Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Three Holiday Picture Books

Three picture books for the holidays…

Scarface Claw, Hold Tight by Lynley Dodd, Penguin Random House NZ

He’s back! And he’s in trouble. Scarface Claw is one of the favourite Hairy Maclary characters in my family. But I think he’s getting on in years – in this story he’s snoozing happily in the sunshine, when suddenly his warm metal bed begins to move. You guessed it, he was sleeping on top of the car! They travel through town, with poor old Scarface Claw desperately hanging on to the top of the windscreen. People yell and point and wave and faint – thank goodness Constable Chrissie is in her car and turns on the siren. Tom jams on his brakes, and you-know-who slides down the windscreen looking as angry as any cat who has lost his dignity can look.
The book is designed in the tried-and-true format of picture on the left and large text on the right. As always Lynley’s rhyming text is impeccable – it’s a delight to read aloud. Definitely another book to add to your Hairy Maclary collection both at home and at the pre-school centres.
ISBN 978 0 14 3770985 RRP $25 Hb

1 – 2 – 3 Bird! By Dave Gunson, Scholastic NZ

Well, it’s a counting book, but there’s a lot more to it that will keep children occupied with looking and locating. The rhyming text starts off with one noisy seagull asking to be fed, and finishes with 13 sleepy moreporks slowly waking in each tree. But wait, there’s more. All the way through, each double-spread illustration includes references to the pictures before and after. Children can start spotting the picture parts which refer to the following page. There are other puzzles as well – such as Dave painting himself into a picture as the illustrator, and including lots of little sparrows “being painted by … ME!” The last double spread lists animals, fish, birds and insects that can be identified in the pictures.

Dave’s double-page illustrations are large and lively – so much so that I found myself holding the book out at arm’s length while I read it, in order to appreciate the impact of the pictures. This book will be excellent for reading aloud in pre-schools and junior primary classes, and the fauna and flora aspect will support New Zealand nature studies.

ISBN 978 1 77543 394 1 RRP $17.99 Pb

Max and His Big Imagination: The Race Car by Chrissy Metge, illus. Dmitry Chizhov, Duckling Publishing (www.ducklingpublishing.com)

This is the fourth book in this series, all titles focusing on the power of Max’s active imagination. I reviewed the third book (The Sandpit) earlier this year, and commented on the fact that it was very short, with only eleven pages of story (the industry standard being 32 pages). The same comment applies to this book. The shortness of the text does mean that the story is undeveloped. However the illustrations are modern, bright and eye-catching, and the book has a pleasant glossy feel to it. It will be enjoyed by (mostly) small boys who like racing cars but don’t want to spend much time on reading a book. Parents and teachers may find it useful to read it with reluctant boy readers who can’t sit still through a standard-length picture book.

ISBN 9780473401757 RRP $16.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Tale of a tail ...

The Little Mouse’s Tail by Ardi Alemi, Digital Alchemist Media Productions 

This striking picture book seems to be a labour of love involving a lot of people, with Ardi Alemi, and Charlotte and Russell Wanhill mentioned on the cover. There is also the large number of backers who raised over $13,000 on Kickstarter to get the book into print. It all began with Ardi’s wish to create illustrations for a children’s book for his daughter, so he wrote an English version of an old Persian fable that his grandmother used to tell him when he was a boy.

Digital Alchemist Media Productions is a one-stop shop for video productions, and the book is for sale for $30 via their website (URL above). It’s probably also for sale at good children’s bookshops. More information (plus a reading-aloud video) is available via a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LittleMouseTail.

The hardback book has good visual appeal with its white cover and fat pink mouse. The 58 pages offer a lengthy rhyming story, with a repeated design of a full-page stylised picture on the left-hand pages and the text on the right pages. The story follows the desperate efforts of a mouse to have her broken tail stitched up again – how can you get something mended when the tailor has no sewing yarn and the yarn-spinner has no wool? The intrepid mouse has many frustrations but she gets there in the end. The moral of the story is explained on the last page.

The rhyming text is lively (with a bit of bumpy scansion here and there). The cartoon-type pictures are delightful, with the pink and white mouse standing out beautifully. Some interesting perspectives are used. But at 58 pages (instead of the standard 32) the story is quite long, and I think it would be better being read with a child on a cosy one-to-one basis rather than to a fidgety preschool group.

ISBN 978 0 473 39223 9 RRP $30 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Another Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock collaboration

Gecko by Raymond Huber, illustrated by Brian Lovelock (Walker Books)

Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock paired for the bee book 'Flight of the Honey Bee' several years ago. They've used the same successful formula - beautiful understated artwork with Brian's characteristic blotted/splattered paint look and Raymond's creative non-fiction style.

In Gecko readers discover a snippet of a (blue-grey coloured Tokay) gecko's daily life over three days. Gecko begins his day peeking out from a crack in a cliff. Raymond hints the gecko has to be on alert because there are many dangers in the daylight. Gecko then encounters two predators and one intruder. Through story Raymond cleverly shows us how the gecko protects itself, what it eats, and its daily routine. To accompany the story are facts (in bold) to give inquiring minds extra information about the reptile. There's a further page of information plus an index on the last two pages.

Brian created the illustrations with water colour paint, acrylic ink and coloured pencil. The whole effect is just stunning. The hardback book has gorgeous endpapers in radiant green. This book is a delightful edition to the Nature Storybook series. All Primary schools should have at least one copy in their library but would also be a useful resource for the science curriculum too. Parents / grandparents might like to buy a copy for their nature-loving children/grandchildren.

ISBN 978-1-925126-55-6
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99
Available 1 October 2017

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Two more Te Reo Singalong Books

Te Taiao by Sharon Holt, photography by Rachael McKenna (Te Reo Singalong Books)
Ngā Āhua by Sharon Holt, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Te Reo Singalong Books)

Sharon Holt and her creative team have produced two more Te Reo Singalong picture song books. These books are super handy for teachers who aren't confident with te reo Maori and need all the resources they can get to help implement it, but also a great resource for Kohanga reo schools for tamariki to read themselves, and kindergartens for children to sing along to the songs. The books have English translations, follow up ideas, guitar chords so you can strum along to the song, and a CD for you to play so the kids can join in too. Added bonus - it helps those just learning te reo Maori to pronounce the words correctly.

Sharon got the idea for Te Taiao after reading about a Raglan kindergarten that encourages children to have unstructured play in nature. She spent a morning with the children and it inspired the story. It's about all the fun things kids do outside: playing hide and seek, crossing bridges, running freely through the forest, feeding eels, walking across wobbly ropes, etc. Photographer Rachael McKenna spent a day with a group of kindergarten kids playing outside to take the beautiful photographs.

In Ngā Āhua children can learn how to make geometrical shapes with their body and learn the English and Maori words for it, too. Here's an example:

He manawa ōku matimati. Me kaute ngā manawa.
(My fingers make a heart. Let's count the hearts.)

He porotītaha tōku waha. Me kaute ngā porotītaha.
(My mouth makes an oval. Let's count the ovals.)

This book would be a great entry into a new unit in maths for shapes and number. It'll help children to kinesthetically learn the names of the words (in English and Maori). This will help the words go into their long term memory. Add the CD song into the mix and you're encouraging children to use three senses (see, feel, hear), which will help them learn it even better. So as well as being an awesome resource for learning te reo Maori it would be very useful in your Maths curriculum.

Te Taiao ISBN 978-0-994-11715-1 $24.99 (includes CD)
Ngā Āhua ISBN 978-0-994-11715-1 $24.99 (includes CD)

Go to the website to see inside and hear the songs.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Two More “Proudly New Zealand” picture books…

Whose Feet Are These? By Gillian Candler, illus. Fraser Williamson, Potton & Burton

Gillian Candler has written numerous factual books for children, some of them award-winners. Her recent book Whose Beak Is This? was so successful that she has followed it up with a book in the same format. Each right-hand page has a peep-hole picture of feet belonging to a native bird, insect or animal. There is only one line of text, eg. “Whose feet are these, covered in spikes, climbing in the trees?” Turn the page, and the left-hand page provides a bigger picture of the relevant creature, with a small paragraph of explanation. Note that Maori names are given precedence over European names. There’s a double-spread of all the creatures near the end, and also a general fact page about feet.

Fraser Williamson’s art works are well-known both nationally and internationally. He has illustrated many books for children, using different styles that are all very idiosyncratic. In these nature books his colours are muted and sometimes dark, while the backgrounds are rich and dense and have a tactile quality. The creatures themselves, finely drawn, glisten and glow and almost glide off the page.

Pre-schoolers, especially young ones, will be fascinated by both the interactive format and the beautifully realistic pictures. Primary schools will find this book useful for their native fauna and flora studies.

ISBN 978 0 947503 32 1 $14.99  Pb (also available in hardback, $24.99)

Tawhirimatea: A Song For Matariki by June Pitman Hayes, illus. Kat Merewether, Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ
Matariki is due to begin on 25 June, so libraries, schools and pre-school centres need to gather up their Matariki books. Here is a delightful new picture songbook to add to the collections (it includes a CD). It’s a lilting song that weaves together aspects of Maori mythology, nature, and family life. It begins with “Tawhirimatea, blow winds blow, Ra, warm us up with your sunshine glow,” and ends with “Marama, moon, rises big and bright, Matariki star sisters light up the sky.” The first version in the book and on the CD is in English (with many Maori words), and the second version is in Maori.

June Pitman Hayes is a well-known singer, producer, writer, songwriter, and poet. Her previous work for Scholastic NZ was the music to accompany Joy Cowley’s Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby. Her voice on this CD is pure and melodious, and children will love it.

Kat Merewether is probably best known for her award-winning picture book series about Kuwi the Kiwi. In this book her illustrations celebrate the New Zealand environment. The colours are light and bright with much use of appealing sea shades. Maori motifs decorate the faces of the wind, the sun and the moon, while New Zealand icons are everywhere – a tui, a kereru, a pohutukawa tree. This book/CD combination will be great fun for preschool centres and early primary classes.

ISBN 978 1 77543 413 9 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, September 1, 2017

New Junior Fiction Title

Snails, Spells & Snazzlepops by Robyn Cooper, Makaro Press

This is Robyn Cooper’s first published book for children, though she has proved her writing skills with previous publications and stories. It’s a whacky tale written for junior readers aged about 8 plus – and I’m glad to see it because not many books are published in New Zealand for this level.

Charlie is sick of feeling poor. He decides to make money by becoming a TV chef, and his first attempt at haute cuisine finds him gathering, feeding, cleaning, and cooking a bunch of garden snails – with some very funny problems along the way. When that meal is not a success, he fortunately gives up the idea of cooking frogs’ legs and tries some magic spells instead. The spells are meant to make a local bully see the error of his ways.

Finally Charlie and his sidekick, Millie, cook up a batch of Snazzlepops (biscuits) for the school fair – and these are a great success because they include popping sugar (which really exists) and Fumovanadix granules which produce blue smoke (and don’t exist, according to Google).

The story is humorous, fast-moving, and full of action, and should keep the interest of readers, especially boys. My only criticism is of the middle portion of the story where Charlie and Millie (and, strangely, Charlie’s granny) set up spells to reform a bully called Ivan. This portion of the story introduces a puzzling fantasy element which doesn’t integrate well with the light-hearted, realistic tone of the first and last sections of the story.

But the book is not aimed at picky adult reviewers like me, and I’m sure keen readers will be attracted by the goofy cover and will devour the story quite happily.

PS. There are useful Teachers’ Notes at www.makaropress.co.nz.

ISBN 978 0 9941379 3 7 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman