Review + Teachers’ Notes: ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’
‘Sometimes rain made me want to cry, like there was something deep inside of me – the sadness flower that opened up when rainy days came, and blossomed inside of me until I couldn’t breathe.’
Title: ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’
Author: Karen Foxlee
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Age Range: Upper primary/ middle grade/ young adult
Themes: grief, family, friendship, love, physical difference, diversity, loneliness
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There is very little I can say about this book that has not already been said in the many, many reviews that exist of it online. It continues to gather literary awards and critical acclaim and basically I am shoving it in the hands of every middle grade reader I know. Lenny has been popular with adults and young people alike and, in time, I predict it will become a modern classic – it really is that good. ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’ is exquisite, heartwarming and heartbreaking; just read it okay?
Lenny, who is small and curious, has an ‘unladylike’ fascination with beetles and bugs. So when her mother wins the ‘Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia’ prize, a whole new world is opened up to Lenny and her brother, Davey. With an issue arriving every month, Lenny and Davey’s lives are transformed by exploring the wonders of the universe.
Cynthia Spink, their single mother who Lenny gets her ‘shortness’ from, works hard to put a roof over Lenny and Davey’s head and is a real worrier. Especially when it comes to Davey, who will not stop growing. So fast in fact that by the time he starts school, he’s as tall as an adult, but with a bit of a lean. As time goes on, they all seem to realise that there are lots of problems with growing so big and some that are dire.
About the Author Karen Foxlee lives in South East Queensland, Australia with her daughter and pet parrots. She is a prize winning author of not only children’s books but also adults. ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’ is the second novel to have been shortlisted by the CBCA, with ‘A Most Magical Girl’, which was also the Readings Children’s Fiction Prize in 2017. Karen’s first novel for children, ‘Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy’ was published internationally to much acclaim. Her latest book is ‘Horatio Squeak’, which I spoke about in a recent Five on Friday Facebook Live – which you can see here. Her passions include her daughter, daydreaming, writing, baking, running and swimming in the sea.
FOLLOW IT UP IN THE HOME, CLASSROOM OR LIBRARY
Teachers’ Notes prepared by teacher Melissa Kroeger for Children’s Books Daily in context with the Australian Curriculum.
Title: ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’
Author: Karen Foxlee
- What character in the book would you want to meet and why?
- What did you like best about this book?
- What did you like least about this book?
- What would you say is the biggest message from this book?
- How do you feel that Cynthia Spink’s letters to ‘Burrell’s Publishing Company’ helped to shape Cynthia’s personality and the story?
- Why do you think Cynthia invited Mr King into their lives?
- Mrs Gaspar plays a significant role in the lives of Lenny and Davey. How did the relationship work from both the children and Mrs Gaspar’s perspectives?
- Why do you think Davey made up his imaginary pet eagle, Timothy? How do you think this helped Davey?
- Why do you think Lenny turned to ‘Great Aunt Em’? How did she help Lenny at this time? Was she filling a void?
- Discuss the strengths of these characters:
- Mrs Gaspar
- Mr King
- Peter Leonard Spink
- Matthew Milford
- Great Aunt Em
11. Who do you think was the strongest character in the book?
12. If you could write an alternative ending to the book, what would it be?
13. If there was to be a second book to follow on from ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’:
- Who would narrate it? Why?
- What kinds of things might happen?
Mathematics – Year 6
Data Representation and Interpretation
Content Description: ACMSP147 Interpret and compare a range of data displays, including side-by-side column graphs for two categorical variables
- comparing different student-generated diagrams, tables and graphs, describing their similarities and differences and commenting on the usefulness of each representation for interpreting the data
- understanding that data can be represented in different ways, sometimes with one symbol representing more than one piece of data, and that it is important to read all information about a representation before making judgements
At the beginning of each chapter a different weight and height is given for Davey. In a small group, record these on a graph. Each group could record their findings on different types of graphs (bar, pie etc). Then find the mean height and weight for an average child at the same age as Davey and record on the same or another graph (of the same type). Discuss the similarities and differences and compare your findings.
English – Year 5
Content Description: ACELT1611 Understand, interpret and experiment with sound devices and imagery, including simile, metaphor and personification, in narratives, shape, songs, anthems and odes
- discussing how figurative language including simile and metaphor can make use of a comparison between different things, for example ‘My love is like a red, red rose’; ‘Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright, in the forests of the night’; and how by appealing to the imagination, in provides new ways of looking at the world
Karen Foxlee uses an abundance of similes in ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’. Find the following similes in the book and write the missing part and interpret them or alternatively finish these similes and write some more of your own:
- P6 His name rolled off my tongue like a…
- P8 …and mother lay on her bed like a…
- P11…she blessed us like a…
- P13 Davey bellowed like a…
- P14 Moonrock smelt like…
- P14 I breathed out my foggy breath, puffed in front of me like a…
- P17 Inside the Sacred Heart Mary Street Nursery School, it was hushed like…
- P43 Dr Leopold inhaled deeply like the…
Metaphors ooze throughout the book too. Find the following metaphors in the book and write what they mean or write some more of your own:
- P1 My mother had a dark heart feeling.
- P1 It was as big as the sky inside a thimble.
- P4 She was made up entirely out of worries and magic.
- P7 It found a tiny crack and climbed inside her. It took up residence.
- P17 The winter sun winked from behind a cloud.
- P19 She looked like she was trying to cover up her meanness.
- P20 The whole city was grey and my sadness flower had opened up inside my chest.
- P23 Ever since the Sacred Heart affair, her magic had been leaking out.