Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday Reading for Little Boys and Girls

The Wreck of the Diddley by Fatcat and Fishface (Craig Potton Publishing)

Fatcat and Fishface musical duo originally played this song in an animated video for a competition. It was so popular they decided to turn it into a picture book.

Young boys (3-6 years) will love this rollicking pirate tale about a Captain and his crew going down with their ship.  Told in rhyme with colourful illustrations by Stephen Templer, it also comes with a DVD  so that young boys (and little girls who love a good song and story) can enjoy singing along while reading the book. A must-have for car journeys (if you have a portable DVD player), and holiday playing on boring raining days inside. 

Kindergartens will also find this book and DVD a great addition to their library for reading time on the mat.  Afterwards, little boys and girls can dress up as pirates and have some pirate adventures of their own in the sandspit and or paddling pool. 

Great fun for the holidays!

Buy direct from the publisher in paperback $24.99 (with free CD) or hardback $34.99 (with free CD).

Pipimoomoo by Justine Summers (Craig Potton Publishing)

Pipimoomoo wore her jeans everywhere until the day she wets them while playing over at her friend Pinky Pickle's house. Pinky Pickle gives Pipimoomoo her favourite flowery skirt to wear home. Pipimoomoo loves the red flowery polka dot skirt so much she wears it to bed. That night she dreamt of skirts of all different colours and patterns. The next day she asked her Mum if she could make her own colourful skirt...

A perfect book for little imaginative girls. Perhaps mother and daughter can make their own colourful skirt afterwards...

See inside here

Buy here for $19.00 paperback and $29 hardback.

At the Beach by Gillian Candler and illustrator Ned Barraud (Craig Potton Publishing)

Children from four to eight years have an insatiable curiosity about the world around them.  They ask endless questions that you sometimes cannot answer. Here's a book that you and your young child can look at together to find out about three kinds of eco-systems at the beach; the sandy beach, rock pools and the mudflats. Afterwards, read about the animals and plants that lurk in those environments. You'll find information about crabs, sea stars, shellfish, seaweeds, sponges, fishes, jellyfish, birds and more. The gorgeous illustrations give views of the beach above and below water. At the back is a pull-out waterproof quick reference guide to take to the beach.  Perfect to take on holiday, to the beach, or school trips. 

Activities for kids, and teaching resource for teachers here.

Buy here for $19.00 paperback and $29 hardback.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A picture book for the thinking child

Remember that November by Jennifer Beck and Lindy Fisher (Huia Publishers)

The school speech contest happens to fall on 5th November. Andy gives a talk about Guy Fawkes and why he tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The children clap loudly at his moving speech and feel he should win the speech contest. Then Aroha stands up with a white feather in her hair and tells about another protest movement held here in New Zealand.

I love this book.  If I were still teaching I'd use it in the classroom in many ways.  I'd use it in a Social Studies/Health unit about leadership; contrasting the two ways people tried to solve a social issue, about significant historical moments in New Zealand history, and about standing up for what you believe in. It could be used as inspiration at the beginning of a speech unit, or included with a class library of books about Taha Maori. Not many sophisticated picture books are published in this country, which is a real shame.  Teachers use them all the time in their topic subjects and there are not enough books that contain stories about Maori historical themes.

Children would enjoy reading this story at home too - it will give them plenty to think about afterwards. They'll also love poring over the illustrations.  Lindy Fisher's artwork is stunning throughout the book. I particularly love the opening scene of Guy Fawke celebrations; it is colourful, looks three dimensional (there are so many layers to the pictures) and is so textural (you want to reach out and touch it).

Author Jennifer Beck and illustrator Lindy Fisher have collaborated with books before. They won the 2006 Children's Choice award for Nobody's Dog and a 2007 Honour Award in the Picture Book Category for A Present from the Past at the New Zealand Post Book Awards. Their 2008 book Stephanias Dancing Slippers won a silver medal for Best Picture Book of all Ages at the Moonbeams Children's Book Awards in the United States.  Jennifer Beck is an award-winning writer and author of more than forty-five children's books. Lindy Fisher is an artist, graphic designer and illustrator. She has illustrated over 75 postage stamps and illustrated numerous children's picture books.

Highly recommended for children 8-12 years. Buy it here or at your local bookstore. A Maori language version is also available.

ISBN:  978-1-77550-010-0  RRP $20.00

Friday, December 14, 2012

An old favourite back again

The Best-Dressed Bear by Diana Noonan, illus. Elizabeth Fuller, Scholastic NZ

The book was originally published in 2002, and this new printing sports a Premier NZ Bronze Bestseller sticker, which means it’s sold 7000 copies. Teddy bears are a bit like cats – you can’t go wrong when you write about them! This book is the sequel to the award-winning The Best-Loved Bear and I suspect it isn’t quite so well-known. Nevertheless it’s a child-focused, warm-hearted story about childhood anxieties. Tim is upset when Mum puts some of his old (and favourite) clothes out for the Salvation Army shop. Of course he’s far too big for them now. What’s the solution? Teddy is dressed in the clothes – and Tim talks to Mum about his fears of growing up. Elizabeth Fuller’s illustrations are soft and reassuring, with lots of warm colours. Would be a good read-aloud for preschool centres.

ISBN 978 1 77543 139 8 RRP $20 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Anthology of Short Stories and Poems

I've been away for eight days hence no entries.  Lucky for me, Lorraine Orman has continued writing reviews and here is the latest...

Junior Fiction

Read Me Another One, Please! New Zealand Stories and Poems For Children. Stories selected by Belynda Smith and Dorothy Dudek Vinicombe, Whitcoulls Publishing.

In the old days this handsome hardback would have been called a treasury. It’s a good word to describe the collection of delicious offerings waiting between the covers. It mingles short stories, poems, extracts from novels, and picture book texts. There are lots of familiar authors included – I can’t list them all but there are at least 20 well-known New Zealand children’s writers here, with some of them having more than one work included. I was interested to see short stories by authors who are generally better known for their novels – Brian Falkner, Tania Roxborogh, Susan Brocker, Deborah Burnside. The stories cover a wide range of subjects, but you can be sure that all of them are light-hearted and entertaining, and many of them are funny. Some of the already-published stories and poems are re-printed with their original illustrations while others have been illustrated especially for this volume – so there’s a wild and heady mix of styles.

As well as a useful buy for primary schools, I see this as an excellent Christmas present for families with children aged about five to ten. If you’re stuck on what to buy, rush out and get this one now (or if you’re a grandparent, maybe you should keep it for when the family comes visiting...).

ISBN 978 0 9876674 0 3 RRP $29.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Some Llama Drama

Llama Drama by Yvonne Morrison, illus. Neroli Williams, Scholastic NZ

Pam is a llama who’s not content to just sit in the field and eat and sleep. She likes exciting things to happen. Which is why the other llamas are always saying, “Stop making a fuss. Stop making a scene. You’re just a llama drama queen.” But Pam continues to make a fuss over a green apple, a pretty daisy, a bee-sting – and being called an alpaca. Fortunately for Pam, she’s spotted by an animal talent scout and whisked away to star in a TV commercial... The rhyming text tells an amusing story, and the illustrations capture the emotions on Pam’s face as she acts up – big, brown eyes, long lashes, and a toothy smile. The pictures are done in watercolour pencil, using soft, cheerful colours and fine lines. I would recommend this as a read-aloud for slightly older children, about 5 to 7.

ISBN 978 1 77543 053 7 RRP $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Barfoot & Thompson Book written by Kids

The Miracle at Gull’s Bay by Auckland Primary & Intermediate Students

Edited by John Parker and Illustrated by Keven Mealamu (Published by Barfoot & Thompson)

With seven new stories for readers to enjoy, The Miracle at Gull’s Bay is the new anthology of children’s stories from Barfoot & Thompson’s Young Author’s Challenge. With themes of helping one another, tackling pollution, perseverance and a funny story about too much bacon, this collection of stories has been illustrated by rugby hero Keven Mealamu and edited by children’s author John Parker.

With a story written in diary format, one in a bird’s point of view, another in a dog’s, these stories will delight young readers and inspire budding authors to take up their pens.

The past four story books have helped Barfoot & Thompson raise a combined $90,000 for Starship. Through the Barfoot & Thompson Magic of Reading programme, copies of the books are also provided to Starship Children’s Hospital and Whangarei Hospital’s Children’s Ward where they are given to young patients to read and take home.

All proceeds go to Starship Hospital

Each copy costs $15 and can be ordered online from


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Eruption! Discovering New Zealand Volcanoes

I have been so busy reviewing other people's books (and other writing) I forgot to promote my own on this site:
Eruption! Discovering New Zealand Volcanoes by Maria Gill (New Holland Publishers)
Enter the explosive world of New Zealand Volcanoes. You'll discover how they are made and whether they'll go off any time soon. If you're studying volcanoes or just crazy about them - you'll find: diagrams illustrating how volcanoes form, Maori creation stories linked to each volcano,  links to video footage and animations online, and flash facts for extra knowledge.  Volcanica, a reporter for Magmatic Press, pops up throughout the book to report on historic eruptions and expand your volcanic knowledge. She also has an investigation at the beginning of the book for young readers to engage with the text. 
The book is ordered around the type of volcanoes New Zealand has.  At the back of the book is information on how to get to volcanoes around New Zealand. Plus there are tips on how to be safe if a volcano erupts near you.
The book is bright and colourful with volcanic templates in the background, photographs and Volcanica's character with her roving reporter newspaper articles. 
Look at reviews for the book on Maria Gill's website, Facebook page, book pulse page or blog.
See an interview here.
ISBN: 9781869663629  RRP $21.00  48pages

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

New Non-fiction book

Kiwi: The real story by Annemarie Florian, illustrated by Heather Hunt (published by New Holland Publishers)

I help organise kiwi releases for the Department of Conservation so I was quite excited about receiving this book to review - and it doesn't disappoint.

This beautifully produced children's non-fiction book operates on two levels. Across the middle of the page interacting with the illustrations is a verb-driven poem. "muckracker, stem-shaker,/ nosy parker, mud-larker, dashing darter /cricket-cruncher, mantis-muncher/ eavesdropper, clodhopper, show-stopper!..." Each page also has a paragraph explaining kiwi information.  We learn about how kiwi came to New Zealand; how they are different to other birds; information about what they eat, their senses, voice, breeding, egg formation and how predators are a problem for kiwi.

Teachers could read the poem aloud to junior and middle school-aged children. Senior Primary and Intermediate-aged children would use the interesting facts for research for projects.  A middle-grade teacher I showed the book to said she would pick out the difficult words such as monogamous, conspicuous, functioning ovary etc - and investigate them more fully. Independent readers would probably have liked a glossary so they could find out what these words mean on their own. Read to children 6-8 years, read poem independently 8-10, read facts independently 11 years plus.

Heather Hunt's artwork is quite unique.  It has been drawn on the computer and is a mix of black and white 'loose slightly wild feel' lines for the kiwi, and definite colour shapes for the environment.  The artwork and text draws your eye across the page like a 'musical score'.  John McIntyre on National Radio said that it has a real beautiful luminosity to it - and that explains it well. I believe illustrator/designers often produce books that are quite stunning - and Heather Hunt has certainly done that. The book was inspired by the character developed by Heather for the Whangarei Heads Landcare Trust.

Author Annemarie Florian is a bookseller and educational librarian. Annemarie and Heather have collaborated on books for babies in the past.

Hardback $29.99, ISBN 978-1-86966-378-0

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Thursday, November 8, 2012

New book from Duck Creek Press

Yucky Mucky by Melanie Drewery, illus. Trevor Pye, Duck Creek Press

A father and his daughter play a game of make-believe as bathtime approaches. She pretends to be a variety of animals, and paints herself accordingly. Towards the end of the book she’s got a black nose, a tangled mane of hair, green-painted skin, sticky fingers, pink ears, dusty knees and frog legs. But none of the “animals” is allowed to participate in the final surprise until they all come together and get dumped into – the bath! An extra dimension is given to the story by frequent mention of the surprise waiting at the end of the book (ie. the bath). Trevor Pye’s crisp pastel-coloured cartoon illustrations have a slightly retro feel to them, especially the round-eyed, solid-teethed faces. Preschoolers will enjoy the juxtaposition of pictures of real animals (puppy, lion, snake, money, pig, camel, frog) with pictures of the girl pretending. This cute story should appeal to littlies who like make-believe – and to parents who have trouble getting their offspring into the bath! The hardback version has patterned end papers and feels nice to touch; note that it’s also available in paperback.

ISBN 978 1 877378 71 3 RRP $29.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Young Adult E-book

Demons [e-book available on Amazon], by Bill Nagelkerke, Achukabooks, 2012

This short novel, with its reflective tone and cerebral themes, is very much a crossover novel between YA and adult literature – probably best tackled by readers in their late teens. Andrea, aged 22, is about to set off from New Zealand on her OE. She looks back on the events and revelations that shaped her personality during her adolescent years: her uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church, her love for her strong-minded grandmother, her changing attitudes towards her parents, and her teenage love affair with Christopher. The focus of the story moves backwards and forwards through time, examining significant moments in Andrea’s life. It’s interspersed with quotes from Christopher’s diary (he’s a dedicated intellectual, a self-styled classics geek). The prose is polished and readable, and the author handles the non-linear timeframe with aplomb. Fans of popular mainstream YA literature would probably find it too analytical, but young adults who like intellectual challenges (Why can’t women be priests? Is there life after death?) will find it interesting and thought-provoking.

Read an excerpt here.

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, November 5, 2012

Activity Book for the Road

Kiwi Kids Road Atlas & Holiday Activity Book by Hema Maps

Do your kids get bored on long car or plane journeys? Do they constantly ask, 'Are we there, yet?'  Well, help is at hand.  Hema Maps have produced an activity book that has been thoughtfully made on plastic paper so children can draw their masterly creations with the attached whiteboard pen then wipe-off to start again.  There are instructions on how to read a map, puzzle games, mazes, maps so you can follow your own journey, join the dot activities  and lots of interesting facts such as, 'Did you know that the kiwi bird has nostrils at the end of its beak?' and questions like, 'Do you know the world's longest name?' which can easily be spotted on the map. They've even left space for children to draw their own squiggles, and make their own coat of arms.  There are several pages of activities listed in their areas - so kids can nag their parents to take them there too. 

An excellent resource for impatient kids and frazzled parents.  Could even be used in the junior and middle school classroom as a reward activity that is fun but also educational.  I wish this book came out when I was a child travelling in a caravan, or when I had my own kids and visited relatives around New Zealand.   Recommended for ages 4-8 years.

A4 size, paperback $12.99, ISBN:  978 1877 302 824

Buy it here or at your local book store.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Book Launch Coming Up Soon

Picture Book

Bernie And Flora by Annemie Berebrouckx, Book Island Ltd
Book Island Ltd are launching their first three titles, including this one, on Sunday 11th November at the Raumati South Memorial Hall, Kapiti Coast. Visit their website at for more details. Bernie and Flora is the first book in a series called The Adventures of Bernie and Flora, focusing on love and friendship. First published in 2011 in Belgium, and translated by Laura Watkinson, it is a gentle story about “saying it with flowers.” Flora the duck visits her friend Bernie the bear and is shocked to see that all the flowers have gone from his garden. She checks out the neighbours, to no avail. But when she sadly returns home – you guessed it – Bernie is waiting there in a room full of flowers. It’s smart-looking paperback production, with cover folds and illustrated end papers, and the illustrations are fresh and appealing. I enjoyed the strong images with their bright colours and lots of white space. There’s a free colouring-in sheet included, and an interesting page at the end provides information about the language of flowers (daffodils ask, “Please love me too”). The publishers say it’s suitable for 3+, and given the subject matter I imagine it will probably be more popular with girls than with boys.

ISBN 978 0 9876696 1 2 RRP 19.99 Pb
Illustrated Story Book

Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt and Marjolein Pottie, Book Island Ltd
This is another one of the titles being launched by Book Island Limited on Sunday 11th November. It was also originally published in Belgium and translated by Laura Watkinson. It’s an interesting choice for a new publisher, being aimed at newly-emergent readers – who are often still focused on educational series. It’s a good-looking book, hardback, with quality paper and illustrated end pages. It offers six short interconnected stories about a female mouse who is a knight (Sir Mouse), and a female dragon called Dragon. This unlikely pair are friends – Sir Mouse is the stroppy one and Dragon tends to be more conciliatory. The stories contain more conversation than action, though there’s lots of talk of chopping up and blood – and general waving of swords in the air. The illustrations are intriguing, created using collage and paper-cutting techniques. They look simple, but they reward close study, particularly the monotone paper-cut silhouettes.  Overall I’d say the book is definitely quirky, noticeably different to the usual style of early readers, and probably better enjoyed by girls than boys (because the two main characters are female). The recommended age level is 6+.

ISBN 978 0 9876696 2 9 RRP 24.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Duck Creek Press Picture Book

Big Mac by Karen Lane, illus. Samantha Lane, Duck Creek Press
An appealing first book by this mother and daughter pair. I always tell writing students not to submit artwork to a publisher along with their picture book texts – but every rule can be broken, and here’s an example. Samantha Lane’s colourful and minimalist illustrations add a distinct charm to the story. Readers will be fascinated to learn that Big Mac is a real cat, homeless and hungry when he was rescued from a MacDonalds’ carpark. The story recounted in this book is based on hard experience when the author was house-sitting for her sister. Big Mac likes to get up early for his breakfast, so he starts his wake-up campaign at 4.30 am. Several disturbances later, Mrs Brown goes to the window to shut him up, and realises that it’s a beautiful morning and she should be enjoying it (and feeding the cat). The illustrations are enlivened by the portrayals of the big, fat, smiling ginger cat – he will appeal to cat-lovers everywhere. This would be great fun to read to a group in a pre-school setting or in the new entrants’ classes. Note that it’s hardback, and is a top-quality production.

ISBN 978 1 877378 73 7 RRP $29.99 Hb

Friday, November 2, 2012

Children's E-book for 7-9 year olds

Milly and the Chittens by Julie Scott (published by Pear Jam Books)

Milly and the Chittens
Milly McGinty is the first to say she is not bedroom-proud. There's dirty clothes, rotting potatoes, chip packets and discarded toys on the floor. Milly soon discovers that under the chaos is hiding an even bigger surprise: a trio of mysterious creatures. The half-kitten, half-chick fluffies are so strange she's not even sure they're real. She nicknames them the chittens and tries to rear them without her mum knowing at first, and other people who might wish to harm them. Milly realises it is not easy hiding chittens when they're feisty and full of mischief but soon finds out there's an extra bonus looking after chittens.
A story about believing in yourself and persevering with your dreams. A delightful chapter book for 7-9 year olds.  Young girls will fall in love with the chittens, chuckle with the humour and want to keep reading until the end to see how Milly solves the problems.

Julie Scott has been writing for most of her life. She has a collection of degrees from various universities, Julie Scottincluding a Ph.D. in Vision Science and a Master of Creative Writing. She lives in a very messy house with her husband, three kids and an excessively bouncy Irish terrier called Finn. But, unfortunately, no chittens.
Read an excerpt here.
For sale as an e-book for Kindle and other e-readers for $3.99 here, and for sale as a paperback at all good stores for $19.99 or buy online here.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Roger Hall Play for Kids

The Three Little Pigs by Roger Hall, illustrated by Errol McLeary (Scholastic)

The Three Little Pigs is a story and play in one book.  Roger Hall takes a well-known fairytale and modernises it for today's kids.  The three little pigs are lazy little sods.  They expect their mother to do everything for them. However, mum is fed-up - she threatens them if they don't help she'll turf them out. They laugh. But the next day when they go to turn on the TV they find it gone - they sob their hearts out. Their mother then kicks them out.  Of course, you can guess who is laying in wait for them and the huffing and puffing scenario that plays out, with a little twist.

Once you've read the story, kids can then act it out.  Teachers will love this resource. Kids can understand the text first by reading the story, then perform it as a play.  I imagine many school assemblies will be featuring The Three Little Pigs. Kids will also enjoy it, as the humour and language is aimed right at their age level.  The cartoon artwork enhances it further.

Roger Hall is one of New Zealand's most successful playwrights. He has also written scripts for radio and television, and for children. His plays have toured widely and have been performed at international venues and won awards.  This is his second book for Scholastic (My Aunt Mary Went Shopping).

New Zealand born illustrator Errol McLeary now lives on the Gold Coast where his zany sense of humour continues to bring his illustrations to life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New from Book Island

Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich by Lorraine Francis & Pieter Gaudesaboos

Sammy was very hungry.
"I'm so hungry I could eat the biggest sandwich in the world," he said.
So he went to the cupboard and he got some crusty bread with poppy seeds on top,
a big tub of chocolate spread and a little pot of mustard,
a box of sprinkles
and a bag of raisins,
three jars of jam
some crunchy peanut butter
and a comb of runny honey.
"But I'm not finished yet," he said.

Sammy then gathers more food to make a humungous sandwich that goes out the attic window and is as tall as a skyscraper.  Will it wobble? Is Sammy still hungry afterwards? Read to find out what happens.

The book is very tall too and made with heavy card.  It will be useful for reading in the classroom and kindergarten.  Children can learn new words, as pictures show the food alongside. It can also be used to show numbers, big/bigger/biggest concept, and could be used in a classroom discussion about what would happen if you built a sandwich that big.  Some boys will probably want to test it out. (They'll run out of food and it'll topple long before it gets to their arm length let alone being taller than a house.)  Recommended for the classroom and kindy.  Nice and hardy too.

Lorraine Francis is an Irish writer of picture books. She works as a children’s librarian. Lorraine has written numerous books for Irish publishing houses. Her career took a turn when she met the young Belgian illustrator, designer and author Pieter Gaudesaboos. His great love of the formalism of 1950s illustrations, his digital drawing technique and his childlike imagination fit together perfectly, and they are an ideal match for this simple but charming story.

Published by Book Island, ISBN:  978-0-9876696-0-5,  RRP  $24.99

Monday, October 29, 2012

Another Brian Falkner classic!

Maddy West and the Tongue Taker by Brian Falkner/illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Walker Books Aust

Nine year old Maddy West has an amazing gift. She can understand and then speak any language. When she shows her wonderful talent on a TV show, it brings wonder, scepticism and the interest of a professor who needs help deciphering ancient scrolls held on an island in Bulgaria. Maddy thought the TV interview was exciting but she is is soon travelling to a foreign land, meeting new people (and a monkey) and her best friend Kazuki is along for the ride – at least until he disappears.

Maddy is soon reunited with him when she too is kidnapped and forced to read the scrolls. They aren’t what the professor claimed them to be – and neither is the professor. She’s a witch and the scrolls are spells she wants for herself. Spells like the terrible Tongue Taker.

It’s up to Maddy, Kazuki and her new friends to stop the witch, but can they do it in time?

Another magical story from the brilliant author/illustrator team of Brian Falkner and Donovan Bixley. Maddy is a feisty character, sticking up for her friend Kazuki and others she meets along the way. Young readers will love the action throughout the story. Witches, wolves, spiders and spells keep the characters in a thrilling time ticker to defeat what they started.  

ISBN – 978 1921977671 RRP $23.00
Reviewed by Adele Broadbent

A new Brian Falkner book is always received with excitement in our house.  This is another book for the gals (but boys will like it too), with a strong female character but also a helpful side-kick boy. You guessed it - Brian has another talent for his main character - this time it's being able to understand any language (what a gift that would be).  It's fast paced, excellent writing with smatterings of humour.  An excellent choice for children 8-12 year olds.

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Activity Book

New Zealand Garden Wildlife: To Read, Colour and Keep by Dave Gunson, New Holland

This is the fourth book in this popular colouring-in/information series – the others cover New Zealand birds, wildlife, and shore and sea life. However it’s the first one I’ve seen, so I examined it thoroughly to identify its features. Each page shows a black ink drawing (ready to be coloured in or traced) of a common garden inhabitant, such as a butterfly, ant, ladybird, myna, dandelion, manuka, mouse and hedgehog. There is also a paragraph of basic information for each picture. The pages are perforated so they can be removed and displayed when completed. In the middle of the book are two pages of coloured illustrations which give an idea of the real colours and markings of the fauna and flora included. The publisher’s age range says 4 to 7, but I’m reluctant to give it to my 4-year-old grandson just yet. I’ll wait till he’s at school and his colouring-in skills have improved – and I’ll bring the book out on a day when I can sit with him to share the information and suggest what he should be doing with the pictures. In other words, the littlies will need some adult assistance to get the most out of the book.

ISBN 978 1 86966 384 1 RRP $9.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

I'm an ex-teacher and I can see this being a useful resource in the Junior classroom. Teachers could photocopy a page for children and use it as an extra activity while doing a study on insects.
Maria Gill

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A new Grandma McGarvey!

Grandma McGarvey’s Christmas by Jenny Hessell, illus. Trevor Pye, Scholastic NZ

This is the first Christmas book to arrive on my desk – no doubt there will be more coming. Moreover, this is the twelfth book about Grandma McGarvey, and it’s hard to believe a Christmas-themed one wasn’t produced earlier. In her usual intrepid fashion Grandma McGarvey sets up her caravan at the holiday park. She prepares for her Christmas feast – candles, crackers, turkey and plum pudding. She even dresses up in a red dressing gown with a matching cap, and a white woolly scarf. But the pudding explodes (well, almost), the dog races up the tree and gets tangled in the Christmas lights, Grandma climbs up to sort things out, grabs the flying fox for balance – and shoots down into the middle of the camp’s Christmas party. Of course, everyone thinks she’s Santa Claus...Trevor Pye’s cartoon illustrations are big and bright and full of action. My grandsons particularly liked the exploding pudding. The publishers recommend the book for 3 to 7-year-olds.

ISBN 978 1 77543 067 4 RRP $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tina Matthews latest picture book

A Great Cake by Tina Matthews, Walker Books Australia

Tina Matthews is an author/illustrator who was born in New Zealand but lives in Sydney. Her previous two books have been successful, achieving awards and shortlistings. The story in this handsome hardback book is simple but satisfying. Harvey wants to bake a cake but they don’t have the right ingredients. Harvey uses his imagination – and bakes a cake incorporating toothpaste, flannels, rubber duckies and a hot water bottle. Using a sturdy repetitive format, the author describes the correct ingredients and actions for a cake, but the illustrations show what Harvey is really doing. This format is repeated twice, and then Harvey’s father comes to the rescue and produces the right ingredients for a proper cake. Thankfully, the last page of the story includes a recipe for a standard butter cake. My grandsons and I had fun poring over the pictures and identifying the weird ingredients Harvey puts into his cakes. We also enjoyed the connections to the outdoor world. There are plenty of interesting details to spot in the colourful, slightly retro illustrations (created with stencils and woodblocks). Best for pre-schoolers, both boys and girls.

ISBN 798 1 921720 06 2 RRP $27.99 Hb

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Musical Picture Books

Do Your Ears Hang Low? Sung by the Topp Twins, illus. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic NZ

I don’t own a copy of The Wonky Donkey (shock, horror!) so this was my first introduction to a musical picture book ie. in song format, with a CD enclosed. My initial realisation was that this is a different experience to reading a picture book with a small child. With an ordinary book you grab one from the pile, collar a willing preschooler, and sit down to read. But I found I didn’t know what to do with a musical picture book. Read it aloud? Sing it aloud? Set up the equipment to play the CD before starting? Sing along with the CD? Or just turn the pages as the Topp Twins sing? I guess everyone will have to work out their own way of tackling this. I have to admit I haven’t got the hang of it yet. But I am very old-fashioned...

Putting the methodology aside, I hasten to say that the words of the song are delightful, and don’t need to be sung to be appreciated. The illustrations are sheer delight – Jenny Cooper’s bemused long-eared animals are laugh-aloud funny. I did listen to the CD – it’s pretty short, and has been extended with some guitar playing at the end (I would have preferred to hear the song again). BTW, there are two pages at the end of the book providing interesting snippets of information about ears (all you ever wanted to know...).

ISBN 978 1 77543 104 6 $26 Pb

If You’re a Kiwi And You Know It! Sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Kotuku Tibble, illus. Stevie Mahardhika, Scholastic NZ

Another musical picture book with a CD, this is a longer and much more repetitive song that the one I reviewed above. It covers kiwi (dig for worms), spider (scuttle about), tui (sing a song), dolphin (dive and play), pukeko (strut around), eel (slither away), fantail (flit about), praying mantis (catch a fly), horse (kick your hooves), seal (flap your flippers), penguin (waddle around) and tuatara (stay very still). The English version is followed by the Maori one. I imagine that children who have already heard the original version at school or in kindergarten will be happy to perform the actions while the song is played - with a bit of guidance from the teacher. Parents at home might also prefer to play the CD (because of its repetitive format) and encourage their children to do hand actions. The illustrations are big and bright and colourful, with extremely cheerful animals depicted. I did find all those wildly grinning faces a bit much, but children will probably find them reassuring.

ISBN 978 1 77543 107 7 $21 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tanya Batt's two latest books!

My Dad’s A Dragon Catcher by Tanya Batt, illus. Helen Bacon, Clean Slate Press (

Tanya Batt is one of our most skilled and popular storytellers. All sorts of words come to mind in relation to Tanya – magic, fun, costume, story, performance – but after browsing on her website ( I can definitely add books to that list. This story (and the one reviewed below) were originally recorded as part of Tanya’s first sound album of stories – and now they have been published as stand-alone picture books under the publisher’s new imprint Reading Alive.

This book definitely passed the test drive with my three and four-year-old grandsons. I know they like a book if they want it read to them several times in one day. The narrator, Toby, is ashamed when his classmates boast about their dads’ glamorous jobs – so he tells a little fib and says his dad is a dragon catcher. The little fib grows into a monster when everyone’s fathers are invited to come to school and talk about their jobs. Toby has to confess to his dad what he’s done. But Toby’s dad is very enterprising, and the doubters in the class get a big shock... It’s a theme that will appeal to four to seven-year-olds – they will all understand about little fibs that get out of control. The illustrations are cheerful, exciting and colourful, with plenty of action and enough interesting detail to occupy young minds while they listen to the words. Congratulations to the publishers for choosing hardback, and for including the delightful dragons on the end papers.

ISBN 878 1 927185 57 5 $19.99 Hb

Catching Fish by Tanya Batt, illus. Natalia Vasquez, Clean Slate Press

I can just hear Tanya reciting this friendly little story, taking great advantage of the actions and noise effects. Jake’s favourite blue shirt has five red fish along the bottom edge. But when it goes in the wash the fish disappear, much to everyone’s bewilderment. Jake looks everywhere for it. And then he spots the fish swimming around in the sky. How will he get them down? Everyone offers suggestions – but it’s only when Jake resorts to pen and paper that he gets results. The hardback book is beautifully designed, with fish on the end papers and fascinating collage illustrations throughout that reward close study. You find yourself running your fingers over the pictures with the illusion of feeling the textures. I hope this publisher continues their high standard of production. This book is great fun to read with preschoolers, and will also be useful with the littlies at school.

ISBN 978 1 927185 56 8 $19.99 Hb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Margaret Mahy Books

Margaret Mahy A Writer's Life: A literary portrait of New Zealands best-loved children's author by Tessa Duder (Harper Collins)

Harper Collins and Tessa Duder have updated Margaret Mahy's literary biography to include an epilogue about Margaret Mahy's last seven years. Tessa details how the news of Margaret's death rocked the nation. The Prime Minister and Minister of Parliaments recorded tributes on the halyard. People from all over the world and New Zealand sent their condolensces and wrote tributes for newspapers.  Not since the death of Sir Peter Blake had the country so responded.  One funeral and two memorial gatherings later, people were acknowledging that Margaret was our most famous and treasured author ever.  (Numerous leading figures were saying that she was as famous as Kathryn Mansfield and Janet Frame - and children's authors were saying: actually, she was much bigger than them. She was translated into more languages, sold more books, and was more well known than the two of them together.) 

Tessa delicately talks about Margaret's illness; diagnosed months before her death.  And how, even in her failing health she wrote several more picture books that came out posthumously. Tessa also includes the 70th birthday bash for Margaret, her two biggest novels over the last seven years and their televised versions.  How it hadn't occurred to anyone to publish an anthology of Margaret's poetry until one of her friends wrote to Tessa to say how nice it would be.  That galvanised Tessa to collect Margaret's poems, David Elliot spent six months drawing the illustrations and then Harper Collins published a gorgeous hardback book called 'The Word Witch' (see below). Tessa ends with why Margaret made such an impact on adults and children in the literary world.

Also included in the revised book (first published 2005) are an updated bibliography, notes, awards and honours, and new photos. It also has a new cover and I'd have to be honest and say that I preferred the first cover best; with Margaret and her dog, though I can understand that they wanted to bring a bit of colour to the cover.  If you're a Margaret Mahy fan - then you'll thoroughly enjoy poring over this literary biography about Margaret's writing, ideas and books.

RRP $39.00 paperback with flaps.

The Word Witch by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by David Elliot (Harper Collins)

This wonderful book of poetry was first published in hardback in 2009. It  includes 66 poems and is accompanied by one of New Zealand's best illustrator's - David Elliot's - gorgeous artwork. This time it is out in paperback with flaps. It also includes a CD with recordings of Margaret reciting 12 poems including favourites such as Down the Back of the Chair and Dashing Dog, which have also been published as picture books.

The book was in the bestseller list for months (in 2009) and has achieved Bronze bestseller status, which means 5000 books or more have been sold.  So for a cheaper price (hardback $46.00) you this time get a recording of Margaret reciting some of the poems.  Every school, library and home should have a copy.  When my children were little they were given a beautiful collection of Roald Dahl's stories and poems by their grandparents.  I suspect this will be a popular gift from grandparents to their grandchildren too.

RRP $39.00 paperback with flaps.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Nic's Cook Book

Nick's Cook Book: Tasty recipes for kids who love to cook! byNicholas Brockelbank,
Photographs by Nigel Beach (Scholastic)

Nic self-published his first cookery book when he was just eight years old.  He then wrote another and set up his own website to sell his recipes and artwork to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Christchurch Earthquake Relief Fund and the True Colours Charitable Trust.  He is also donating 50% of his (and Scholastic's) royalties from the sales of this book to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He knows what he is talking about too - he won the 2011 TVNZ Good Morning Kids' Cook Off with his chicken and broccoli pasta recipe.

Nic started cooking on the suggestion of his teacher to help him better understand maths and literacy.  He has Muscular Dystrophy; a rare condition that weakens a person's muscles.  He hasn't let his disability slow him down and nor does he let it define him. He's only ten years old and already he is a huge inspiration!

You will find scrumptious recipes such as savoury bacon and egg pies, summer rice paper rolls, salmon sushi, tomato and mushroom risotto plus other handy meals.  For the sweet-tooth he has chocolate cookie and cream ice cream cake, chocolate slice, golf balls (chocolate balls) and raspberry lamingtons. At the front he demonstrates basic cooking terms, deconstructs measurement terms and throughout the book are handy tips, facts and gorgeous mouth-watering photographs.

The perfect gift for young children learning to cook! Full chops to Scholastic for giving away half their royalties too and selling the book at such a reasonable price - only $10.00.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-110-7

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Random House Children's Non-Fiction

Sirocco: The rock-star kakapo by Sarah Ell, published by Random House

There have been several books written about the inquisitive and unique kakapo: A Booming in the Night by Ben Brown, Kakapo Rescue by Sy Montgomery photographed by Nic Bishop, and Kakapo-Rescued from the Brink of Extinction by Alison Ballance. But we cannot get enough of the world's only flightless parrot - Sirocco: The rock-star kakapo is a welcome addition. 

Sirocco came to world attention when he jumped on the head of a British TV presenter's head and began to flap his wings; signalling he wanted to find a mate. The YouTube clip was watched by millions. Since then Sirocco has become a conservation ambassador and now has a Facebook page and Twitter account, with thousands of followers. He also tours zoos around New Zealand so that children can see what all the fuss is about; saving the world's rarest parrot.

Sarah Ell begins the story when Sirocco hatched and struggled for survival.We learn about the conservation programme in action through Sirocco's own life story. We also find out the consequences of what happens when a wild animal imprints on humans.  Throughout the book are stunning photographs of kakapo; often with a black background - which is appropriate because they are a night bird. At the back of the book are text boxes with interesting facts about kakapo; a question and answer page; a page about how the Kakapo Recovery Programme is turning the tide; further reading suggestions; and an index.  A delightful book for 6-8 year olds to find out more about one of New Zealand's rarest birds and an excellent classroom resource.

Classroom Idea:  Pair 'A Booming in the Night' with 'Sirocco: The rock-star Kakapo' and look closely at how the authors have used their research - compare and contrast.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Another new picture book from Margaret Mahy

The Man from the land of Fandango by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

If you've ever heard Margaret Mahy perform - you would have heard her recite 'The Man from the land of Fandango'.  Margaret had an excellent memory and could recite most of her poems or one of her favourites that other people had written. 

When the man from the Land of Fandango
Is coming to pay you a call
with his tricolour jacket ...

The man from the Land of Fandango bingles and bangles and bounces, as he dances with bears and bisons, and baboons on bassoons. Other creatures join in, they stop for a break, before continuing on with their somersalts and juggling.

Lots of wonderful alliteration, joyful rhythm and playful tinkering with words.  Children will love to roll the made-up words around their tongues. Teachers and parents will delight in reading it aloud.

A must-have for your Margaret Mahy collection.  ISBN: 978 1847 802 200  RRP $33.50 hardback

Margaret Mahy sadly passed away in 2012 but has left behind a legacy of picture books, short stories, poems and award winning young adult novels that children (and adults) hold close to their heart.

Polly Dunbar was born in Stratford upon Avon. Polly first started illustrating when she was 16 and has a degree in Illustration at the University of Brighton. Polly has also illustrated Margaret Mahy's books Down the Back of the Chair and Bubble Trouble. She lives in Brighton, Sussex.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A new Margaret Mahy Picture Book

Mister Whistler by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Mr Whistler wakes up with a song and dance in his head. When his Great-Aunt Lydia Whistler pleads for him to clean his windows - he sighs. He would rather sing and dance but he does what his Aunt wishes. He dresses for his journey and waits at the station for the train. But alas he has lost his ticket...

Children will delight in shouting where the ticket is and parents will identify with the forgetfulness. It is more of Margaret Mahy's magical madness; quirky people doing crazy things.  It is a story that children and adults will enjoy.  You will find Margaret's wonderful imagery: "something flew out from beneath his teeth and fluttered like a butterfly to the gound" and "His ticket flapped like a mad moth..." The words break into a rhythm of an approaching train: "Into his Trousers! Quickly! Quickly! Into his shirt. Quickly! Quickly!"

Gavin's artwork is a departure from his usual style. There are more pastel colours and use of water colour blotching in the background but you'll also find his familiar patterned lines, including symmetrical borders on walls and gardens, and musical notes meandering across the page. On some pages movement is shown with the main character in various stages of dress. I love the way Gavin has captured the dancer's legwork. Gecko Press have produced it as a large hardback book with jacket and patterned endpapers. The end product is utterly gorgeous. It is now my favourite book from the collection of Margaret Mahy and Gavin Bishop picture books I own.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Barbara Else's sequel to Travelling Restaurant

The Queen and the Nobody Boy: A tale of Fontania by Barbara Else, Gecko Press

The first book in the Fontania series, The Travelling Restaurant, received numerous accolades and awards. I suspect this one will do the same because it’s written in the same breathless, light-hearted style as the first. It’s set in the same fantastical country, and I was delighted to find the same intriguing and informative map decorating the endpapers. I love maps in books, especially when the characters go on a quest. King Jasper and his sister Queen Sibilla (from The Travelling Restaurant) are in the story, but it’s set several years later when Jasper is grown up and Sibilla is twelve. The hero of the story is the unpaid odd-job boy at the palace, named Hodie. He decides to run away to seek his fortune, but he’s joined by Sibilla, who has also run away. Their escape is complicated by a next-door country called Um’Binnia declaring war on Fontania. It’s a fast-paced rollercoaster of a plot, involving magic, greed, betrayal and family secrets. The publisher calls it “a pre-teen adventure/fantasy novel in the steampunk genre.” I’d call it a piece of whimsy, light as air but deliciously written.

ISBN 978 1 877579 23 3 RRP $24.99

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Topp Twins release second children's book

The Topp Twins have once more teamed up with publisher Scholastic New Zealand and illustrator Jenny Cooper to release their second children’s book, the popular Do Your Ears Hang Low?

If you don’t already know the words and actions to this favourite in schools and preschools, then get ready to learn them! Sing along to The Topp Twins’ energetic rendition of the song, while Cooper’s animals with their hard-case ears are sure to bring a chuckle to children and adults alike. Two pages of little-known facts about ears complete the package.

The book follows on from the success of There’s a Hole in My Bucket, which became an instant bestseller when it was published in 2011.

Lynda and Jools had so much fun doing the first book they couldn't wait to do another. "If we're having fun and the kids are having fun AND it helps them to learn to read, then it's all good," says Jools. "It's another classic that everyone knows the words to, but this time we hope people will do a little jig too!"

Illustrator Jenny Cooper’s original artwork for both books will be on show at an exhibition in Christchurch from October 24, where it will be possible to see the amount of work that goes into a book like this, with character sketches and detailed pencil drawings.

Publishing Manager Diana Murray says that Scholastic New Zealand couldn’t be happier with the response to the book from those who have already seen it. “The Topp Twins bring a jaunty energy and presence to their music which combines so well with Jenny Cooper’s characterful, hilarious illustrations. You can’t help but love these books, and loving these Kiwi icons all the more for helping to bring the songs to life.”

With the launch of Do Your Ears Hang Low? at the Nelson Arts Festival on October 28 already sold out, and anticipation building about its release, this is a book to watch out for this Christmas.

To find out more about Do Your Ears Hang Low?, visit


Friday, September 28, 2012

A new Slinky Malinki!

Slinky Malinki, Early Bird by Lynley Dodd, Penguin NZ

Preschoolers love stories about animals behaving badly, so this is bound to be a winner for most families – and especially for those who are already Slinky Malinki fans (me!). In her usual impeccable rhyming verse, Lynley Dodd shows us the naughty black cat waking up his family very early in the morning. After being yelled at, purred at, pounced on, and whisker-tickled, they are driven from their beds – and then the black devil slinks into his favourite human bed and goes to sleep! Good old Slinky Malinki.

ISBN 978 0 143 50546 4 RRP $24.99 Hb

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A new book from Ken Catran

Dead Harry by Ken Catran, Scholastic NZ

Along with the title, a pair of suspended eyeballs and a set of false teeth on the front cover give some idea what to expect. It’s a ghost story mixed up with a thriller, but I suspect the author had his tongue firmly in his cheek the whole time so you could also call it a spoof. Sam’s friend Harry suddenly ends up dead – and naturally he comes back to haunt Sam. Initially this is very disconcerting for both parties, but as time goes by Harry discovers some of the joys of being supernatural – such as detaching your eyeballs. However there are suspicious things going on, and Sam and Harry eventually discover a dastardly plot involving war criminals and heaps of money, not to mention a few people who aren’t what they seem (I can’t say more without giving away the plot). Okay, it’s all pretty far-fetched, but it’s good fun and intermediate-aged boys should enjoy it, especially the ghostly bits.

ISBN 978 1 77543 051 3 RRP $19.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A new boardbook from Harper Collins

Mangu & Ma by Megan Bowers-Vette, HarperCollins NZ

This is the first title in an intended series of sturdy board books for babies (0 to 2 years). The subtitle on the cover is: A real-life first-focus book for little Kiwis. It consists of (mainly) black and white high-quality photographs of kiwiana and other interestingly-shaped objects. So we have pictures of shells, flowers, china sheep, piano keys, buttons, stones, etc. The photographer is a New Zealander, and she suggests that the series of books are used to improve concentration and eye focus in babies. There is a hole in the spine so the book can be attached to a pushchair or playpen.

ISBN 978 1 86950 995 8 RRP $14.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A new junior fiction from Scholastic

Rabbit by MargaretBeames (Scholastic NZ)

Jack has always wanted a dog and when he overhears his parents whispering about his upcoming birthday, he knows this year it’s finally going to happen. Or so he thinks. What is waiting for him in the cardboard box on the back lawn is not a puppy, but a rabbit.

He is disappointed, until the rabbit speaks to him. At first Jack is shocked but it soon sinks in and they decide on a name together. The rabbit is to be called Henry.

But Jack isn’t the only one who hears Henry talk. The girl next door is listening on the other side of the fence and she rushes to tell her family. No one but her older brother believes her – who sees an opportunity to make some money.

When Henry disappears from his hutch, Jack, his best friend Nick and the little girl who started it all end up in a dangerous adventure to get him back home and safe.

A junior novel from the author of forty books for children, including ‘Oliver’, ‘The Shearwater Bell’ and ‘Duster’. ‘Rabbit’ is another story young readers will enjoy, which deals with friendships and family, and explores the topic of animal testing.

 ISBN 9781775430919  RRP $20.00

Teacher Notes:

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Brain Sucker by Glenn Wood (Walker Books Aust)

Callum McCulloch has just turned 13. He wakes to find the present he’s always wanted – a Thunderkit wheelchair from his grandmother. Paralysed from the waist down, this wheelchair will let him go places he hasn’t gone before. After trying it out he returns home elated with it. That’s until his Gran receives a letter from the Welfare Department questioning her ability to continue to care for him. They have to go to the city for a meeting.

Meanwhile, another story is being told of a man called Lester Smythe. From very small, Lester has been ignored or misunderstood causing him to become bitter and evil. He has grown to hate any goodness he sees and has built a machine called The Brain Sucker. This machine is connected to a victim’s ear which then sucks out the goodness from their brain. (A few adjustments had to be made along the way as the first machine he invented took out a little more than he’d planned). He plans to dispose of all this goodness so it cannot return to its owner.

Back to Callum who travels to the city with his best friend Sophie and Gran. This is where the two stories collide with terrible results. Gran become Lester’s latest victim of The Brain Sucker and she changes into a rude, nasty woman. Can they get her ‘goodness’ back before their Welfare Department interview?

With Sophie’s gadget expertise and their friend Toby (nicknamed Jinx because of all the terrible things that happen to him), they embark on their dangerous mission, facing Lester, his henchmen and his terrible machine.

A great story for 8+ with firm friendships, gadgets, guns and all the action young readers love. The age old concept of good vs evil filled with humorous characters both imaginative and some closer to people we may know...
Listen to comedian Jeremy Corbett read the story:
New Plymouth born author Glenn Wood is an ex cop, copywriter, screenwriter, actor, and full time writer. He's had two books published for adults about his hilarious experiences in the police force. This is his first book for children. His second follows June 2013. 
ISBN – 9781921977633           RRP$19     248 pages  

Reviewed by Adele Broadbent