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1. Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo

I was a kid running wild and free in the 1970s, and I find myself intrigued with the fiction written these days that takes place during that time period. It's a convenient time period, for sure. By this I mean that technology hadn't yet tethered us to our parents, and I'm assuming that most kids were like my sister and I -- running around the neighborhood and beyond with friends and coming home when we got hungry.

Raymie is a girl who isn't really noticed much by her parents. Her father has actually just up and left with a dental hygienist and Raymie's mom is spending her time staring into space. Raymie finds some comfort in neighbor Mrs. Borkowski who seems to know everything and always has time to talk to Raymie. She has also hatched a plan to get her father to come home.

Raymie has decided that she will enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire 1975 pageant. This will result in her picture in the newspaper. Her dad will be so proud of her, he'll have to come home. When Raymie tells her dad's secretary her plan, Mrs. Sylvester says Ramie just has to learn to twirl the baton as her talent.  This is how she ends up at Ida Nee's place for twirling lessons along with Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante -- two girls who couldn't be more different from one another.

Louisiana is a wheezy and delicate girl, prone to swooning, while Beverly is the tough talking daughter of a cop who swears that she's seen things. In between these two, Raymie Clarke is a steadfast girl just doing her best to understand others.

Over the next few days, Louisiana dubs their trio the Rancheros, and even though Beverly refuses to live by the moniker, it becomes clear that Louisiana often gets her way. As the girls search for Louisiana's beloved cat, perform good deeds, experience loss, and do a little breaking and entering along the way, they slowly reveal their worries to one another.  They become tied together by the brokenness that surrounds them.

As always, DiCamillo leaves poetry on the page. But this book felt different to me. I was talking to a colleague about it and I noted that it felt like it had a big dose of Horvath in the pages. Some have said the girls are too quirky and almost derivative. I disagree. When you look closely, kids are weird. And if they allow themselves to be honest with who they are, Beverlys and Louisianas and Raymies are completely reasonable. Trying to mend neglect with toughness or fantasy is innately human. I really enjoyed this quiet and quirky summery read. I do wonder at today's kids sitting with the 1975 setting. I'm interested in their feedback.

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2. The Scourge

The Scourge. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2016. Scholastic. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Few things were worth the risk to my life, but the juicy vinefruit was one of them. Even more so today because I was long past hungry. If I didn't eat something soon, my life was in danger anyway.

Premise/plot: Ani and Weevil are best, best friends who will face much DANGER together in Jennifer Nielsen's newest fantasy book, The Scourge. It has been hundreds of years since the plague--the scourge--has devastated their country. The scourge has left its mark on their history. And the fear of it has never completely gone away. Now, it seems, almost out of nowhere, the scourge is back. Those who test positive for the scourge are sent to an isolated island--a former prison--to live out the rest of their lives. Ani and Weevil end up there. (It's complicated to try to summarize). And they will spend most of their time a) trying to survive b) distinguishing between lies and truth c) trying to change the way things are.

My thoughts: If you love Shannon Hale's fantasy novels, you MUST read The Scourge. I greatly enjoyed this one. And I think it has a similar feel to some of Hale's novels. This one is, however, different from Nielsen's other series. It is perhaps slightly less action-packed than her previous books. And it is written from a female perspective.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi

To be honest, I was first drawn to this book because of the gorgeous cover. Who wouldn't fall for the jeweled toned rich hues suggesting autumn evenings wrapped up in cashmere? Then I noticed the girl, front and center oddley white except for a hint of a blush on her cheeks and gold toned eyes. I was curious.

Furthermore joined me on my journey upstate to my summertime reading retreat.  It's August pub date meant it wasn't the first book that I read, but I kept eyeing it as I pulled others from the shelf.  Clocking in at 393 pages, this is not a slight read, but once I started it, I put it down only to sleep.

Alice, almost twelve, is filled with anticipation for Ferenwood's annual Surrender. She is anxious for life to change, because frankly Alice's life hasn't been so easy lately.  Not only is Alice considered odd, even by Ferenwood's magical standards, her father is still missing.  Alice's father is the one who really cared for her and understood her despite her differences from everyone else in Ferenwood. He indulged her and listened to her. And now it was only Alice, her three little brothers and her mother.

 "Alice was beginning to realize that while she didn't much like Mother, Mother didn't much like her, either. Mother didn't care for the oddness of Alice; she wasn't a parent who was predisposed to liking her children." (p.10)

Because of her situation, the Surrender is more important to Alice than she can really say.  Ferenwood is a magical place, and everyone who resides there has magical gifts. The Surrender is the time when all the 12 year olds share their gifts upon the stage.  At the end of the surrender, only one child would be celebrated and given a task. The task is always an adventure of some sort and is rather secretive as well. This year there are 86 twelve-year-olds. Alice meeds to win the task in order to leave her home.

But Alice is odd, and she believes that in this magical world, her love of dance is her gift. After all her father always encouraged her to listen to the earth and to dance when she feels it.

Alas.

Alice's failure on the stage, however, is not the death knell for adventure. An acquaintance of hers named Oliver approaches her with a request. One that will bring her on the adventure of her life if she chooses to accompany him.

What follows is an adventure reminiscent of the Phantom Tollbooth, with a dash of Through the Looking Glass and a coming of age bent.  Furthermore is a place like no other. The orderly magic of Ferenwood is wild here, and the rules seem to change from town to town.  Will Oliver and Alice be able to find her father and bring him home?

This is a fantasy adventure that will keep readers on the edge of the page. Interestingly both Alice and Oliver are unlikeable at times for very different reasons which get slowly revealed as their adventure moves along. At first I was worried about the idea of Alice being white in the sea of color that is Ferenwood.  What did it mean? But it works in that it others Alice in a way but helps explain her own magic as the story unfurls. 

I enjoyed the voicey nature of Furthermore. Alice, though exasperating, is endearing as well. I was charmed by the chapter sections' headings as well as the fox! There is a cinematic aspect to Furthermore and I would *love* to see it on the big screen.

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4. Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Ms. Bixby's Last Day. John David Anderson. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rebecca Roudabush has cooties.

Premise/plot: Topher, Steve, and Brand are close friends who come together to give Ms. Bixby, their beloved teacher, the last day of her dreams. This middle grade novel is narrated by all three boys in alternating chapters. (Brand may possibly be my favorite. It's hard to say). Several chapters into the book, Ms. Bixby makes an announcement to the class: she has cancer. She'll be leaving within a week or two. They'll have a substitute for the remaining weeks in the year. But she leaves even earlier than intended and is, in fact, hospitalized. Three students take it upon themselves to visit her and bring the 'last day' party to her. True, the class made get well cards. But somehow that doesn't seem like enough. It is Ms. Bixby, after all, only the best teacher in the whole world. The teacher who reads The Hobbit out loud and gives all the different characters voices. The teacher who seems to see and know everything...even to understand everything.

It won't be easy to pull off this last day. All three will have to skip school for starters and pull together all their resources. They want a cheesecake, a bottle of wine, and some McDonald's french fries. And they're relying on many buses to get them there and back again. In some ways they're clueless and foolish. In other ways, just sweet with good intentions.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. I would have loved, loved, loved it but I didn't love all the bathroom 'boy' humor. I do appreciate, in a way, that there are funny parts in this one. I think humor really helps sell kids on reading. So I'd rather the book be 'just right' for kids than 'just right' for me as an adult.

I really enjoyed the characterization. It wasn't rushed and it was complex. The ending was predictable, but just right in a bittersweet way.

My favorite quotes:
"We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us. When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed. But somebody notices. Topher. Somebody sees. Somebody out there probably thinks you're the greatest thing in the whole world. Don't ever think you're not good enough." (232)

The truth is--the whole truth is--that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest. (293)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Mango & Bambang The Not a Pig

Mango & Bambang: The Not a Pig. Polly Faber. Illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. 2016. Candlewick. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Mango Allsorts was good at all sorts of things. That was not the same as being good, but she was that, too. Most of the time.

Premise/plot: Readers meet Mango and her new pet tapir, Bambang. In their first adventure together, "Mango and the Muddle," Mango discovers the not-a-pig tapir causing a lot of traffic problems. She recognizes him for what he is--a tapir and NOT A PIG. And she 'saves' the day, if you will, by removing him from the scene and taking him home with her. Since her father is both there and not-there, the two become quite close. There are four adventures in all. The other three being: "Bambang's Pool," "Bambang Puts On a Hat," and "The Song of the Tapir."

My thoughts: Loved this one. I did. It had a good chance of winning me at hello what with the purple stripes and the purple end pages. The illustrations by Clara Vulliamy were just adorable and perfectly complemented Polly Faber's text. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Mole and Rat: A chancing friendship

National Friendship Day was originally founded by Hallmark as a promotional campaign to encourage people to send cards, but is now celebrated in countries across the world on the first Sunday in August. This post celebrates the friendship of two of our favorite characters from classic literature, Rat and Mole from The Wind in the Willows.

The post Mole and Rat: A chancing friendship appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano

If there is one request I get from students the most it is, "Stacy! I want a scary book!" This is always tricky business, because invariably this question is not coming from an 8th grader. It's coming from a 4th-6th grader. And honestly, there aren't that many titles. This is one of the reasons I am so thankful for DeStefano.  I first got to know her through The Curious Tale of the In-Between, which is so absolutely creepy and scary in a subtle way. I am incredibly happy to have gotten my hands on The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, which is perhaps even scarier.

Lionel and Marybeth live with Mrs. Mannerd in a home for orphans. They are among the youngest in the home and couldn't seem more different from one another. Lionel is somewhat of an animal boy. He would rather eat with the animals and be outdoors with the animals than do anything as seemingly silly as eat at a table with untensils! Marybeth, on the other hand, has perfect manners, is a quiet child, and does things like brush her teeth and comb her hair without even being asked. While everyone else in the house thinks that Lionel is weird, Marybeth does not.

Marybeth often follows or accompanies Lionel out on his journeys into the woods to see the animals. Lionel often talks about the animals he is friends with, and just recently he has been talking about a fox with a blue coat that he saw but is unable to track. One rainy night, Marybeth sees a streak of blue running outside of her window. When she goes to wake Lionel, she is admonished and chased away by one of the older boys he shares a room with a decides that she will go track the animal on her own. She heads out into the dark and rainy night toward the river. As she plummets into the river she is surrounded by a blue light before she surfaces.

When Marybeth shows up back at Mrs. Mannerd's house at the end of the following day, everyone is relieved to see her alive. Lionel is one of the first to realize that the Marybeth that returned to the house is not the Marybeth who left. She is not wearing her glasses anymore, has not plaited her hair. When one of the older boys steals her breakfast because she is too slow, she does something that is decidedly not Marybeth. She lunges across the table and bites his neck!

What was that blue light in the water that surrounded Marybeth?  And how did it get inside of her?

What follows is an absolutely chilling tale of ghostly possession, friendship, madness and family. Moody and atmospheric, readers will be able to picture the settings and feel the tension and desperation Lionel feels as he tries to save his friend.

Breathtaking!

(Publishing 9/13/16)


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8. The Cafe Mystery

The Cafe Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #4) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: "Mmm, pastries!" said Maya. "Cakes and muffins! Yum," added Jerry. "Can you believe everything that's been happening in there?" asked Maya, gesturing toward Cafe Marzipan, Pleasant Valley's best bakery.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are kid detectives with a new toy: a digital camera. And that camera will come in handy for their next case. The bakery has suffered several robberies in the past year. No one has been able to figure out who the robber is. The robber just happens to hit every time there is a large amount of cash in the cash register. (An event that isn't all that common.) Can Jerry and Maya figure out which of the employees is working with the robber...and why?

My thoughts: I like this series. I do. I am enjoying spending time in Pleasant Valley. Jerry and Maya are very good at what they do.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. What does being a doctor mean to you?

Following on from this year’s Clinical Placement Competition, asking medical students “What does being a doctor mean to you?” – we are hoping to broaden our understanding of the medical profession, and appreciate exactly what being a doctor means in practice. What stories of highlights, difficulties, and uncensored advice can current doctors pass on, and how can we help those starting out?

The post What does being a doctor mean to you? appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. What does being a doctor mean to you?

Following on from this year’s Clinical Placement Competition, asking medical students “What does being a doctor mean to you?” – we are hoping to broaden our understanding of the medical profession, and appreciate exactly what being a doctor means in practice. What stories of highlights, difficulties, and uncensored advice can current doctors pass on, and how can we help those starting out?

The post What does being a doctor mean to you? appeared first on OUPblog.

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11. The Circus Mystery

The Circus Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #3) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2003/2015. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was summertime in the town of Pleasant Valley. The sun had been shining brightly all day, and a gentle breeze rustled through the leaves of the trees in town.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are two kids with a detective agency. A circus is coming to town. This circus has a bad reputation, however. Whatever towns the circus visits, a series of robberies and thefts occur. They have every reason to believe that their town will be no different, that the thief will rob people in the crowd. The police chief and Jerry and Maya attend both performances of the circus in order to see if they can solve the case.

My thoughts: I like this series well enough. Early chapter books are key in reading development. And who doesn't like a good series? Kids need series books; they need the predictability and the formulaic structure. I would definitely recommend the series.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Hotel Mystery

The Hotel Mystery. (Whodunit Detective Agency #2) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2002/2014. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Every year, on the day before Christmas Eve, nearly everyone in the little town of Pleasant Valley does the same thing: They all head to the holiday buffet at the town's hotel, where they find turkey, ham, roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes and gravy, all served on big platters in the beautiful dining room.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are friends and classmates who formed the Whodunit Detective Agency. Over Christmas vacation, these two are working at the town's hotel. (Jerry's uncle works there.) The hotel is in great excitement because the hotel's best and most expensive suite has been rented out to a family, the Braeburn family. Making the new guests HAPPY is to be their top priority. But their stay is not uneventful, and before the book ends, Jerry and Maya will need to solve a crime.

My thoughts: This is the second book in the Whodunit Detective Agency series. It is an early chapter book with a lot of colorful illustrations. These mysteries are simple and straightforward. The characters aren't exactly complex and intriguing. But. I think for the intended age group, these mysteries are fine reading material.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Diamond Mystery

Diamond Mystery (The Whodunit Detective Agency #1). Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2002/2014. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The streets were empty in the little town of Pleasant Valley.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are classmates and friends who have opened a detective agency out of Maya's basement. They live in the small, quaint town of Pleasant Valley. The book opens with Mohammed Caret hiring these two child detectives to find out who is stealing diamonds from his shop. Their cover will be that he has hired these two children to do some light cleaning and run a few errands for him. They meet the three employees that work for him. And after a day of close observation, they are ready to solve the case.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. It's an early chapter book. I'd say just about right for second graders. It's the first in a mystery series for children. It has been translated into English from the Swedish.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. First Day of School Jitters? Try Splat the Cat

First Day of School Jitters? Try Splat the Cat | Storytime Standouts

Storytime Standouts reviews Splat the Cat by Rob ScottonSplat the Cat by Rob Scotton
Picture book about starting school published by Harper Collins Publishers

There’s no doubt about it, going to school for the very first time can be nerve-wracking. It is no wonder that Splat is wide awake bright and early.

When mom opens his bedroom door, his first instinct is to pull the covers over his head. When that doesn’t work, Splat tries all sorts of tactics to delay leaving for school. He can’t find socks and his hair is a mess. One thing he knows for sure, having a friend in his lunchbox is certain to help. Splat pops Seymour the Mouse into his lunchbox and sets out to meet his new teacher and classmates.Splat the Cat spread

Mrs. Wimpydimple and Splat’s new classmates are very welcoming and soon Splat is full of questions. He is especially curious to know why cats chase mice! (A definite opportunity to introduce the concept of foreshadowing) When it is finally lunchtime, Splat opens his lunchbox and his small rodent friend, Seymour is suddenly the centre of attention – and not in a good way. Splat’s new classmates do exactly what readers will predict – the chase is on!

Engaging, playful illustrations provide many details for young children to notice and enjoy. A mostly grey and black color palette is highlighted with vibrant yellow and red details that pop off the page. Those who are able to read will love the signs in the storefront windows and Mrs. Wimpydimple’s blackboard illustrations.


Harper Collins has some terrific Splat the Cat printables for children to enjoy.

Splat the Cat at Amazon.com

Splat the Cat at Amazon.ca



Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read

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15. An interview with Hiding Heidi’s Fiona Woodcock

HidingHeidi Heidi is exceptionally good at hiding. She can blend in anywhere!

Kind friends know Heidi’s amazing skill and let her win whenever they play hide-and-seek, but is hiding away really the best way to have fun with your friends? What might they be good at? What might they most enjoy doing?

Fiona Woodcock‘s playful and stylish début, Hiding Heidi is a lovely exploration of friendship and thinking of others. Heidi’s delightful friends help her learn that you don’t always have to be the best at something to enjoy it, especially when you know your friends are having a good time too.

Mixing the delight of spotting Heidi in her various hiding places, with fresh and joyful illustrations and a story perfect for fostering kindness and understanding, Hiding Heidi is an uplifting read. To celebrate its publication this month I recently caught up with Fiona Woodcock and asked her a few questions about her journey to becoming a published illustrator. I’m really pleased to share our conversation with you today.

Portrait of Fiona Woodcock taken by Sandy Suffield, in front of a painting by John Hoyland at the Newport Street Gallery.

Portrait of Fiona Woodcock taken by Sandy Suffield, in front of a painting by John Hoyland at the Newport Street Gallery.

Playing by the book: Wanting to draw was in your fingertips from an early age I believe – can you tell me a bit about your early art making experiences? How were you encouraged? What experiences were particularly informative and encouraging?

Fiona Woodcock: I was always drawing as a child and my parents found it hard to get me to stop and read instead. At primary school I was selected along with two other budding artists from each class to join a lunchtime art club. We exhibited our work in the local library. So from a young age, being creative formed my identity really.

I would also add that, not only was I always drawing as a child, I did a lot of looking too (or some might say staring!) But I think that being observant and taking everything in is a big part of being creative.

One of my earliest collaborative art making experiences must have been at a preschool class when I was about 3 or 4. We had to screw up pieces of coloured tissue paper which were poked into a huge polystyrene board. The end result was an image of Alice in Wonderland, which I remember being utterly amazed by.

A family snap of Fiona and her brother. This photo inspired the climbing frame spread in Hiding Heidi (see below)

A family snap of Fiona and her brother. This photo inspired the climbing frame spread in ‘Hiding Heidi’ (see below)

Playing by the book: I really love your comment about the importance of observation. I’m sure this was something you developed further whilst studying – can you tell us a bit about your course at the Glasgow School of Art? How much illustration – and children’s book illustration in particular – was part of the course?

Fiona Woodcock: I studied Graphic communication at Glasgow School of Art, which I loved as it was very drawing and ideas based. It was there that I got into animation – I just loved making my drawings move.

There was a lot of drawing on the course, we’d draw on location every week in places like Kelvingrove Art Gallery, The Transport Museum and The Botanical Gardens. And went on an amazing field trip to Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

Sketchbook detail from Fiona's Glasgow School of Art trip to Uist

Sketchbook detail from Fiona’s Glasgow School of Art trip to Uist

Whilst at Glasgow I did a couple of book projects, but not specifically children’s books. I always enjoyed the challenge of sequential images, which is probably why I was also fascinated by animation.

After graduation, I came to London and sought out illustrative animation projects. It became clear that my favourite aspect of the animation process was the design / illustration and so my route into illustration came that way.

Playing by the book: I’d love to know about about your process for making the art in ‘Hiding Heidi’ – including the materials you used, the research you did. What would your top tips be for kids who wanted to have a go at creating art inspired by ‘Hiding Heidi’?

Fiona Woodcock: My process for ‘Hiding Heidi’ started with lots of pencil sketches to help refine the characters. I like to draw on animation paper, it’s a habit I can’t get out of. In some cases I’d use the initial pencil drawings for the final artwork as the redrawn version would loose the expression and energy of the original sketch.

I created the colour work by cutting my own rubber stamps and printing with ink pads to create textured shapes of colour. I also cut stencils and used charcoal and children’s blo-pens. Then everything is composited in the computer and endlessly tweaked.

This shows the print and stencilled colour work, which is combined with charcoal tone and pencil work. You can also see here an early concept image for the stairs spread from the book

This shows the print and stencilled colour work, which is combined with charcoal tone and pencil work. You can also see here an early concept image for the stairs spread from the book.

The way I work has evolved from lots of playful experimentation and I’d encourage children who wanted to create Heidi inspired art to do the same. They could try doing simple potato prints to create imagined places for Heidi to hide in and add extra drawn details. Or use stickers and collage to create their own patterned sofa to hide Heidi on. But essentially just play, that’s how great surprises happen!

An interior spread from 'Hiding Heidi'. Inspired by the earlier family snap (see above).

An interior spread from ‘Hiding Heidi’. Inspired by the earlier family snap (see above).

Playing by the book: Yes, playful exploration! My sort of thing 😉 Is there a secret hidden in the illustrations for ‘Hiding Heidi’ that you’d be prepared to share with us?

Fiona Woodcock: There are a couple of very subtle things to spot on the boating lake scene on the last page, which are different to the other earlier illustration of the boating lake. An indication that even though Heidi is still camouflaged, something has changed. But I’m not going to say, it’s just there for the most observant of readers!

Playing by the book: Brilliant! We’ll all be going back to take a closer look now :-)I love your celebration of a playful approach when it comes to making art. On my blog it’s all about the play inspired by the books we’ve read. What’s the last thing you did (other than creating illustrations) inspired by a book you loved?

Fiona Woodcock: I was very inspired by Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. It reminded me about the wonderful fabric drawings and cloth books by Louise Bourgeois, which has lead me to hatch a plan do some bold graphic fabric based creation myself.

Playing by the book: What a great idea – I can easily imagine your eye for colour and design coming up with some fabulous fabric prints. I do hope your plans come to fruition!

What’s up next for you on the book front? And do you have any time to work on animation at the moment?

Fiona Woodcock: I’m presently working on my second author illustrated book with Simon and Schuster called ‘Bloom’, which will be out next year, and there are other exciting projects that I will be sharing soon too! I’m devoting most of my time at the moment to developing books, so I’m not able to take on any big animation projects, but I really enjoyed working with some friends to produce this short animated trailer for the book.

***********************************************

I’m indebted to Fiona for her generous answers and insight today. I hope you’ve enjoyed our interview, and will seek out Hiding Heidi. It’s given us lots of ideas for project we’d like to try at home – from making sunflower hats (inspired by this), holding bouncy hopper races, making simple boats to sail to the river this holiday, and reading an old, related favourite, Halibut Jackson by David Jackson, to trying our own version of Liu Bolin’s invisibility art!

And here’s some TERRIFIC news! Like the sound of Hiding Heidi? Well… I have one SIGNED HARDBACK to giveaway – and this time the giveaway is international!

  • This giveaway is open WORLDWIDE
  • To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post
  • For extra entries you can:

    (1) Tweet about this giveaway, perhaps using this text:
    Win a signed hardback of @FionaWoodcock’s ‘Hiding Heidi’! To enter just leave a comment here: http://www.playingbythebook.net/2016/07/22/fiona-woodcock/ Worldwide,ends 29/7

    (2) Share this giveaway on your Facebook page or blog

    You must leave a separate comment for each entry for them to count

  • The winner will be chosen at random using random.org
  • The giveaway is open for one week, and closes on Friday 29 July 2016 23.59pm UK time. I will contact the winner via email. If I do not hear back from the winner within one week of emailing them, I will re-draw as appropriate
  • Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

    Find out more about Fiona on her website or on Twitter:
    http://fionawoodcock.com
    @FionaWoodcock)

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    16. White Fur Flying

    White Fur Flying. Patricia MacLachlan. 2013. 116 pages. [Source: Library]

    I really enjoyed Patricia MacLachlan's White Fur Flying. I loved Zoe and her family. Her mom rescues dogs--Great Pyrenees--fostering them until they can find forever homes. Her dad is a veterinarian, I believe. He brings home a parrot one day that is in need of a home. The parrot was--and this is very surprising to me--one of the highlights of the book. In fact, without the parrot, I don't think this novel would work as well, be as emotionally moving. She has a sister, Alice, who is always talking, telling stories, writing poems and stories, etc. Zoe's own character is revealed slowly throughout the book. Kodi, the other "family member" is a dog--Great Pyrenees, of course. He likes having other dogs around, and doesn't mind them coming and going.

    So. The novel opens with the family watching the new neighbors move in. They haven't officially--or even unofficially--met the new family yet. And so some are quite busy making up stories about who they are, and why they're moving. Phillip is a boy around 9 or 10 that is moving in next door. He's the quiet type. The really-super-quiet and choosing-not-to-talk-at-all type. But that doesn't keep Kody and Alice and the other dogs from wanting to make friends with him....

    Why is Phillip so silent? Will befriending dogs "save" him and help him reconnect with the world again?

    This one is predictable enough--if you're an adult reader especially. I can't say honestly whether or not I would have found it predictable enough as a child. For one thing, if a book had a dog on the cover, I wouldn't read it because I was afraid the dog might die. Even though it might be on the slightly-predictable side. I found it very high on the feel-good side. I liked the way the book made me feel, especially at the end when Alice shares her poem. I think that is worth noting. Predictable does not always equal "bad."

    © 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    17. Lowriders to the Center of the Earth - a review

    Lowriders to the Center of the Earth
    Written by Cathy Camper
    Illustrated by Raúl the Third

    They're back!

    The impala - Lupe Impala, master mechanic
    The mosquito - Elirio Malaria, the finest detail artist around
    The octopus - El Chavo Flapjack Octopus, washcloth-wielding polisher of the Lowriders in Space Garage

    If you think lowriders are impractical, think again.  When the three amigos from the Lowriders in Space Garage go in search of their missing cat, their rocket-powered lowrider is just what they need.  In this second book in the series, the three friends journey to the center of the earth and face off against a trickster coyote, an Aztec God, and other legendary Mexican and Aztec foes.   As in the first book, they do it with humor, brains, and style—lowrider style—bajito and suavecito (low and slow).

    Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is so visually cool, that it looks more like an older brother's indie comic book than a middle grade graphic novel. Raúl the Third uses red, black, and blue ink on sepia pages, and creates expressive faces, wild action, and hidden humor. The illustrations have a distinctly Mexican flair and invite the reader into the culture.  His art is a perfect complement to Cathy Camper's hilarious wordplay. It's difficult to imagine that kids can learn Spanish, geology, ancient Aztec culture,  Mexican culture, and the virtue of teamwork by reading a book that screams divertido (fun) but they can!  Camper's dialogue is sharp and witty, and even features bilingual puns, as in this exchange between Lupe and the trickster coyote.

    "Have you seen our cat?"
    "Knock knock."
    "Who's there?"
    "Señor."
    "Señor who?"
    "Señor cat?  I don't think so."
    ¡Ja, ja, ja!

    This book may be even better than the first!



    My copy of the book was provided by the publisher at my request when my LibraryThing copy went missing in the mail.

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      18. Mother-Daughter Book Camp, by Heather Vogel Frederick

      The girls are back! It's their last summer together before heading off to their various colleges and Jess (and her mom) have convinced the girls that a summer being counselors at Camp Lovejoy. Jess had gone there when she was younger, as had her mom and her aunt.  Most of the girls were up for it, but Megan needed some convincing. She did have her offer of a fashion internship, but she has been reassured that she will be able to take advantage of it another time. So, here they are, piled in the minivan, driving through the pouring rain to New Hampshire.

      The girls are excited because they have figured out that Jess and Emma are going to be co-counselors to the youngest girls, Becca and Megan will be co-counselors for the eight year olds, and Cassidy volunteered to be a co-counselor with another girl named Amanda to the nine year olds. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. It turns out that there has been a change. A counselor who had planning on coming to camp had a family emergency, and now Jess is moving up and Emma is going to be co-counselors with...Felicia! Felicia Grunewald, Jess' cousin. Immediately Emma knows that this is going to be one disastrous summer.

      And summer certainly has its' bumps. The youngest campers are beyond homesick, Emma is still heartbroken over breaking up with Stewart, and Cassidy seems to be rubbing stalwart head counselor Marge Gearhart the wrong way. Plus there is Felicia with her sackbut (look it up!) to contend with.

      The shenanigans you'd expect in a summer camp novel are all here, complete with a boy's camp across the lake, pranks and competitions. The girls bring their bookclub to their campers as a way to ease their homesickness.  The book of choice this time is Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

      All in all this is a fun ending to a great series. The girls are put in the mothering role and rise to the occasion. Their parents make appearances midway through camp as well as through letters and phone calls. Readers will be able to figure out that Vogel Frederick was a camper herself, and many of the happenings at Camp Lovejoy were mined from her own experiences. I do have to say, I think that a few of the traditions that are at Camp Lovejoy would not actually fly at a camp today -- specifically the one involving the peanuts. That said, these things weren't make or break moments for me.

      This will be a treasured series for many, many years to come. I have had students read through all of them as well as the books that the girls read in their book club. We *never* have the full series on the shelf at once and this is a series that kids recommend to each other all the time. If your kid didn't take this book to camp, mail it on out!

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      19. Every Child Needs Sad Books

      0 Comments on Every Child Needs Sad Books as of 6/30/2016 9:53:00 PM
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      20. Be A Friend

      Be A Friend. Salina Yoon. 2016. Bloomsbury. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

      First sentence: Dennis was an ordinary boy...who expressed himself in extraordinary ways.

      Premise/plot: Dennis (aka "Mime Boy") is lonely until he finds someone who really, truly gets him. Her name is Joy. And they can be friends without saying a single word. So long as they can use jazz hands to laugh together!

      My thoughts: I love this one. I do. It is cute, sweet, and true. What a celebration of friendship...and imagination...and being true to yourself. My favorite line: There was no wall between Dennis and Joy. It was more like a mirror.

      Do watch the Emily Arrow song.

      Text: 4.5 out of 5
      Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
      Total: 9 out of 10

      © 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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      21. Blitzed by Robert Swindells

      This post was originally posted in 2012, but something odd happened on Blogger and it had to be reposted.

      It is 2002 and Georgie Wetherall loves two things - knowing all about England in World War II and creeping. Creeping?  That is when you “streak across a row of back gardens, over fences, through hedges, across veg patches...without getting caught or recognized.” (pg13)  And he especially likes leaving Miss Coverley’s garden is shambles.  Georgie knows she doesn’t like him - she's always watching him.  So when he has to repair her fence post as punishment for his last creeping adventure, Georgie discoveres she watches him - it seems he reminds her of someone, but who?

      All this is forgotten, however, when Georgie’s class goes on a trip to Eden Camp, a former POW camp turned into a WW 2 museum of 29 huts each dedicated to one aspect of the war.  Hut 5 is a realistic replica of a bombed street in London during the Blitz.  The sounds and smells add to the realistic atmosphere - but wait, it is perhaps a little too realistic.  In fact, Georgie suddenly finds himself transported back to wartime London.

      Finding himself faced with the real deal, cold, hungry, lost and scared, Georgie wanders around until he finds a friendly searchlight crew who give him something to eat.  After living through a night of bombing in a public shelter, Georgie notices four kids emerging from a bombed out pub.  He and the kids start talking and they tell him he can stay with them as long as Ma approves.  Ma turns out to be a 14 year-old girl who watches over orphaned kids in the pub's basement.

      Ma has a job in a second hand shop owned by what she believes to be is a Jewish refugee from Germany called Rags.  But when Georgie discovers a radio transmitter locked in one of the shops upstairs rooms, the kids begin to suspect that maybe Rags isn't who they think he is.  And they decide to find out exactly what he is up to with that radio transmitter.  Trouble is, Rags begins to suspect Ma of snooping in his stuff and decides to find out what she is up to.  So, Georgie, along with Ma and the other orphans, is on a wartime adventure he never dreamt possible.

      I liked this coming of age time travel story.  It is told in the first person, and the author maintains the voice of a 12 year-old boy throughout, giving it an authentic quality - quick, witty, full of colloquialisms from 2002 that are questioned by the folks from 1940.  I also found Georgie's reaction to his predicament refreshing.  In most time travel stories, kids end up in a different time and place and seem to assimilate so easily.  But for Georgie, it isn't just a jolly adventure.  He worries throughout about not getting home, not seeing his parents again.  As wartime London loses its romanticized aura and becomes reality, it causes Georgie to experience real reactions like throwing up more than once and even wetting himself at one point.

      But it is also a story of survival, complete with a cast of orphan characters right out of Charles Dicken's London, who become Georgie's family away from family, helping him adjust and carry on. And most importantly, helping him see the reality of war.

      Blitzed is a fast paced but wonderful book.  The chapters are only a few pages long, but the events are exciting, making it an ideal book for a reluctant readers and certainly one that would appeal to boys as well as girls.

      This book is recommended for readers age 10+
      This book was purchased for my personal library

      You can hear Robert Swindells speaking about Blitzed here.  It is on YouTube but the embed function is disengaged.

      And there really is an Eden Camp in Yorkshire, so if you happen to be in England and would have an interest in visiting (you might want to go to Yorkshire anyway, it is a wonderful place to see.)  Information about visiting can be found here

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      22. The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

      I always look forward to books by Kate Messner. Why? Because I know they will be solid, kid centered and bring something to the table. I had read online that she had recently been disinvited to a school due to the content of her latest book.  I quickly went to my TBR pile and pulled out my copy to give it a go.

      Charlie's sister Abby is home from college for the weekend and things aren't going exactly like Charlie had imagined they would.  When she goes to wake Abby up to see if she will come out to look at the lake with her just in case the ice flowers have shown up again, Abby waves her off telling her to just go away. Somewhat chagrinned, Charlie trudges out to the lake only to see that the ice flowers have come back. Her neighbor Drew and his nana are also out on the lake but they are checking the ice for fishing possibilities. Drew tells Charlie about the fishing derby he plans on entering and the prize of $1000 for the biggest lake perch. Since Charlie really wants a new dress for her Irish dancing competitions, she decides to give it a go.

      But despite living near the lake, Charlie is scared of its winter ice. So when she joins Drew and his nana, she sticks closer to shore. Soon everyone is landing fish left and right except for Charlie. When she finally pulls one in, it's hardly bigger than the bait she used to catch it. But right before she releases it she hears something. The fish is talking to her. "Release me and I will grant you a wish."

      Well, what would you do? Charlie hastily wishes on her crush liking her and to not be afraid of the ice anymore. What harm could wishing on a fish really do?

      Anyone who has read a fairy tale knows that wishes can easily go awry. And Charlie's wishes are no exception. While no harm is truly done, Charlie finds herself out on the ice more and more  (since she miraculously is no longer afraid of the ice) with Drew and his nana. Not only is it adding to her feis dress fund, but it's getting her out of the house. It turns out that Abby has changed in ways that Charlie never even imagined. While she was away at school, she started dabbling in drugs which led to a full blown heroin addiction. Who can Charlie even talk to about this? When she thinks about it, she feels ashamed and bewildered. How could Abby, who she had always looked up to, done this?

      Kate Messner has written an important book that somewhat gently looks at the fact that anyone can be swiftly taken down by drugs, and specifically by opiates. I live on Staten Island where opiate abuse and heroin are at an all time high.  I commute to Manhattan with my children, and by the time they were 9 and 12 respectively they could tell the difference between someone napping and someone in a nod. They have witnessed police using narcan on people who have OD'd in the ferry terminal. They watched me try to convince the friends of a woman in the throws of an OD to allow me to call an ambulance for her. Kids aren't too young for this story. My kids are living this story everyday they commute. And the brothers and sisters of kids all over our Island are living Charlie's story.  So I would like to applaud Kate Messner for telling this story. It is one I plan on sharing and book talking whenever I get the chance.

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      23. Save Me A Seat - an audiobook review

      Save Me a Seat
      by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
      Read by Josh Hurley and Vikas Adam

      This is a perfect middle grade novel for highlighting how easily one can mischaracterize another's words or actions.  It's also an inside look at the immigrant and disability experience.  Teachers, you should read this one and share it with your students!

      I reviewed Save Me a Seat for AudioFile Magazine.  The book spans only five days in fifth grade, the first week of school at Einstein Elementary School in Hamilton, NJ.  Its sections are titled with the school lunch of the day —Chicken Fingers, Hamburgers, etc., and chapters alternate between Joe, a boy with auditory processing disorder (APD) and Ravi, a recent immigrant from India.  Both boys are targets of the school bully—Joe, because of his disability, and Ravi because of his heavily accented English (which he himself cannot hear) and his family's style of food, dress, and manners.

      Although Ravi was a favored, top-ranked student in his native Bangalore, India, his accent and lack of knowledge about his new country land him in the resource room at Einstein Elementary.  Joe also visits the resource room to learn coping skills for his APD. Initially, Ravi views Joe with disdain —mistaking the outward signs of his disability for stupidity.

      In each chapter, the boys recount the same scene, allowing the reader or listener to fully understand how our perception of an event is shaped by our cultural, family, and personal background.  I'm sure that the printed book is wonderful as well, but the use of dual narrators in the audiobook really hammers home the differing perspectives.


      Read my complete review of Save Me a Seat for AudioFile Magazine here. (An audio excerpt is also available at the same link, however, it only features the character Ravi, read by Vikas Adam.)

      Read other reviews of Save Me a Seat and an interview with the authors at Sarah Weeks' website. 

      I recently began working in a library with many new Indian-American families, and reading Save Me a Seat was enlightening. The challenges involved in adapting to a new country are many and cannot be overlooked. I'm so glad I listened to this one!


      http://weneeddiversebooks.org/

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      24. Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson, 300pp, RL 4


      When Ms. Bixby announces that she is very sick and won't be able to finish out the last weeks of the school year (or even finish the last 20 pages of the class read aloud, The Hobbit) Brand, Steve and Topher decide that they want to give her a proper last day. That's the nutshell summary of John David Anderson's newest novel, Ms. Bixby's Last Day. I knew that this wasn't going to be an easy read, but there was no way I was not going to read (and love) Ms. Bixby's Last Day, tissue box by my side. Anderson's book is a surprise, a delight and a reminder of why I work with kids, how a teacher (or other thoughtful adult) can make a powerful, even if seemingly small at the time, impact on a child's life and how valuable it is to be reminded of this by a work of art. But will kids want to read it?

      That's what I wondered as I pored over every page - exactly who would I recommend this book to? One thing that I especially love (among many) about Ms. Bixby's Last Day is the fact that the story is told by three narrators, all sixth grade boys. In this age of (slouching toward) equality, it is a challenge to find a middle grade novel featuring all boy or all girl protagonists. The formula, for fantasy, anyway, is always boys and girls, with boys usually as the main character - think Harry, Ron and Hermione or Percy, Grover and Annabeth. It's a genuine treat to hear the voices of three different boys over the course of 300 pages. Anderson has created three characters, each of whom, to varying degrees, has things going on at home that make Ms. Bixby's unique attention so meaningful. Topher is a gifted artist who misses the way his family was before the birth of his little sister and his mom's return to the workforce. Steve, who once memorized every country (and capital, population and official language) for fun, feels inferior to his older sister, a perfectionist who meets their parents's high standards. Then there is Brand, the quiet, driving force of this trio and the feat they try to pull off while ditching school one Friday. Raised by his dad, Brand's life changed drastically when his father was paralyzed by an accident at work and his will to get back on his feet, metaphorically and literally, disappeared. 

      Topher, who has classified teachers into six categories, puts Ms. Bixby into the "Good Ones" column - the kind of teachers who you "find yourself actually paying attention in class, even if it's not art class. They're the teachers you actually want to fo back an say hi to the next year. The ones you don't want to disappoint." Ms. Bixby has a talent for recognizing, valuing and nurturing what is special in her students and also for making them think. When the class is deprived of the chance to say goodbye to Ms. Bixby because the treatment for her pancreatic cancer has been pushed up, Brand, Steve and Topher decide to ditch school and take the bus to the hospital to see her. Armed with a special knowledge of how Ms. Bixby would spend her last day on earth (this was a writing prompt she gave her students, one of whom asked her what she would do) the boys carry backpacks, cash, a picnic blanket, a wine glass and more with them as they stop to try to buy the things they need for the special day and meet with obstacles they never saw coming. As Ms. Bixby's Last Day unfolds, each boy narrating part of their odyssey to make it from school to the hospital downtown, Anderson reveals things about their lives and their relationships with Ms. Bixby. He also throws in some tension between the friends along with more than a few hilarious scenes and suspenseful twists as well. Ms. Bixby's Last Day is, as Anderson says in his acknowledgements, a quiet book. There is more reflection than action, but Anderson's story telling style is masterful, with hints to meaningful moments that are revealed powerfully in later pages or chapters. Although a quiet book, Ms. Bixby's Last Day is always moving forward with Steve, Brand and Topher as they make their way to room 428 in St. Mary's Hospital.

      So who will I recommend Ms. Bixby's Last Day book to when school starts up again in August? I'm still not sure. But, during the last week of June I was sorting discarded library books to give away and a coworker's daughter, who just finished 7th grade and is quiet and a bit shy, was helping me. I asked her what she likes to read and she responded adventure stories, real life, no fantasy. I pulled  a few books off the shelf for her and we sat and read, waiting for people to come to the book give away. A couple of middle school boys zipped by on their bikes and stopped to talk to me, getting a little goofy when they saw my helper. They circled around on their bikes showing off and my helper and I talked about how dumb middle school boys can be. Then I told her about the book I was reading, Ms. Bixby's Last Day, and how it started off with sixth grade boys talking about cooties and being goofy and how they wanted to visit their sick teacher. Later, as we were packing up the leftover books, she surprised me (mostly because of our discussion about dopey boys) by asking if she could borrow my copy of Ms. Bixby's Last Day. I gave her my Advance Readers Copy with the promise that she send a note to work with her mom in August telling me how she liked it. 

      Source: Review Copy

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      25. The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst


      I do not think it's at all easy to capture the way children think, their logic, the black and white way that they see the world, on the pages of a picture book. Yet with her debut, The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head, which is a mix of straightforward storytelling and, as Cory Doctorow said in his review, "pure pinkwaterian nonsense," Daisy Hirst has done exactly that, creating a picture book that is immediately embraceable and ultimately unforgettable.



      Isabel is The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head and Simon, who is "very good with newts," is her friend. Until he moves away. Hirst's writing is both simple and powerful as she describes how Isabel copes with this change. 

      For a while Isabel hated everything. The parrot went to sit on top of the wardrobe. Until Isabel felt quiet inside and decided to like being on her own.

      Isabel did not need friends because she had a parrot on her head and a SYSTEM. 

      Isabel's system involves sorting her things. One aspect of Hirst's visual story telling style that I love is her choice to color in some things and leave other things as line drawings. Mostly, the line drawings are used for Isabel's toys, but also for what are abstract, imaginary items, like THE DARK and that one, nagging thing that just might be "too big for the system." The wolf. 




      Isabel heads out on her scooter, her parrot flying behind, to find a box big enough for this wolf. But when she does, she discovers that there is already something inside the perfect box. A boy. Chester, who was planning on using the box for a den ("Why not a castle?" "Why not an ostrich farm? Or a space station next to the moon?" Isabel asks) but listens as Isabel tells him about her wolf troubles. Chester takes a reasonable approach with the wolf and the results are marvelous.



      Hirst ends The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head with a new beginning as Isabel and Chester, who "has a way with umbrellas and tape," get busy with their space station, which "really needed two astronauts and a parrot with a teacup on its head."

      Daisy Hirst's second picture book comes out in the US in November of this year and I can't wait to get my hands on it. The title alone is fantastic! Alphonse, That is Not OK To Do! is the story of monster siblings. Natalie is a patient, mostly tolerant older sister until she finds Alphonse eating her favorite book.




      Source: Review Copy

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