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Friday, 29 June 2012

Book Launch: Shrinking Violet

On Tuesday evening I attended the most wonderful event: a book launch at Daunt Books in Hampstead Heath.

The Book: Shrinking Violet
The Author: Lou Kuenzler

It was a fantastic event, brilliantly organised by Daunt and Scholastic and full of excitable bookish people (like me) and keen young readers.

I enjoyed the cutest tiniest purple cupcakes and some orange canapes. I mingled with fellow book lovers and found myself with my librarian hat on recommending books for an eleven year old boy with eclectic tastes. I love talking about books, I can't stop myself.

Lou was introduced to the audience by her lovely editor at Scholastic - Alice. And then she read us two extracts from Shrinking Violet. We were a very giggly audience. Lou's writing is full of humour and she reads like a true performer. Having had her visit my school for an author visit, I can promise you she is the perfect person to excite Years 2 and 3 about reading and rhyming and shrinking to the size of a fish finger.

After the reading we bought books and lined up to have them signed. I stayed to the very end and even managed to squeeze in a chat with publicist Catherine from Scholastic. It was fantastic to finally meet the person behind the emails. And quiz editor Alice about what she's looking for in contemporary children's fiction - for her it's all about the voice.

In among all that talking. (I do love to talk) I found time to buy a couple more books: 

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose (See how much Lou inspired me!)
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (I'd never heard of it before but it had a quote from Jonathan Franzen on the front so I had to have it!)

Here is the blurb quoted from Amazon.co.uk:
Violet is normal-sized one minute and pocket-sized the next! It's the BIGGEST day in Violet's life. All she has ever wanted to do is ride Plunger, the scariest roller coaster around. And tody she is finally TALL enough. 1.4 meters to be exact. But just as Violet is about to climb into one of Plunger's carriages, someting totally crazy happens. Violet shrinks! She is suddenly as small as a fish finger. Although Violet doesn't stay little for long, her chances of ever riding Plunger are ruined. She never wants to shrink again... Bt then Granny is accused of stealing, and tiny Violet might just be the only one who can catch the thief. The first book in a fantastically funny new series!

You can follow Lou on Twitter @LouKuenzler and find out what else she's been up to on her website: http://www.loukuenzler.com/ You can even find out her school visits which I thoroughly recommend.

Shrinking Violet is officially released on 5th July. Do go and buy a copy. It's the perfect book for girls 7+.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review: I'd Tell You I love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Author: Ally Carter

Release date: May 2010
Genre: Spy story / School story / Romance
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Orchard Books

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You is a full-throttle spy story come love story. It’s a sweet and totally sassy read.

My students have been telling me that I need to read this book for ages. Finally I took their advice and I am so pleased I did. This is book is great! I really enjoyed reading it.

Cammie is a sophomore at the Gallagher Academy. A school for female spies which hides behind the facade of a private elitist school for geniuses. Cammie’s beautiful mum is the Headmistress of the school and is an exceptional spy herself (although no longer in the field). The new term has begun and this year sees the sophomores begin their Covert Operations training. It tests their spy skills to the limit but for Cammie it presents a more emotional challenge. Her father died on a mission and the details may be classified but there is no doubt that becoming an undercover agent and entering enemy territory is the most dangerous type of spying there is. Cammie must face all the risks and decide if she really wants to follow in her father’s footsteps.

As if Cammie’s life isn’t interesting enough, when she’s out on a mission, she’s spotted by a teenage town boy. No one ever sees Cammie. She’s known as the Chameleon. Even her own friends find it hard to spot her. So why does this boy see through her spy skills. Is he dangerous? Is he boyfriend material? Is he both? Cammie is about to investigate with the help of her best friends.

I really don’t have much more to say other than I couldn’t put the book down. I loved all the spy speak, the technology and the training. It was funny but it was also full of action. The characterisation was great. I really felt Cammie’s emotions. I never would have expected on picking up this book to have tears in my eyes at the end. But that’s what happened. My pupils have the best taste in books.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You is great contemporary fiction for teens. The girls are the heroes which is exactly what I want to see in modern children’s fiction. This is the Spice Girls in a book: Friends forever and all the more powerful for it. I’m quite the fan.

Recommended for Fans of:

Source: Bought from Amazon.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Review: Stupid Fast

Author: Geoff Herbach

Release date: June 2011
Genre: Comedy / Contemporary YA / Bildungsroman
Target audience: 12+
US Publisher: Sourcebooks


Stupid Fast is part situation comedy and part coming-of-age story. It’s set in a small town in Wisconsin and is one teenager’s journey to find out who he is and who he wants to be.

Felton Reinstein is weird. At least he thinks he’s weird. It’s the start of the summer and he’s found out his best friend Gus is going to Venezuela with his mum for the holiday. So Felton has no one else to hang out with – all of the rest of his classmates are jerks or jocks and he wants nothing to do with them. Felton is a dork and hates that the “honkies” call him either Rein Stone or squirrel nuts. But Felton has been undergoing a physical transformation – he’s been growing and eating, eating and growing – and now he’s stupid fast. His coach notices he sudden talent for speed in the physical fitness test and suddenly, everyone is interested in Felton.

But things aren’t so straightforward; Felton is not the most socially adept person. He doesn’t respond well to being the centre of attention. As a child, he had panic attacks. But the saddest thing is that they originated from a trauma in his life. He discovered his dad’s body after he’d committed suicide. Felton will tell you this isn’t a dark story and it isn’t; this is a very daft and funny story. But it doesn’t change the fact that beneath all the humour, Stupid Fast explores challenging issues faced by contemporary teens.

Felton is highly reflective. I’ve never known a teen book character to think so much. Often what we do is out of impulse – and there is much impulsiveness from Felton – but there is also his inner voice analysing the things he says, things other people say and generally offering paranoid reflections on life. Felton wants to hibernate all Summer and his mum is worried about him. The beginning of the story sees them increasingly in conflict. He doesn’t get what her problem is. She forces him to take up Gus’s paper round and that’s when Felton’s motivation changes. A beautiful, talented piano-playing has girl moved into Gus’s house for the summer. Suddenly, he wants to be an athlete. He wants to be popular and not be the loser guy.

Felton explores this new identity and what follows is a coming-of-age novel. But Felton’s challenges lie in his home life. The issue of his father’s suicide has never been discussed. His 13 year old brother Andrew is going all out to get their mum to open up. But she retreats to her room and leaves the boys to fend for themselves. With everything falling apart at home, Felton keeps out of the house and puts all his energies into his running. But of course, you can’t hide from your problems forever, especially, when your little brother needs you.

I really loved the relationship between Felton and Andrew. It had all the expected drama of siblings but there was a believable bond between them. The characterisation in this book is wonderful. The odd behaviours that Felton and Andrew exhibit when emotionally abandoned by their mum are quirky and emotive. I actually had tears in my eyes reading the final chapters and that was not at all what I expected when I started reading this book. It’s not about sport or American football (you might think that from the cover); it’s more about our perceptions of these concepts. There is the stereotype of the “jock” and the “nerd” and this book is really about how we are so much more than labels and can be many different things at the same time. It’s about growing into yourself (in Felton’s case literally) as well as the importance of family and having the chance to experience a proper childhood. It’s heart-warming and touching. Full of witty dialogue, comic scenarios and compelling action Stupid Fast is an excellent read.

Recommended for fans of:

·         Catch by Will Leitch

·         Swim the Fly by Don Calame

Source: Imported copy, purchased from Foyles

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review: Hoot

Author: Carl Hiaasen

Release date: 2nd January 2004
Genre: Realism / Comedy
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Hoot is a funny preteen story set in a town in Florida. At its heart is a message about standing up for what you believe in.

Roy Eberhardt has moved from state to state so many times that he doesn’t feel he has any roots. The place closest to being anything like home is Montana with is wondrous mountains. But at the beginning of the story Roy is the new kid at a school in the very flat state of Florida. He really doesn’t get what’s so great about Florida but he doesn’t complain. He knows his parents have it tough too. Roy is wholly and completely a good egg. I liked Roy. He was spontaneous and yet very good at reasoning things through.

Things get interesting for Roy when he spies a boy running barefoot away from the school bus and into the trees. Roy happens to be looking that way because his face is up against the bus window courtesy of the brutish Dana Matheson. The running boy has an impact on Roy because he does it with such complete involvement. Roy is determined to find out who this boy is and why he isn’t at school.

The plot is part mystery – Roy is looking for clues about the identity of the running boy. Part comedy – running boy is pulling pranks on the local cops. Part eco-warrior tale – there is a really important message about protecting wild habitats here but it never feels like a preachy narrative.

I really liked Hiassen’s dialogue. It was so funny. The adults (excluding Roy’s parents) are complete nincompoops. So the book had a slightly subversive feel about it that kids will love. Every character had a different sound and was in their own way peculiar – so they were at once daft and yet convincing.

The perfect word to describe Hoot is amusing. It wasn’t your laugh out loud book, the comedy was more subtle than that and yet it was entirely satisfying. Especially the ending.

Recommended for fans of:
  • Holes by Louis Sachar

Source: Bought at the school library’s second hand book sale.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Review: Charmed Life

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Release date: Reissue 2009, first published 1977
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780007255290


Charmed Life is a charming fantasy tale – full of witches, magical castles and a mysterious enchanter.

It’s quite unusual for me to read a children’s book that was first published over thirty years ago. Partly because being a blogger, I’m always hearing about new exciting titles. Partly because I’m a librarian and I need to keep on top of selecting titles that appeal to my very modern customers. And partly because when you’re trying to write children’s fiction, you need to keep up with what’s popular now. Charmed Life was chosen as our group read in writing class and so that’s how I found myself reading it.

This is the story of Cat and his sister Gwendolen. At the beginning of the story they are orphaned in a paddle boat accident. They go and live with a witch of no particular talent - Mrs Sharp. She encourages Gwendolen to study with Mr Nostrum. Gwendolen is a witch. Cat has no magical talent and he struggles with loneliness after his parents’ deaths. Gwendolen positively blossoms. She develops ever more sinister magical spells. Cat is in awe of his sister. She is larger than life and steals attention everywhere she goes. In fact Gwendolen is horrid. She’s mean, she’s selfish and she’s very egotistical.

Gwendolen concocts a plan to entice the mysterious Chrestomanci to visit her. She wants him to revere her talents. And much to Cat’s surprise, Gwendolen’s plan works. They leave Mrs Sharp behind and are adopted by Chrestomanci, making a new home at the castle. But things don’t go to plan from there on in. Cat finds the castle a strange and alien place. He feels lonelier than ever and Gwendolen’s magic becomes bigger and ever more threatening.

The timeless quality of this book comes from the magic. Any child at any point in time would surely love to live in an enchanted castle. Then there is the universal human desire to discover that you are special. The style was more descriptive than I personally enjoy but the pace of the story was excellent. The relationship between brother and sister was the most powerful part of the narrative journey. Wynne Jones conjured sibling rivalry and the conflicting emotions that a brother or sister experiences. There was humour and an expertly woven plot. I surprised myself by enjoying this book immensely which just goes to show some novels still feel fresh years after publication. Charmed Life is one of those wonderful novels.

Source: Borrowed from the Public Library.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Review: Too Small to Fail

Author: Morris Gleitzman

Release date: 4th August 2011
Genre: Realism
Target audience: 8+
UK Publisher: Puffin Books


Too Small to Fail is set in Australia amid a climate of global financial crisis. That sounds like a heavy read, doesn’t it?! But actually, this book is full of spirit and panache and problems that are much more relatable to children and young people.

Oliver’s parents are investment bankers and they work long hours. Oliver knows they love him dearly but he is lonely. The housekeepers who take care of him are often fired by him mum. She wants a superwoman to be there when she can’t be. There is nothing Oliver would like more in the world than the puddle-eyed dog in the shop window. He goes and watches Barclay every day while the housekeeper is in the supermarket. The day the story begins Oliver’s life changes forever. A familiar looking lady buys Barclay and persuades Oliver that she needs his help to get the dog home. He goes with her for Barclay’s sake and when she threatens to kill his beloved dog if she doesn’t get her money back; Oliver is determined to do whatever it takes to save his furry friend.

Oliver is instantly likeable. He is surrounded by rich luxurious things but he’s neglected in terms of loving contact. He’s parents are just so busy and he doesn’t want to worry them. At school he is friendless and his troubles are compounded by his difficulties understanding maths. From the outset, I was cheering Oliver on and hoping against all the odds that he could save Barclay.

There are so many reasons that this is an excellent book. There is great characterisation but there is also the authenticity of the child’s viewpoint. Reading Too Small to Fail, I was taken aback by Gleiztman’s skill as a writer – he communicated the complicated world of investment banking into language and experiences that are familiar to children. I was impressed to say the least. This book would be an excellent choice for a children’s book group. There are so many potential discussion questions: Does money make us happy? Should we keep the money we earn? Why do we use banks? What does it mean to invest in somebody? Should the wealthy help the poor? How can we tackle poverty?

I also think this book is a really valuable book for children’s emotional literacy. The loneliness that Oliver experiences is a very real and troubling experience for children when their parents are both working. Having the opportunity to read about these feelings and similar experiences, will enable children to express their own worries and help to address them.

Who knew a story about a lonely boy, a loveable dog, a sturdy camel, an angry girl, investment banking, and a global crisis could be so outstanding?! Too Small to Fail is heartfelt and captivating. It’s a special little book and I hold it in the highest regard.

Recommended for fans of:

·         Freakthe Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

Source: Borrowed from the School Library.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lighting the Future: What Next?

I just installed Google Chrome. How has it taken me this long? 

It's strange how as a librarian I am ready to embrace new technologies and yet as a blogger I am afraid that if I alter something, I will lose all of my content / bookmarks etc.

My fears were unfounded. Thanks to the lovely Jesse and Sophie for the push I needed to fix the browser issue.

I went to #LTF12 for just the Saturday because it's half term and I have had many other things to do. I kind of wish that I did stay the whole weekend but I feel like I've had time today to make plans based on what I've learnt or had refreshed about being a School Librarian. Meeting people who do your job is so valuable. I wish I could connect with more Prep School Librarians. If you're out there, get in touch.

What Next?

I am going to:

  • Implement literacy tracking for Years 3 and 7 when they join us in September
  • Discuss with Senior Management the possibility of having parent drop in sessions calendared throughout the academic year to offer knowledge / support
  • Move ahead with enrolling parents as library borrowers
  • Contact local public libraries and open the lines of communication about how we can work together
  • Discuss intervention strategies with Senior Management and Learning Support 

I'm also going to read more professional literature. I'm going to start here:

What I'll be doing next week:
  • Knitting Club
  • Making Beaded Necklaces at lunch time
  • Speaking at Nursery Parents' Induction Evening
  • Book buying at Peters
  • Writing a piece for the School Magazine
  • All the usual day to day stuff
Thanks to the organisers of #LTF12, the publishers, the authors and my fellow librarians for an inspirational experience as always.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Extract: Dork Diaries: Skating Sensation

Great news Dork Diaries fans!

Skating Sensation is released today.

If you haven't had a chance to get your copy yet, follow this link to a teaser extract: http://www.scribd.com/jetwithervale/d/96173359-Skating-Sensation-Pg124-131

Thanks to the lovely Kat at Simon and Schuster for inviting me to host this extract.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Review: The Ruins of Gorlan

Author: John Flanagan

Release date: This edition 2007, first published 2004
Genre: Historical Fantasy Adventure
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Random House Children’s Books


The Ruins of Gorlan is the first novel in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It’s a pseudo-medieval adventure with a light touch of fantasy.

Will is a ward of Castle Redmont. At the beginning of the story he is nervous about Choosing Day because he must join a craft. His desperate desire is to be a knight like he imagines his father to have been and join Castle Redmont Battleschool. But Will is small and isn’t muscular like Horace a fellow ward. Horace has been teasing Will about his size and there is no doubt that Horace will be granted his wish by Sir Rodney and Baron Arald. But it won’t surprise you to learn that Will does not become an Apprentice Knight, but an Apprentice Ranger. The Rangers are feared by the villagers and Castle residents. They believe them to be supernatural and Will isn’t entirely sure this is true but he isn’t entirely convinced it’s nonsense either.

The position of Ranger’s Apprentice is not simply gifted to Will, he earns it through his actions. Not just anyone can be a Ranger’s Apprentice – they must be inquisitive and resourceful, stealthy and brave. The Rangers are the kingdom’s intelligence force and their actions saved the day in the war against Morgarath fifteen years ago. Will has great challenges ahead of him. This novel is a mythical beginning of something like MI5. Very cool!

I really loved the action in this story. The archery and the battle scenes were full of tension and I was compelled to keep turning pages. The characterisation of both Will and Horace was excellent. Creating two boys who sound so different is a real talent and I really admired the author’s ability to do this. I really cared about the future of both boys and was constantly afraid that Horace would not survive his tormentors at the Battleschool.

There were, however, several things about this book that annoyed me. The first was the portrayal of the roles of men and women in this society. Yes, it is a medieval setting but it’s a semi-fantastical one and I felt the author could have given women more dynamic roles than “diplomats” and “cooks”. I didn’t like the way he generalised the temperament of women. My second frustration was the opening and the high level of “telling” rather than “showing”. The book would have benefited from more dialogue interspersed throughout the long paragraphs of description/ action. My third and final frustration was the viewpoint. I had no trouble moving between following Will and Horace in the third person (the swap was infrequent) but I didn’t like the omniscient narrative. I would have preferred to see the story through the boys’ eyes and not the authors.

Despite these reservations, I did enjoy this book and have no doubt whatsoever that boys will also love reading it. There is sword fighting, mindless monsters and daring missions. Why wouldn’t they love it? But let’s not forget that girls can be Rangers too. And if they can’t in the author’s mind, then is this really the sort of novel we want children to be reading in 2012?  

Recommended for fans of:

·         The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delany

·         The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Source: Borrowed from the School Library.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Picture Books by Theme: Space

A list of picture books on the theme of Space. We've been using these at school to support classroom learning. I'm finding lots of aliens but none on the solar system.

The Loon on the Moon by Chae Strathie, Illustrated by Emily Golden

Beegu by Alexis Deacon

We’re Off to look for Aliens by Colin McNaughton

Aliens: An Owner’s Guide by Jonathan Emmett

Welcome to Alien School by Caryl Hart

Mungo and the Spiders from Space by Timothy Knapman

Where on Earth is the Moon? by Ruth Martin

UFO Diary by Satoshi Kitamura

Blackest Hole in Space by Penny Little
If you have any other suggestions for this list, please share them in the comments. I'm always looking to develop our collection.