Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: Clarence: The Story of a Boy with Big Ears and a Big Italian Family

Clarence should be the happiest boy ever. He has a big, wonderful Italian family that loves him, his Nonna, his grandmother, is the best cook ever, and Stella, the family dog, always makes sure Clarence gets a big, wet, slobbery greeting when he comes home from school. School. That’s the problem. Clarence has unique ears; they are big and he gets teased and bullied by the other kids about them. Somehow, when his sister, Daria, teases him a little bit, and his older brother, Joey, makes jokes, it’s not hurtful but just part of playful family comments. One night when all the family members are gathered around the dinner table, talking loudly and having lots of conversations across the table, Clarence noticed that everyone else’s ears look normal; his are very different and so the kids at school must be right. He quietly slipped away to his bedroom, but not without his Nonna seeing him leave the table. Clarence listened as Nonna told him some family history, especially about his grandfather who came to America in 1912, with nothing but the clothes on his back and a very special gift; a little silver bell given to him by his father. Clarence’s grandfather was hard working, handsome, and he too had large ears. Nonna gave Clarence the silver bell. Will this small and dainty object be able to help Clarence deal with the mean bullies?
Clarence: The Story of a Boy with Big Ears and a Big Italian Family by Stephanie Baruffi is a charming story about a young boy with quite an unusual difference; his ears are large. Do we ever really notice things like ears, which sit on the side of a person’s head, not really being obtrusive? However, kids who want to be mean pick on the seemingly most unimportant things to tease and bully someone who lacks self-confidence. I enjoyed the way the author portrayed Clarence finding the courage to stand up for himself and to retaliate, but not wildly and just saying anything to his tormentors. Clarence wisely points out that the things he just said were things he didn’t have to say – he was making a point about how the kids carelessly say things that are hurtful. This story is a lovely lesson in respecting your peers, being tolerant, being tactful and compassionate towards others. I also enjoyed the role of family in the story, how Clarence drew strength from his grandfather’s story, and from realising that he was part of, and loved by, a big, boisterous family, and how they all accepted each other. Delightful illustrations bring the characters and events to life for young readers and a little glossary at the back explains the meaning of Italian words used in the text. A great book for storytelling time at school or at bedtime.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: Red-Tail Recovery

Red-Tail Recovery is the third story in Australian author Emma J Homes’ wildlife series about Ruthie, a young wildlife ambassador and her commitment to helping save wildlife in Australia. Ruthie, her younger sister, Bel, and younger brother, Liam, travel around Australia with their parents (Kate and Tom) who are scientists, involved in wildlife research and animal projects. The family travels in a green and yellow bus, while the kids study via ‘lessons of the air,’ as well as learning from life experience about the wildlife in their home country. This time a new adventure beckons since Kate and Tom will be looking after a friend’s wildlife centre, The Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo Recovery Program, for a year while he is away. This will mean living in a house instead of a bus, and going to a real school. Will Ruthie and her siblings adapt? Even more importantly, given that the Red-Tails’ habitat is increasingly threatened by farming and encroachment upon their feeding and nesting environment, their numbers are dwindling fast. Does the Red-Tail have a chance of survival and will Ruthie and her family make any difference?

Beautiful, clear descriptions will transport young readers into Ruthie’s new life in the small town of Bailey’s Lake (pop. 1,400). They will also learn a lot about wildlife and the precautions taken to protect their habitats. Facts are cleverly inserted into the dialogue so eager wildlife enthusiasts will learn while they are enjoying the story, and appreciating Ruthie’s adaptation to her new environment. After all, haven’t we all been the new kid at school? Ruthie makes a new friend, Linsey, and gets involved in school sports and other fun stuff. Readers also read about wildlife smuggling, which seems like an odd thing for people to target, but it exists and that’s another danger young enthusiasts will learn about. Fans of Ruthie’s previous adventures will be happy to catch up on news about Womble, Ruthie’s pet wombat now living as a wild wombat, who was instrumental in solving a mystery causing frogs to die, and in solving the problem of mange in wild wombats (clever Womble!). Ruthie has a new pet in this story, a skink called Lulu!

Wildlife research is not armchair work and Ruthie and her family and Linsey get stuck in, another revelation for readers who think that being a wildlife scientist is easy. One does not study an animal or bird without going outdoors for fieldwork, the best way to study their habitat, their food, and the activities that the creatures engage in. The vocabulary and reading levels are good for all types of readers and the events of the story soon draw young readers into Ruthie’s world, her new experiences, and her reactions to the changes in their lifestyle.

Ruthie is such a lovely young role model for readers to emulate, and I really like how author Emma Homes manages to teach while creating a great and new adventure for many kids, who may never have had any close encounters with the animals and birds of their own country. The story shows very clearly how all of life is entwined, from destruction of trees to changes in environment, and how all this affects the cycle of wildlife; how each creature has its role to play in the ecological chain. I also liked the forward thinking that the story demonstrates, and how Bel’s idea of planting trees will help create a safe environment for the birds to flourish. As Ruthie realises, “Even a small step in the right direction was a difference they could all be proud of.” A small endnote gives readers more details about the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo. The perfect gift for readers who love adventure and the outdoors, and young wildlife and bird enthusiasts.