Monday, February 5, 2018

New reads for 2018…

Cameo, the Street Pony by Kelly Wilson, Penguin Random House NZ

This is Book 2 in a “junior fiction series” called Showtym Adventures, inspired by true events from the Wilson Sisters’ childhoods. Book 1 was Dandy, the Mountain Pony. The publishers call it a fiction series, but that’s not quite right. The three sisters are real (and very well-known) people, and readers will become aware that the author is apparently writing about herself and her own horse experiences at the age of nine. The strong reality aspect explains why the plot is not structured like most fictional plots for children, with a strong story arc involving drama, suspense, setbacks and challenges.

Once I started reading it primarily as an autobiography, I felt more comfortable with it. Basically it describes how Kelly’s mother brings home an untrained mare for her to train up to competition level. The training is lengthy but successful, and Cameo eventually becomes a star at the Royal Easter Show.

Girls who love ponies and horses, along with fans of the Wilson Sisters’ books and TV show, will enjoy this series.

ISBN 978 0 14 377220 0 RRP $14.99 Pb

Catch Me When You Fall by Eileen Merriman, Penguin Random House

Eileen is the author of Pieces of You, a first-time YA novel that generated rave reviews. I believe this second novel will be just as successful, firmly establishing the author in the ranks of our top YA authors. It’s interesting to note that Eileen has honed her writing skills over the last few years, with her work appearing in a number of national and international journals, as well as anthologies. She also has several short fiction awards under her belt. She did a fiction writing course with Creative Hub in 2013.

Like Pieces of You, this story looks at teenagers with huge problems. Alex has just found out her childhood leukaemia has returned. In a hospital waiting room she meets Jamie and instantly falls in love. It’s only later that she learns he has bipolar disorder. Despite their problems, the pair become involved in an intense love affair. Crises happen and the suspense is killing –what happens to Alex and Jamie? Many readers will be forced to cheat and read the ending…

ISBN 978 0 14 377093 0 RRP 19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

For history enthusiasts…

Letters in a Different War by Joan Braddock, DayStar Books (

 The heroine of this story, Beverley, is in her early teens. It’s 1942 and New Zealanders are suffering under the burden of World War II. Food and petrol rationing, Japanese forces threatening Australia, paranoia about spies, local men fighting and dying in North Africa: this is the background to a detailed and warm-hearted story about Beverley’s relationship with a respected teacher and neighbour – who happens to be a Conscientious Objector.

Mr Maurice is taken away and imprisoned in extremely cruel conditions in a camp. Beverley and her mother offer practical help and spiritual support to his young wife and her baby son. But as the months go by, Beverley realises that a strong spiritual belief still doesn’t give her all the answers to the difficult questions arising from Mr Maurice’s moral stand. At the heart of the story lies Beverley’s determination to understand why ordinary people can be so vindictive – and what she can do about it.

Beverley is an engaging heroine. The historical setting and the Auckland neighbourhood are vividly captured, and there are plenty of humorous moments involving the local children to lighten the serious theme.

The strong Christian tone of the story means that it will probably appeal most to readers with similar beliefs, both teenagers and adults. It will also be of value to readers who have an interest in the history of Conscientious Objectors in New Zealand.

ISBN 0 9941330 7 3 RRP $28.95 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, February 3, 2018

For History Buffs…

Lucy Goes to the Lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, illus. Rosalind Clark, Phantom Tree House (distributor Publishers Distribution Ltd)

The first book in the Lighthouse Series was Ivan and the Lighthouse. I can locate three favourable reviews of it online (including my own, written for this blog and posted on 1 September 2017) but it does seem to have stayed under the radar somewhat, which is a shame. It illuminates a little-known part of New Zealand maritime history.

This book is written in a story-within-a-story format, with the main character, Lucy, being told the interesting tale of Mary Jane Bennet who was New Zealand’s first and only woman lighthouse keeper. She and her family lived in harsh conditions at the Pencarrow Lighthouse in the 1850s.

Its physical shape makes the book look like a picture book, but there is a lot of text on each left-hand page alongside the right-hand illustrations – in fact, so much text that it’s coming close to being an illustrated storybook. It would be best for mid-to upper primary ages, definitely not pre-schoolers.

The text is straightforward, the stylised illustrations are fresh and simple; and the design of the book is eye-catching (I love the linen-look textured backgrounds). There’s plenty of history but not a lot of action or excitement, so teachers and librarians will need to promote the book to avid readers (probably girls) who like stories of the old days.

PS. The next book in the series will be out in October 2018.

ISBN 978 0 9941285 3 9 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Picture Books from 2017’s Review Stack…

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too by Jane Millton, illus. Deborah Hinde, Allen & Unwin

Two cows and a calf became world famous after the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016 – pictures of them stranded on a hillock after a landslip were viewed around the world. Jane Milton lives on the farm and saw a great opportunity to turn the story into a children’s picture book, so she wrote the tale in rhyming verse. It was published in April 2017. I suspect it’s been very successful, and has probably gone through several reprints.

The text is appealing, with its New Zealand rural setting and the main theme of survival during a natural disaster. The cows are portrayed as being quite laid-back about their adventure, and a couple of in-jokes will appeal to adults. The rhythm and the rhyming are excellent – which makes it a great read-aloud for parents and teachers. No bumpy bits to trip up your tongue.

Deborah Hinde’s expansive double-spread illustrations are done in a warm, casual style that suits the tone of the story very well. Amazing how she managed to get so many different expressions on the cows’ faces!

This book has been recently followed up by a second one called Moo and Moo and Can You Guess Who – a must-buy for fans of the first book (it was reviewed on this blog on 9/11/2017).

ISBN 978 1 87750 592 8 RRP $19.99 Pb

The Kiwi Go Marching One by One by Peter Millett, illus. Deborah Hinde, singer Jay Laga’aia, transl. Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ

Here’s another picture songbook containing song lyrics together with a CD of the song sung in English and Maori. I’m interested to see the text being written by an established author, rather than the staff at Scholastic NZ. It certainly has an extra zing to it. Be aware that the text doesn’t follow the format of the traditional song (about the animals marching into the Ark) with its focus on teaching numbers. The focus in this version is on a bunch of cute kiwi having fun – hiking, fishing, bungee-jumping.

As always, Deborah Hinde’s illustrations (she has done many for Scholastic NZ’s picture songbooks) are bright and cheeky with stand-out colours and white backgrounds and the crispness of Adobe Acrobat. The song on the CD is bouncy and friendly, and will definitely appeal to pre-schoolers and junior primary ages.

ISBN  978 1 77543 512 9 RRP $19.00 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Monday, January 8, 2018

A fascinating read!

How to Mend a Kea by Janet Hunt, Massey University Press

This is subtitled + other fabulous fix-it tales from Wildbase Hospital. The subtitle   provokes curiosity, but before you reach that stage your gaze is captured by the cover photo showing the shiny eye and hooked beak of a towel-wrapped kea. If you’re like me, you can’t resist the challenge of the bird’s gaze. You must know more!

The book is arranged in four parts: Part 1 introduces the Wildbase Hospital and its staff; Part 2 follows the history of Kea (aka Patient #78129); Part 3 focuses on a variety of case histories (eg. de-oiling, mending broken bones, fattening up after near-starvation, etc); and the last part shows photos of more patients being treated, plus a section headed How to Put Wildbase Out of Business!

It’s an attractive book with excellent design, and its sturdy pages give it a feel-good quality. The friendly easy-to-read text tells the actual stories, but there are also numerous colour photos, along with interesting fact boxes. Also a Contents page and an Index.

It makes a great present for thoughtful young readers who care about our native wildlife (I gave a copy to a 10-year-old and another to a 7-year-old who’s an advanced reader). Needless to say, it’s a recommended purchase for primary school and intermediate school libraries, and I can even see it on the shelves in secondary school libraries.

ISBN 978 0 9941407 1 5
RRP $27.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Monday, December 18, 2017

A new kiwi book on the scene

It's my egg (and you can't have it) by Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne (Potton & Burton)

A mother kiwi lays an egg, it's now father kiwis job to look after it. While he's incubating it, a ranger lays a trap near his burrow; it'll help protect the kiwi and his egg. Soon a cat comes prowling, then a dog with its young girl handler, and lastly a stoat. Each time father kiwi wards them off with the refrain, "It's my egg, and you can't have it!' Is he successful? Read it and find out.

Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne have successfully paired before with 'The Cuckoo and the Warbler'. Heather Hunt also illustrated 'KIWI: The Real Story'. Heather has her own unique style of illustration; using contrasting colours of black and fluorescent yellows, greens and reds, and spiky outlines on flora and fauna.

A delightful creative non-fiction book about the dangers that a kiwi and his egg face. It also carries the message that dog owners need to keep their dogs on a leash when going for a walk in our forests. Would suit 4-6 year old budding conservationists.

Take a look inside.

ISBN: 978-0-947503-56-7
RRP pb $19.99 hb $29.99

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Connections to the sea…

Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands by Maria Gill, illus. Marco Ivančić, Scholastic NZ

On 5 November 2017 Maria launched two picture books at the Children’s Bookshop in Ponsonby – Toroa’s Journey, and this one about Abel Tasman. The books are a long way apart in subject matter, but one element is common to both – the sea. This stately picture book impresses all the way through, from the cover realistically portraying an intrepid explorer scanning the horizon, to the inside front cover which show maps of the chartered world circa 1600, and to the inside back cover which shows the world circa 1670 (after Abel Tasman’s voyages in the 1640s).

Maria uses straight-forward language to describe Abel Tasman’s childhood ambitions, but moves quickly on to the departure from Batavia of the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen in August 1642. The ships made landfall on what would eventually become Tasmania. The Aboriginals watched these pale people with suspicion but no confrontation occurred. Abel Tasman’s next landfall was on the coast of New Zealand, and here a terrible battle with the Maori resulted in casualties on both sides. The book finishes with several pages of easy-to-read factual information and diagrams about mapping, the voyage routes, the explorers, the countries visited, and the ships.

Marco’s luminous, lifelike illustrations of Abel Tasman, his ships, and the inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand are breath-taking, and the design of the book is excellent.

This is not a picture book for pre-schoolers or very junior classes, but children of around seven to eleven with some awareness of the world around them will pore over it – to soak up the information and absorb the illustrations. Recommended for all public libraries, also primary and intermediate school libraries.

ISBN 978 1 77543 509 9 RRP $27.95 Hb  

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman