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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Review: The Apple Tart of Hope

Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Release date: Hardback 5th June 2014
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Orion

The Apple Tart of Hope is a story of friendship, first love and hope. It’s also about doing good things in the world and being kind to others.

This book begins with a memorial service to celebrate the life of Oscar Dunleavy: A fourteen year old boy who disappeared off the pier and is believed to dead. In the pews sits his best friend Meg. She grew up with Oscar and knows him better than anyone. Or at least she did. She’s been away in New Zealand these last few months and something came between them. Meg can’t believe that Oscar would take his own life and neither does his younger brother Stevie. Together can they find out the truth about just what did happen to Oscar while Meg was away?

This is a sweet novel that is both charming and challenging. The issue of suicide in young people’s fiction is not an easy one to write about. But this book is not about a boy who commits suicide. In fact by chapter two, we know that Oscar is not in fact dead. The author is right to make that clear very early on because although this book does deal with bullying, manipulation, rumours and guilt, it is not a depressing sad book. It’s a book about keeping faith and hope alive.

Oscar is not your average fourteen year old boy. He’s sweet and sensitive. He has a special magic about him. He can sense other people’s emotions and rescues them with his homemade apple tarts. Meg and Oscar lived next door to each other and would speak for hours about anything and everything from their bedroom windows.

The split narrative worked well in this novel. Seeing how both Meg and Oscar feel and why they do the things they do, is bitter-sweet. As the reader you know, they are making mistakes in their communication but you also keep heart that they’ll figure it out.

The Apple Tart of Hope was a quick read. It was brimming with warmth and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Read this if you’re a sentimental and love the sort of story where you really care about the characters.

Read it if you loved:
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Source: Borrowed from the school library

The paperback is released 12th February 2015.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Review: Journey

Author: Aaron Becker

Release date: Paperback August 2014
Genre: Picture book
Themes: Loneliness, Play, Imagination, Adventure, Creativity, Journeys
Target audience: 4+
Publisher: Walker Books

Journey is a wonderful, wordless picture book which is full of imaginative adventure. It’s a picture book that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

At the beginning of this story, there is a girl who is bored and lonely. Her parents are too busy so she draws a door on the wall, and she steps through it into a new world. The world is full of wondrous things – a marvellous city, mechanical airships, a beautiful bird – perhaps these are created by the girl’s imagination, perhaps not. This is a story that can be interpreted many ways.

The colours of the beginning illustrations are very muted. The domestic scenes communicate a sense of dullness and boredom. The playful items stand out – the ball, the kite, the crayon – as these are illustrated in red. The later illustrations of the new world are still muted but they are more magical – greens, blues and some gold.

The illustrator masterfully tells the story of the girl’s journey into the magical world. It is full of adventure, danger and ultimately triumph. This is a richly rewarding visual read.

This is a simply delightful picture book. It requires no knowledge of language so it is entirely accessible. As well as being a joy to read, it will also be a favourite with teachers as there are so many activities you could use it for. Some suggestions are below.

Journey is a picture book which belongs in every school library.

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Activity ideas:
Pupils could write words or poetry to accompany the pictures.

You could use the images in this book to stimulate imaginative writing. In the beginning there is a wonderful image of the girl drawing the door to the new world. What lies beyond the door? Where will the girl visit? What would this magical world, sound, smell, look like?

Discuss why the illustrator chooses to make the toys red. What would happen to the story if it was a different colour?

Predict what the girl will draw to save herself from the waterfall.

Any other suggestions, please share them in the comments.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Review: The Boy in the Tower

Author: Polly Ho-Yen

Release date: This Hardback edition 3rd July 2014
Genre: Contemporary science-fiction for the younger reader/ sci-fi realism?
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Random House| Doubleday

The Boy in the Tower is a story of friendship in a time of adversity. Set in modern day London, it’s about survival, hope and courage. This tale is dark in places but it is as equally moving and charming in places too.

Ade lives in a tower block on the seventeenth floor. He enjoys the view from his window and watching the tiny people on the street below. It’s a busy noisy street full of hustle and bustle. Across the street, in another tower block, lives his best friend, Gaia. They tell each other everything and Ade loves how much Gaia knows about plants and the world around them. Their lives begin to change when the Bluchers arrive. At first no one understands why buildings begin to suddenly crumble killing the people inside. And when the construction workers are sent to inspect them, they mysteriously die too.  Soon, all everyone can talk about is the Bluchers, dangerous plants who destroy everything. Time is running about for Ade and Gaia.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It had a wonderful lightness in the style of writing. Ade’s voice captured the innocence of a child’s viewpoint perfectly. He leaps off the page and I connected with him instantly. He’s heroic but not in a showy way. It’s a quiet sort of helpful-heroism.

The darkness in this story cannot be ignored. It deals with death, neglect and the impact of a violent crime. But the author managed to convey these issues in way that was neither condescending to the reader nor outright terrifying. Not an easy thing to achieve for the 9+ audience.

The bleak elements are lightened by the wonderful friendships the Ade makes in the time of crisis. Dory, one of Ade’s neighbours, and Obi, caretaker of the tower block, offer comfort and new skills to help Ade survive the siege of the plants. They give this book a special charm.

I found it hard to put this book into a specific genre. On the one hand, it is a contemporary story of friendship. It reads like realism and it deals with the issue of agoraphobia and the aftermath of a traumatic experience. It also confronts the issue of child neglect which caused a lump in my throat at various points in the story. On the other hand, this is a novel about plants which arrive from who-knows-where and begin to slowly annihilate the population around Blucher Road. So at times it reads like a children’s sci-fi/ dystopian read. This book certainly fills a gap in the market for those younger readers who are desperate to read Hunger Games-esque novels but are not at the maturity or reading level to access the content.

I wish there were more books like this for the middle grade market. Even the way the book is formatted is excellent. The words are nicely spaced out on the page and the chapter length is just right. The Boy in the Tower is a moving story. It makes you think about so many different things: childhood, where food comes from and loneliness and isolation. A book well worth reading.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

The paperback is released on January 29th.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review: Dead Ends

Author: Erin Lange

Release date: Paperback 3rd July 2014
Genre: Realism
Target audience: 13+
UK Publisher: Faber and Faber

Dead Ends is the story of an innocent boy and a bully. It’s a story of friendship, anger and a search for understanding. It’s an emotive, compelling read.

Dane Washington uses his fists to say everything. He’s an angry sixteen year old who lives with his young mum. He’s desperate for a car and he also wants to go to college but he’s fists keep getting in the way. He’s on his last warning at school. His future is teetering on the edge. But when Billy D starts following Dane on his way to school, Dane won’t use his fists to get rid of him. At first Dane only sees Billy’s Down syndrome but when the school warden charges Dane with the responsibility of being Billy’s school ambassador, Dane discovers there is much more to Billy than first appears.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is so simply told and the voice hooks you from the very first pages. I read it really quickly. Despite Dane’s anger and aggression, I couldn’t help but like him. Billy charmed the socks off me too. I loved that Billy had his own agenda – there is nothing simple about Billy. This story grows with complexity as the plot unfolds. The depth of the issues the author explores here get bigger and bigger with every chapter. It’s very cleverly done.

You can read this book as the struggle of a teenager who isn’t quite a man but is certainly no longer a boy. You can read it as a story of friendship and how two lonely boys find a comfort in a rather odd relationship. You can read it a book about searching for answers about why people do what they do. Any way you read it, Dead Ends is an excellent portrayal of character and choices, of difference and understanding. It’s a bittersweet novel, moving and sometimes funny. But as a prep school librarian, I only wish it had a little less swearing. It just makes it that bit more teenage when I think it’s the sort of book that any confident reader could enjoy. Without it, maybe it would be a bit less believable, who knows? Anyway, Dead Ends is a fantastic read. I recommend it.

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Book Talk: Michael Rosen

Last night, I attended a book talk with two friends. It was an evening with Michael Rosen and we were all very excited when we were on our way. When we left the venue an hour later, we were all rather muted. We had gone with the hope of inspiration, to hear the wonders of language and we had a secret hope of some performance poetry. But the evening did not unfold in this way.

Let me be clear, we did enjoy the conversation and it gave us food for thought. But in fact, the evening felt more like political activism than it did a book talk. We work in education. We know it is a difficult time to be a teacher, learner or in my case a school librarian. Michael Rosen had written his new book Good Ideas: How to be your child’s (and your own) Best Teacher for parents. I have yet to read it myself but the anecdotes that were shared last night were certainly entertaining. Rosen wants parents to encourage their children to be curious, to question the world around them. He thinks education should be: investigation, interpretation, cooperation (and one other which I just cannot recall right now). He thinks children should learn how to learn. I do not disagree. We certainly aim for this in our library lessons.

I guess the thing my mind is still trying to fathom this morning is that Rosen told us the government want a low wage economy. They are changing the education system because too many people were achieving too highly. We had too many students going to university so they have to make it harder to do so. The latter I remember hearing on the news.

It’s like I entered the theatre and discovered I live in a dystopian society and it sent my mind reeling. The suggestion that our society aspires to keep a percentage of the population downtrodden is horrifying. 

All in all, I can’t say last night inspired me. I didn't leave feeling uplifted and enthused. If there were any parents in the audience, I wonder how they felt. I think the audience was mainly teachers and other education professionals. Rosen did get me thinking though. Perhaps that was the point.

If you want to read more about Michael Rosen’s desire to transform education, you should check out his blog: http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichaelRosenYes