Thursday, January 25, 2018

Brainstorm 133: Australian Lit for Australia Day

Australians are celebrating Australia Day today so I thought it would be a good time to highlight some Australian authors and illustrators.

Picture Book Authors

Graeme Base
If I had to pick my favorite illustrator and wasn't allowed to pick more than one, it'd be a hard choice, but I think I'd pick Graeme Base. His illustrations are just so amazingly beautiful and so engaging. And his books appeal to a broad age group. His alphabet book Animalia is probably my favorite, though the comical adventures of various dragon discoverers in The Discovery of Dragons is high up there, and his picture book mystery The Eleventh Hour with its endless codes for readers to untangle so they can figure out the thief on their own is super clever and entertained me for hours as a child. His newer picture books, The Legend of the Golden Snail and The Last King of Angkor Wat are beautiful and have great messages too. So many great Graeme Base books to love! Of course, if you want his most Australian work, you'll have to find a copy of My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch which features an old lady with lots of Australian critter friends. (Sadly, our library's copy fell to literal bits and we haven't gotten a replacement yet.)

Mem Fox
Mem Fox is another beloved Australian picture book author. Some of my favorite Mem Fox stories are Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild! illustrated by Marla Frazee, The Magic Hat illustrated by Tricia Tusa, and Koala Lou illustrated by Pamela Lofts.

Shaun Tan
Shaun Tan writes/illustrates for a very wide audience, from kids up to adults and sometimes it is hard to tell the audience of his books just from the cover. (For example, his Rules of Summer is best appreciated by upper middle grades on up, not the little kids the cover seems to indicate.) My favorite Shaun Tan book is his wordless graphic novel, The Arrival, about a man who escapes a bad situation in his home country, travels to a strange new land and must figure out how to live and work there so he can bring his family out of the dangerous land where they still live.

Lower Grade & Middle Grade Authors

Aaron Blabey
Aaron Blabey has entered this group more recently, and won the hearts and reading time of numerous kids with his Bad Guys series, a highly illustrated series of books about a group of carnivores who are trying to reform themselves as nice guys, and even heroes. This gets more challenging as an evil, mad scientist hamster tries to wreak havoc in the world and make them look bad.

Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton
Author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton are super popular in our libraries right now for their graphic novel-like stories about fictional versions of themselves and a wildly imaginative Treehouse they live in. Each new title in the series adds more rooms to the treehouse and more adventures for Andy and Terry. Griffiths and Denton both have other books they've made, but kids right now know them best for their treehouse books.

Catherine Jinks
Catherine Jinks writes stories for all sorts of different age groups. I was introduced to her through her middle grade Bogle books about an orphan who helps hunt monsters in Victorian England. (And this brings us to a lesser known fact about books published in both the US and Australia or US and UK, sometimes the title is changed when it crosses the ocean. For example, Jinks' Bogle series is called the City of Orphans series in the US, and the title of the first book is not How to Catch a Bogle, it is A Very Unusual Pursuit.)

Garth Nix
Garth Nix has written a ton of books for middle grade and young adult crowds. He is probably best known for his YA fantasy series, but his most recent, Frogkisser!, may be my favorite. And don't judge it by that cover, it is totally not a mushy story. It's a humorous fantasy quest adventure.

Emily Rodda
Speaking of fantasy quest adventures, Rodda has created an entire realm called Deltora where readers get to go on a quest to save the realm through multiple series of books. They were super popular about ten years ago, but have faded from memory a little bit. If you know a middle grader who prefers short books but likes fantasy adventures, you might want to dust these off for them.

Colin Thiele
Known for his classic children's stories about animals, I mentioned Thiele for his little penguin story Pinquo in last week's Brainstorm.

Young Adult Authors

Alison Croggon
I came across Croggon over a decade ago as her epic fantasy Books of Pellinor started coming out featuring some bards who must save their world from a terrible evil. I eagerly awaited the release of each one. After leaving the series at four books for many years, Croggon just recently released a prequel making this a perfect time to introduce (or re-introduce) yourself to her works.

John Flanagan
Many have heard of this man's popular series, Ranger's Apprentice, Ranger's Apprentice: the Early Years, and the related Brotherband Chronicles set in a reimagined medieval Europe following around archers (and knights and ambassadors) who work to keep the peace. Students (and adults) get solidly hooked by his writing so they'll willingly devour an entire shelf's-holdings of books. That's saying something.

Scott Westerfeld
This guy makes his home half of the year in Australia, so I'm including him in this list. He's written two series of books that seem to have constant appeal to teens: his dystopian social commentary, The Uglies series, and the steampunk reimagined WWI series, Leviathan.

Markus Zusak
This Aussie is perhaps best known for his somewhat recent story of WWII told from Death's perspective, The Book Thief.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Brainstorm 132: Penguins!

January always makes me think of snow, even after living in the tropics for over a decade. And snow makes me think of my favorite animal…penguins! I know many teachers do penguin units around this time of year so I thought it might be a good time to share some of my favorite penguin books. Also, I just recently saw penguins in the wild for the first time on Penguin Island near Perth, Western Australia so I’ve got penguins on the mind. I'll share two of pics from there. Enjoy some penguin reading!
A wild little penguin on Penguin Island. They are shy so you have to look carefully to spot them.

One of the rescue penguins on Penguin Island. This is also a little penguin (aka fairy penguin, aka little blue).

Fiction Picture Books

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, ill. by Lynn Munsinger
Tacky the Penguin does not behave like a typical pretty penguin. He does not have perfect poise or a beautiful voice, and he can’t even seem to march correctly. His companion penguins find him rather odd. However, when the mean hunters come around looking to catch some “pretty penguins” Tacky manages to confuse and confound them till they run off.

Target Readers:

  • Memorable Character Fans: Tacky is one unforgettable little penguin. I haven’t met a reader yet who didn’t immediately love him. He’s one of my favorite picture book characters. He’s adorable and funny, but manages to teach great lessons with his own unique flair. And he has a whole series of books for readers to spend time with him.
  • Those Who Need Reassurance That It Is OK to Be Different or To Appreciate the Unique Qualities of Those Who Are Different: The best part about this story is the message wrapped up in the fun entertainment. Tacky is odd. He doesn’t fit in, but he is totally ok with being himself. He never tries to be someone else. And though the other penguins look down at him at first and frequently get annoyed with him throughout the series, his unique flair saves the day again and again and they are reminded that Tacky’s differences can be a very good thing. 
  • Penguin Lovers: I think this will go without saying for the rest of the books on this list. Animal lovers and penguin lovers should eat up any book in today’s Brainstorm.
  • Humor Fans: Tacky’s books are always good when you need some humor in your day.

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle
Flora and the Penguin have a great time ice skating together until there's a little misunderstanding. Not to worry, though, because the two friends quickly work out their misunderstanding.

Target Readers:

  • Wordless Book Fans/Art Fans: Wordless books have so many great points. Not only is the art usually fantastic, but they can work on interpreting art and facial expressions and using context to create meaning…and there’s tons of extension activity possibilities. In this one, kids especially get to work on reading body language to figure out what’s going on. 
  • Kids Working on Social Skills: This story has a nice little lesson about working out misunderstandings. (The penguin gives Flora a fish as a sign of its friendship, but Flora flings it away which upsets the penguin.) It would segue easily into discussions with kids about what to do when there's a misunderstanding with a friend or sibling. You could also talk about how a treasure to one person can seem worthless to another person.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
A boy finds a lost penguin and sets out to return him to his home. But when they reach what he thinks is the penguin's home, the boy realizes the penguin would rather be somewhere else.

Target Readers:

  • Sweet Story Fans/Friendship Story Fans: This is a sweet story about a boy who is willing to go to great lengths to help a stranger. It turns out the penguin showed up to be his friend, so they go back home to the boy’s house together. Just savor the sweetness. If you want an extension activity you can ask kids if they’ve ever seen acts of kindness like the boy’s or have them discuss how to make a friend.
  • Compare/Contrast Fans: This story always reminds me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon when he tries to help a penguin in the short "8 Ball Bunny." Watch that, read this, and then have a fun compare/contrast.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, ill. by David Small
While visiting the aquarium Elliot asks his father if he can get a penguin. Since he asks politely, his father hands him $20 and assumes his son buys a stuffed penguin. But Elliot goes for the real thing and is quite resourceful in making his new pet happy at home.

Target Readers:

  • Compare/Contrast Fans: Reminds me a bit of Mr. Popper's Penguins. How about you? Read both and compare/contrast them. 
  • Etiquette Fans: I loved Elliot's politeness in this. He’s a great example for kids. 
  • Keen-eyed Readers: Observant readers may be able to guess Elliot's father's similar secret before the final page spread. (His father also has a unique pet.)
  • Pet Lovers: Elliot and his dad certainly have some of the most unique pets you'll come across.
  • Caldecott Fans: This book won a Caldecott Honor for its illustrations. If you’re on a quest to read all the Caldecotts you can, don’t miss this one’s cool illustrations.

Flight School by Lita Judge
Penguin shows up to Flight School with the other birds. His teacher lets him stay for the training, and though penguin doesn't have the technical equipment to fly like an eagle, the older birds think of something to help him fulfil his dream.

Target Readers:

  • Dreamers & Realists: There’s good stuff in this story for both dreamers and realists. The realists get a reminder that it is ok to let others dream and perhaps there’s a way for the impossible dream to be fulfilled. The dreamers get reminded that there are very real constraints and sometimes our dreams need to get remolded. 
  • Bird Lovers: A fun cast of a vast array of birds is perfect for bird lovers. 
  • Problem Solvers: Ask kids how a penguin could fly before the end of the book. Can they think outside the box like the penguin’s friends?

Without You by Sarah Weeks, ill. by Suzanne Duranceau
A little penguin's ode to the care of its parents that sustains it through the cold first months of its life.

Target Readers:

  • Sweet Story Fans: If you cry over Hallmark movies or commercials, you’ll need to read this one with a box of tissues. It would make a great Fathers’ Day or Mothers’ Day read.
  • Art Fans: The little poetic ode of a penguin for the care of its parents is sweet, but what really sets this book apart are the incredible illustrations. They are all stunning and gorgeous! 
  • Penguin Fact Gatherers: The author's note at the front of the book has great information about the habits of male and female emperor penguins in the care for an egg and little penguin.

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant, ill. by Christian Robinson
Five penguins and their mother celebrate the beginning of winter by going out and playing in the snow in their color-coordinated outfits.

Target Readers:

  • Short Attention Spans: This is a quick, very simple story, good for little ones with short attention spans. 
  • Winter Fans: Pull this one out at the beginning of winter and celebrate with the penguins.
  • Basic Concepts Learners: The color-coordinated outfits provide opportunities for kids learning their colors to practice identifying them. And those working on counting get to count up to five a few times.

Penguins by Liz Pichon
A little girl loses her camera in the penguins' enclosure at the zoo. The penguins figure out how to use it and go a little picture crazy. When the keeper finds it the next day, he puts the camera in the lost and found. Eventually the little girl recovers the camera and finds some curious pictures of penguins along with her other zoo pictures.

Target Readers:
  • Zoo Visitors: It seems fitting to read this before or after a visit to the zoo. It’s also a good reminder to keep things away from the enclosures.
  • Humor Fans: The entire plot is quite humorous and sure to get a few smiles if not laughs from readers. 
  • Creative Types: Read this and then imagine what would have happened if other critters at the zoo had found the camera instead of the penguins. Write or illustrate or even photograph your ideas.

Penguin Problems by Jory John, ill. by Lane Smith
The little penguin in this book finds lots of things to complain about as life as a penguin. Until a walrus gives him a little speech about counting his blessings too. Then he does admit it isn't all bad...mostly.

Target Readers:

  • Art Fans: I LOVE Lane Smith's illustrations in this. They're so adorable!!! He makes the penguins look so fluffy and soft. And such great facial expressions! 
  • Complainers: I'm quite glad the walrus set the little penguin on a better path because he was becoming quite an annoying little complainer (if somewhat humorous too). Use this one to talk about complaining too much and remembering to count your blessings. 

Nonfiction Picture Books

Penguins ABC by Kevin Schafer
An alphabet of penguin types and actions.

Target Readers:

  • Penguin Fact Gatherers: This is a quick read with just one or two words per page, but in the back of the book is extra information about each page.
  • Alphabet Book Fans: I thought all the words chosen for the alphabet letters were excellent. 
  • Penguin Photo Fans: Each page features a fun penguin photo too. Another reason why this is one of my favorite factual penguin books for little kids. Don't let the cover dissuade you! It is very attractive inside.

The Great Penguin Rescue: Saving the African Penguins by Sandra Markle
African penguins have been on the decline for several centuries. Sandra Markle explains how and why that happened, and what people are now doing to try and bring these penguins’ numbers back up.

Target Readers:

  • Penguin Fact Gatherers/Animal & Environment Lovers: I learned a lot from Markle’s history of the decline in the African penguin population. Even more fascinating perhaps were all the intervention methods they tried and I would have thought would have made an impact on helping the penguin population grow but didn’t. What has been working is surprisingly simple. It was inspirational to learn about all the people working to help these penguins both in the past and currently. There are fascinating information boxes every once in a while, and more info in the back of the book for those who haven’t had enough penguin facts yet. 
  • Science Classes: The trial and error of how to help the African penguin population rebuild provides a great real life example of the scientific method, and not giving up after failures. 
  • Engaging Nonfiction Fans: Markle’s very readable and engaging text is accompanied by lots and lots of wonderful penguin photos. And not just average penguin photos, they were not only cute and funny, but in-the-midst-of-action the text is talking about photos that really help suck readers in even further.

Penguins vs Puffins by Julie Beer
The tuxedoed birds of the north and south's stats, quirks, and triumphs compared and contrasted in a battle readers get decide the winner of. Who are better, penguins or puffins?

Target Readers:

  • Debate Lovers: In my opinion, everyone is a winner here. But I know that some people just like a good debate. And those with decided opinions about which birds are better can even weigh in their vote via a link in the back.
  • Penguin & Puffin Fact Gatherers/Engaging Nonfiction Fans: Readers get loads of fabulous photographs of cute and cuddly birds and get to learn cool facts about penguins and puffin along the way. A very engagingly put together read, perfect for middle grade readers who are looking for a fun nonfiction read or who can't get enough penguins or puffins.

Penguins! by Anne Schreiber
An informative introduction to penguins, where they live, some of their distinctive features and habits, and the different species around the world.

Target Readers:

  • Lower Grade Nonfiction Fans: Leveled readers for kids differ a lot in what their numbers mean. National Geographic readers are pretty good at coordinating their numbers with the target grade level which is pretty easy to remember. So this would be a good nonfiction book for kids around 2nd grade interested in penguins. 
  • Gross Factor Fans: Regurgitation is a fact of life for penguin parents and little ones. It actually gets some photo time in here, so kids drawn in by the gross will love page 21 (and those with sensitive stomachs may want to skip it).
  • Penguin Fact Gatherers: I've read quite a few books on penguins. This one may be small but it stood out in two areas. First, I really liked the map of where to find penguins that appears on pages 6 & 7. Second, the graphic designer had fun with the arrangement of the photographs of the different species of penguins in the back of the book, and they look like they are making faces at each other. It's a great line up. 

Lower Grade Fiction

Star Attack by L.A. Courtenay, ill. by James Davies
The Space Penguins aboard the Tunafish receive a distress call from a pizza delivery craft and zoom to the rescue. When they arrive at the coordinates of the distress signal there's no sign of any pizza, but there is a gigantic starfish space station. They soon find themselves sucked into the Death Star space station by tractor beam and in the evil clutches of their arch-nemesis Beaky Wader who's had some cybernetic improvements and now wants to be called Dark Wader. Dark Wader invites the penguins to join him, but the penguins wouldn't dream of going over to the dark side (even though the dark side does seem to have some super fun ice slides). Thanks to some quick thinking and teamwork, the crew of the Tunafish is able to evade Wader's evil plan and save the day.

Target Readers:

  • Lower Grade Scifi & Humor Fans: Loaded with fishy smells and obvious Star Wars puns, this is aimed at the lower-middle elementary crowd. The plot is simple, but not quite entirely predictable. The concept of a group of penguins as a space crew has obviously been done before (3-2-1 Penguins) but this manages to not feel like a rip-off of that series (the penguins do bear some resemblance to certain black and white feathered animated stars from Madagascar though...). This does offer a nice sci-fi/humor option for the 2-4th grade reading crowd, that should appeal to both boys and girls and that's something to applaud (not many series fit that bill). If you're looking for a fun, clean adventure series for a 2nd-4th grade reader, this would be a good option.

Middle Grade Fiction

Mr Popper's Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater, ill. by Robert Lawson
The classic children's story about a family who welcome a group of penguins into their home.

Target Readers:

  • Humor Fans/Read Aloud Fans: The antics of Mr. Popper to make his penguins welcome and the accommodations his family must make never fail to entertain. I fell in love with this story as a young child when my mom read it aloud to me and my siblings. Capt. Cook, Greta and the rest of the gang still remain some of my favorite literary penguins. 
  • People Who Think They Want a Pet Penguin: A part of me always wanted to spend a day in the Popper's frozen house with their feathered friends, and I know others have too. At least you get to do so in your mind while reading this. (And P.S. my grown up self knows better. Have a park ranger from South Africa tell you about penguin bites and you’ll get over this urge quickly. I still love that the Poppers get to do it in fictional land though.)

Pinquo by Colin Thiele
In a tiny village on the Australian coast, two children find a Fairy penguin whose flipper has been injured. They take it to Dr Piper, a scientist who lives in the village, and together they help get the little penguin they dub Pinquo back to health. The story then follows Pinquo through several years as Dr Piper and the kids anxiously observe him come back, raise chicks, and poke his curious little beak into their lives. One day after a big earthquake hits, Pinquo is acting very strangely. He seems to be bossing the other penguins around and leading them away from the water. He squawks at Dr Piper and the children as well, causing them to remember an Aboriginal fable about penguins who warned a town of an impending tidal wave. Thanks to Pinquo's warning, Dr Piper and the others are able to warn the town and get to high ground before the massive tidal wave hits. They wait and watch the penguins to know when it is safe to go back down. An oil tanker is caught unawares in the tidal wave, and soon the town is rushing to save the penguins who saved their lives.

Target Readers:

  • Animal Lovers/Fans of Bittersweet Stories: This is a perfect short little animal story for kids who are animal lovers, especially penguin lovers. The tale itself is fairly predictable and just relates the bare basics, but really most animal fans just want to hear about the cute little animal's antics. And this provides plenty of that. Be warned, though, the ending is bittersweet.
  • Australian Lit Fans: I’d never heard of Colin Thiele or this book till I found it hiding on our shelves. He was an award-winning Australian children’s author best known for his stories about kids and animals. If you want to try out some Australian lit, this story is by an Australian and takes place in Australia.

Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks
Bird and Squirrel are lost, somewhere near the South Pole. Upon their arrival, they meet a flock of penguins who are amazed by Bird's ability to fly and declare he is the Chosen One who will save them from their servanthood to the Great Whale. Of course, they don't quite tell him that that means he'll be sacrificed to the Great Whale. And all that fame goes straight to Bird's head. Thankfully, Squirrel is still as paranoid as ever and is thinking a bit more clearly than Bird. With the help of their new friend Sakari the penguin, Squirrel comes up with a plan to save Bird, and everyone else too.

Target Readers:

  • Graphic Novel Fans/Humor Fans/Animal Fans: Just as fun as the first book. (Though I miss the cat...but then again, there's penguins in this one, so all is forgiven.) It is a fun little story that will appeal to multiple ages and is nice and clean. Oh, and funny too.

Adult Fiction

The Journey of the Penguin by Emiliano Ponzi
A lonely penguin makes his way from Antarctica to England, where he lands himself a role as the trademark for a publishing company.

Target Readers:

  • Wordless Book Fans/Art Fans: A charmingly illustrated book that pretty much tells the tale entirely through illustrations. There's one poster with words and photos with people's names below them, but that's it for the story. I was afraid a book made in tribute to a publishing company might be cheesy, but this was fun and enjoyable, and didn't feel forced. It could stand on its own without the back story. Of course, that could just be the penguin lover in me talking. Only one thing about the book bothered me. There's a polar bear in Antarctica at the beginning. It must have been very, very, very lost.

Our Iceberg Is Melting by John P. Kotter, Holger Rathgeber, ill. by Peter Mueller, fwd by Spencer Johnson
Based on the concepts presented in his book Leading Change Kotter has written an allegory (he calls it a fable) that helps illustrate the key things all groups need to do in order to have their group face change in healthy ways. In his story, a colony of penguins faces a crisis when one of the penguins notices that the structural integrity of their iceberg has been compromised and will likely break apart the next winter. The leaders must decide whether to believe this penguin or not, and once they do, how to bring about change in the best possible way.

Target Readers:

  • Leaders/Those Facing Change: This is an easy to read book presented in an appealing layout with glossy pages, large font and full-color pictures that presents important, well-researched keys for facing change with a group. The story of the penguins makes it a quick and entertaining read, but the main points are also easily understood. Definitely a great tool for anyone in leadership of a group of people. 

Adult Nonfiction

The Penguin Lessons: a True Story by Tom Michell
Tom Michell was on holiday at the coast in Uruguay when he came across a host of animals washed up from an oil spill incident. Most of the animals were already dead, but when one penguin moved, Michell decided to do what he could for it. He cleaned it up best he could and then tried to set it free at a clean section of nearby beach. However, the penguin refused to leave him and Michell wasn't sure his feathers were still waterproof after the deep scrubbing. Since his holiday was ending, there was no local zoo, and he was due back at the international school he worked for the next day, Michell decided the best thing to do was take the penguin back to school in Argentina with him. Originally, Michell planned to drop off the penguin, now dubbed Juan Salvador, at the zoo or coast in Argentina. But after further investigation, Michell didn't have the heart to abandon Juan Salvador at the zoo where the penguins looked miserable, and the Argentinian coast was quite a ways away from the school. In the meantime, Juan Salvador seemed to be taking to the British boarding school life like a fish to water. He loved the boys, he had no end of people willing to fetch him fish, and he was getting healthier by the day. Recorded in this book are little stories from Juan Salvador's interactions with the students, other people and Michell, the ways he changed lives, and also stories from Michell's life as an expat in Argentina during the late 1970s.
Notes on content: Some language and descriptions of drunken people.

Target Readers:

  • Those Who Think They Want a Penguin as a Pet/Animal Lovers & Environment Champions: I really enjoyed Michell's stories about Juan Salvador. They are cute and touching with just the right moments of humor. I like that he included his further understanding of why Juan Salvador refused to leave him at the beach in the epilogue (penguins need a pair to be re-released). My favorite part of the book was the story of how swimming with Juan Salvador helped one struggling boy at the school to come out of his shell and find his place. (Those of you who cry during Hallmark movies may need tissues for that chapter.) In the end, Michell shares a much later return visit to South America and what one organization is doing to help treat and prevent oil spills (this is where he learns why Juan Salvador wouldn't leave him). Though Michell obviously enjoyed his time with Juan Salvador, he regrets that the relationship was ever necessary (a very mature perspective) and uses this story to challenge people to help keep the oceans cleaner for other critters. 
  • International Setting Fans: Reading is a wonderful way to travel the world vicariously. This one takes readers for an interesting look at South America. As an expat teacher, I found Michell's stories of his expat teaching experience fascinating. It's fun to compare notes. I'm in a different part of the world and in a different time period, but some expat experiences just don't change with time or location. No matter where you are, there's the challenge of understanding and respecting the cultures of your host country. I really liked that Michell got to know various local people and respected their ways of life, no matter how different. His stories of Maria and her family were especially touching (and sometimes humorous, but still respectful).
  • Autobiography/Memoir Fans: What’s not to find interesting about a British teacher with a pet penguin in an Argentinian international school during a time period of great turmoil in Argentina?