Friday, June 26, 2020

Barking up the Wrong Tree by Philip Ardagh, illustrated Elissa Elwick

Barking up the Wrong Tree by Philip Ardagh, illustrated Elissa Elwick

Sally Stick has a dog called Fetch. He understands what she says and she knows what his barks mean.  Other people simply hear him bark. They set up a detective agency, Stick and Fetch – in Sally’s granny’s kitchen.  
This volume includes three separate stories – Telly Trouble, No Clowning Around and Up, UP and Away. As the overall title of the book suggests, there are misunderstandings. Yet all works out well: Sally and Fetch get to enjoy some of Granny’s celebration cake, they manage the cheer up a very sad little boy who is not enjoying his birthday and they enable children at the local library to have a very exciting story time.
There is also much to amuse any adult who reads with a child: the adult will probably realise that Sally has misunderstood something every time.  
However, Philip Ardagh remains on the child’s side and any reader will empathise with Sally.
This book is 142 pages long so it has a respectable spine.  There is only a small amount of text on each page and amusing images illustrate this well. The text is formatted ragged right and is double-spaced. The font is Anka Sans, one that is easy to read.   

The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

2002, first published 1986   

Inn 1986 the Ahlbergs bring us here a book that interfaces with characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The reader would need to be familiar with Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. This is a novelty book and includes envelops with letters to some of these characters. We are given glimpses of real life here. Goldilocks spells badly. The witch who lives in the gingerbread house receives some targeted advertising. Cinderella, having escaped the cruelty of the stepsisters and stepmother is now exposed to the subtleties of the publishing world. Peter Piper is certainly aware of Cinders’ celebrity status and hopes that a book about her will bring in some cash. The wolf receives a solicitor’s letter concerning his behaviour towards Red Riding hood, her grandmother and the three little pigs. There are dark threats as well. Jack’s giant must be aware that there is one bigger and more violent than him around.
Is there a joke for adults there? At each home the postman is offered a beverage. At the palace when he visits Cinderella and the prince he drinks champagne. Is this what makes him jolly?
There are some bright points. The additional material in the pictures offers no threats. The final letter is a birthday card for Goldilocks and everyone enjoys a party at her house.
There are fourteen double spreads. The envelopes containing the letter form one half of some double spreads.
The pictures extend the stories. For instance, we see the cat washing up in the witch’s kitchen. At the palace the prince wears a bright floral shirt and is hoovering. The wolf-grandma is knitting.        
Though this has all of the attributes of a picture book and although it isn’t an emergent reader book it may well be suitable for lower primary school children as they will know these characters and the other types of text may make sense to them.            


Under the Same Sky

Some of the concepts in this book may be difficult for the pre-school child: we live under the same sky, we feel the same love, and we dream the same dreams.  Others are much more concrete:  we play the same games, we sing the same songs, and we face the same storms.  The illustrations, of course, help and as usual in books for this readership, the pictures tell more of the story.     
The pictures are a little abstract yet we can easily recognise cats, lions, penguins and many other creatures looking up at the same sky.  The pictures have a charm that will appeal to the caring adult who reads the book to the child. They are concrete enough to hold the child’s attention.  
There are cut-outs on every other page which frame previous pictures and sometimes the words in another way.  
There are in fact very few words. There is every possibility that the child will “read” the text over and over and eventually know it by heart. The “message” may become clearer as the child grows –up.
In many ways this book is conventional: wide portrait, twelve double spreads, serif font, difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s.  
This was short-listed for the 2018 Kate Greenway medal.      

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

2008, first published 1978    

There is an “Each Peach Pear Plum” playground rhyme. Janet and Allan Ahlberg have combined this with details about characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales to form a very rhythmical rhyming text.  It also an I-Spy book.  As the adult reads the child has to find the new character hidden in someone else’s story.      
As ever in picture books there is additional story in the pictures. Sometimes this is challenging: Cinderella as well as Goldilocks has broken into the home of the Three Bears, Baby Bear trips over his gun and Baby Bunting has been abandoned like Moses amongst the bulrushes.  However, all turns out well and everybody enjoys some plum pie.

The book comes in several formats including a small one that a young child could actually hold. There are fourteen double spreads. The text is in a simple and large font.      

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

2007, Key Stage 3,  Key Stage 4, ages 10-13, lower secondary,
This is a fast-paced adventure.  The flock is a group of young people who have been genetically modified to have some characteristics of birds. They can and do fly. There are other manipulated part-human species and all of these hybrids have an expiry date.  Meanwhile certain scientists and politicians are aiming to create a perfect world where only the fittest are allowed to survive.
Max must keep her flock safe and together they must save the world.
Most of the time we are in Max’s first person point of view though she does leave the stage occasionally and then we have a third person narrative from the point of view of another significant character. James Patterson has captured Max’s voice very well.  She is an extraordinarily feisty female and also very natural and believable.  
There is some romance but it is not at all slushy.
The pace and the readers’ interest are maintained by delightfully short chapters.            

Anne of Avonlea by L M Montgomery

 2017, first published 1909

Anne returns to Avonlea and becomes the village school teacher. She and Marilla take on twins Doris and Davey after Marilla’s third cousin Mary dies. Doris is a very well-behaved child.  Davey is always up to mischief. 

We meet several old friends from Avonlea – Gilbert Blyhte, Diana Barry and Mrs Rachel Lynde. Anne and Gilbert are now friends.  There is a hint of romance, but we shall have to read the third book to find out if that really happens.  We meet plenty of other new interesting characters too: outspoken Mr Harrison, romantic Miss Lavender and dreamy child Paul Irving.  

Anne and her friends set about improving Avonlea though almost become the laughing stock of the village when the hall is painted a bright blue. 

There is still some sadness about Matthew’s death. 

The book ends with Anne preparing for life at college.     
L M Montogmery is a skilled writer. Her characters come alive.  They are rounded and believable. Her smooth prose carries us along. We are given a real sense of time and place. 

She portrays a life that will somewhat alien to the modern teenager.

The book is 327 pages long.  The chapter are of a reasonable length and had each has a self-contained story though some longer stories run through the book   

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Monster Café by Sean Leahy and Mihaly Orodan

2019, pre-school, ages 0-4,  

This delightful picture book is published by innovative publisher Unbound. This works a little like crowd-funding.  Would-be readers pledge a certain amount and receive an appropriate award. More often than not this is a special edition of the book. Obviously friends and family may vote with their cash, hopefully so will fans and followers. There could be some dangers there. Thankfully most books make it to funding because they have merit.    
Indeed, this has many of the usual characteristics of a picture book that a young child who has not yet learned to read would share with a caring adult: it has quirky, stylized pictures that tell more of the story, a limited amount of text, a sophisticated font and reasonably complex language.
The story might be scary – is the café cooking people? Indeed, the final dish to arrive is “Baby food”. “Oh,” thinks our protagonist. We pause for a moment. That might just be food for the baby or it might be food made from the baby. We just need to reflect a little. We’ve seen “Mummygatwany soup”  “father beans” and “nana split” and Mum, Dad and Nana are alive and well.         
This is a very attractive book with great attention to detail; even the end papers are amusing.    

A Walk in the Park by Anthony Browne

2013, first published 1977  

Mr Smith and his daughter Smudge take their dog Albert for a walk. Mrs Smythe and her son Charlie take their dog, Victoria for a walk.  Mr Smith and Smudge walk through a dreary neighbourhood with rubbish piled in front of dark little terraced houses.  Mrs Smythe and Charles walk past neat and tidy detached houses with bay windows. Even their clothing is different. 

The dogs do not hesitate to have fun and chase each other. Charlie and Smudge gradually get to know one another. Mr Smith and Mrs Smythe do not. 

There is a joke for the adults. Victoria chases Albert and Albert chases Victoria. 

As always with picture book for this age group there is some much more extra story in the pictures.  Not only do we have more detail but there are some quite extraordinary details. One double spread features four trees. The one on the far left has no leaves. The one on the far right is full of leaves. We see them growing in the two other pictures. This suggests that the trips to the park occur regularly over a period of time. When the children finally play together and “The whole world seemed happy” there are rainbows in the background. The final two pages show Charlie and Victoria arriving home.  Do they live near the park? On the opposite page Smudge and Albert have to walk through the middle of town to get back to their home.     

The text is sparse and the pictures dominate. It uses an adult font though it is large. This is a large format book.  

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

  2012   teen, upper secondary   Key Stage 4, ages 14 -17, Dashner   James, science fantasy, thriller This is the second book in the Maz...