Friday, March 24, 2017

Scholastic's latest picture book offerings

The Singing Dolphin: Te Aihe i Waiata by Mere Whaanga, Scholastic NZ

This accomplished author/illustrator has produced several books for children; probably the most well-known is Tangaroa’s Gift which won the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award in 2011. It’s great to see she’s written and illustrated a delightful new bilingual picture book. It was inspired by the real-life story of Moko the dolphin who lived and played in the sea near Mahia between 2007 and 2009. She tells of a wise woman who lived near the Pathway of the Whales and had three grandsons. The youngest grandson is good at singing magical songs, but when his two brothers cast him overboard from their canoe in a fit of rage, he transforms into a dolphin. Sadly, he doesn’t know the song for transforming back. Sometimes he returns to his old home, playing, bringing gifts, and singing songs – but he cannot stay.

The illustrations are delicately beautiful, combining fine black pen outlines with water-colour seascapes in fabulous shades of blue, green, purple, aqua and turquoise. Each double-spread illustration offers fascinating detail that will entertain quick-eyed youngsters while the text is being read.
Despite the beauty of the pictures it’s a sombre story, so I think it would be best shared with primary-aged children either in small groups or one-to-one.

ISBN 978 1 77543 402 3 RRP $19.99 Pb (also available in hardback, $27.99)

10 Greedy Goats, pictures by Deborah Hinde, sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic

Yes, it’s another one in Scholastic’s series of picture songbooks and CDs using the tune of 10 Green Bottles - following on from three earlier books featuring kiwis, geckos and penguins. It’s obviously a very popular series! The lyrics are written by Scholastic NZ staff, and there are a few hiccups in the scansion – but fortunately these are barely noticeable in the sung version. As always, Deborah Hinde’s Adobe Photoshop illustrations are crisp and colourful, and will retain the attention of any pre-schooler following the story of the ever-reducing goat clan having heaps of fun at the fair. The Maori lyrics are provided separately in the last few pages of the book.

ISBN 978 1 77543 407 8 RRP $20 Pb

Nee Naw: The Little Fire Engine Words and music by Deano Yipadee, illus. Paul Beavis, Scholastic 

We’re barely past Christmas with its usual profusion of Scholastic picture songbooks – and here’s another one! It’s a follow-up collaboration from the pair who produced the extremely popular Jingle Bells Rudolph Smells (Scholastic NZ). As with all books in this songbook genre, the text consists of the words of a song. Children can look at the illustrations, sing along to the song, and (if they’re able) read the words. There are some handy fire safety tips inside the back cover.

Dean O’Brien (aka Mr Yipadee) is a New Zealand singer, song-writer, performer and app-producer who lives and tours in Europe and the UK. He also tours New Zealand with Craig Smith (of Wonky Donkey fame). The words of his song sound better on the accompanying CD than they do on the printed page – so it’s best to have the whole family singing along rather than reading it aloud. It’s a bouncy feel-good story about a little fire engine who manages to deal with a difficult fire when his two bigger station-mates can’t do it.

The exuberant action-packed illustrations are done by Paul Beavis whose other work includes the illustrations for the award-winning junior novel Barking Mad (Scholastic NZ) and the picture book Mrs Mo’s Monster (Gecko Press) – I love both these books.

BTW, the book provides a website address for Deano Yipadee which didn’t work for me. I went to instead.

ISBN 978 1 77543 392 7 RRP $21.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, March 10, 2017

Stories, Activities and fun - all in one book

ANNUAL edited by Kate de Goldi and Susan Paris (Gecko Press)

Kate de Goldi and Susan Paris wanted to produce a book that appealed to the intelligent enquiring child. The child they were. A child that reads well above their age, devouring sophisticated language, but not ready for YA themes.

They’ve broken all the rules and started from scratch beginning with the stark orange cover with gold drawings, and endpapers that invite you to find the story. The contents page is a piece of art in itself. Dylan Horrocks produced each page title in the form of a poster or newspaper heading.

The stories, articles, activities, comics and poems have been written by mostly beginner writers or experienced adult writers. Kate wanted to give some gifted first-time authors an opportunity, and also encourage adult authors to enter into the world of children’s literature; hoping to break down barriers. You will also find some well-known children’s authors: Barbara Else, Joanna Orwin, Bernard Beckett and Ben Brown.

One of my favourite pieces in the book is Paul Beavis’s visual spread on storytelling (page 44-50). He uses his monster character, from his two books, to show how to get started with a story, how to draw your characters, create visual conflict, use contrast and conflict to build a story, show not tell, and how to wrap it all up. Lastly, he shows the young reader how to make their own 8-page book to write their story in. Teachers will want to use this to inspire story-writing and illustrating in their class. 
Some of the material is quite sophisticated like the photographs and some of the artwork. There's also some excellent activities that young children will enjoy. Such as Gavin Mouldey's maze and maps and spot the difference, Dylan Horrock's game board, and Fifi Colston's stunning bottle people. There's even a song and its chords called 'Always on your Phone'.

When considering who you would buy it for, I think you have to stop thinking in children’s ages but in their reading ability. Kids that are eight years old but sophisticated readers will love it, as will 12-14 year olds who like to visually pore all over a book. Adults who are lovers of children’s literature will also want it. A book you will want to dip in and out for years. Would make a great Christmas present.

ISBN: 978-1-776570-77-5
RRP $39.99 (hardback)

Buy at all good bookshops and online here

A book of Maori Wisdom

Mauri Ora: Wisdom from the Maori World by Peter Alsop & Te Ray Kupenga (Potton & Burton)

Mauri Ora is a beautiful book to hold. From the engaging photo on the front of a mother and baby sharing a laugh, to the gold edging on hardcover and pages, to the striking collection of black and white photographs throughout the book and the choice of Maori proverbs.

In the Introduction the authors suggest if you want to know more about a culture get to know their proverbs. They talk about the power of proverbs and how you can ‘use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you.’

Peter Alsop and Te Ray Kupenga have structured the book in six parts (virtues):

1.      Maatauranga – Wisdom – applying experience, knowledge and judgement
2.      Maaia – Courage –  staring down adversity and draw on strength
3.      Atawhai – Compassion – drawing on different emotions depending on the situation
4.      Ngaakau Tapatahi – Integrity – doing what is right
5.      Whakahautanga – Self Mastery – modifying behaviour and actions for desirable effect
6.      Whakapono – Belief – acknowledgement of the spiritual realm

They explain what those virtues are and before you launch into reading those virtues it  suggests that the book presents options and invitations ‘a whakatauki menu waiting for the right occasion, time or place’.

The first proverb in Wisdom is titled ‘Maatanga – Experienced’: Ekore e mau i a koe, he wae kai pakiaka: You will not catch the feet accustomed to running among the roots.’  You won’t find an explanation for this proverb, instead the book invites you to ruminate and think about what it means to you. On the opposite page is a full page historical photograph of a Kuia carrying a young Maori child on her back looking at you (photographer).

They've chosen photographs that depict Maori culture. You’ll find intimate photographs of family, famous Maori elders, and Maori going about their work. This book would be a great addition to Secondary School libraries; inspiring its students. As well as a book for the home library, and as a gift for expatriates or overseas friends. Would make an excellent Christmas present.

ISBN: 978-0-947-503147
RRP $39.99
Have a look inside the book here
Buy the book here

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A heartwarming children's war book

Torty and the Soldier: A story of a true WWI survivor by Jennifer Beck, Fifi Colston (Scholastic)

Stewart Little (the real one, not the movie character) had been walking to a field hospital in Salonika when he saw a small tortoise run over in 1916. Half buried in the dusty road Stewart picked up the squashed tortoise and took it back to the hospital ship where he worked. He cared for it while they traveled back and forth from England to France then Malta and back to England. Even though he was told no pets were allowed back into New Zealand he hid the tortoise, which had gone into hibernation in his kitbag. It lived with him for the rest of his life. This is their true story.

To accompany this heartwarming story is Fifi Colston's stunning sepia coloured illustrations. Fifi visited the real tortoise in Napier and the replica at Te Papa while finding reference material about the reptile before painting the images. This is the second children's war book, Fifi has illustrated. The first being The Red Poppy written by David Hill. Fifi captures just the right tone for the book and I love how she brings in texture, shading and morphs in other images.

Jennifer Beck communicated with the relatives of Stewart Little while researching the book. She'll be launching Torty and the Soldier with the family in Morrinsville this week. Jennifer Beck also wrote The Bantam and the Soldier, illustrated by Robyn-Belton. You can see an interview with Jennifer Beck here.

The creative non-fiction story will teach children about empathy for animals, and the span of a tortoise's life over several generations of a human's life. It's another untold story from WWI and 4-8 year old children (and older) will love this gentle tale.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-484-9
RRP $19.99 (hardback)

Torty and the Soldier and The Red Poppy also feature in a children's war book exhibition currently travelling around Australia. For more information about the Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages Exhibition go here.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tania Roxborogh's latest books

Bastion Point: 507 Days on Takaparawha by Tania Roxborogh (Scholastic)
(MY New Zealand Story series)

I was a teenager in the 1970s and can remember the Bastion Point protest. Newspaper and TV news reportage on the occupation were biased against Ngati Whatua's occupation, making out that what they were doing was scandalous. I didn't realise that then, that's why Bastion Point: 507 Days on Takaparawha is so important. Tania has ensured the backdrop to her fictional story is accurate and realistic; reading newspaper articles, court transcripts, and interviewing key people in order to give the Maori point of view of the historical protest.

The fictional story is about 12-year-old Erica who has just been given permission to buy a horse she has helped care for since its birth. Erica plans how she is going to train the young horse and is all set to begin when her parents tell her they are going on a short holiday down south. Erica is a reluctant occupant at Bastion Point but over the course of the 507 days she sees the passion, hears the stories, and experiences the hardship of what the protest really means to her whanau. Along the way she loses something that is precious to her and has to deal with that. She writes down everything that happens in her diary and we experience it along with her day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month.

If I was still teaching at Intermediate I would definitely be using this book either as a study in English or in Social Studies. It's a book that shouldn't be ignored; it sets the story right for Ngati Whatua (within a fictional story), and it is also inspiring for kids to read, showing that if you believe in something enough and stick to your resolve - you can make a difference. Written in diary format, it's also a coming-of-age story, showing a young girl realise that her own personal goals sometimes have to make way for a bigger project. Tania's writing is superb and will keep you reading until the end.

Tania Roxborogh has written over 25 books, many of which have won awards or shortlisted. Tania writes in the weekends and evenings - her day job is teaching English at her local high school. As well as a teaching degree she holds a BA in Maori language. In her spare time, she rides her horse, with her daughter in the Canterbury countryside.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-479-5
RRP $17.99

Bloodlines: A Crown of Honour, Book 2 by Tania Roxborogh (Thomas & Mercer) US & UK editions, audio version published by Brilliance Audio

I had never listened to audio books until I played first 'Banquo's Son' and then 'Bloodlines' on my car CD player. Wow, I'm a convert. Both books have been narrated by actor Napoleon Ryan and his Scottish voice is perfect for the setting. I had several long journeys while listening to these tapes and when I came to the end of the trip, I didn't want to stop - the story kept me on the edge of my seat from the first page until the end.

'Bloodlines' takes off after the rebellion that is the climax in 'Banquo's Son'. Fleance settles into his role as King of Scotland and must find out who the rebels are that threaten his reign and peace in the country. When Rachael is kidnapped he puts all that at risk to save her. Along the way he questions who he can trust; some people he thought were friends become frenemies. The story ends in a twist that I did not see coming. I can't wait to get my hands on the third book in the series 'Birthright', which is out end of March with 'White Glove', a branch of Amazon in print and kindle editions. Sadly, we'll have to wait a while before the audio version comes out.

I really enjoyed how Tania tells the story in a variety of point of views. For some books, I've found this irritating when there are many voices and it can stop the flow of a story, but it works for this book. We hear Fleance's story (his turmoil of who to marry; Rachel of royal blood or his first love Rosie). Then Rosie's point of view (her angst and need to carry on with her life), and Rachel (a strong female character who can get herself out of trouble), plus several other characters' point of views. It enables you to see the motives of some and the turmoil of others.

I hope High School English classes are using this series. They are expertly written, well researched for the medieval time period and have several themes running through them, which make them perfect for closer study. Would make a good comparison novel with Macbeth, too. I highly recommend this book for teenagers and adults.

Print version $11.99 (Amazon)
Ebook version $1.14 (Kindle)
Audio version $10 (CD) $6 (MP3)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Maurice Gee is back!

The Severed Land by Maurice Gee (Penguin)

It’s been a while since Maurice Gee has written for young adults and all I can say is WELCOME BACK! Maurice has written a fantasy-alternative future-adventure type story with a strong female protagonist and great supporting characters and it will have you on the edge of your seat.

The opening scene has the main character Fliss watching soldiers trying to break down the invisible wall. They can see her but their guns and cannons can’t touch her. She watches the unfolding events with amusement until she notices a drummer boy trying to escape. Fliss grabs hold of him through the invisible wall and pulls him to safety. She leaves him to sleep it off and returns home to Shoo and the Old One. The Old One prophecies that the boy is needed to save the wall. The Old One is dying and he needs to find the Nightingale - boy’s sister, who will take over the responsibility of holding up the wall. However, when the boy wakes up, he isn’t grateful and treats Fliss like she is a slave girl. She can’t believe she must tolerate his behaviour in order to carry out the mission. This is where I thought the story very clever. In all good books the character must grow. In this story, the boy’s personality changes throughout the mission from bad to good to bad and back again. It's not that he's not consistent, it's that one part of his personality dominates the other, and he struggles with that; sometimes wavering. I also really liked the girl’s empathy for her companions and her strength of character - it's empowering for young girls/women reading the story. 

Fliss, the drummer boy and the Nightingale are unlikely heroes and that's what makes this story so interesting. For young adults who like a good adventure with a dash of fantasy. The story could be a stand-alone but hopefully it will be part of a series and we'll meet Fliss and the Nightingale again. Maurice Gee is back with a gripping novel for young adults. Read an extract here, and see for yourself.

Maurice Gee is considered one of New Zealand's finest writers. He has written more than thirty books for adults and young adults and has won numerous literary awards, including the UK's James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the Wattie Award, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, the New Zealand Fiction Award and the New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award. In 2003 he received an inaugural New Zealand Icon Award and in 2004 he received a Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement. Maurice Gee's novels include The Plumb Trilogy, Going West, Prowlers, Live Bodies and The Scornful Moon. He has also written a number of much-loved children's novels, including Under the Mountain, The O Trilogy and The Salt Trilogy. 

ISBN: 978-0-14-377024-4

RRP $19.99 Paperback, $9.04 from digital retailers

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Favourite book of 2016

Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock ... and its tragic aftermath by David Elliot after Lewis Carroll (Otago University Press)

 Every now and then comes along a book with a story that is totally original complemented with outstanding artwork - David Eliot's 'Snark' is such a book. David's obviously been curious for a long while about why author Lewis Carroll set two stories in the one setting. His mind played around with scenarios and as does a creative mind came up with a theory of his own and recreated making it so real many will believe it to be true.

David begins with the premise that a journal - believed to be the journal of Boots on the fateful journey to snare a snark - has only just been discovered. The narrator - purchases the journal at an auction and has it published to reveal to the world that Lewis Carroll's two poems are based on truth. David's gone to the extent of recreating the contents of the hatbox; a journal, hat, and antique cloth - sewed and crafted by David's sister Karen Eliot and friend Simone Montgomery. The aged journal is photographed (by Alan Dove) and produced as evidence of its authenticity and extensive notes provide more light on the outrageous props in the story.

Illustrators who are also writers will often downplay their writing, but David's writing is just as wonderful as the illustrations. He's captured just the right tone and intention of Lewis Carroll's nonsense characters and their quest. David sets the scene of how the thoroughly incompetent crew came together, the lecture, train ride, setting off in the Bristol, the escapades on board the ship, and the landing - leading us right up to the beginning of the poem The Hunting of the Snark. Then he fills in the story between the two poems.  Boots sets off to find Baker; encountering beasts, strange plants and mysterious towers, which sets the scene for Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky poem. Afterwards we're treated to more details of the adventure and explanation of the objects in the two poems.

David's illustrations fill every page; pencil sketches of which many are coloured in watercolours. The expression of the characters and the way they stand/sit/lie are drawn are wonderfully funny. David has a great talent for bringing out the humour in his artwork.

This is a collector's piece. For people who love books, and kids who love fantasy stories. It's a book that you'll revisit time and time again and keep forever.

DAVID ELLIOT is an author and illustrator of children’s books, based in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. He has won many awards for his work, including New Zealand Post Children’s Book of the Year in 2011 (with Margaret Mahy) for The Moon & Farmer McPhee. Pigtails the Pirate won Best Picture Book in the 2003 awards. As well as writing and illustrating his own books, David has illustrated numerous books by others, including New Zealand authors Joy Cowley, Jack Lasenby and Margaret Mahy;
UK writer Brian Jacques (the Redwall series), and US writers T.A. Barron (Great Tree of Avalon series) and John Flanagan (Ranger’s Apprentice and The Brotherband Chronicles). Henry’s Map was selected by the prestigious School Library Journal in the US for its Best Books list in 2013. In 2011 David received the inaugural Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award, and in 2014 the Storylines Margaret Mahy Award.

Publication details

Jacketed hardback, full colour, 250 x 285mm, 208 pages, ISBN 978 1 877578 94 6, $59.95
November 2016

Buy from Otago University Press
RRP $59.95