Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay

It’s 1979 and the sky is falling.

Skylab, that is.

Skylab, the U.S. space station is starting to break up and will re-enter earth’s atmosphere. NASA can’t control Skylab’s path or predict exactly where the pieces might land. Western Australia is on its flight path. As everyone focuses on the sky, Skylab brings back memories that 12-year-old Frankie Avery has tucked away of nights in the Space Shack gazing at stars on clear cloudy nights with her Dad an amateur astronomer before he went missing.

As Frankie makes a solar system birthday cake for her little brother Newt, it reminds her of her family. Frankie, Newt and Mum are like the planets rotating around the sun in their own orbits, near each other but not touching. These days Mum is working long hours and doesn’t talk about Dad. Frankie feels like she is the one keeping their family together, cooking meals and watching out for Newt while keeping up with her school work and finding time for her best friend Kat.

Newt is an 8-year-old with a curious mind who inhales facts and loves doing science projects. When he starts obsessively gathering data on Skylab and tracking its every move, Frankie wonders what Newt is up to as she tries to keep her smart, but accident prone brother safe from harm. As Skylab tumbles to earth, Newt is torn between the scientific facts he knows are true and the wish he has in his heart. “Did you know,” he says, “that even if you wish for something really hard … I mean, really really hard… that it still doesn’t make any difference?” 

When Skylab finally crashes to earth it brings Frankie and Newt’s Dad back to their family in an unexpected way.

Catch a Falling Star is a poignant, and beautifully written story about wishing and hoping and holding on and letting go when you lose someone special in your life. It will touch your heart.

Find out more about Meg McKinlay who is a children’s writer and poet who lives near the ocean in Fremantle, Western Australia.

Happy reading!

Teacher notes

A Great Escape by Felice Arena

 Felice Arena takes us on a daring adventure set in Cold War Germany in 1961 when the government built the Berlin Wall that divided Germany into East and West and separated families, friends and neighbours for twenty eight years. 

Imagine your city has been divided by a wall and and your family is on the other side…

Peter stays with his grandparents when his parents and sister go on a trip across the border to the West. They wake to find the government is building a wall through their city. It is guarded by soldiers, tanks and fierce dogs so nobody can get through and people can no longer go to the West. Peter feels trapped and is scared he might never see parents and little sister, Margrit again. Finding a way past the wall will require courage and ingenuity. Peter and his friends Otto and Elke desperately want to escape, but whose daring plan will succeed…

A Great Escape is an exciting adventure story, but it is also a reminder of how strong the love of family can be, even when a wall tries to separate them. Peter’s story will tug at your heart.

United States Information Service, Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was lucky to hear Felice talk about A Great Escape on it’s publishing day and he celebrated  by bringing Peter’s favourite Kalter Hund cake (also known as ‘Cold Dog’ cake!). Despite it’s name, it’s a scrumptious chocolate biscuit cake and you will definitely want more than one slice! Thanks, Felice!

Here’s the recipe if you would like to make it yourself. 

Felice explained that a visit to Berlin sparked the idea for A Great Escape as he wondered what if he had been there when the Berlin Wall was built…how would he have felt and what would he have done if he had been separated from his family? Stories often begin by writer’s thinking “What if….”

By chance, Felice also discovered his neighbour Peter was a guard on the West side of the Berlin Wall, and he could tell Felice about life in Berlin at that time. In fact, Felice named his main character after Peter and Peter’s dog, Otto became the name of Peter’s friend! 

As Felice was writing his book he gave it a ‘working title’ that eventually changed to A Great Escape. What do you think his ‘working title’ for his story might have been? 

Historical fiction books are portable time machines that can transport us back in time to experience places and events and help us to understand our world and ourselves a little more. 

I wonder where Felice will take us on our next historical adventure…what do you think?

Happy reading!

Rainbow Bear by Stephen Michael King

I am a huge fan of author and illustrator Stephen Michael King whose illustrations dance with joy and creativity.  Stephen says that he loves to draw and dream and likes nothing better than when a small idea grows beyond his original imagining.

Stephen Michael King lives on an island and I love that he has added a few “Henry and Amy” wiggles and a bunch of squiggly “Milli” somethings to his house. You can find out more about Stephen HERE and the books he has created over 20 years HERE 

Rainbow Bear is a playful story set in a white snowy world. When Bear returns from a trip to the city with gifts for his family, he wakes the next morning to find himself looking rather different. Who are the secret artists that decorate his furry canvas with colourful swirls and dots and lines and circles each night while he’s asleep? When Bear finds a clue, he turns the tables on the little artists and they share a fun family day of colour and creativity before diving into the deep blue ocean, blowing bubbles and turning somersaults.

After reading Rainbow Bear, you might be tempted to colour in the black and white endpapers. (I think Stephen Michael King might love his readers to do just that!)
Why do you think the endpapers are black and white? Did you also notice that the endpapers are different? 

Did you know Stephen Michael King often includes a little red bird in his picture books (you can see a picture of it on his website). I wonder if you can find his bird in Rainbow Bear

“I love colouring outside the lines – and that made creating ‘Rainbow Bear’ a whole lot of fun.” (Stephen Michael King)

Happy reading and creating!

Teacher notes

The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe

The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria on Saturday, 7 February 2009 were among Australia’s worst bushfire disasters.

Ella Holcombe grew up in Kinglake and The House on the Mountain was her childhood home that burnt down on Black Saturday.  

At the end of her book Ella has written an important message that she would like you to read with a grown-up.

Remembering Black Saturday
There is fire coming, and we need to move quickly. Mum and Dad start packing bags, grabbing woollen blankets, the first-aid kit, torches and then the photo albums. Dad puts Ruby on her lead and ties her up near the back door. My chest feels hollow, like a birdcage.

The House on the Mountain is told through the eyes of a young girl as she remembers the fiercely hot and windy day in February when her family drove down the mountain at Kinglake to escape a raging bushfire. When her family is allowed to return home, she is shocked to see ‘the hills are bald, with black spikes where the trees used to be’. In their street everything is silent and it’s like ‘stepping into a picture book after all the colour has been drained out’. It’s hard to make sense of what remains of their house.

It’s strange living at Nan’s house and returning to school to learn some teachers and kids will never come back because of the fire. Months pass before the family can move back to their block of land where they live in two caravans as they rebuild their house with help from friends. Slowly shoots of green start to appear in the trees and plants poke through the blackened ground as wildlife returns and life moves forward.

David Cox’s illustrations are a special part of this book in the way they capture both the power and destruction of the bushfire and the natural beauty of Kinglake that Ella remembers from her childhood days. David used photos so the house in the book looks exactly like Ella’s mudbrick family home. 

The House on the Mountain is a story of of resilience, healing and hope and a love letter from Ella to her parents.

The Poppa Platoon: Operation Dessert Storm by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane

Operation Dessert Storm is the second book in the funny Poppa Platoon series. This book had me at the word dessert! Yes, I’m that person who goes to restaurants and reads the dessert menu first so I can plan my meal around my dessert (or just have dessert!). Anybody else do the same? 

For weeks, Abbie has bugged her grandfather, major Poppa, to take her to Wibbly the Cheeky Wizard’s Spooky All-You Can-Eat Family Restaurant. Today is the day and Poppa has carefully planned the Poppa Platoon’s dangerous mission to sneak into the restaurant, eat as much as they can for $14.95 and leave plenty of room for dessert. But first, Abbie has to pass Major Poppa’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Training Course and Dessert Bar Drills. Now I know why you don’t choose soup at the buffet if you want dessert!

This mission is very important to Major Poppa who declares “Today we fight in the name of Cherry n’ Cream Cheese Strudel!” and this is his plan…

1.We go into the castle.
2. We sit down, there’s no hassle.
3. We join the buffet line (Poppa first, us behind).
4. We eat until we can’t eat more.
5. When we’re done we’re out the door!

Not all quite goes to plan because Grandpa, Abbie and Flynn don’t have a table booking and have to sneak past the ugly Door-Witch with red beady eyes. Crawling past hairy legs under sticky wooden tables and being caught in a messy food fight against an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Professional and her Freckly-Twin Chicken-Balancing-Buffet-Bandits makes their Operation Dessert Storm almost a mission impossible. It’s up to Abbie to bravely complete her first Solo Mission and eat as MUCH dessert as she can as QUICKLY as she can in 5 minutes. Forget plates, cutlery and manners when you’re a Dessert Warrior! Will Abbie avoid being captured by the Door-Witch and The 12th Armed Wizard Brigade and what will the Major Poppa discover about Wibbly the Cheeky Wizard?

Operation Dessert Storm will have you laughing out loud and make your sweet tooth tingle and your tummy rumble! It might also have you cooking up a storm in the kitchen creating desserts like Bleeding Heart Jellies, Marshmallow Ghost Pie, a ten-storey Spooky Cupcake Tower or creative desserts of your own that you could serve at your spooky restaurant.

If you have read or watched The Little Lunch series then you will already know the talented husband and wife team of author, Danny Katz and illustrator, Mitch Vane. Danny’s wacky humour and Mitch’s quirky cartoons make The Poppa Platoon books fun to read, especially aloud!

Begin the laughs with the first book,The Poppa Platoon: In World War Chew on a trip to the Royal Melbourne Show on a dangerous mission to the crowded Showbag Pavillion to buy a Chunky Choco Cherry Chew Showbag. 

Happy Reading and dessert eating!

Wakestone Hall by Judith Rossell

When you return to school shortly, consider yourself lucky you’re not orphan, Stella Montgomery whose horrid aunts have sent her to the grimly strict boarding school, Wakestone Hall so she can learn how to be obedient. The school has rules for everything such as  ‘No Girl Shall Traverse the Main Staircase under any Circumstance’ which  poor Stella broke in the first ten minutes of arriving and had to copy the rule fifty times in her best handwriting. Girls who misbehave are sent to the mysterious Headmistress, Miss Garnet who has a cruel secret.

                                   Wakestone Girls, so straight and true,
                                   Always do as we should do.
                                   Marching on with main and might,
                                   Always Righteous, Always Right.

When Stella’s new friend Ottilie goes missing, Stella and fellow student, Agapanthus are determined to find her. With help from Joe, a young scrapper, the girls track down the evil Gabbro brothers, but there are more mysteries to unravel. Why did the Gabbro brothers kidnap Ottilie and who are they working for? How is their cruel Headmistress, Miss Garnet and her greedy brother, Thaddeus involved? In their search for answers, Stella and her friends journey deep underground to The Wake where Stella bravely faces her nightmare, the King of the Mountain and makes a discovery that will both give her answers and change her life forever.

Wakestone Hall is the third and final book in Judith Rossell‘s Stella Montgomery series. I enjoyed being transported once again to the world of Victorian England and sharing another  adventure solving mysteries with Stella and her friends with an ending that is also a happy new beginning for Stella…

Being a big fan of the colour purple, I loved the purple text and illustrations, stunning purple endpapers and purple ribbon bookmark! Judith has a magnificent colour illustration of Wakestone Hall on the front cover and the book is filled with Judith’s intricately detailed illustrations of characters, places and objects of the Victorian time.

Happy reading!

Why I Love Summer by Michael Wagner

There are four seasons in a year, and they’re all AWESOME, but only one gets to be summer.

We are getting closer to summer here in Australia and along with Mitch, lots of people LOVE summer. In summer the sun shines, the sky is blue, days are longer and for a while everyone in the family is on holidays at the same time.

Summer is time to put on your t-shirt, cap and sunscreen and spend hours outside playing with friends, riding your bike, epic backyard cricket games, water fights, doing bombs in the pool and going nuts in the sun. There’s also Mitch’s favourite time of the day, Ice-cream O’Clock and family barbecues when you can stay up later than school nights because there are hardly any rules in summer. Mitch and his family along with many other families in summer go camping at the beach where everyone is happy and there’s so much to do…and Mitch can be with his family all the time.

Michael Wagner (author of Why I Love Footyreminds of what we love about summer in such a fun way. What are some of your favourite things to do in summer? Ask your mum and dad or even your grandparents what they liked to do in their summer holidays when they were kids. What was their favourite ice cream? 

Tom Jellet‘s illustrations are a celebration of our Australian summer and capture in colourful detail the ways our summer is unique. Take a close look at the ice creams on the endpapers, what dad’s cooking on the barbie, the fun summer activities, and I’m sure walking down that sandy path and catching a glimpse of the beach will be familiar to many of you.

You can also download a fabulous Why I Love Summer Activity Pack and have fun inventing an icy-pole, writing a holiday postcard or spotting things in the beach picture like a one-legged seagull and even Santa Claus!

Thank you Michael and Tom for such a fun book to remind us of why we love summer and wish it could last forever…

Happy reading!

Ting Ting the Ghosthunter by Gabrielle Wang

Gabrielle Wang‘s title and vibrant cover entice you to want to read her latest book Ting Ting the Ghosthunter.

“This sequel to the award-winning Ghost in My Suitcase is a powerful magic realism story about ghost-hunting, finding yourself, Chinese mythology, family and culture”

Ting Ting’s adopted grandmother Por Por is a famous ghost-hunter who is teaching thirteen year old Ting Ting the ancient skills and art of ghost-hunting. Ting Ting chose her name because it meant ‘Thunderbolt’ and she wants to strike the ground and make the ghosts tremble. She is getting tired of capturing harmless da duzi or ‘fat belly’ ghosts and wants to be a famous ghost-hunter.

When her grandmother mysteriously disappears on a ghost-hunting job,Ting Ting ignores the warning from the Yi Jing and takes it upon herself to find Por. When Ting Ting arrives at the remote Black Band Village she finds a dangerous ghost enemy with a frightening plan and learns a hard lesson when she thinks the enemy is weak and she is strong. Ting Ting will need to trust others, believe in her true self and call upon all of her ghost-hunting knowledge and skills if she is to save Por and the villagers. Can Ting Ting prove herself to be a true ghost-hunter?

When you have finished the book, look closely at the front cover. Can you see clues about the story that Gabrielle has included in her illustrations? She has also included exquisitely detailed black and white sketches throughout her book that give you little snapshots along the way.

Gabrielle has left me wondering if she has a new story in mind for Ting Ting and Little Cloud…

Writing and Illustration Workshop with Gabrielle Wang

This is a fabulous opportunity if you are  8 -12 years old and would like to develop your writing and illustrating skills in a workshop with Gabrielle.

Where: The Little Bookroom 

When: Monday, September 24th (school holidays)

Time: 3.00pm – 4.00pm (NOTE THE TIME CHANGE)

You can find more information and book your place HERE.

Happy reading and ghost-hunting!

Teacher Notes

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela

There are words to be spelled,
Nerves to be overcome,
And a champion to be found!

If you enjoyed The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee you will be excited to read the sequel The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela 

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In The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee we met India Wimple, a shy girl who was a brilliant speller, but suffered from stage fright when spelling in front of an audience. Thanks to the unwavering support and creative ideas from India’s close-knit family and country town community of Yungabilla, India achieved her spelling dream at the Grand Final at the Sydney Opera House.

Teacher notes

India’s life in Yungabilla is returning to normal when we meet her in The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery as she receives an invitation to compete in the Most Marvellous International Spelling Bee in London. However, India can only take one person with her and there is no way India will go without her family! The Yungabilla community are very proud of their spelling champion and come up with a solution.

In London, India is reunited with her friend Rajish and they are both surprised to see the positive changes in their fellow speller, Summer. We also meet new spellers, Peter Eriksson from London and Holly Trifle from Canada. Holly’s parents who are fitness fanatics and own a business called Beaut Butts & Guts will have you cringing, especially when the spellers meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace. 

A series of mysterious mishaps threaten to stop the competition and India and her friends work together with some clever detective work to find the culprit and ensure the Spelling Bee continues. They’re a bit like the Famous Five!

Deborah Abela cleverly includes the spelling bee process in the chapter headings by using a spelling word, its definition and including the word in a sentence. This gives you a clue and invites you to predict what might happen in the chapter.

There is a wonderful spirit of friendship in this competition where the children are not just competitors, but also become friends. Only one of the spellers can win The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee, but they are all winners in the way they grow and learn more about themselves.

Heart-warming
(adjective):
Making you feel happy because you see other people being happy or kind to each other

This is a heartwarming story that celebrates friendship and family and encourages self-belief.

Happy reading and spelling!

Teacher notes

Oma’s Buttons by Tania Ingram

“A memory is something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh, and something as precious as gold”. (Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge)

Ruthie loves to visit her Oma and spend time baking, playing and singing together. One day while playing hide and seek, Ruthie finds a pretty tin under Oma’s bed filled with her ‘memory buttons’. Ruthie learns each button is a reminder of a special person in Oma’s life and listens closely as Oma tells the story about each one. The red button is from her mother’s apron because she loved to bake, the blue button is from the suit her Opa wore when he proposed to Oma and she even has a green button for Ruthie from her first dress.  When Ruthie spies a beautiful button that came from Oma’s coat she asks if she can keep it to remind her of Oma. Ruthie carries her button with her everywhere until one day the button slips through a hole in her pocket…

Tania Ingram’s mother-in-law was born in a displaced persons camp in Kematen after her family had to flee to safety during World War Two. As a refugee, she held on to her precious memories and family traditions by keeping buttons, lace and pieces of material in a small tin. A few years ago as Tania listened to her mother-in-law sharing the memory behind each precious item in her tin with her granddaughter, the seed was planted for Tania’s heartfelt story Oma’s Buttons

Looking at the detailed colour pencil illustrations by Jennifer Harrison that beautifully capture the special relationship between Ruthie and her Oma, reminded me of baking with my Nan when I was little and how she patiently let me measure, stir (make a mess) and always lick the spoon at the end! Wearing my Nan’s apron when I cook always brings back wonderful warm memories of baking cornflake biscuits and slices together. 

Do you call your grandmother Grandma, Nana, Nan, Nonna, Oma, Yaya or something different? What do you like to do with your grandma?

This is a picture of the real Oma and her granddaughter (on the left) and the models used for the book (on the right).

Oma’s Buttons reminds us that families are made up of stories that link us together and are part of who we are and it’s important to share them so they’re not forgotten. Next time you see your grandparents, ask them to share some of their memories and stories with you and go on a trip down ‘Memory Lane’ together…

Teacher Notes and visit Tania’s website for creative ideas for buttons

Happy reading!