Hoist by my own enthusiasm

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Chris Overworked

Image: Flickr Commons : Ferrell McCollough
It’s nearly the end of what has been a crazy and chaotic year in my life as a school librarian.

I haven’t blogged since May. Why? Possibly because I am doing the work of more than one Librarian and sabotaging my own success by enthusiastically taking on too much.

For me the end of this year is a time of reflection, on the good and bad. I should be patting myself on the back for having been an integral part of a team that successfully launched ebooks into our school and the hands of my students. Instead, I am feeling guilty about all the other things I didn’t do well. ‘Stretched too thin’ is what comes to mind – with no area in my domain covered really well and most ‘at standard’, possibly some below.

Things I will muse over while on hoiliday:

  • how libraries are affected by the digital shift to e-content – it isn’t one format over another
  • how our roles in schools have changed – yes the future is exciting but someone still has to shelve the books!
  • why Librarians tend to take on and give too much and what it means for us professionally and personally
  • can I get my mojo back?

Would love some reflections from others in a similar mind space.

Realistic fiction for girls : Series Spotlight “The Casson Family” by Hillary Mckay

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A while back I set myself a goal of blogging about any wonderful series or authors I was discovering or rediscovering to meet the seemingly insatiable desire of some of my 10+ students for books similar to Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy. These girls love realistic fiction with heart, that talk about families, friendships and relationships. They prefer realism to fantasy and don’t mind if things get a bit gritty – in fact if the lives of the characters are totally different to their own then all the better.

Sadly blogging has been hard work this term and although I have read books that fit this bill perfectly, up until now I hadn’t had any free time to reflect on them let alone write something. My school and library has upgraded our Library Management System and implemented an ebook lending platform. Both things took a lot of time but more importantly…energy!

Last night I had the pleasure of finishing the 5th book in a wonderful series by English Author Hilary Mckay. The series is the Casson Family.

When I read the first book Saffy’s Angel I really did not know what to expect, however I was completely swept away with these stories and have thought about the characters and their family dynamic long after I closed each book. There are so many layers to the relationships between the members of this family and their friends. The characters in these books feel so real that after reading each book you feel like you have been a part of their lives, sitting in their kitchen with a cup of tea listening in to their conversations, and you wish you could spend more time with them. As I read these books, I could imagine girls of 10 enjoying them now – perhaps not understanding everything but this wouldn’t affect their reading pleasure. These are the sort of books that deserve to be owned, loved and reread often as the owner grows up. I can see that many subtle ideas and feelings will become apparent to the reader as she matures and has experiences of her own. In fact I can almost guarantee that in re-reading these, a year or so apart, the reader will have new insights into the feelings of the characters and what is going on behind the scenes. Reading the stories reminded me of all sorts of things I felt growing up but the book felt just as real looking at it from the Mother’s point of view at this other end of my life (I felt I had a lot in common with her and not just because she calls everyone Darling!).

It will be interesting to see how my students find these. They are eccentrically English and it takes  a little bit to get into the groove. These books deserve to be savoured in a long sitting (by the fire in winter on a rainy afternoon or under a tree in a gentle breeze in summer…definitely not to be read in a rush or in snatches!) One of my students has read Saffy’s Angel on my recommendation and loved it. Somehow I knew she was the kind of girl that would – she is 10, quite mature, a bit of a thinker and passionate about what she likes. This is more a thinking/feeling girls series than JW in my opinion. I now need to read Hillary’s other series The Exiles.

The Casson Family books in order:

  1. Saffy’s Angel, 2001
  2. Indigo’s star, 2003
  3. Permanent Rose, 2005
  4. Caddy ever after, 2006
  5. Forever Rose, 2007
  6.  Caddy’s world, 2011 (This is a prequel).

The stories are self contained and although there is a lovely feeling of familiarity from having read them in order, it isn’t absolutely necessary to do so. Book synopsis for each book taken from Goodreads.com

Saffy’s Angel:

saffy

Goodreads: Saffron’s two sisters, Cadmium and Rose, and her brother Indigo were all named from a color chart by their mother Eve, a fine-arts painter. When Saffron, known as Saffy, discovers that her name is not on the chart, it soon leads to another discovery. She has been adopted.

Life in the Banana House, as their home is called, is never dull. Caddy, the eldest, is taking driving lessons from an instructor who happens to be a very attractive young man. Indigo dreams up ways, sometimes quite dangerous, to conquer fear. Rose, the youngest, has learned how to get her own way without upsetting the other. As for Saffy, all she remembers from when she was very small is a stone angel in a garden in Italy. With the help of a newfound friend, Saffy sets out on an adventurous and sometimes hilarious search for her angel.

Indigo’s star:

indigo

Goodreads: Indigo, having just recovered from a bout of [glandular fever], must return to school after missing an entire [term]. Only his younger sister and loyal sidekick, Rose, knows why he’s dreading it so much. As it turns out, the school bullies are eagerly awaiting Indigo’s return so that they can pick up where they left off—flushing his head in the toilet. But Indigo hasn’t counted on meeting Tom, an American student who is staying with his grandmother in England for the year. With his couldn’t-care-less attitude and rock-and-roll lifestyle, Tom becomes Indigo’s ally, and together they work to take back the school.

Meanwhile, eight-year-old Rose is desperately trying to avoid wearing horrible glasses, nineteen-year-old Caddy is agonizing over her many suitors, Saffy is working overtime with her best friend, Sarah, to protect Indigo from the gang, and with their father, Bill, in London at his art studio, their mother, Eve, is just trying to stay on top of it all!.

Permanent Rose:

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Goodreads:Feisty Rose takes center stage as the highly original Casson family faces a long, hot summer. As usual, things are a bit chaotic. Eldest daughter Caddy is now engaged to darling Michael, and she’s not altogether sure she likes it. Saffy and Sarah are on a mission to find Saffy’s biological father (while cultivating hearts of stone). Indigo is cautiously beginning a friendship with a reformed bully, who desparately wants to feel like part of the Casson family. Rose, while missing Tom (who none of them have heard from) dreadfully, enters into a life of petty crime, shoplifting small items until her misadventures nearly bring disaster. An accidental trip to London and a visit with Rose’s father lead to a startling revelation, but through it all Rose’s single-minded determination to find Tom remains as fierce as it is hopeless. Or is it?

Caddy ever after:

caddy

Goodreads: Love is in the air for the Casson family! Four hilarious, endearing tales unfold as Rose, Indigo, Saffy, and Caddy each tell their intertwining stories. Rose begins by showing how she does special with her Valentine’s card for Tom in New York. Not to be outdone, Indigo has his own surprise in store for the Valentine,s Day disco at school. For her part, Saffy has an unusual date in a very, very dark graveyard, and is haunted by a balloon that almost costs her her best friend.

But it is Caddy who dares everything — as she tells all about love at first sight when you have found the Real Thing. Unfortunately the Real Thing is not darling Michael. What is Rose going to do?

Forever Rose:

foreverrose

Author website: As Christmas approaches, eleven-year-old Rose, the youngest member of the eccentric Casson family, discovers that life is filled with both catastrophic problems and wonderful surprises.

Caddys world:

caddysworld

Go back in time… Caddy is 12, grappling with school, best friends, first boy friends, younger siblings and the unexpected arrival of one baby Permanent Rose, a little sooner than expected. While baby Rose lies in critical condition in hospital, life goes on in the unpredictable, colourful Casson household. {I haven’t read this one yet, I’m saving it!}.

Author website: www.hillarymckay.co.uk

RELATED POSTS:

New series for younger readers…The cryptic casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta

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The perplexing pineapple. Written by Ursula Dubosarsky, with puzzles and illustrations by Terry Denton. (The cryptical casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta; book 1). Published by Allen and Unwin, May 2013. Paperback, 84 pages. ISBN:9781743312575 NZ$15.99

OTHER TITLES IN THE SERIES 

The Looming Lamplight – June 2013

The Missing Mongoose – July 2013

Synopsis:

Buenos Aires’ Chief of Police, Coco Carlomagno, is sure his office high in the Obelisco is haunted. Every day at the same time he sees a floating pineapple and every day he hears a terrible noise. What could it mean? Who could it be? There’s only one guinea pig Coco can turn to to help him in his hour of need: his logic-loving cousin Alberta. Can Alberta help him unravel the mysteries of the perplexing pineapple?

Ursula Dubosarsky has created a fun mystery series for younger readers (6-8 year olds) featuring what she says are three of her favourite things…”They often tell you in writing classes – write about something you love. Well, three things I love are guinea pigs, detective stories and the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. And I’m happy to say in this series of books, the three loves have come together.”

The books are short, divided into 6 chapters and interwoven with hand drawn illustrations. Throughout the text there are small word puzzles (rebus puzzles) for the reader to solve. Some of the younger readers may need help with these, especially with spelling. If children seem interested after completing these, a simple google search for Rebus Puzzles would find more that could be printed off and completed. Lots of fun to be had, especially if children are encouraged to make up their own puzzles and clues to share with their friends and siblings.

Cryptic-Casebook-activity

The story also features sporadic words in Spanish, enough to lend an exotic feel to the story in context and not too difficult to work out the meaning. The definitions and a brief description of the meaning is included on each page where the Spanish word appears. I like this simple introduction to footnotes for this age group.

Overall, I thought this a sweet series, nothing too onerous or challenging for the target audience and pitched at the right level – there is nothing scary about the mystery. I will be adding these to the collection of early chapter books I have in my library. These will also be useful for the struggling readers at age 8-9 who enjoy humorous animal stories and are looking for new stories to help them with reading mileage.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for supplying me with an advance copy for review. I was delighted to find that this book is included in this months Scholastic Junior Chapter Book standing order.

A story can be a dangerous thing….Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt

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Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt. Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013.  Paperback, 324 pp. ISBN: 9781743313589. rrp NZ$19.99 (Also available on Overdrive ebook platform for libraries).

From the publisher:

The fantastic story of a young girl who must run for her life because she has brought bad luck to her village…Classic adventure-fantasy by an author with a fabulous and original storytelling voice.

Once, long ago and far from here, there were endless marshes, and in the marshes lived a marsh auntie, and that marsh auntie wore a coat with a thousand pockets, and in the pocket of that coat was a pouch, and inside that pouch was a nail, and that nail had the power to open a treacherous story…

Peat is on the run – forced to flee for her life when she’s blamed for bringing bad luck to her village. She heads for the endless marshes, where she’s caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.
But a story can be a dangerous thing. It can take you out of one world and leave you stranded in another – and Peat finds herself trapped in an eerie place beyond the Silver River where time stands still. Her only friends are a 900-year-old boy and his ghost hound, plus a small and slippery sleek – a cunning creature that might sink his teeth into your leg one minute, and save your life the next.

‘A gripping tale…Both magical and superbly true, this new world draws us into universal struggles of survival, loyalty and freedom, as secrets build and break around us like weather.’ ANNA FIENBERG

Book trailer:

About the author:

Julie Hunt lives on a farm in southern Tasmania and is fascinated by landscapes and the stories they inspire. This interest has taken her from the rugged west coast of Ireland to the ice caves of Romania. She loves poetry, storytelling and traditional folktales, and her own stories combine other-worldly elements with down-to-earth humour. Her picture books include The Coat (ill. Ron Brooks) and Precious Little (ill. Gaye Chapman). She’s written a three-book series called Little Else about a plucky young cowgirl (ill. Beth Norling), and a graphic novel called KidGlovz (ill. by Dale Newman, who did the Scarlet Runner cover).
In Song for a Scarlet Runner, Julie explores an idea that occurs in many traditional stories throughout the world – the ‘external soul’. A person’s spirit is taken from their body and hidden away so they can never be killed, but eventually time and the laws of nature catch up with them.

What did I think about Song for a scarlet runner?

I found this a highly original tale – it is beautifully written and children that love fantasy where the reader is totally immersed in a different world will love this. In many ways it reads like historical fiction, the story could easily be describing life in the dark ages, the fantasy element is gradually introduced.

Peat and her older sister Marlie live in isolation at the Overhang, a barren desolate place where three roads meet but no one ever travels along them. The nearest village or collection of dwellings is Skerrick from where they were banished on the day of Peat’s birth. Peat was born with flaming red hair and one brown eye and one green. Her father disowned her and banished her mother and sister along with her. The two girls have lived very simply, tending cattle, making cheeses and the only thing they have to look forward to is the infrequent visits from their Aunt Wim. Wim brings supplies and takes the cheeses back to Skerrick.

One day a stranger comes along the road and tells them about his part of the world, and although it is close to Skerrick Peat and Marlie had no idea it existed. Peat is curious and asks lots of questions. Unfortunately the stranger is suffering from  a plague like illness and after traveling on further to Skerrick, he infects the residents. This causes the wrath of Peat’s father to fall upon her again. Even though she has always longed for an adventure she is forced to go on the run into the badlands, leaving her sister behind. Peat meets a strange creature that she calls a Sleek. Despite the Sleek sometimes biting and hurting her and stealing the little food she has, he also helps her and becomes her traveling companion. Peat meets people along the way but she is unable to stay anywhere and has to keep moving further on, eventually into the marshes.

Once in the marshes Peat is fortunate to meet the Marsh Aunties, a group of strange, gifted women.  Eadie is a larger than life character, wearing an organic living coat with 1000 pockets, all containing the herbs and other materials she needs for healing and making remedies. Eadie, rescues Peat and encourages her to be her apprentice and pass on to her, the skill of storytelling. While the reader is being coaxed lovingly into this story by the warm characters and delicious prose, the characters are telling us about the power and magic of oral storytelling. Unfortunately Peat is tricked and without spoiling the story, let me just say that Peat has to use the power of story telling herself in order to escape and rescue her friend Stiltboy.

The whole book is a very satisfying, rich fantasy read without the usual layers of props (dragons, wizards and the rest!). I believe that both girls and boys 9+ should love this book. It would be great read aloud.

My thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending an advance copy of this book for review.

New series : The Battles of Ben Kingdom by Andrew Beasley

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The claws of evil by Andrew Beasley. (The battles of Ben Kingdom; book 1). Published by Usborne, 2013. Paperback, 329 pages. ISBN: 9781409544005. Available in bookstores NZ rrp$20.95 now (also in Wheelers and Overdrive ebook platforms!)

From the publisher:

Welcome to Victorian London; the home of the Artful Dodger, Sherlock Holmes…and Ben Kingdom, cocky street urchin – and the saviour of mankind. Unknown to mere mortals, an ancient battle is being waged across the city. Below the streets lurk the Legion, an evil gang of miscreants and criminals in league with the monstrous Feathered Men – determined to unleash Hell on the streets of London. Above the city’s rooftops soar the Watchers, a ragtag band of orphans, mystics and spies, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and guarding London against evil. Only Ben can put an end to this war – the only problem is, he doesn’t know which side to choose.

What did I think of this book?

I have loved Usborne publications for years – but I have been more familiar with their excellent non-fiction titles (these are wonderful resources for my students carrying out inquiry as the books are beautifully laid out and well supported by web and other up to date resources). This is the first of two new fiction titles I have read recently and I will be looking out for more from this publisher (watch out for a review of another excellent girls realistic fiction title which will be up on this blog soon…)

Back to the Claws of evil…Victorian setting. Check. Rip roaring adventure. Check. Excellent writing. Check. Appeal to voracious readers. Check. Good versus evil. Check. These are just some of the elements that make me want to tell my students about this book.This book was talked about a lot prior to publication and this one lives up to all the enthusiastic pre publicity excitement.

From lovereadingforkids.co.uk: Everybody at Usborne is incredibly excited to be publishing The Claws of Evil, the first book in a stunning new series The Battles of Ben Kingdom. I started reading this book on a plane journey from Italy but was quickly transported to the rooftops of Victorian London, where an age-long battle takes place between the mysterious Watchers and the brutal Legion. Only our hero, Ben Kingdom, can put an end to this war, and the dilemma at the heart of this brilliant novel is that he doesn’t know which side to choose.Imaginative, captivating and fast-paced, Andrew has created colourful characters with real heart. Blending steampunk invention with nail-biting adventure, we believe this is the sort of fiction that will get readers talking. We hope you love it as much as we do!

It is wonderful when the author has an interesting story of their own. I was fascinated to read about the things that influenced Andrew on his author page on the website of UK bookseller Foyles.

Blame Sherlock Holmes.

I have always had a fascination with the Victorian era, and London in particular. There is something so fascinating, so gloriously tantalising, about those murky cobblestones and the swirling fog. I was very young when I first read Conan Doyle and I remember my feelings when I found myself in that age of great invention and glorious adventure, and yet tinged with darkness too, in those dangerous alleyways and crime-ridden tenements. It proved an irresistible combination to my young mind, and the obvious choice of setting for my series – The Battles of Ben Kingdom.

Andrew goes on to talk about other things that have influenced him including his own experience of homelessness “Unfortunately, in many respects, the London of Ben Kingdom is a mirror of London today. Homelessness is on the rise. Estimates vary, but it is suggested that as many as 100,000 children become detached from their families each year in the UK and have to fend for themselves. 30,000 of those will be twelve years old or younger. One in six of them will sleep rough. Suddenly, the historical past collides with the present. I could rewrite The Claws of Evil with a contemporary setting and it would still ring true.” Click on the link at the end of this post to read this fascinating account in full.

The book is very much about choices; the choice between good and evil is not so easy when the main protagonist doesn’t have all the facts. It is interesting to be the reader watching from the sidelines, willing the character to take action based on the information that you the reader has from having read both the point of view of the good (the Watchers) and the Bad (the Legion) – never has that felt so apparent for me when reading a book as with this one. Even stranger, is that right from the start of the story Ben is convinced that the Winged Man is evil incarnate while the Evil Professor can help him. If this were a pantomime or stage show children would be yelling to the actors from the audience!

There are so many elements of great fantasy here; firstly the prophecy held by both sides who are waiting for the child that is destined to change the world by leading their side; the mystical coin that the legion needs to complete their plans (it also seems to possess everyone that comes into contact with it, including Ben); a subterranean community of “outsiders” living below London’s streets; people and creatures with amazing physical powers running along the rooftops; magical hideous monstrous creatures with murderous blood letting intent. Plenty for kids to get their teeth into and one that will appeal to many girls as well as boys because of the well developed secondary characters of both sexes.

The second book in the series is due out in September.

LINKS:

RELATED POSTS:

Anzac Day : two great books to share with children today

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Here are two books that are wonderful to share with children to explain what Anzac Day is all about and why we commemorate it.

anzacdaywerry

Anzac Day : the New Zealand story (What it is and why it matters) by Philippa Werry. Published by New Holland, 2013. Paperback. ISBN:9781869663803. NZ$24.99

From the publisher:

The 25th of April is a very special day for New Zealanders and Australians. Do you know why? What does ANZAC mean? When did the tradition of the dawn service first start? Why do we wear the red poppy, and play the Last Post? This book will tell you all these things and more, and it’s crammed full of fascinating pictures as well.

From me:

I was delighted to receive this book in time for Anzac Day.

This newly published book is not only a wonderful resource for teachers and classroom study but a fantastic book for children to explore. It is laid out in an easy to follow format. Plenty of captioned pictures for younger readers, but interesting text blocks for children wanting to explore. It is full of photographs, quotes, songs, poems, recipes and other visual elements presented in a photo journal or scrapbooking style. Everything is covered in this book; the who, why, where and when questions for inquiry on this topic.

It is presented in four main chapters :

  1. The Gallipoli Campaign
  2. New Zealand at War, 1914-18
  3. Remembering our war dead
  4. Anzac Day, then and now

The author then provides a wealth of other resources that can be used for further research and investigation as well as activities for children interested in the topic.

Author website: http://www.philippawerry.co.nz/books_anzacday.html

You can listen to the interview with Philippa Werry about her book on National Radio’s Nine to Noon programme here:

Book trailer:

Grandadsmedals

Grandad’s medals by Tracy Duncan illustrated by Bruce Potter.  Published by Raupo Publishing, 2005/ Penguin, 2008. ISBN9781869486655/9780143503187 Paperback (This may be out of print now, but some children’s books shops may have copies and it is in many school and public libraries).

Every year Grandad marches in the Anzac Day parade and wears his medals, walking proudly beside his old comrades. But this year Grandad’s best mate is too sick to walk and the number of old soldiers still marching is getting smaller.

Not only is this a lovely story about a young boy’s relationship with his grandfather, it is also an empathetic account of the Anzac memorial day service and why it is important.

A good list of other resources is here: http://schools.natlib.govt.nz/blogs/create-readers/08-04/anzac-resources

Delightful series for the younger set: Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn & Nick Price

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I have admired the covers of this delightful series for a long time, but have only recently taken the time to sit down and read one. These stories are delightful – I finished the first and then read the second and third adventures straight after. These are really great little adventure stories, yes the characters have a great deal of “cute” factor but the stories are rich and interesting and children 6-7+ will be delighted. So far there are seven books in the series. Reading them in order is not absolutely necessary, but the first book does explain the characters and the setting particularly well. Now that I have read them I know I will be a lot more confident about recommending them to both girls and boys. There is a connection for any children who enjoy playing with toys based on miniature worlds, for example Sylvanian Families.

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Tumtum and Nutmeg Written by Emily Bearn and illustrated by Nick Price. Published by Egmont, 2008.

From the Tumtum and Nutmeg website: In the broom cupboard of a small dwelling called Rose Cottage, stands a house fit for a mouse – well, two mice actually. A house made of pebblestone, with gables on the windows and turrets peeking out of the roof. A house with a ballroom, a billiard room, a banqueting room, a butler’s room and a drawing room. The house belongs to Mr and Mrs Nutmouse, or Tumtum and Nutmeg as they affectionately call each other.

Tumtum and Nutmeg have a wonderful life but the children who live in Rose Cottage, Arthur and Lucy, are less fortunate. So, one day Tumtum and Nutmeg decide to cheer them up …Tumtum repairs the electric heater in the attic where the children sleep and Nutmeg darns the children’s clothes. Arthur and Lucy are delighted and think a Fairy is looking after them.

But then Aunt Ivy with her green eyelids and long, elasticy arms arrives. She hates mice and hatches a plan to get rid of them. Soon Tumtum and Nutmeg are no longer safe to venture out. When Aunt Ivy uncovers the location of Nutmouse Hall it’s a race against time for Tumtum and Nutmeg – can they thwart her evil plans in time?

The books in series order:

  • Tumtum and Nutmeg
  • The Great Escape
  • The Pirates’ Treasure
  • A Christmas Adventure
  • A Seaside Adventure
  • A Circus Adventure
  • Trouble at Rose Cottage

REVIEWS: (Source Tumtum and Nutmeg website)

“There’s a delightfully twitchy quality to Tumtum and Nutmeg which, despite their clothes and their domesticity, makes them seem genuinely mousey, and the small-scale world they inhabit is full of just the right tiny details.” – Guardian Review section

“Told simply, with charming detail, this old-fashioned and well published story …will delight children who are of an age to relish secret friends and a cosy world in miniature.”- Sunday Times

“Good new books for children 5 to 8 are rare, and this is one of them. Bearn’s style is as crisp and warm as a home baked biscuit.”- The Times

“Bearn is a fine writer and her tale of how the Nutmouses thwart the vile Ivy is a gently humourous page-turner, full of little details that will appeal to children who enjoy small world play but are too young for the Borrowers.” -Financial Times magazine

“Perfect bedtime reading” – Angels and Urchins

Recommended reading after these (some more suitable as “read alouds”):

  • The borrowers by Mary Norton
  • Books by E.B. White (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Webb)
  • The sheep pig (Babe) by Dick King-Smith
  • Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
  • The wind in the willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • The miraculous journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • The rescuers by Margery Sharp

LINKS:

Series website: http://www.tumtumandnutmeg.co.uk/index.htm (lots of great material here including an interactive chapter sampler)