Wednesday, 31 December 2014

It's a Book by Lane Smith

This is a charming and delightful picture book.

A tech-savvy donkey quizzes a monkey about the object which so engrosses him. “Do you blog with it?” the donkey says. “No, it’s a book,” the monkey explains. This only makes the donkey’s exasperation keener: Where’s the mouse? Does it need a password? Can you make the characters fight? Can it text, tweet, toot? No, none of that, the monkey explains, and then Monkey hands the book to the donkey.

The book, it turns out, is “Treasure Island,” though, this isn’t explicitly announced to the reader, but must be inferred from a quotation. The tech-savvy donkey, at first, is unimpressed by the word rich book and quickly suggests a reduced text-message version of the famous sequence he has just read: 
“LJS: rrr! K? lol! .
JIM: : ( ! : )”
Then, in a memorable two-page spread, the donkey reads the book. A clock runs above him, counting out the hours. The donkey's fascination with the book is expressed with wonderful caricatural economy, first puzzlement, then absorption and at last the special quality of readerly happiness: a mind lost in a story.
It's a Book doesn't attempt to claim that books are superior to technology, nor does it suggest that they can compete with computers or screens.What it does is demonstrate that they do something else. The message is that even in a world of internet and smartphones, the book still has its place and still retains its own special and irreplaceable magic.
This would be the perfect text to use as a stimulus for a discussion which compares and contrasts 'old' technology with 'new' technology. 
Lane Smith is probably best known in the UK as the illustrator of Jon Scieska's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Claude in the Country by Alex T Smith - Review

Claude is an adorable young fiction character created by talented author/illustrator, Alex T Smith. Claude is a dog or more precisely, as we are told in the book, 'a small, plump dog who wears a beret and a very dashing jumper.'

Claude in the Country is the 4th in the series. However, it can be read as a stand alone book. The stories do not have to be read in order.

Claude and his trusty companion Sir Bobblysock (who is of course a sock) decide to spend the day in the countryside to try and overcome Claude's boredom. It's not long before they stumble across a farm and meet a charming farmer. Young children will love the fact that she is called 'Mrs Cowpat'.  There is a country fair taking place on her farm that afternoon and Mrs Cowpat has a lot to do. Claude and Sir Bobblysock help. They collect eggs; round up sheep; exercise the horses; and wash the pigs. Then the fair starts. However, one of the judges is chased by a very angry bull. Claude saves the day by lassoing the bull and capturing it. After all the excitement, Claude and Sir Bobblysock return home for a well-earned snooze.

The series is brilliant for reading aloud to younger children in foundation stage and Key Stage 1. It is also ideal for those children who are beginning to read independently and gaining their reading stamina and confidence. It provides an answer to the much needed step from picture books to longer reads.

Children will laugh out loud at Claude's antics and roll their eyes at Sir Bobblysock's feeble excuses for not doing things, such as having a stiff knee.

The illustrations are fresh and funny, with a retro feel. Alex T Smith uses a strict palette of black, grey, white, red and pink. The text and illustrations work perfectly together, and there's a great sense of comic timing. The visual humour, which is sophisticated, is particularly appealing to the adults who are sharing these stories with children.

Claude in the Country was published in 2012 by Hodder Children's books ISBN 978-1-444-90928-9

Claude in the City was shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2012 and the Richard and Judy Book Club 2011.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne - Review

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is a story set during World War I told from the point of view of Alfie, a 9 year old boy. It's not a story about the violence of war but of the everyday travails of those left behind. Set in London, the novel opens on Alfie's 5th birthday: the day war broke out. It tells the tale of his father, mother, grandmother and friends and how the war impacted on them as they struggled to live their lives. It is an historical novel which makes several references to historical fact. Readers learn not only about the events of the time but also about 'life' at the time. On the whole details, such as the fact that Alfie's home has an outdoor privy, the principle of make do and mend and darning along with others are interwoven into the story. However, there are occasions, especially at the beginning of the novel where it feels as though some of this detail is being taught rather than revealed.

All of the characters in the story are believable. Alfie, the young boy is smart, intelligent and caring. Margie, his loving mother, is a stoic.Whilst  Joe, a family friend, is a conscientious objector. As the war develops and the story unfolds we are taken on an emotional journey with Alfie in a quest to find the truth;one that uncovers secrets and deals with the effects of the war on the lives of everyday people and communities.

The descriptions are vivid and the text is accessible for upper Key Stage 2. The scenes in the hospital are honest, compassionate and at the same time harrowing. Teachers need to be aware of this,
as children younger than year 6 (11 year olds) might find it too distressing. Students in Key Stage 3 though would find it an engaging read, one that would provide a wealth of discussion material for both English and history lessons.

The plot itself does rely heavily on a number of coincidences but despite this Boyne once again manages to produce a compassionate, thought-provoking, page turning read.


Friday, 5 September 2014


Book Review


Author   Alexis Deacon
Publisher Red Fox 2004 (originally published in 2003 by Hutchinson)
ISBN 978-0-099-41744-6
Rating    *****

Beegu is a story about a young alien who crash lands to earth. She attempts to communicate but finds it difficult to make herself understood. At the same time, she finds it difficult to make sense of the surroundings in which she finds herself.

It is a heartwarming story which is simply but beautifully told through the use of very few words. The  book's issues of loneliness, rejection and isolation are effectively portrayed through the delightful images, evoking a range of emotions. In the primary classroom it will facilitate discussion on all these issues at a number of levels for different age groups; from the new pupil arriving at school and helping him/her understand routines and make friends to more complex subject matter such as comparing the themes with those in John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

The written text should easily be decodable by the majority of children in year 2/3. Therefore, it would be a suitable choice for the class library. However, so much more could be gained from this text if it were to be used with the class as a whole as a shared read or  with smaller groups as a guided read. With support from the teacher the children could identify the story structure and use it as a model for their own writing. It makes effective use of ellipsis.

The main feature of this picture book though is the images. It is a multimodal text. One where the written text simply does not tell the whole story. Like other mutlimodal texts such as Pat Hutchins' Rosie's Walk  and Eileen Browne's Handa's Surprise it is only when the images and the written text are read together that the full story emerges. The tonal quality of the images really evoke a deep sense of empathy for Beegu. She stands out, literally, in a dull and grey world.

It comes as no surprise that The Sunday Times review of Beegu states, ‘Alexis Deacon may well be Burningham’s heir apparent . . . Deacon’s poignant and understated text is brilliantly served by his illustrations, which carry distant rreminders of some of the best illustrators of the last 100 years and yet still remain uniquely his own.’ 

Beegu is Deacon's second book and was short listed for the Kate Greenaway Award in 2003. In the same year the New York Times named Beegu as one of its 10 Best Illustrated Books and in 2008 Deacon was named as one of Booktrust's 10 Best New Illustrators.