Category Archives: Contemporary fiction

Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock

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Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock, Published by Nosy Crow, 2013.

Paperback, 272 pages. (ISBN13: 9780857631503) This will be available in New Zealand for purchase from April.

From the publisher:

A funny, moving and absorbing story about a young girl’s attempts to learn more about her dead father through the objects she finds in a cardboard box he’s left her.

Scarlett and her friend, Ellie, go on a sometimes hilarious, sometimes scary, journey of discovery, following the clues and always remembering to ‘keep looking up’. Was Scarlett’s dad a thief? Was he a spy? And what does it mean to be his daughter?

Fleur Hitchcock is a great new voice in children’s literature, and Dear Scarlett is a great book.

What do I think of this book?

I loved this book – it’s a heartfelt story, and will have you on the verge of tears one minute and laughing out loud the next. This book couldn’t have arrived at a better time for me. I seem to have a large number of student readers desperate for books that they perceive as being in the vein of Jacqueline Wilson. This fits the bill nicely – it’s a fabulous realistic story about coming of age and finding who you are, friendship and modern family life.

There are a lot of books and movies that follow the journey of a wife or child as they discover their husband or father does not live up to the sterling reputation he enjoyed before his demise. This story follows the opposite path. Scarlett’s Dad has been dead for many years and she never really knew him, she just has a few precious but fleeting memories of him. Worse still, everyone “knows” her father was a rather notorious thief. Mum is in a relationship with a new man who just happens to be one of the policemen that had professional dealings with her Dad. The “Step-Dad” comes with children of his own and Scarlett has to get used to sharing not only her room, but her Mum too, with a potential step-sister -“Ellie”. On the day of her eleventh birthday a man turns up on her doorstep and gives her a box of her father’s belongings.  The box and it’s contents are a mystery to her, she has no idea why the box has suddenly turned up now and whether or not her Dad was trying to tell her something. Why has he left her his housebreaking tools, strange bits of paper and other items that make no sense? Scarlett has to solve the mystery, figure out the message from her Dad and stop other people getting hold of the box.  While she does this she comes to realize her Dad was not the man she and the local community thought they knew – he was better. A long the way Scarlett not only learns about who she is, but works out how to get along with Ellie, trust her Mum’s boyfriend and also how she fits into a new blended family situation.

This will be a fantastic read for 9-10+ girls but there’s nothing to stop a few boys enjoying this story too! The story is beautifully paced, funny, sad, a little bit scary and not at all girly. Perfect realistic fiction to ladder girls from a steady diet of JW to other fiction!
Thank you Nosy Crow for publishing yet another hit!
Fleur’s earlier novel for a younger audience, ‘Shrunk’ published by Hot Key Books, is proving a real hit amongst my students, with one boy (normally a very reluctant reader) asking me longingly if there would be a series of it.

Video of Fleur Hitchcock reading from the book:

Read an excerpt of the first chapter HERE: (Courtesy of Nosy Crow Publishers)

RELATED POSTS:

A story to capture your heart and never let it go… ‘The One and only Ivan’

It is almost impossible to describe the impact this book has on everyone that reads it.

“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.” 

alt=one and only ivan applegate cover

The one and only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Published by Harper Collins, 2012. Available in NZ bookstores in the PB edition pictured here, rrp.$18.99

From the publisher:

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Book trailer:

Reviews and praise:

Kirkus Reviews (starred review): “How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage. … Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates.”

Gary D. Schmidt “This book will break your heart—and then, against all odds, mend it again.”

Source: Author Website

What do I think about this book?

Another book I am reviewing and recommending late in the piece. Like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I am hoping this book wins a Newbery Honor if not the Newbery Medal (announced January 28th 2013).

I challenge anyone young or old to read this and not see animals in captivity in a new light.

The One and Only Ivan is a work of fiction, but the inspiration for this imagined tale lies with a true story. Ivan, a real gorilla, lived at Zoo Atlanta, but on the way to that happy ending, he spent almost three decades without seeing another of his own kind before being moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.” Katherine Applegate

The story is told by Ivan from his point of view. I love the way the author captured the way an intelligent creature might see humans (his captors) and how he would rationalise his captivity. We come to really understand him, where he came from and who he is.  The way he rises above his own struggle for survival in order to help the baby elephant Ruby is a lesson for all children in understanding empathy, caring, kindness, hope and love.

This is a beautiful and moving narrative and is powerful as a read aloud. Useful for teaching both narrative and simile. Chapters are mainly short with lots of white space giving the book an airy poetic feel. The structure and layout is great for reluctant readers who struggle with too much text.

Highly and heartily recommended for Year 5-Year 8. Copies in both our Junior Library and Middle Senior too.  (From Year 4 or 8 years old as a read aloud with lots of discussion and tissues!)

Author website:

http://theoneandonlyivan.com/book/

Teacher’s resources:

http://files.harpercollins.com/HCChildrens/OMM/Media/OneAndOnlyIvan_DG_4.pdf

Extra Ivan goodness :

Interview with Katherine Applegate (Publisher’s weekly) about how the story of the ‘Real Ivan’ was Katherine’s inspiration: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/49777-q-a-with-katherine-applegate.html

Teachers – see this moving video by wonderful 4th Grade teacher Colby Sharp – I love how he talks about how this book affected his students. This is a teacher passionate about books and reading! Link to Mr Sharp’s blog here

Quotes from the book (Compiled at Goodreads) can be found here

RELATED POST:

Don’t judge a boy by his face… ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio

A book that has made a huge impact since it’s debut and release in early 2012 – I think it is a stimulating story for teaching about the PYP attitude ‘Empathy’ and encouraging Kindness. This is a powerful narrative – brilliant for reading aloud.

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Published by Random House, 2012. Paperback available in NZ book stores rrp: $19.99

Synopsis:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

Reviews & Praise (source author website):

Kirkus Reviews December 2011: “After being homeschooled for years, Auggie Pullman is about to start fifth grade, but he’s worried: How will he fit into middle-school life when he looks so different from everyone else?”

“Palacio divides the novel into eight parts, interspersing Auggie’s first-person narrative with the voices of family members and classmates, wisely expanding the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s arrival at school doesn’t test only him, it affects everyone in the community. Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too. A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.”

Publisher’s weekly: “…Though he has some expectedly horrible experiences at school, Auggie has lucked out with the adults in his life–his parents love him unconditionally, and his principal and teachers value kindness over all other qualities. While one bully manages, temporarily, to turn most of Auggie’s classmates against him (Auggie likens this to becoming the human equivalent of “the Cheese Touch,” a clever Diary of a Wimpy Kid reference), good wins out. Few first novels pack more of a punch: it’s a rare story with the power to open eyes–and hearts–to what it’s like to be singled out for a difference you can’t control, when all you want is to be just another face in the crowd. “ 

Book trailer:

Author interview:  R.J. Palacio talks about her inspiration and has some ideas for teachers wanting to use the book trailer as a provocation for discussion:

What do I think about this book?

I am rather late highlighting this book – when it came out last year I wasn’t working as a children’s librarian and I hadn’t started this blog. I read it late last year as a copy was held in the Middle School section of my library. Recently my family listened to the audio book as we made a road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. I was incredibly moved by the book when I read it and again, as my whole family aged 10-49 were enthralled by the story (there were times we all had tears rolling down our cheeks – the next minute we would be laughing out loud). It is both sad and uplifting at the same time – and the author never lets things get too maudlin, the sadness is tempered with just the right amount of humor. This is one of those memorable stories that stays with you weeks and months after reading it, probably for life!

‘Choose Kind’ will be the focus of the first Library display I make this year. I would love to inspire all my students to start the year thinking about others and how to treat everyone in their lives, and everyone they meet, with kindness and caring. This book has a powerful anti-bullying message. Recommended for ages 9/10 through to adult!

CHOOSE KIND CAMPAIGN:

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Teacher resources:

http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Wonder_EG_WEB.pdfReviews:

Teach mentor texts post on Wonder: http://www.teachmentortexts.com/2012/04/wonder.html#axzz1rpDrD0mC

Author website for RJ Palaciowww.http://rjpalacio.com

This could change our lives forever! …Pop! by Catherine briton

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Pop! By Catherine Bruton, Egmont, 2012

From the book cover:

We had the best plan. It was genius: a sure-fire golden ticket to
stratospheric stardom and loads of money! It was so massive it
was going to change our lives forever.

Agnes, Jimmy, baby Alfie and I were going to become reality show
super stars.

I had it all worked out. We had a brilliant back story. Tears, tragedy,
heartfelt close up shots of me and Baby Alfie, feuding families,
star crossed lovers… It’s all there! Plus we had a surprise package
– Agnes and her amazing voice. You would never have picked it and
surprise packages ALWAYS make it to the top ten!

We couldn’t lose.

Or that was the plan...


From the author:

My own forthcoming novel ‘Pop!’ sees a group of kids pursuing the Talent TV dream in the recession hit North West. In a community divided by strikes, winning ‘Pop to the Top!’ seems to offer these kids a chance to escape from broken homes, bankruptcy and bailiffs.

And Talent TV loves nothing more than a tragic ‘back story’, as my main character Elfie observes: ‘It might be a battle with cancer or drugs, or a dead dad/dog/goldfish who told you to ‘follow that dream’ or a crippling stutter or stage fright or just chronic ugliness … it doesn’t matter: if you want to win you need a healthy dose of misery in your back catalogue.’

And the folks in Talent TV-land are the ultimate story-tellers: from the heart-rending back stories; to the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides; the butterfly-from-the-cocoon makeovers; the nail-biting cliff-hangers; the tear-jerking goodbyes and the edge-of-your-seat grand finales. The bods in the editing suites at ‘The X Factor’ and ‘BGT’ are some of the best story-tellers around today!
… And when it starts working the other way – with children’s writer David Walliams appearing on the judging panel of a Talent TV show (no doubt he’ll be writing a novel about it next!) – it all just gets too much to get your brain around!

The full discussion by the author available from her website here:

What do I think about this book?:

This book is seriously brilliant! The three characters provide a thoroughly insightful but cynical view of the influence of reality TV “search for stars” type shows. This is the perfect backdrop for the drama we see unfold exposing all the kinks in the character’s relationships and showing truly dysfunctional family life.

I am still not sure whether I would put this in my Junior Library and mark it for Year 6 readers, or let my Middle/Senior school library colleagues have it and then raid their shelves as my new year 6’s mature. This will certainly be a great read for some of our “soon to be year 7’s” -through to year 9’s. Catherine’s earlier book “We can be heroes” is held in our middle senior collection and I intend to read it as soon as I get back to school!