Florence Takes the Lead by David Harding

IMG_4099Florence Takes the Lead by David Harding, paperback chapter book, 85 pages, published by Random House Australia in 2012.

Ben has a beautiful shaggy sheep dog called Florence, who is his best friend, and goes most places with him. When his parents decide to have a long weekend away in the country, Florence goes with them to stay at the guesthouse. Together they discover a pig farm still using the old methods of sow stalls and farrowing crates, which means that the pigs are heavily confined. Can Ben and Florence help to liberate the pigs and educate the farmer regarding more humane pig farming practices?

Florence Takes the Lead is part of the RSPCA Animal Tales series, which promote the humane welfare of animals. These books are suitable for lower and middle primary school students, and will be particularly appealing for animal lovers. This was a reasonably simple adventure story with an important message about animal welfare, and the great work the RSPCA do. While the story is fictional, the adventure is based on animal welfare situations that unfortunately do happen. However, these books are a fun way for younger children to become aware of the various issues facing animals and those that advocate for them. After the story ends, there is a fact file, first providing some information about the RSPCA, and then some information about pig farming in Australia. And there are more books in this series just waiting to be explored!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Book Review

The Rain by Virginia Bergin

IMG_4096The Rain by Virginia Bergin, paperback novel, 386 pages, published by Macmillan Chidlren’s Books.

Ruby Morris is just a teenager living in a small town in rural England when the end of the world as she knows it arrives in the form of killer rain. One minute she’s passionately kissing the boy of her dreams, the next, people are dying. The merest touch of the poisonous water is enough to kill, wiping out millions within a few days. Ruby sets out across the country to find her Dad, putting her survival skills to the test.

The basis of The Rain is an apocalyptic event, causing a devastating loss of human life. The cause behind the development of killer rain is established clearly and early on in the story, which seems to be rare among books of this genre that I have read. A contaminated water source is a great start for an apocalypse, though I was surprised by the violent and bloody way in which people affected by the water died. Complete loss of a safe water supply is truly a terrifying thought. The story dealt with the short-term requirements of finding safe water to drink and ahelter, but didn’t explore the complications that would arise due to such finite resources. Perhaps the sequel, The Storm, will delve deeper into the more long-term consequences of contaminated rain.

The Rain is written in the first person as Ruby. I tried hard to like Ruby, she’s just lost her family and her friends, and she’s trying to survive in this new and dangerous world, and I could feel sorry for her, but I couldn’t really like her. Before the rain came, she was obviously one of the popular kids, stuck-up, selfish, shallow and egotistical. Not exactly the perfect picture of someone who will rebuild the world post-apocalyspe, but I thought she would start learning to be someone of more consequence on her journey. I didn’t like the way that she treated Darius, as if he was completely beneath her. She refers to him as a nerd, but he is smart and practical, exactly the sort of person you should want on your side if the world ever comes to an end. I was disappointed that Ruby still considered Darius to be socially inferior despite the whole of humanity crumbling about them. And instead of collecting practical supplies, she loots make-up and clothes her mum and stepdad would never have let her wear. Hey, I’ve never been part of an apocalypse, so who knows what crazy things I would do, but I just can’t imagine mascara and sequins will be high on my list of things to do.

I generally quite like apocalyptic and dystopian novels, and this novel was okay, but I didn’t like it as much as I expected. My difficulty in liking Ruby really clouded my enjoyment of the story. The abrupt ending of the story surprised me too, until I realised that there was to be a sequel. The Rain left me with lots of questions. I’m wondering how society will develop without a clean source of water, not only to drink, but to produce food as well. Will the rain become safe again, will there be tests developed to identify safe water? And what happens to Ruby, Darius and Princess? I’m interested enough to read the second book, and it leaves me with hope that Ruby will develop into a more likeable heroine.

Due to the complicated themes contained within this novel, The Rain is most suitable for high school students and up.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Bone Collection: Animals by Rob Colson

IMG_4093Bone Collection: Animals by Rob Colson and illustrated by Sandra Doyle, Elizabeth Gray and Steve Kirk, paperback non-fiction, published by Scholastic Australia in 2013.

Explore the animal world through their skeletons. Bone Collection: Animals covers a range of animals from fish and frogs to apes and humans. First it looks at the skeleton of a specific animal, then follows this with facts about similar animals. At the end of the book, there was a double page with a lion’s skeleton separated with the major bones named. There were also some general bone facts, and a glossary to help with some of the terms found within the text that may be unknown to a young reader.

A combination of illustrations, photos and diagrams alongside fascinating facts about a wide variety of creatures make this an excellent non-fiction text for primary school students. The illustrations of the skeletons throughout this book are exquisitely detailed. The depth of information is good for this age group, whilst also being interesting and presented in an appealing style.

My third grader read this book to me, and we both learnt quite a few things! She just wanted to keep reading until we were finished, as she was finding it so entertaining and enlightening. We liked that each page had a little diagram showing the relative size of the creature to an adult human. Her favourite animal was the three-toed sloth with its long arms and claws, while I found the blue whale’s humungous jaw bones very interesting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Book Review, People/The Body, Under the Sea

Secret Messages

Crayons, wax and oil pastels are great at repelling water coulour paint. This property makes them a good choice for writing secret messages. White is the best colour to use on white paper as it is hard to see the writing before adding the paint! Unfortunately A chose to use a white oil pastel and our paper was more of a beige colour (blank newspaper print), so the messages weren’t quite as secret as they might have been :)

My message for L and A.

My message for L and A.

A wrote out all of the sight words that she is currently working on in white oil pastel. L drew a picture and wrote messages. Then the kids used their water colour paints to bring the messages to life.

Writing her sight words.

Writing her sight words.

Painting on the water colours.

Painting on the water colours.

We had fun writing messages to eachother, which were then ‘discovered’ by adding paint. This is also a great activity for practicing spelling words as well as sight words.

A word 'discovered'.

A word ‘discovered’.

Words appearing through the paint.

Words appearing through the paint.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Fine Motor Skills, Painting, Spelling and Sight Word Fun

Wild Discoveries Wacky New Animals by Heather L. Montgomery

IMG_3949Wild Discoveries Wacky New Animals by Heather L. Montgomery, paperback non-fiction, published by Scholastic Inc. in 2013.

There are still millions of undiscovered species all over the world. This book showcases just a few of the most interesting creatures discovered recently, including a leech with large teeth, a frog with translucent skin and green bones, a blue earthworm, a tiny seahorse and a stick insect as long as your arm!

Wild Discoveries Wacky New Animals is an interesting read. Each page contains plenty of facts about each creature, including its scientific name, size, role and where it was discovered. There are also plenty of colour photographs depicting the animals and their various traits. There is a glossary of terms at the back of the book and a small section on kids discovering new animals.

An enticing non-fiction book for primary school children, Wild Discoveries Wacky New Animals would appeal to nature and animal lovers along with those interested in more unusual (or gross) fare. I cannot un-see the “snot flower” or the Atewa Hooded Spider, but I can refocus on the cute little Siau Island Tarsier! My third grader found this book fascinating, and is now looking into more wacky and strange animals.

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Book Review, Creepy Crawlies, Investigations, Nature, Under the Sea

Creating a Terrarium

IMG_4033Terrariums can be lovely mini gardens, perfect for sitting on the table and brightening up the house. Any clear container can be used for a terrarium, but it’s nice to find an unusual shape. We started with a big plastic tub that used to hold mini-pretzels.

Our plastic container.

Our plastic container.

The kids collected some gravel from our front garden beds to place in the bottom of the container for drainage. You can buy decorative pebbles or gravel for this. Using different coloured materials will create a pretty layering effect on the side of the terrarium. We just used what we had available to reduce costs.

Adding gravel.

Adding gravel.

As we wanted to plant succulents into our terrarium we did buy proper cacti and succulent potting mix. We used this to fill the container up to about half-way. Both L and A had a go at putting the potting mix into the container, but quite a lot of it got spilt! Once the dirt was in, we tapped the container down gentled to help the soil settle.

Then it was time to add the plants. We used three small succulents, which the kids chose from Bunnings. I removed some leaves from each of the plants to use for propagating new succulents before I planted them in the terrarium. I carefully placed each succulent roughly equidistant around the container, patting the soil down gently and then watering them in.  We added moist sphagnum moss as the top layer, carefully placing it around the plants, but not too close to the stems to avoid rot. This will help to retain moisture. Alternately we could have used small pebbles or rocks to finish off (we already had the moss for our carnivorous plants).

Getting the potting mix in the container.

Getting the potting mix in the container.

The succulents we chose are all different shades of green. Choosing plants with different coloured foliage can increase the aesthetics of the terrarium, and of course, there are many plants that do well in terariums aside from succulents. I think our next one will have to contain some ferns.

When the lid to the container is placed on the top, the moisture is trapped inside the terrarium, causing condensation on the plastic. This keeps the terrarium moist without watering very often, though it also obscures the plants. The plants have everything they need within the closed terrarium, but if it is too wet inside, you can remove the lid for a day or two or as long as needed. Or you can leave your terrarium open if you prefer, and treat it more like your average indoor plant.

Looking from above.

 

UPDATE 19/3/15: L dropped the terrarium! Luckily the container is plastic, so it bounced, but one of the plants catapulted right out the top (I had the lid off allowing the soil to dry a bit), along with a good chunk of the moss. So the poor plant lost all but two of its leaves. We have replanted it in the hopes that succulents are so hardy it will survive, but it looks a little sad at the moment. I have just left the soil bare and the lid off as the weather is beginning to cool a little and is more humid, so it is less likely to dry out too much. L felt so bad about dropping the terrarium, but these things happen! The other two plants are doing very well and we are seeing new growth.

8 Comments

Filed under Investigations, Nature

Sight Words Finger Painting

IMG_3893Finger painting last week was so much fun, A asked if we could practice her sight words with finger paint. This time we used ordinary poster paint (Baby T was sleeping), and we squirted some into one of our play tubs. The tub was yellow, so we used green paint as it gave us a good contrast.

Squirts of paint.

Squirts of paint.

Smoothing the paint around the tray.

Smoothing the paint around the tray.

A had a great time spreading the paint around the bottom of the tray, squishing and sliding in it. When she was ready, she smoothed the paint across the bottom of the tray, and then proceeded to use the tip of her index finger to write her words. When she had filled the tray with words, she smoothed the paint over, and wrote some more words.

Writing a word.

Writing a word.

Writing more words.

Writing more words.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Messy Play, Painting, Sensory Play, Spelling and Sight Word Fun

Potato Stamping

IMG_4020

Potato stamps.

Potato stamps.

There were some potatoes going soft at the back of the cupboard. I used two of them to make some stamps. Each potato I cut in half, and then cut a basic shape into the flesh of the potato. I used a small, sharp knife to cut away the extra potato, so I had to be very careful.

We used giant paint pads to apply the paint to the potato. These kind of stamping pads are great because they prevent excess paint getting on the stamp, and also avoids waste.

Potato on the paint pad.

Potato on the paint pad.

A stamping.

A stamping.

A used the potato stamps to stamp randomly all over the piece of paper. It looked very interesting, and she had fun. We will save this paper as wrapping paper.

 

IMG_40171

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Painting, Wrapping paper

The Very Best of Friends by Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas

IMG_3948The Very Best of Friends by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas, paperback picture book, first published by Margaret Hamilton Books in 1989, this edition published by Scholastic Australia Pty Limited in 2004.

James and Jessie live on a farm with lots of animals, but only one cat, William. As James goes about his jobs on the farm, William goes with him, he curls up on his lap in the evenings and on the bed at night. And then James dies suddenly and Jessie falls deep into grief, shutting William out, letting him run wild and become mean, something he never was with James. To move forwards, Jessie must work on her friendship with William and regain his trust.

A poignant tale of friendship and loss, beautifully spun for younger children, The Very Best of Friends will touch your heart. It is a reminder that all relationships need work, and if you fail to tend them, they will wither, but with a little love, kindness and attention they might thrive again.

While the story is beautiful, the illustrations are distinctive and just gorgeous. I love the way that William is depicted, and how he changes from the well-tended cat to the wild thing he becomes after James dies.

The Very Best of Friends is suitable for primary school children. It is a book I read as a young child,  and I am now sharing it with my own children. This wonderful picture book can be used to start a discussion on the complicated issues of loss and grief, and that life must go on. Though something sad happens, the friendship that blooms between Jessie and William is lovely and inspiring. It is important to keep living your life even when you have lost someone, and I found this book to be helpful in explaining that to my children.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Book Review, Children's Book Council of Australia winners/shortlisted, People/The Body

Ratburger by David Walliams

IMG_3921Ratburger by David Walliams and illustrated by Tony Ross, paperback novel, 317 pages, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2012.

In a council flat high in an old leaning building, lives Zoe, with her unemployed father and her horrible and lazy stepmother. She is quite alone in the world, with her Dad always at the pub, and her hateful stepmother eating crisps on the couch all day either ignoring her or screaming at her, but never once being nice. The school bully lives in the same block of flats too, and never misses an opportunity to give Zoe a hard time. Then comes a small rat into Zoe’s room and changes her life forever. Zoe’s rat is intelligent and Zoe begins training him to do tricks, whilst planning to become famous performers. Unfortunately the man that runs the burger van outside the school at lunchtime hears about her pet, and forms a nasty plan of his own.

Reminiscent of a Roald Dahl tale, possibly crossed with an Andy Griffiths story, Ratburger was funny, inspiring and touching, a tad silly, but most of all it was entertaining. Filled with plenty of gross stuff, such as disgusting grown-ups, nose picking, foul food, spitting, rats and of course ratburgers, this book appealed to my third grader and her friends. At the moment they all seem to be obsessed with bodily functions and smells… even just the names for different body parts and functions can have them in hysterics! My daughter also liked that many of the grownups in the story were depicted as being a little evil and a lot eccentric. Even Raj, the shopkeeper, had his oddball moments, including re-selling lollies Zoe had sucked, or chocolate bars less one bite. This view of adults satisfied my daughter’s perception that adults are just as weird as kids deep down, normally they just hide it better!

Ratburger was interspersed with black and white illustrations by the wonderful Tony Ross, author/illustrator of the Little Princess picture book series (very much loved in our house!). These illustrations caused much giggling alongside the story, adding further interest to an already engaging plot.

Ratburger was our first taste of David Walliams as an author (I’d already been laughing at him for years as a comedian, but my kids don’t know that!), and it has not been the last. My third grader begged for more of his books while barely laying this down after reading it for the first time. I love a book that can make my kids laugh, so as soon as I could, I bought a few more of his books, and they have been quickly devoured. If you’re looking for something that’s sure to make your middle to upper primary school child laugh themselves silly, try Ratburger, and wait for the guffaws!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review