Thursday, December 26, 2013

Picture Books for the Christmas holiday season

A Perfect Chirpy Christmas by Kyle Mewburn, ill. Patrick McDonald, Random House NZ

As one of New Zealand’s most well-known picture book writers Kyle Mewburn needs little introduction, but the illustrator of this book is a newcomer to the children’s book market. In 2013 he won the Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Picture Book Illustration by submitting illustrations for this particular text. Previously he graduated from Massey University with an Honours degree in Design. Together the text and the pictures introduce us to Flit, an earnest little bird who longs to experience a white Christmas. He flies north rather than south, finds a snow-bound city, and builds a sturdy nest so he can enjoy the festivities in comfort. But when the Tomtit family lose their nest, Flit says they can move into his. He gives up his next nest to the Lark family - and is reduced to living in an old tin. His kindness is repaid by the local birds, and he ends up enjoying the splendours of a genuine white Christmas. But next year - guess where Flit decides to enjoy Christmas...? The illustrator uses colour, texture and perspective to create unusual backgrounds, and Flit himself is an appealing character with his plump oval shape, shiny eyes and expressive eyebrows. If you’re looking for a cute Christmas story for pre-schoolers, check out this one.

ISBN 978 1 77553 495 2 $19.99 Pb

Rosie to the Rescue by Kyle Mewburn, ill. Flux Animation, Random House NZ

This is more than just a picture book. Rosie is the New Zealand dairy industry’s Cowbassador, and her job is to educate kids about dairy farming. She has her own Facebook page, blog, and website ( which includes games, movies, competitions and giveaways. There are even some teaching resources for years 1 to 7 at The cheeky rhyming text of this story tells a tall tale about how Rosie manages to get the milk delivered to town despite the surrounding floods. Think buckets of milk, a massive kite, and a flying cow... The illustrations are an ultra-modern computer-assisted mix of photos and drawings that should appeal to today’s young electronic gaming addicts. Primary school teachers will probably be glad to use this as a light-hearted resource for curriculum-associated projects on New Zealand industry (and I suspect kids who live on dairy farms will be quite intrigued...).

ISBN 978 1 77553 573 7 $19.99 Pb

Phylys the Farm Truck by Christine Fernyhough and Susan Elijas, photography by John Bougen, Random House NZ

Friends and fans of Christine Fernyhough will recall this trio’s previous picture book, Dart of Castle Hill. Dart the dog is pictured in this story, but not as the main character. That role belongs to Phylys (based on the author’s Toyota Hilux) - who arrives at the farm sporting immaculate, gold-painted bodywork. After several typical farm incidents Phylys is dented, scratched and stained - but the good old girl is still going strong! The rhyming text is added to the page inside stitched boxes - these in turn compliment the busy, multi-textured mix of photos, collage, pencil and paint. There’s certainly a lot going on in these illustrations, and children of about 4 to 7 (and their parents) will enjoy examining the details for quirky motifs. Probably best for reading aloud one-on-one or in a small group so the adult reader can comment on the pictures.

ISBN 978 1 77553 509 6 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Presents for the Very Young

Trains by Catherine Foreman, Scholastic NZ

Boats by Catherine Foreman, Scholastic NZ

Here we have two more books in the Machines and Me series, following on from Planes and Tractors. I was impressed with the first two, and glad to see these ones being published - I hope this means the series is financially successful. For those of you who haven’t made the connection, Catherine Foreman is the author/illustrator of the award-winning picture book The Cat’s Pyjamas which has become a firm favourite in many households, including mine. These two volumes offer uncomplicated illustrations with solid black lines and bright primary colours, just right for young preschoolers. The fashion these days seems to be for dense complicated illustrations, so it’s nice to see uncluttered pages that could be visually enjoyed by babies. The rhyming text is brief and simple (and could be read by a newly-independent reader): Trains run on a railway track, round and round, or there and back. From the station, through the town, up the hill and then back down. I hope there will be more in this series - Bicycles, Bulldozers, Cranes??

ISBN 978 1 77543 162 6 $15 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quirky Picture Book about the Super City

A is for Auckland by Diane Newcombe and Melissa Anderson Scott, Random House NZ

This is certainly an alphabet book with a difference - well, several differences, one being that it is most likely to appeal to Aucklanders!  The alphabet format is simply a means to introduce features of the wider Auckland City. I’m always interested to see how writers cope with q, x and z (okay, they use 1: Queen Street, 2: prompting the reader to mark home on the map with an X, and 3: the Zoo). The features are many and varied, with some real surprises - we are reminded of the Civic Theatre, Ihumatao, Lion Rock, the Otara Market, Te Hana, and Auckland’s many volcanoes. The theme is moved along by means of a little girl and a smart-mouthed tui who fly everywhere and identify the outstanding features. The illustrations are packed with detail, using numerous media such as collage, watercolour, coloured pencil, and black pen. Speech bubbles and casual labels draw attention to other words beginning with the featured letter - and add to the very dense effect. The subtle humour and the complex illustrations means that the book will probably mean more to older children of about 7 to 9.

ISBN 978 1 77553 558 4 $22 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book 2 in The Fly Paper series

The Sundew Stalks by Johanna Knox, ill. Sabrina Malcolm, Hinterland Press (PO Box 50, Greytown 5712, New Zealand)

This is Book Two in The Fly Papers series - the first book was The Flytrap Snaps. Fans will remember Spencer Fogle, the hero of the first book, and his mutant venus flytrap. Spencer does feature in this story, but the heroine is the intrepid Tora de Ronde. As well as rescuing a mutant sundew from the clutches of the evil Jimmy Jangles, Tora is trainee wrestler - and a free runner. Her unusual skills are essential to save the genetically engineered carnivorous plants from Jimmy and his two female henchmen - the wrestlers Sybil and Cassandra. The plot twists and turns madly, there’s heaps of off-the-wall action, and the talking plants (Dross and Dion) are a hoot. Some secrets from the first book are uncovered - but there are still plenty of mysteries to be resolved in the next book in the series, The Aldrovanda Turns - with several more books in the series to come.

PS. There are a couple of pages in the back providing interesting information about non-genetically engineered sundew plants...

Johanna Knox is the author of The Flytrap Snaps,  launched in August 2011. 
Previously, Johanna has had short stories for children and adults published in anthologies and the School Journal. She also reviews books, writes magazine articles (often about food or plants), helps develop museum exhibitions, and chats on National Radio’s This Way Up about foraging for wild food.
Take a peek inside.
ISBN 978 0 473 22663 3 $23 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A sport biography for children about one of New Zealand's most exciting league players

Stepping with Benji Marshall by David Riley

I came across this book while researching a sports' book I'm writing myself. And I have to say that I'm impressed. I am a sucker for biographies but I'm not a rugby/league sports fan (at all). Yet David Riley grabs me from the first page with rugby league player Benji Marshall's crowning moment winning the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. We read about Benji's 'stupefying sidestep', his 'phenomenal passing', 'sizzling speed' and his toughness; subtitles that will draw young boys to read further. Author David Riley knows what he is doing - he is a High school English and Drama teacher himself.

In the next chapter, David tells us about Benji's not ideal beginnings. His 16 year old mother brought Benji up along with the help of their whanau. Benji did not have a dad but he had 8+ uncles who took him under his wing. We find out that Benji was often over-looked for junior teams because of his small stature. He compensated by learning tricks; moves that would make him stand out from the other team players.

I like that David tells us about the whole person. Read the biography to find out what else Benji was talented in - you'll find them surprising (and refreshing). You'll also find out how he was selected for the big league, how he wasn't afraid to volunteer tricky moves - moves that helped his teams win against the odds. The wins are incredible culminating in Benji winning the biggest prize of all ...

To keep the book interesting for reluctant readers David keeps the chapters small, with punchy sub-headings, lots of photographs, quotes and breakouts such as commentaries on important moments in the game: Here's How it Went Down; and Did You Know Facts. At the back of the book is a bibliography so boys can read further about Benji and rugby league. Also an interesting page about how Benji is helping other people; visiting sick kids in hospital, starting a foundation, and being an inspiration to young players. There's even a page on what to do if you're facing challenges, plus a timeline.

The book is professionally designed by Tau Ceti One (I particularly like the type-set) and printed in New Zealand. You can buy a printed and digital version of the book.

Order directly from the author
Cost: $20 plus postage and packaging: postage in NZ: 1- 4 copies $4.50 ; 5 -10 copies $5.50; postage to Australia: 1- 4 copies $5.50. 10% discount for orders of 20 or more
Electronic version can be purchased here:

For teachers - David has written an English resource teaching metacognitive (learning to learn) strategies using articles about the All Black Team players, and another book for the Rugby League team. I write teaching resources and I can tell you these are first class. If you teach an all-boy class - you'll definitely want to download these AND THEY'RE FREE! David tells me he is writing something for girls and boys who are interested in other sports that aren't rugby or league. Go to his website for some great reviews of his book, and find out what else David has written (a play, picture book, another biography - about Sonny Bill Williams). 

An excellent book that you'll want to buy for your class, school library or for the boy (or girl) who is a rugby league fanatic.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Watch Out Snail! children's non-fiction book

Watch Out Snail! by Gay Hay, illustrated by Margaret Tolland

Night slips in.
The forest stirs.
Down in its depths lives Snail,
its shell as big as your fist.

This is the first time a Powelliphanta snail has featured in a book, I am sure. Written in creative non-fiction style we meet the snail lithering through the forest floor. Can it escape the hunters? You'll also find out how the snail eats in an alien-like way, where it lives and other interesting bits of information at the back of the book. Teachers will find this last fact page useful for further study. I liked that they include the Maori words too.

The illustrations are vivid with accents of purple. They've also gone the extra expense and laminated the shell. Young hands will enjoy sliding their fingers over it - imagining they are touching the real thing.

This book will encourage 3-6 year olds to look for garden snails and have a whole new respect for them. Unfortunately, they are highly unlikely to find a Powelliphanta snail, as they are an endangered native species. A much needed book about a very rarely talked about species in New Zealand. It will help bring awareness to this snail's scarcity and uniqueness.

This duo also published 'Fantail Quilt' which was shortlisted for the LIANZA award.

Gay Hay is an environmental enthusiast and primary school teacher. She is a volunteer for Nga Uruora Trust and, as the Pukerua Bay school environmental officer, she has helped children plant and nurture over 6000 trees.

Margaret Tolland is an artist and teacher by trade. Margaret is currently the Education Coordinator at Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures where she teaches people of all ages about art.

RRP $25 Buy here

Sunday, November 17, 2013

For teachers/students' election study in 2014

Running the Country: A Look inside New Zealand’s Government by Maria Gill (New Holland)

Maria Gill has transformed a potentially dry subject into a bright and attractive book that will be a “must-buy” for all libraries and schools in New Zealand (yes, I think it will be useful for primary through to secondary levels). Her Contents page lists subject headings such as: How does our government work, Traditions in Parliament, Political parties, How laws are made, and Local government. There’s a Glossary, a Resources page, and an Index, so it’s very user-friendly from a research point of view. Each topic runs across two pages, including blocks of easy-to-read text, a coloured photo, an information box, a profile of an important person with a cartoon illustration by Malcolm Evans, and (usually) a Click Here spot which provides an URL for further information or an activity. Not forgetting a useful Timeline which runs through the whole book.

Probably the best feature of this book is its approachability. Youngsters won’t pick it off the shelf for a light read, but it certainly invites browsing and dipping. Any young researcher working on a subject-related project will find it very handy, and I suspect teachers will find it an absolute boon when looking for resources for civic studies. Recommended.

ISBN 978 1 86966 396 4 $24.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Picture Song Books

My Daddy Ate an Apple by Craig Smith, ill. Scott Tulloch, Scholastic NZ (includes CD with song)

After some discussion with colleagues, I’m identifying  
a new genre for this review blog (KidsBooksNZ). I’ve reviewed several picture song books previously and always felt I wasn’t evaluating them properly. Generally, they don’t match with one of the main traditional picture book criteria ie. requiring a skilfully written (and original) text for an adult to read to a child, usually in prose or poetry format. Text and illustration in traditional picture books enhance each other as part of the shared reading experience.

Music and song bring a new and significant element to the traditional text/illustrations format. They’re not better or worse than standard picture books - they’re just different. Picture song books will probably continue to be included with traditional picture books in both bookshops and libraries, but for the purposes of this review blog, I’ll be evaluating them differently.

Craig Smith’s song describes in hair-raising detail what happens when a zebra eats an apple containing a worm. Be warned - the conclusion contains scatological material which could result in a classroom meltdown. Scott Tulloch’s cartoon illustrations are bold, bright and hectic - children (boys particularly) of about four to seven will think they’re hilarious. This is definitely not a bedtime story!

ISBN 978 1 77543 200 5 $21 Pb with CD
She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain sung by the Topp Twins, ill. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic NZ (includes CD with song)

Well, it’s the old country song that we all know, but I suspect there are a few extra lyrics thrown in, eg. And we’ll all have cake and ice cream when she comes... This is the third picture song book from the Topp Twins (after There’s A Hole in My Bucket and Do Your Ears Hang Low?) and I’m sure it will be very popular. I can see this CD being kept in the car for travelling - but probably not the song book itself (beware carsickness...!). Jenny Cooper’s cartoon illustrations are great fun (shades of red-headed Annie-Get-Your-Gun), and the expressions on the faces of the dancing and instrument-playing animals are priceless.

ISBN 978 1 77543 172 5 $21 Pb with CD

The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas, ill. Myles Lawford, sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Kotuku and Te Okahurangi Tibble, Scholastic NZ (includes CD of song in English and Maori)

This song begins, On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a meat pie from the local dairy... The accumulations carry on with a distinctly New Zealand flavour - two boogie boards, three white sheep, four sausage sizzles, five chocolate fish, six rugby players, seven Hobbit extras ... and so on. The main illustrations accompany the English text, while the Maori text has smaller versions. I googled the illustrator but couldn’t find any info apart from Facebook and LinkedIn entries, so I suspect this is his first picture song book. His cartoon illustrations (“created in Adobe Photoshop with a wacom tablet”) are colourful, modern, and a bit zany, focusing on three children and a dog who are enjoying the unusual bounty of the song. I see this song and book being enjoyed by primary-aged children rather than pre-schoolers.

ISBN 978 1 77543 167 1 $19.50 Pb with CD

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Monday, November 11, 2013

For ages four to infinity ...

A Book is a Book by Jenny Bornholdt, ill. Sarah Wilkins, Gecko Press

Small and perfectly formed, this book offers a prose poem by one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed poets. It was conceived and developed to commemorate the 20th birthday of the Whitireia publishing programme. It’s been published in the guise of a children’s book, but it’s more likely to be appreciated by older children and adults. In a fresh and whimsical fashion it looks at answers to the question, “What is a book?” Every avid reader will find delicacies to savour - I especially liked the following: Reading a book of pictures is still reading, and You can read a book while you walk, but you have to be careful not to bump into things (e-book readers take note!). Sarah Wilkins (winner of the Russell Clark Award in 2003 for The Immigrants) enhances the text with finely drawn, imaginative and almost surreal illustrations that reward close scrutiny. Congratulations to Gecko Press for the care that has gone into the production - it has a detachable cover, a different picture on the cover of the book itself, and a bookmark; and  the pages have a sturdy old-fashioned matt quality which appeals to both eye and fingertip. This would make a great Christmas present for friends, young and old, who love books (real books!).

ISBN  878 1 877579 92 9 $24.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dunger by Joy Cowley

Pre-teen Fiction

Dunger by Joy Cowley, Gecko Press

Congratulations to Gecko Press for publishing this warm-hearted novel by one of New Zealand’s most loved children’s authors. It’s a homely story set in Joy’s beloved Marlborough Sounds, focusing on 11-year-old William and 14-year-old Melissa, who take turns to narrate the chapters. They are horrified at the idea of spending ten days at a remote bach in the Sounds with their ancient grandparents. No electricity, no cell phone coverage - it’s the pits. But their noisy, opinionated grandparents teach them a few living-off-the-land skills, and gradually their ideas change. When Grandpa has a bad accident William and Melissa are able to take charge and sort things out. The setting is vivid, the characters are likeable (even the doddery old grandparents) and the plot is well-paced and interesting. It’s a comfortable read for intermediate ages, with a strong New Zealand theme. Recommended.

ISBN 978 1 877579 46 2 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, November 1, 2013

Two action stories from David Hill

Brave Company by David Hill, Penguin NZ

It’s so nice to be reading David Hill books again! David and Ken Catran are virtually the only New Zealand children’s authors writing about our country’s involvement in international wars. It’s so important for our authors to introduce our young readers to the realities of warfare - but in stories that emphasise human virtues. This very readable novel is set in 1951, during the Korean War. Boy Seaman Russell Purchas is sixteen, stationed on board HMNZS Taupo, a frigate with 100 crew. He’s full of excitement at going into battle as part of the UN forces - but he carries a weighty secret. He’s determined to be brave and do the right thing, unlike his dead Uncle Trevor who was lauded as a hero of WWII but in reality (according to official information) was a deserter. The plot whisks us quickly into the active battle zone, interweaving the main story with a heart-rending theme focused on the agony of the Korean civilian refugees.  It’s not long before Russell finds himself in the front line of the land battle, and his courage is tested as never before. Heaps of action and excitement, lots of war details (no doubt thoroughly researched), and a likeable young hero make this a riveting read for boys of about 12 to 15.

ISBN 978 0 143 30757 0 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman   

Sinking by David Hill (Scholastic)

Early one morning as a young teen named Conrad is crossing the park on the way to swim training, an old man runs out of the bushes. He is shouting about someone called Ted. Conrad is shaken by this but doesn’t tell anyone at the pools. Not even his best mate Jaz who is also training for the Nationals.

Back at school there is a new girl in Conrad’s class. She’s skinny, short and feisty and not scared of anyone – even guys much bigger than her. Conrad soon learns this girl (Bex) is in town to look after her grandfather – the same man who was ranting in the park. Bex is waiting for her mother to come to town to help but she is caught up with the shearing back on their farm.

As Conrad gets to know Bex, she introduces him to her grandfather, George Abbott. Conrad gets on well with him and wants to know why he was out so early and behaving strangely. He begins asking questions and his dad tells him of a local tragedy years before, where a young guy drowned in the strong current of the river. He’d argued with a friend over a girl and had been drinking. The friend was asleep on the bank at the time and not responsible, but had carried the guilt with him his entire life. That man was George Abbott.

As Conrad’s friendship with Bex builds, her trust in him grows. She tells Conrad that George’s wanderings have got worse since his wife died and when he goes missing one day, Conrad is the first person she calls for help. George has left a note. Where can he be? Will they find him before something terrible happens?

Conrad and Bex race to the river on the back of her horse towards an action packed finale, to face another near tragedy.

Sinking is a fabulous story full of believable characters and David Hill’s wonderful wit. Conrad made me laugh out loud and I felt for George and his battle with early Alzheimer’s.

ISBN 9781775431329 $19.50

 Reviewed by Adele Broadbent

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Exciting new series for boys

Tom Hassler and the Rats of Droolmoan Cave by Doug Wilson

Why does Tom have no relatives? Not even a dad. He intends finding out when he goes to his grandmother's place - a grandmother he didn't even know existed until recently. What he thinks will be a break from boring school routine becomes quite scary when he is called to go urgently. On the voyage to his grandmother's place he comes across something that not in a million years he would have imagined. Before long he is involved in a mission to save the sea people from a deadly battle with Madame Hortense and her rat pack. The only thing Tom has to help is Maria, a girl who has similar powers as Tom, his wily Grandmother and the sea people. Does he have the inner resources to do it?

An exciting adventure fantasy story that boys (and girls) will find hard to put down. It is a coming-of-age story about a young boy finding the strength and belief from within to solve a problem. He also has to win the respect of the sea people who expect a lot from him.

On the front cover of the book it says it is an eco-story but it is a lot more subtle than that. The rats are a real problem in the story especially to sea birds but it is more about stopping their leader - Madam Hortense. The author elaborates on why rats are a problem to native birds on a fact page at the back of the book.

The is the first book in a series published under the Erkel-Erkel Publishing Ltd imprint. I was pleased to see it had been professionally edited and proofed, and the artwork by illustrator Donovan Bixley is stunning as always.

Doug Wilson is a scientist and a traveller who has lived in Australia, England, America and Saudi Arabia. He has had a passion to write boys' adventure series with ecological ideas for a while. See an article about how this medical researcher began storytelling here.

The second book to look out for is called 'Tom Hassler and the Giant Razor-clawed Granioptrix of Ice Mountain'. This time Tom is called upon to help save a village in Moratadoor from a terrifying beast called Granioptrix. Can he do it?

Go to the website here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Award winning Leonie Agnew's picture book

The Importance of Green by Leonie Agnew, ill. Trevor Pye, Puffin Books

This clever and colourful picture book can work on several levels. There’s the basic storyline which describes what happens when Liam runs out of green paint - chaos. And - if you want it to - it could also be used to support discussions of the importance of the natural environment. When Liam uses up his green paint, he starts painting blue grass and yellow grasshoppers - but his scenes come to life and everything goes wrong. Seagulls crash-land on the grass, people refuse to drink blue milk, and insects have nowhere to hide. Thank goodness - Liam discovers that by mixing his blue and yellow paints he can restore green to its rightful importance. Finally, there’s a colour wheel at the back which enables the book to support a study of colours.

Fittingly, Trevor Pye’s cartoon illustrations are full of vivid colour, interesting perspectives and non-stop action, so the book would make a good read-aloud for a group. The cover shouts at you (in green, naturally)  - it’s sure to attract the attention of the intended age level. Recommended for children of about four to six, particularly those who like throwing a bit of paint around. This one’s perfect for my 5-year-old grandson...
See Inside the book here

Leonie Agnew is an award winning children's author, a former advertising copy writer, and currently moonlighting as a primary school teacher.  In 2013, Leonie won the University of Otago Children's Writer in Residence. For her book 'Super Finn' she won:  New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards 2012 Junior Fiction Prize, Best First Book, and Children's Choice (Junior Fiction Category winner), Storylines Notable Book Award 2012, LIANZA Children's Book Awards 2012, Finalist Esther Glen Award, Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award 2010; and the Storylines Joy Cowley Award finalist for The Importance of Green. ISBN 978 0 143 50571 6 RRP $19.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Another Fabulous Fantasy from James Norcliffe

Felix and the Red Rats by James Norcliffe (Longacre)

David is pleased when his mum’s Uncle Felix is coming to stay. Uncle Felix is the author of a series of fantasy books about the land of Auxillaris that David has read and enjoyed. The two main characters are named Felix and Bella.

But David’s older brother and sister, twins Gray and Martha, think Uncle Felix is weird. Gray in particular isn’t happy that he and his pet rats have to move into David’s room. During his great uncle’s stay, David begins to reread his favourite of his uncle’s books ‘Into Auxillaris’.

When Gray discovers his pet rats have turned tomato red, he blames his little brother. David denies everything but notices Uncle Felix looking very thoughtful. Do the red rats have anything to do with the book he is reading?

As he reads further into the story, David learns that the novels were set in his own suburb, and Bella is based on a real person. When more strange things occur, the entire family is trying to figure out what is happening. Does Uncle Felix know more than he is letting on?

Another fabulous fantasy from the author of the award winning ‘Loblolly Boy,’ this story is told in alternate chapters of reality and fantasy, blending together effortlessly. It tells a tale of sibling rivalry, an exiled princess, strange creatures, an evil ruler and a riddle to be solved. There is some challenging vocabulary throughout the story but this only adds to the imaginative narrative. Great for readers 9+

Dive in and enjoy the ride!

ISBN 9781775533245   RRP$20   P/B 248 Pages
James Norcliffe is a poet as well as an author of children's books. He has been awarded the 2012 University of Otago College of Education's Writer in Residence. The Loblolly Boy won the 2010 NZ Post Junior Fiction Award, as well as being shortlisted for the Esther Glen Medal. His other recent books are The Loblolly Boy and The Sorcerer, The Enchanted Flute and Felix and The Red Rats.

Note: There is an e-book version but the only site I could find it for sale on was an overseas company. Hopefully, the e-version will be for sale here soon so you don't have to pay US dollars for it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A new Young Adult novel from Fleur Beale

Speed Freak by Fleur Beale, Random House NZ

Fleur Beale has produced another very readable story in her long line of books for boys. I’m not the target audience (it’s aimed at boys of about 12 to 15, and maybe some girls as well) but I was happily engrossed as I worked through it. It’s set in the world of kart racing, and knowing Fleur, the details will be 100% authentic. The hero is 15-year-old Archie who’s an ace driver but is competing against a cheating rival to win a chance to race in Europe. Alongside the theme of racing ethics there’s also a theme that focuses on family issues. In this case, Archie’s (divorced) father has invited his lady friend to move in, together with her 7-year-old son, Felix. The trouble is that she hates all motor sports and doesn’t want to let Felix near a track. But Felix is desperate to become a kart driver like Archie. There’s also the situation involving Silver, a girl racer who’s coping with emotional problems and drives like a maniac... The characters are believable, the pace is fast, the story is satisfying. It’s a winner!

Fleur Beale is a former high school teacher and the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children and young adults.(Also available as an e-book)
Teaching Notes here

ISBN 978 1 77553 470 9 $19.99 Pb   
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, October 7, 2013

A new bedtime story from Melinda Szymanik

While You Are Sleeping by Melinda Szymanik, ill. Greg Straight, Duck Creek Press

Using calm, repetitive text with moments of poetry, the author introduces us to different scenarios that happen during the night. We look at people going about their lives on the other side of the world, night animals eating their breakfasts, long-distance vehicles blazing trails through the dark, bakers kneading their dough. To most preschoolers the idea that life goes on while they sleep will be a new and fascinating one, and I imagine there will be many rapt faces both listening and looking. This is the illustrator’s first picture book, and he’s done an expert job. His crisp, stylized illustrations are full of colour, texture and detail. Careful attention will reveal his use of recurring motifs throughout the book, such as the wide-eyed owl, the sleeping dog, and New Zealand birds. This book will be a popular bedtime story for 3 to 5-year-olds - but it will also be useful in preschool centres as a means of slowing down the pace. The illustrations would work with both small and large groups.

ISBN 978 1 877378 77 5 $29.99  Hb (also available in Pb)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The latest picture book by Joy Cowley

Hero of the Hill by Joy Cowley, illustrations by Philip Webb

Engine H One-Ninety-Nine worked the Wairarapa line pulling carriages up the steep incline of the Rimutaka Hill. The engine pulled carriages up the hill even on days of rain or gale. Normal engines didn't have the power like the Fell locomotives.

A delightful rhyming tale about the reliable Fell trains that tackled the difficult Rimutaka Hill. Based on real engines, of which only Engine H 191 survives.

Joy Cowley has donated her royalties to the Fell Locomotive Museum at Featherston.

Philip Webb's illustrations are detailed and colourful, on full double page spreads. The design of the book further enhances the layout with strategically placed text.

Philip says at the end that the pictures aren't an accurate representation of the area - rather 'an impression' of the Rimataka Hill and its surrounds.

Four - Six year old boys will love this creative non-fiction story about the Fell engines. Teachers could use it in the junior school on topic studies about transport then and now. It is also going to be a lovely book for tourists who go to the Featherston area.

About the book launch

Monday, September 30, 2013

Joy Cowley Award winner and shortlisted picture books

Alphabet Squabble by Isaac Drought, ill. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic NZ
This picture book is the winner of last year’s Joy Cowley Award (awarded by the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust) so it has to live up to  high standards. It does this admirably. The story is set in Alphabet Land, where the busy and popular letters such as A and C look down upon the much less popular letters such as X,Y and Z. When the downtrodden letters protest, they are commanded to discover five words that start with their letter. Y and Z do this with no problem, but the Xs have difficulty - until a young X comes up with a word that neatly illustrates the theme of the story (I’m not going to tell you what the word is). The text is dramatically brought to life by Jenny Cooper’s fabulous cartoon illustrations. She used pencil and watercolour paints to create letters with real personality, and the intriguingly detailed pictures will reward close study by child readers (and adults). The book will be useful for primary-level lessons relating to the Health Curriculum because of its focus on tolerance and acceptance of others. But it’s still a delightful picture book in its own right, and pre-schoolers who are learning their alphabet will be fascinated.
ISBN 978 1 77543 124 4 $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Adventures With Daddy by Cathy Kearse, ill. Gabriella Klepatski, Scholastic NZ

Shortlisted for the Joy Cowley Award, this picture book is a first for Cathy Kearse. It impresses with its simplicity - the rhyming text is minimal. Try this: “We go to the park to eat some old bread, but Daddy gives his to the ducks there instead.” At the end of an activity-filled day for the preschool narrator and his father, it’s obvious that Daddy has simply run out of steam. Most of the time the rhy 
thm bounces along happily and makes for a pleasant read-aloud experience. The pictures by Gabriella Klepatski, an experienced illustrator, are delightful. I’ve probably said this before, but her style reminds me of the superb Shirley Hughes. There’s plenty of reassuring white space, and the use of coloured pencils and subdued colours creates a soft, calming effect. It’s a perfect bed-time book for preschoolers, especially boys. I’m going to give it to my worn-out son and my three-year-old grandson - they’ll love it. PS. There’s also a Maori edition.

ISBN 978 1 77543 126 8 $19.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A review of The Freedom Merchants by Sherryl Jordan

The Freedom Merchants by Sherryl Jordan, Scholastic NZ
I’ve just read two historical stories by NZ authors - one after the other - and relished the refreshing change in genre and setting, as well as enjoying both books in their own right. The first was Murder at Mykenai by Catherine Mayo, and the second is this title by one of our most well-known and experienced authors. Almost by accident Sherryl discovered information about the Barbary Coast white-slave trade (which took place between 1500 and 1800) and the horror of the trade stayed with her - prompting her to write this fascinating and moving story.
It is 1615 - and the young hero, Liam, lives in a small Irish coastal village. His first encounter with Muslim slave-trading pirates results in an unusual friendship being set up - but his second encounter is heart-breaking. His brother and a dozen other people from his village are kidnapped. Liam eventually manages to accompany some Christian monks to the Barbary Coast in the hope of buying the villagers back. But he and his fellow travellers are also captured and sold as slaves by the pirates - and all seems lost. But is it??
This is a riveting story - genuine read-under-the-blanket stuff. The author has beautifully captured Liam’s bravery and determination, together with the strong but gentle faith of the monks. But the most vivid part of the story - and the most harrowing - is the description of the tortured lives of the white slaves. In the author’s Note at the end Sherryl says that over a million white Christians were enslaved to Muslim masters during the course of the trade.
I’m recommending this for mature and capable readers of about 11 to 14 years. Boys in particular will be absorbed by it, but girls will also find it a stimulating read. Teachers’ Notes are available at Scholastic’s website.
ISBN 978 1 77543 146 6 $19.50  Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fictional book about bullying for 10-13 year olds

Batjack by Ann Neville published by Create Books
Thirteen year old Tom wants to audition for the school musical Batjack but he has a problem …

A Big One – Dylan, the school bully, and Tom’s arch enemy want the same part.

When Tom is cast as the main character and Dylan is his understudy the battle begins – fights, verbal abuse, vandalism, theft … You name it, it happens.

How will Tom and his friends deal with the bullying? What is Dylan’s secret? Can they reach a compromise and manage to co-habit on the same planet let alone the same stage? Read on to find out …
Bullying is an issue in most (if not all) schools. Kids are often too scared to tell their parents or teachers and suffer in silence.  As a teacher I saw it happening all the time and talked to the class about looking out for each other.
Batjack is a much needed story that would make a wonderful read aloud in class. After each chapter the students could talk about the issues that have been brought up and also role play or problem solve how they would get out of situations.  I think Ann has taken the issue of bullying one step further than most books too.  She has addressed the problem that a bully might have and looked at how victims can be more confident and therefore not look like victims or easy targets.
If I was still teaching I would encourage the students to turn the problem solving techniques  into posters. I suggest that schools perhaps invite a self defence instructor to teach a few sessions.  At the moment, schools seem to deal with the problems rather than search for solutions. This book will be a great addition to middle, senior Primary and Intermediate schools libraries (even years 9 and 10 where bullying is often rife) plus I'd recommend schools purchase it as a resource for their Health curriculum.
Ann also has two small books - one for children and another for parents - as a follow up to the book.  She'll also be adding a free downloadable teaching resource to her website:
Ann Neville has lived in Hamilton most of her life and taught in various towns in New Zealand and the UK. She has written Bullying Guides for parents and children, as well as other educational resources.
Ann has a Master’s in Education, Diploma in Educational Management, Diploma in Educational Leadership and Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing. She has also studied Short Story Writing for Children and is currently completing a Diploma in Publishing through Whitireia New Zealand.
Her research has looked at all forms of violence including physical, verbal, isolation, sexism, ageism and cyber bullying. This lead Ann to write the book ‘Violence...not in our school’, which was made possible through a Graduate Study Award from the University of Waikato.  A Winston Churchill Fellowship enabled Ann to travel to USA to study their strategies for dealing with violence in American schools.
Her book ‘Batjack’, aimed mainly at 9 to 13 year olds, was short-listed for the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2011.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Another te reo Maori language song book

Me Haere! by Sharon Holt, illustrated by Deborah Hinde, published by The Writing Bug

Find out what colour vehicle each child is driving:  "Kei te haere ahau ma runga waka kakariki - I am going by green car".  What colour bus, bike, plane, train, truck or motorbike? Where are they going?

Written in te reo Maori with an English translation at the back. You'll also find guitar chords so you can play it in class, ideas to take it further with children, and simple illustrations with Maori and English translations so kids can learn new Maori words.

Sharon Holt learned te reo Maori for ten years. She passed on her knowledge to her local kindy. Then one day decided other pre-schools and Junior classes could do with a set of books that taught Maori language.  This is the fourth book in the series - look out for 'Maranga mai', 'Kei te peke ahau' and 'Anei Ke!'. All drawn with bright colours with a mix of children to represent the many cultures in New Zealand.

If I was still teaching - I'd definitely be using these books in the classroom. They also come with a CD with the story sung by musicians Graeme Stewart and Stacy Walker. I'd start the lesson off with the music, read the story to the class and then use some of the creative ideas at the back to extend the children. Ideas such as have a mini bike-a-thon, talk about favourite colours, and find Maori words for other vehicles.  A must-have resource for the Junior classroom or kindy.

View a few sample pages from the book here:

RRP $24.99

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An exciting new historical junior fiction series

New Zealand Girl Series published by Puffin (Penguin New Zealand)

Penguin has just released an exciting new series for girls. The lacy cover with pink titles led me to think the stories within would be sugary sweet – what I found instead were well written adventure stories by two skilled authors.

Rebecca and the Queen of Nations by Deborah Burnside

Set in 1874 and beginning in Ireland 10-year-old Becky takes desperate measures into her hands. She escapes the workhouse and leaves behind her orphaned brothers and sisters, stealing a horse so that she can travel to Belfast to find her brother Felix. She lands a maid’s job on board Felix’s boat the Queen of Nations, which is setting sail for New Zealand.

Young Becky must look after the family while the children’s mother is laid ill with sea sickness and late stages of pregnancy. Becky has all the skills to help the family; she had been her mam’s right-hand while she was alive. Guilt still tugs her that she could have helped her own Mam’s labour but instead she ran to get help. Can she help this mother, will she survive the taunting of the older boy Patrick and last the long journey to New Zealand?

Author Deborah Burnside tells a convincing story of what it would be like on board a ship.

“’No naked flame below!’ came the call through the hatch before it was sealed. All lamps were trimmed, and the emigrants waited out their fate in the dark. Storms had come and gone before, but this time the wind screamed around the masts and raked its nails down the canvas, and the waves thrashed at the decks, thrusting watery fingers into every crack and crevice.”

She evokes the sounds, smells and happenings on board. We join Rebecca in the excitement and fears of life as a nineteenth-century immigrant girl. So much so, you’ll wish the story continued after they land in Auckland.

Hene and the Burning Harbour by Paula Morris

Hene’s life in the pa changes the day missionary woman Mata Wiremu sails into their village, in 1845. She carries the important medicine that could help Hene’s ailing brother Taehi along with all the other sick whanau. Hene is excited to be the one to spread the good news that the healing woman has arrived but is dumbstruck when she is told later that day she must go back with her to Paihia Mission. Hene doesn’t want to go to school – she wants to run free and help her family. She has no choice.

At the mission she must wear an itchy hot dress, attend class every day where she learns to read and write. She also has to learn how to sew, which her clumsy fingers struggle to master. She’s lonely and pines for her family until Rangi joins the school. She befriends the girl and finds out life at the missionary is much better than Rangi’s life in the town of Kororareka (now called Russell). When Kororareka is attacked Hene must face her fears to rescue Rangi.

This series is a must for any study of nineteenth century New Zealand in Years 5-8. Teachers could pair the books up with non-fiction books, as part of the Reading and Social Studies curriculum. Students will enjoy the suspenseful stories at school or reading for pleasure.  Boys will be put off by the frills on the cover but girls will delight in the strong female characters and stories that end with hope.

I like that the books also have extensive glossaries, a map of the region, historical notes about the time the stories are set, and the authors stories about how they became a New Zealand girl.

I hope that Penguin will also provide Teaching Notes on their website for this series in the future.

RRP $12.99 
More books in this series to come. Watch out for 'Charlotte and the Golden Promise' by Sandy McKay - coming soon.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two reviews for David Hill's latest book 'Sinking'

Sinking by David Hill, Scholastic NZ

An attention-grabbing cover welcomes readers to this contemporary tale, written with the author’s usual skill and attention to detail. It’s narrated by teenager Conrad, and begins with Conrad on his usual early-morning walk to swimming practice. Suddenly a frantic figure rushes out of the bushes, scaring him half to death. Turns out that the weird guy is the grandfather of a new girl in Conrad’s class called Bex - she’s having problems because her grandfather is suffering severe anxiety attacks. Bex is into horses, while Conrad is into competitive swimming - and these two sports provide interesting backgrounds as Conrad tries to figure out how to help Bex and her ailing grandfather. There’s a nail-biting and deadly climax scene - but I’m not going to give the show away...The book holds you from the first page, ratcheting up the tension as the main plot and sub-plots unfold. The characters are likeable and genuine - and all are handled sympathetically by the author, even the bully. Heartily recommended for boys of about eleven to fourteen (girls will enjoy it too).

ISBN 978 1 77543 132 9 RRP $18.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sinking by David Hill (Scholastic)

Early one morning as a young teen named Conrad is crossing the park on the way to swim training, an old man runs out of the bushes. He is shouting about someone called Ted. Conrad is shaken by this but doesn’t tell anyone at the pools. Not even his best mate Jaz who is also training for the Nationals.

Back at school there is a new girl in Conrad’s class. She’s skinny, short and feisty and not scared of anyone – even guys much bigger than her. Conrad soon learns this girl (Bex) is in town to look after her grandfather – the same man who was ranting in the park. Bex is waiting for her mother to come to town to help but she is caught up with the shearing back on their farm.

As Conrad gets to know Bex, she introduces him to her grandfather, George Abbott. Conrad gets on well with him and wants to know why he was out so early and behaving strangely. He begins asking questions and his dad tells him of a local tragedy years before, where a young guy drowned in the strong current of the river. He’d argued with a friend over a girl and had been drinking. The friend was asleep on the bank at the time and not responsible, but had carried the guilt with him his entire life. That man was George Abbott.

As Conrad’s friendship with Bex builds, her trust in him grows. She tells Conrad that George’s wanderings have got worse since his wife died and when he goes missing one day, Conrad is the first person she calls for help. George has left a note. Where can he be? Will they find him before something terrible happens?

Conrad and Bex race to the river on the back of her horse towards an action packed finale, to face another near tragedy.

Sinking is a fabulous story full of believable characters and David Hill’s wonderful wit. Conrad made me laugh out loud and I felt for George and his battle with early Alzheimer’s.

Reviewed by Adele Broadbent


Friday, August 9, 2013

Go to a Storylines Family Festival today!

Today (Saturday 10th August), is the beginning of the first Storyline Festival this year – in Dunedin. Children’s authors Kyle Mewburn, Adele Broadbent, Mandy Hager, Rachel Stedman, Simon Pollard, and illustrator Robyn Belton, and storyteller Tanya Batt along with International guests: Isobelle Carmody and Rachel Spratt will strut their stuff at Dunedin Central Library from 11 – 4pm.

On Sunday (11th August), authors from above will fly to Christchurch and along with Rachel King, Jenny Cooper, Ben Brown, Jane Buxton, and Simon Pollard will promote their books at South Christchurch Library from 10 – 3pm.

On Saturday 17th August, join writers and illustrators in Wellington: Philippa Werry, Ken Benn, David Elliot, Philip Webb, Ant Sang, Fifi Colston, Maria Gill, Ruth Paul,
Moira Wairama, and Mona Williams at the Michael Fowler Centre from 10 – 3pm.

That night (Saturday 17th August) in Auckland authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers and anyone who loves children’s books will celebrate Storylines 20th anniversary at the National Library from 6pm to 8pm. Buy your tickets here.

The next day (Sunday 18th August), join writers and illustrators in Auckland: David Hill, Sally Sutton, Mark Sommerset, Chris Gurney, Nina Rycroft, Sandra Morris, Elena de Roo, Melinda Szymanik, Leonie Agnew, Fraser Williamson, Susan Brocker, Leonie Thorpe, Apirana Taylor, and the matriarchs of children’s literature: Joy Cowley and Dame Lynley Dodd at the Aotea Centre from 10 – 3pm.

There are also Storyline Family Festival Days in Kaitaia at the Kaitaia Library and Te Ahu Centre from 11 – 4pm; and at the South Auckland Vodafone Events Centre from 11-3pm on Saturday 17th August for the first time!

What can you expect at a Storylines Family Festival Day? You’ll meet authors and illustrators (of course) – you’ll hear them speak, see them draw, do activities with them, get your battered or newly bought book signed and chat to them. You can also make crafts, get your face painted, watch shows, enter competitions and win prizes, and pick-up freebies. It is incredible fun – come with your kids, parents, or by yourself! It is all FREE!

Also, on Saturday 24th August at the Ponsonby Art Station see the 'Pictures Without Words' illustration exhibition from 10-4pm. It's FREE too!

I hope to see you there!!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Another exciting teenage thriller from Karen Healey

When We Wake by Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin)

It’s 2027. Tegan Oglietti is at an environmental protest with her friends when a stray bullet meant for the attending prime minister, hits her instead. She wakes up 100 years later in a world of ever rising oceans, a fierce sun, where red meat is almost non-existent, and the sexual discriminations of the past long gone. When she was 16 years old, she had signed her body over to medical science in case of death. The experts considered her a good case to be clinically frozen; an experiment to help revive soldiers lost in action. At least that’s what they tell her.

Tegan is surrounded by media every chance they get and extremist groups want their say too. Australia now has a no migrant policy and some see her as a migrant from another time. A religious group see her as an affront to god and want her to commit suicide. And to Tegan’s disgust the general public call her 'The Living Dead Girl'.

As she learns about her surroundings and is allowed to go to school (with a bodyguard at her side), she makes new friends, which helps her deal with her longing for her old life. She is still grieving about losing her mum and best friend Alex, and most of all her boyfriend of only one day – Dalmar.

She is still closely monitored by the army and then is told she will be giving a TV interview. She is frightened but angry when told her answers will be carefully scripted and she is not to step out of them.

When Tegan throws the interview she has been trained for, she is held at gunpoint by the very people who revived her – livid with her outbursts at the interviewer. She escapes with the help of her foster mother (Dr Carmen) and finds her way to a friend’s house (whom she met at school). Tegan has been suspicious all along as to why she was used in the experiment and not someone more important, and with her friend’s help they try to discover why. What they find is more shocking than Tegan’s awakening.

This story is told by Tegan through a news casting service while she is in hiding. She knows she will be caught eventually, but at least everyone will know the truth.

When We Wake is set in Australia and is a very possible future. Global warming, rising oceans, climate change and other political issues are part of Tegan’s world in 2027 and still 100 years later. This might be set in the future, but Tegan is a believable character, dealing with many issues teens face in our time - friendships, school, relationships and making choices about her own future. A riveting read.

RRP$22.00 P/B 293 Pages

ISBN 9781742378084

Reviewed by Adele Broadbent