for pleasure and demonstrates an acceptance of reading preferences. As I explored in an earlier post, when we view all forms of text as being equally important, all children come to see themselves as readers.

Just Ducks!

Just Ducks!, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

My journey into today’s world of non-fiction books for children has shown me how far publishing has come in four decades. There are many beautiful, interesting, informative and engaging books out there. Between their pages, images are balanced with words, much like in picture books, making them accessible to all and providing a doorway into a subject. These books will often lead to further exploration of a topic through more in-depth texts.

Big Picture Book Outdoors

Big Picture Book Outdoors, written by Minna Lacy and illustrated by Rachel Stubbs and John Russell

Finally there are a couple of non-fiction series that children particularly enjoy: Horrible Histories (along with Horrible Geography and Horrible Science) and The Magic School Bus. The former contains gory and unusual facts, presented in a humorous way, whilst the latter involves “wild field trips exploring a wide variety of science topics including invasive species, weather hazards, … brain and nervous system, and deep sea exploration” (Scholastic, 2017). Both cover a range of subjects, with something to interest everyone.

Welcome to the world of children’s non-fiction. It is a wonderful place to visit!

All images taken by the author.

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Games galore

This week is International Games Week, which celebrates all things ludic, including board games, card games and video games. It is “a great opportunity for public, school and academic libraries to introduce fun activities and raise awareness of the social and educational benefits of play” (Australian Library and Information Association, n.d.). As a starting point for developing a collection for a children’s library, here are some classic board games that have stood the test of time (plus a fabulous card game, which comes highly recommended by my nieces).

Cluedo

Reclusive millionaire Samuel Black’s been murdered in his mansion! Now, it’s up to you to crack the case! Question everything to unravel the mystery. Who did it? Where? And with what weapon? Ransack the mansion for clues, ask cunning detective questions and leave no card unturned. Solve the murder first to win! Fun twist on the classic mystery game features new characters and a two-player version!

For 2 to 6 players.

Ages 8 and up.

(Synopsis by Hasbro)

As well as the traditional version of the game, there is also Cluedo: Harry Potter edition for wizards and muggles to play. One of the students has vanished from Hogwarts and it is up to the players (eg. Harry and Hermione) to work out who did it (eg. Draco Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange), how (eg. the vanishing cabinet and mandrake) and where (eg. the owlery and the potions classroom). There are also different types of cards: allies, spells and the Dark Mark. Along with the ability to gain and lose house points, these help to make the game more enjoyable for Harry Potter fans. And for younger players, there is Cluedo Junior, where the mystery that needs to be solved is not a murder, but the case of the missing cake!

Monopoly

Monopoly

Monopoly by William Warby: CC BY 2.0

This version of the Monopoly game welcomes the Rubber Ducky, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Penguin into its family of tokens. Choose your token, place it on GO! and roll the dice to own it all! There can be only one winner in the Monopoly game. Will it be you?

For 2 to 8 players.

Ages 8 and up.

(Synopsis by Hasbro)

There are many versions of Monopoly, catering for a wide range of interests. These include Star Wars, Game of Thrones and London Olympics 2012. There are also regional versions, such the Australian one, which include local landmarks and tokens. As with Cluedo, there is a junior game. The edition I’ve played is based on a fairground with properties ranging from the balloon stand to the roller coaster.

Guess Who?

Guess Who?

035/365 by Brad Slavin: CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s the Guess Who? game-the original guessing game! This Guess Who? game goes back to the tabletop style boards, styled after the original, rather than handheld boards. Each player chooses a mystery character and then using yes or no questions, they try to figure out the other player’s mystery character. When they think they know who their opponent’s mystery character is, players make a guess. If the guess is wrong, that player loses the game! Players can also challenge opponents to a series of games in the Championship Series, where the first player to win 5 games is the Guess Who? champion.

For 2 players.

Ages 6 and up.

(Synopsis by Hasbro)

Guess Who? enables younger children to develop higher order thinking skills through logic and problem solving. This prepares them for playing more complex games like Cluedo. There are no additional editions of the game, but it is possible to download and print alternative character sheets, such as one based on The Littlest Pet Shop.

Scrabble

Scrabble

Scrabble by Jacqui Brown: CC BY-SA 2.0

Scrabble is the ultimate crossword game in which every letter counts. Grab your friends and take turns forming words on the board. After playing your turn, count the value of all the letters in every new word that you formed. Don’t forget the bonus points for placing letters on premium squares. Double letter! Triple word! It’s all about playing words on the high-scoring hotspots to get ahead. Played a Q on a triple-letter score? Your score just got a lot bigger. Use all your 7 tiles in one turn, and score a whopping 50 points in addition to your word score! Knowing the rules and a few tricks will help you to score more points and improve your chances of winning. At the end of the game, the player with the highest score wins.

For 2 to 4 players.

Ages 8 and up.

(Synopsis by Hasbro)

Whilst Scrabble is a great way of developing and expanding vocabulary, Junior Scrabble helps children to develop confidence in creating words from their seven random letters. In this version, the double-sided board means that novice players can begin by using the crosswords-style side, placing their tiles on the pre-formed words. As they become more experienced, they can flip the board and use the blank grid to make their own words. The scoring has also been simplified to prevent children from becoming overwhelmed.

Yahtzee

Yahtzee

Yahtzee by liz west: CC BY 2.0

A family favourite for over 40 years!  Throw the dice to build straights, full houses, five of a kind-YAHTZEE!

For 1 or more players.

Ages 8 and up.

(Synopsis by Hasbro)

I’ve played Animal Yahtzee by Haba, which is a simpler version of the original game. Instead of dots, the dice have animals on their faces: a snake, camel, tiger, elephant, monkey and parrot. As with Yahtzee, the aim is to throw combinations, such as three-of-a-kind, full house and, of course, Yahtzee! This is a great way of introducing younger children to  the timeless game.

Sorry!

Sorry!

Sorry by frankieleon: CC BY 2.0

Slide, collide and score to win the game of Sorry! Draw cards to see how far you get to move one of your pawns on the board. If you land on a Slide you can zip to the end and bump your opponents’ pawns-or your own! Jump over pawns and hide in your Safety zone while getting powers with the 2 power-up tokens. Keep on moving and bumping until you get all three of your pawns from your color Start to your color Home. But watch out, because if you get bumped, Sorry! It’s all the way back to Start!

For 2 to 4 players.

Ages 6 and up.

(Synopsis by Hasbro)

As with most of the other games in this post, Sorry! is available in different versions. Sorry! Express is a travel edition, whilst Star Wars Sorry! is played on a Millennium Falcon game board.

Sleeping Queens

Rise and Shine! The Pancake Queen, the Ladybug Queen and ten of their closest friends have fallen under a sleeping spell and it’s your job to wake them up. Use strategy, quick thinking and a little luck to rouse these napping nobles from their royal slumbers. Play a knight to steal a queen or take a chance on a juggling jester. But watch out for wicked potions and dastardly dragons! The player who wakes the most queens wins.

For 2 to 5 players.

Ages 8 and up.

(Synopsis by Gamewright)

Gamewright, the makers of Sleeping Queens, has loads of great games. On their website, these are arranged by age, reflecting the complexity and length of each one. Examples include Elephant’s Trunk (ages 3 and up), Rat-a-Tat Cat (ages 6 and up), Frog Juice (ages 8 and up) and Forbidden Island (ages 10 and up). Having played a number of Gamewright games, I can highly recommend them.

Whilst researching this topic, I discovered a fabulous series of articles, Board in the Library, by John Pappas, a Library Branch Director from Philadelphia. He has a website, also entitled Board in the Library, which includes reviews of a wide range of board games and advice for hosting a games night. Although much of the information is aimed at an adult audience, it can be used as a starting point for selecting games for children and young adults to use in libraries. I had no idea there were so many interesting games out there!

More information about International Games Week can be found on the American Library Association website. There’s also a Puzzle Hunt based on games and play, which will be held online over five days. So thinking caps on everyone! Game on!!

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