Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sam and Dave Dig A Hole

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave are on a mission to find "something spectacular", so they start digging a hole. This book will leave children squealing with excitement and frustration as Sam and Dave come so close to finding something spectacular, but then change tactics in their search.

Mac Barnett's simple, minimalist conversation between Sam and Dave combines beautifully with Jon Klassen's delightful illustrations to truly engage the reader and make them feel like a privileged observer througout the story.  I love the open-ended conclusion to this book which challenges the reader and leaves them to think about what happened.... probably resulting in them flipping back to the start and reading it through again, studying the illustrations even more carefully the second time. It would be fun to hear all the different explanations the kid come up with!

This book could be read in conjunction with a mathematics unit on directions. Students could blindfold each other and provide directional instructions to help a partner navigate their way to "something spectacular".

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Book With No Pictures

The Book with No Pictures

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak would have to be the most popular book in my house for 2014, especially with my son who has just finished Year 2. The book says that the reader has to read every word on the page...even if it's a ridiculous rhyme about eating ants for breakfast or saying a silly nonsensical word like BLUURF. This book is just so much fun to share, it is guaranteed to make kids roll around the floor with laughter. Absolutely brilliant for developing expression and building confidence to read out loud.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Kensington Reptilarium


I have to admit that I was drawn to this book by the cover artwork which depicts four cute kids and a rather quirkyly dressed man entwined with reptiles. Even the spine is beautifully embossed with a snakeskin design.

Set in December 1945, the Kensington Reptilarium tells the tale of four kids from the Australian outback. With their mother passed away and their father missing in action, they are moved to London, which has been devastated by war. Uncle Basti is their new guardian and he resides in the Kensington Reptilarium - a fantastical building filled with mysterious secret rooms and reptiles of all descriptions. Unfortunately for the kids, their uncle is a social recluse who doesn't like children and the local police are trying to shut the Reptilarium down.

This story has strong themes of family, World War II and the construction of gender and would therefore be most suitable for upper primary students over 10 years of age. I found the portrayal of Australia and the way the children lived in the early chapters reminiscent of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan.

The language used throughout the book is very lively and colloquial with frequent use of mannerisms. The sentences are often short and sharp with the pronoun omitted to emphasise thought processes and maintain a fast pace. Excerpts could readily be used to model this style of writing. The author also makes great use of devices such as onomatopoeia and gives beautiful poetic descriptions such as "ghost gums like shinbones" which are used to great effect (p36).

Teachers notes and ideas for classes are available from Random House.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Lucky - David Mackintosh

When mum announces that there will be a surprise at dinner that night her two boys get a little carried away trying to guess what their surprise may be. Perhaps it's a new bike, a swimming pool or a new car? Children will have great fun using their imaginations to suggest what the surprise is. At the end they may also be able to make connections with times when they have jumped to conclusions themselves and then been let down. I really enjoyed the happy, quirky illustrations and the excitement portrayed through the interesting typography, but the real beauty of this book lies in the way that the characters handle their disappointment and the sweet but subtle underlying message that we are already "lucky" and should grateful for the small things we have.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra

Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra

Mystery Math by David A. Adler is a picture book that provides a great introduction to algebra. Equations are compared to see-saws or a balance scales, and it is explained that whatever is on one side has to be balanced by whatever is on the other side. This is an analogy that will definitely make sense to children. Appropriate terminology such as the word "variable" is used, but the great benefit is that this new vocabulary is also explained in simple terms as the mystery number. This gently encourages students to make connections and achieve deeper understanding of the concept. Step-by-step, illustrated examples of solving simple equations using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are provided. Another idea I absolutely loved, was the provision of instructions in the back of the book for students to make their own balance scale using readily available resources including a coathanger, paperclips and coins as weights. What a fantastic book for helping to demystify a topic that students frequently find difficult!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Listening Walk

The Listening Walk

The Listening Walk by Paul Showers was originally published in 1961, but it is still relevant today. A young girl takes a listening walk around her neighbourhood with her father and tells about all the sounds she hears on the way. This would be a great anchor book for Year 1 physical science students learning about how sound can be produced by a range of sources and can be sensed (ACSSU020). After reading this book, students could then take a listening walk around their school so they can build their own personal connections. They could also make their own audio recording of sounds for other students to guess the source.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Boy Who Loved Math

I really love math myself. I'm not brilliant at it, but I do enjoy it. It saddens me greatly to hear children (and adults) say that they can't do math or that math is boring. It inspires me to want to change that perception. Over the last few years I have discovered that there are many wonderful children's picture books, covering an enormous range of mathematical concepts which can be used to gently introduce students to math and help make difficult concepts more accessible. Authors such as Greg Tang, David A. Adler and Dayle Ann Dodds have all written numerous books suitable for primary students, some of which I will share in later posts.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

I knew I had to have this book as soon as I saw it. I have a little boy who loves math and he sometimes feels  a bit awkward and different because of it. This is the story of Hungarian mathematical genius Paul Erdos, who might provide an interesting choice for young mathematical enthusiasts studying significant people in Year 4. When I handed my son this book I could see him making connections as soon as he saw the cover and read the title.  He was grinning from ear to ear and asked if we could read it immediately. We spent a couple of delightful hours together, reading and studying the beautiful illustrations, pulling out sheets of paper and carrying out the simple steps described to find all the prime numbers using the sieve of Eratosthenes. We had not previously known that there were different types of prime numbers, but after reading the pages in the back of the book my son was inspired to do some research and find out even more. It can't get better than that!

This is a creative, fascinating book which I am thrilled to have added to my collection!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan - Katherine Applegate

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he's seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
This gentle story with its readily lovable characters will promote thinking about the relationships between people and animals.  With brief chapters, sprinkling of humour and sweet illustrations, it would be an excellent read-aloud for middle grade and upper-grade students. Written from Ivan's perspective, it is a story of courage and kindness which will have children cheering for Ivan and his friends, as well as humanity. This story is beautifully written and would inspire children to make text-to-world connections about animal rights issues, particularly the treatment of animals in captivity. The One and Only Ivan is fiction, however the author provides notes at the end of the book about the real Ivan who inspired this story. An illustrated picture book version of this text has also been released.

Ivan : The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla - Katherine Applegate

Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug!

Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug!

A beautiful, fun book from one of my favourite children's authors! With bright, cheerful illustrations and rhyming text, this playful book is sure to engage young readers as they try to find the sneaky ladybug hiding on each page. Just like other Mem Fox books, such as Where is the Green Sheep and Tough Boris, I really appreciated the way that this book quickly builds a childs confidence in their ability to read on account of the repetitive text and excellent picture prompts. Plus, it's lots of fun to spot the ladybug! Interestingly, if you don't call these little critters ladybugs, there is a different versions of this text titled Yoo-Hoo, Ladybird!

Friday, September 26, 2014

My Life as an Alphabet

My Life As an Alphabet

Candice Phee is twelve years old, hilariously honest and a little ... odd. But she has a big heart, the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to ensure everyone is happy. So she sets about trying to 'fix' all the problems of all the people [and pets] in her life.

Candice has many habits which others consider "odd". The other students label her "Essen" which she knows is an abbreviation for S.N. or "Special Needs". She has few friends until she meets "Douglas Benson From Another Dimension". She is understandably concerned about her mother, who spends most of her time in her bedroom since battling the multiple traumas of the death of Candice's sister "Sky" and breast cancer. Her father has retreated to his office in response to this loss and grief, as well as a fall-out with his brother, known as Rich Uncle Brian. 

This book explores a multitude of intense themes, including complex family relationships, depression, grief, suicide, labelling and accepting differences. I would be reluctant to read this with students below Year 6 due to the difficult subjects explored in this book, however the way it is told is touching, uplifting and humorous, not overly sad or morbid.  

The structure of the novel is unusual, since each chapter is named corresponding to a letter of the alphabet in accordance with an English assignment Candice has been set. It is told by a first person narrator and often includes letters to Candice's pen-pal, Denille. The language is frequently sophisticated due to Candice's love of reading the dictionary, but also contains typical childish expressions and explanations. This book could be paired with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for comparison with other texts with idiosyncratic narrators and characters.

Book Week 2014

This last week was Book Week, my favourite week of the school year, when the Children's Book Council of Australia releases the names of the winning children's books, the kids go to school dressed as their favourite character and the whole school celebrates reading with a whole lot of book related fun. We make a point of trying to read all of the picture books. Our favourite was the winning Picture Book of the Year, Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan.

Rules of Summer
Rules of Summer is about two brothers and the set of 'rules' that govern their relationship. There are few words in this extremely understated narrative, leaving big gaps between what you read and what you see. The illustrations are intriguing and evocative, inviting the reader to compose their own emotional response. I imagine that this book means different things to different readers. It would be fantastic for developing the skill of inference and exploring perspective.


The Swap by Jan Ormerod is about a young crocodile named Caroline who is jealous of the attention her baby brother is receiving from Mama Crocodile. After spotting a Baby Shop, Caroline has the brilliant idea of swapping her baby brother for a new baby who isn't smelly and doesn't drool so much. This book provides excellent opportunities for discussions about feelings of jealousy and changes in family structure. The playful, whimsical illustrations depict the range of emotions Caroline and the other characters experience. It would be interesting to explore the illustrations on their own to see if students can recognise the variety of emotions expressed through the body language and facial expressions of the characters.

Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson is a delightful story with strong themes of friendship and compassion. It is accompanied by beautiful paintings by Freya Blackwood which express the action and movement of farmyard life perfectly.

Banjo is a "chook dog" and it is his job to get the chooks into the chook yard. The problem is that there is one annoyinging head-strong chook named Ruby Red who always sits on top of the woodheap, refusing to comply with Banjo's request, despite his barking and leaping. Then one day Ruby isn't sitting on the woodheap and Banjo searches everywhere for her. Eventually he finds her, but she is sick, so Banjo takes her back to his kennel to look after her.

Students might be able to connect with the conflict between Ruby Red's antagonistic behaviour and Banjo's responsibilities. Perhaps student's could reflect on a time when they have experienced someone who has refused to do as they asked, to explore the alternative perspective and reflect upon the way the disagreement was resolved.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Worm and What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?


The Worm is the second book in Elise Gravel's Disgusting Critters series. It is a non-fiction picture book for lower primary readers which integrates basic factual information with cute cartoon illustrations and fun hand-drawn fonts. This series will be sure to appeal to even the most reluctant young readers and would be a great addition for Foundation and Year 1 classrooms exploring the needs and external features of living things in biological sciences. My seven-year-old son laughed out loud at the hilarious artwork, so I will be looking out for the other books in this series: The Fly, The Slug and The Rat, as well as the next two books The Spider and Head Lice which are due out next year.

I had only heard good things about Steve Jenkins books, but I had not ever actually read one myself, so I bought What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? You know a book is truly wonderful when you begin reading to one child and your other two children are drawn in by the excited giggling and they creep over to listen too! All three children delighted in guessing what animal each body part might belong to and they were very interested in the more detailed information provided at the end of the book. Who knew that horny devils could squirt blood from their eyes?

Thursday, August 14, 2014


"I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse". 

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

Wow, this is a powerful book that will stay with me forever. I actually hugged it to my chest when I finished reading. This book is so thought-provoking, it opens your mind and definitely your heart. It made me laugh and it made me cry (more than once). The characters are described vividly, making them easy to relate to and connect with. I loved how the story begins with Auggie's point of view, but then jumps to the perspectives of the other main characters. I think it is this feature that evokes empathy but enables this book to be transformed into the inspirational story that it is, a story which promotes resilience and kindness.

I've given this book to my 10-year-old daughter to read, she is almost half-way through. She's a sensitive soul and we are having deep discussions about the way people react to others through their words and body language and how sometimes we might hurt other people even when we don't mean to. I can tell she is particularly touched by the morality issues and how difficult it is to stand up for your beliefs when peer-pressure is a major factor. I wish that every upper-primary student would read this book, it is impossible to read without reflecting on your own actions.

One of my favourite features of Wonder was the inclusion of precepts, or rules to live by. The one that spoke to me most was "When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind"  - Dr Wayne Dyer. The precepts in the book would provide great conversation starters for deep reflection and discussion. I really liked the teacher, Mr Browne's suggestion for student's to write their own precepts and send them to him.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rump - The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

Rump #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff to my daughter who is in Year 4. It puts a new spin on the traditional fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin and is told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Rump, who is the butt of everyone's jokes. There's lots of humour, magic and adventure. It would make a perfect middle-primary read-aloud which is sure to capture the attention of young listeners from the very first sentence "My mother named me after a cow's rear end".  

Friday, August 8, 2014

A New Journey

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My name is Christine and I am studying to become a primary school teacher. I adore children's literature and I am passionate about finding ways to incorporate books into all areas of learning. This blog provides a place for me to record and share some of the books I have been reading with my children, as well as lesson ideas and reflections from my journey of learning about teaching.