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