The Ice-Cream Man by Jenny Mounfield

IMG_4309The Ice-Cream Man by Jenny Mounfield, paperback novel, 187 pages, published by Ford Street Publishing in 2008.

Three boys like to visit a secluded billabong to escape their everyday problems and the challenges that life has presented to them. Marty suffers from Cerebral Palsy and spends most of his time in a wheelchair, Rick is living with his alcoholic mother after his dad died in a car accident, and Aaron is being severely bullied by his older step-brother. Their difficulties bring them together as friends, but the encounter with the ice-cream man will bond them for life. It’s very hot this summer, and the ice-cream van has been doing the rounds about town, tinkling its music to let all the kids know that it’s coming their way. The boys decide to play a prank on the ice-cream man when he doesn’t stop the van for them. What seems like getting even has consequences that the boys are not prepared for.

The Ice-Cream Man is a thriller for upper primary school to lower high school students. It was a little creepy at times, with some foul language and violence, but it wasn’t too scary for kids to read. Though perhaps they might think twice about playing pranks on other people in the future!

The main storyline involving the prank and the scary, stalking revenge that the ice-cream man begins against the boys was interesting and suspenseful. I did want to keep turning the pages to see what would happen next. I hope there are no crazy ice-cream men out there terrorising children, but this book makes it feel like there just might be one lurking around the next corner, just waiting for the slightest provocation.

I also found that I was quite interested in the boys themselves. Each of their stories were different, and each of them were facing different challenges that most kids will not have to endure, yet they were still moving forward and were able to trust and rely on each other. Friendship is so very important in life, and this is a nice reminder that friends don’t care what you look like or where you live, but they will always have your back.

The three boys were well described, though I found Aaron’s hair colour to be incongruous to his character. I just kept wondering why he would dye his hair in a shade that would only antagonise his step-brother further, when he was already scared of him and trying to stay out of his way. Of course, it’s completely inconsequential, it was just one of those little things that get stuck in my head, and it certainly didn’t detract from the suspense of the story. Otherwise, Aaron was a little down-trodden, as could only be expected after the treatment he had been receiving from his step-brother. I thought he became more likeable as the story progressed. I liked that Marty felt liberated and empowered by his wheelchair, that he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He made for an inspiring main character. And I felt that Rick was leading the hardest and saddest life of the three of them. His mother should have been there for him, but in her grief, Rick was left as the responsible one. Sad though it is, it smacked of reality. All three situations were well written.

I think The Ice-Cream Man is a good introduction into this genre for kids and teenagers. It was a good story and well written. I am happy for my third grader to read it, though perhaps not just before bed!

 

 

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Octonauts Cake

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All my kids are Octonauts crazy and have been for ages, so when T’s birthday came around, it made sense for us to make an Octonauts cake. L suggested that I somehow sculpt a whole 3D octopod, she even drew me some plans! I thought this would be way too difficult and time consuming to manage, so I attempted something rather more simple using Octonaut figures (which I bought from Toys’r’Us)

This cake was still a little time consuming, but it was fairly easy to make. The cake base used a double quantity of butter cake mix (I had some Greens mixes in the cupboard that I used). The ocean used two packets of blue Aeroplane Jelly (berry flavoured, yum!), and the rest was butter cream and crushed Nice biscuits for the beach sand.

The cut-out section of the cake.

The cut-out section of the cake.

The cake was baked in a rectangular baking dish. Once it was cool, I cut out a section on the top where I wanted the ocean to be. I cut into the cake to a depth of roughly 1-2cm, leaving an edge to contain the jelly. At one corner, I left a larger section to make into a beach.

Nice biscuits.

Nice biscuits.

I made up the butter cream, keeping some of it white to use on the beach. I spread the white butter cream over the beach section and down the sides of the cake, then I made the ‘sand’. For this I used three Nice biscuits (any sweet light coloured biscuits could work), and laid them on some baking paper. I folded the baking paper over the biscuits, and then used my rolling pin to crush them. Once I was happy with the consistency of the ‘sand’ I transferred it from the baking paper to a bowl, and began spreading it over the white butter cream, gently pressing it down across the top of the beach and down the sides of the cake.

Crushed biscuit.

Crushed biscuit.

The sandy beach.

The sandy beach.

The rest of the butter cream, I coloured using blue food colouring with a dash of green to make it closer to the colour of the jelly. The colour was quite intense, and did stain my fingers a little while I was icing the cake. I covered the edges of the cake in blue butter cream, down the sides and around the edge of the cake directly onto the foiled cake board. I iced the blue part of the cake roughly to make it appear more like waves.

I smooshed the jelly with a spoon and added it to the cut-out section in the centre of the cake. I spread it out carefully to the edges, making sure that the cake was covered, but not overflowing. Then it was time to add the figures.

The cake ready for the figures.

The cake ready for the figures.

A and L helped me to place the figures onto the cake. Captain Barnacles went in the Gup E in the water with the fish rescuing net and some fish. Peso went directly into the water, while Professor Inkling was up on the beach. We raided our stash of animal figurines and found a palm tree and some funny flat bushes that A thought looked like seaweed. The palm tree went onto the beach, and A placed the seaweed around the edge of the cake on the icing on the cake board. All the figures were washed before and after use on the cake.

Just before the seaweed was added.

Just before the seaweed was added.

I was happy with how the cake looked, and it tasted delicious. T was also thrilled to get the Octonaut figures to play with afterwards. He asked to blow out the candles three times too!

 

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My Royal Story: Marie Antionette by Kathryn Lasky

IMG_4172My Royal Story: Marie Antionette by Kathryn Lasky, historical fiction, 221 pages, first published by Scholastic Inc. in 2000, this edition published by Scholastic Ltd. in 2010.

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna is the youngest daughter of the Empress and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and she is destined to become Marie Antionette, Queen of France. It is 1769, and the child Antonia is only thirteen, but she is soon expected to marry the dauphin of France, Louis Auguste, who will ascend the throne once his grandfather passes. Antonia must learn many things as she leaves her childhood and her home in Austria to evolve into Marie Antionette of France.

This diary style historical fiction is based on the teenage years of Marie Antionette, who ruled France with her husband, Louis XVI, in the late 1700s. It is a very interesting story told in first person diary entries beginning when Antonia is just thirteen. It explores her world as an Archduchess, and her transformation from child into adult, wife and future leader of France. So much is expected of her at such a young age. Her mother believes that her successful marriage to the dauphin of France will secure peace in Europe, and as such, Antonia has much responsibility and power resting upon her young shoulders. The extravagance of court and palace life is almost unimaginable, as is the strict etiquette and sheltered lifestyle these rulers lead. They are so far removed from those that they rule over, it is no wonder that revolution came to France.

An engaging story well executed, My Royal Story: Marie Antionette, is suitable for upper primary school students and older. This is a great way to introduce some history into your child’s life. By telling the story from Marie Antionette’s perspective as a teenager, it helps the young reader to identify and empathise with her. There were also some historical notes and family trees at the end of the story, explaining a little bit about the time period and what happened to Marie Antionette, Louis Auguste and their children. Using the story to spark interest in this part of history can be a springboard for exploring the life and death of Marie Antionette and the changes that descended upon France and Europe in the late eighteenth century more thoroughly.

My Royal Story: Marie Antionette is only one title in the My Royal Story series, and I am interested in reading more of these titles. History can be very dry, but I was pleased to find a book that makes discovering history fun and compels one to investigate the historical period and figures further.

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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