Sunday, March 31, 2013

Another Great Read from Des Hunt

Phantom of Terawhiti by Des Hunt, HarperCollins NZ

Another title in Des’s long line of exciting adventure stories with strong New Zealand settings and themes. This one is set on Wellington’s wild south-west coast, in the Makara area. Zac and his father are living on the remote Terawhiti Station, trying to stay incognito (Zac’s father was involved in a business scandal). But a large boat belonging to a Russian billionaire is shipwrecked on the rocks nearby – and a strange creature seems to have come ashore. Zac and a local girl called Jess track the animal down and find that it’s a tame albino serval, ie. a large wildcat. Unfortunately a couple of Russian thugs are also looking for the rare animal, as well as some over-enthusiastic hunters. Zac and Jess work frantically to save the cat, but their task is made even more difficult when she’s located near Zealandia, a wildlife conservation park. It’s an absorbing read for intermediate ages, especially boys.

Note to publishers – readers DO study the cover and pick up mistakes. The spooky feline eyes on the front should belong to a white cat, not a black one.
Des Hunt is the author of thirteen novels, including the acclaimed CRY OF THE TANIWHA. After forty years working in education he is now a full-time writer, using novels to share his fascination with science, technology and the world around us. For more information visit
ISBN 978 1 86950 954 5 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My New Zealand Story series latest book

Cyclone Bola, Gisborne, 1988 by Kath Beattie, Scholastic NZ

The latest title in Scholastic’s My New Zealand Story series, this diary-style story looks at the devastation wrought by Cyclone Bola in the Gisborne city and rural areas. The cyclone is well within my memory but I have to confess I had little recall of how bad it was (yes, I am an Aucklander!).  A page of statistics in the book gives some idea of the destruction: 4000 people evacuated, 56,000 hectares of farmland damaged, 300 houses damaged or relocated, 17 bridges totally or partially destroyed, and millions of dollars’ worth of animal stock killed. The story is told by Amy Dyer, who’s about twelve when she gets sent to live on a family farm near Gisborne while her parents are doing a yacht trip. There’s some mildly interesting material as the farm setting is described and Amy details how she’s getting on at a different school (she has to do research and write essays for her previous teacher in Auckland). The only hassle seems to be that there’s a cyclone brewing in the area near Vanuatu where her parents are, and Amy is worried about them. Of course a few days later the cyclone hits New Zealand – and Amy and her great-uncle and aunt are marooned in the farmhouse while the rain thunders on the roof and the wind howls and the flood rises. The descriptions of the experience are vivid, and obviously based on first-hand information. Another useful title in this excellent series – I’m sure teachers will be glad to include it in their studies of disasters.

ISBN 978 1 77543 100 8, RRP $18.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tessa Duder Award Winner's book

A Necklace of Souls by R.L. Steadman, HarperCollins NZ

This story was the 2012 winner of the Tessa Duder Award for an unpublished young adult novel, sponsored by Storylines and HarperCollins. As a member of the judging panel who chose this story as the winner, I’m hoping a few wannabe YA fantasy writers will read this review.

There were lots of fantasies entered for the award in 2012, but this one stood out from the rest. Why? I’ll start with the basics – the spelling, punctuation and grammar were good. Secondly, the author understood the principles of skilled writing – such as keeping adverbs and adjectives to a minimum, and not over-writing. Lastly, the judges were impressed with the freshness and originality of the story’s fantasy world  - it wasn’t just the same old quest/dragon/battle scenario. There is so much fantasy round these days that writers must come up with something startling and new if they want to make publishers sit up and take notice.

Now to focus on the story itself. The alternating points of view from the princess and the young warrior are intriguing, and add a freshness to the plot. The magical kingdom protected by a necklace that slowly kills its wearer is a fascinating idea - as is the princess’s dream-travelling and her gradual discovery of her horrifying heritage.  I also liked the princess’s tutor – an African woman who walked from our real world into the fantasy one because it was her destiny as a magic wielder.

After some excellent editing and re-writing, the end result is a colourful and absorbing fantasy that I heartily recommend to both teenage and adult fantasy fans. And here’s a plea to HarperCollins NZ – please, please publish the sequel. I’m dying to read about the end of Dana and Will’s adventures.

ISBN 978 1 77554 006 9 $24.99 PB

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New book from Scott Tulloch

The Silly Goat Gruff by Scott Tulloch (Scholastic)

Over the bridge where the hills were rough,
Where there wasn’t much food  (not nearly enough),
Where things were bad, and times were tough …

Lived three Billy Goat Gruffs; Willy, Billy and Silly Goat Gruff. At this stage you probably think you know what is going to happen… The billy goats get eaten by the troll.  Or do they? The writer cleverly and humorously leads you in that direction but he has a surprise for the reader.

A fun story that subtly teaches children how to stand-up to bullies – even if you are small or have Silly for a name …

Author/Illustrator Scott Tulloch gives a refreshing spin on an old tale, told in rhyme. Scott has also illustrated ‘Wooden Arms’, ‘On the Road to Tuapeka’ and ‘Tom and the Dragon’. He also wrote and illustrated the Willy books: Willy’s Dad, Willy’s Mum, Willy’s Grandpa’ plus many other gorgeous picture books.

Parents will love reading it and 3-7 year old children will chuckle in all the right places.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-105-3  RRP$ 19.50

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two inspirational books for young children

Ed Climbs A Big Hill by Dreydon Sobanja, illustrated by Jennifer Smith (Published by Inspired Kids)
Ed was an ordinary boy who liked to climb hills. He started with a hill in his backyard, and then a bigger one in his grandmother’s yard. He climbed it one step at a time. He thought he had climbed the biggest hill of all but he had yet to climb a mountain. Find out how Ed climbed the biggest mountain in New Zealand, then bigger mountains around the world, until he climbed the biggest mountain in the world – one step at a time.
The book intends to inspire children to achieve their goals one small step at a time; starting small and building their way up.  At the back of the book are tips for children to achieve their goals, and a list of Sir Edmund Hillary’s achievements.
This is the first in a series to help inspire children to achieve their goals and dreams. The website contains teachers’ resources, and more inspirational tips to make your dreams come true.

Dreydon Sobanja wrote this story and the next in the series Jean Dreams of Flying after he hit rock-bottom two years ago. He was 20 kg overweight, unfit and depressed. He turned his life around after competing in a triathlon. He has since competed in 15 triathlons, ten ocean swims and was named ‘Contact inspirational kiwi’ at the Whangamata triathlon in 2011.
Illustrator Jennifer Smith has also illustrated Granny Gorilla by Sher Foley. She recently finished a degree at University of Auckland and was recommended as a young illustrator with potential.  Jennifer illustrated ‘Ed climbs a big Hill’ with black pen outlines and soft pastel water colour wash. She has captured Sir Ed’s character and features and drawn from different angles to create an attractive book.

A percentage of the sale of this book will be donated to the Himalayan Trust.
ISBN: 9780473227838 RRP $20

Jean Dreams of Flying by Dreydon Sobanja, illustrated by Terry Fitzgibbon
Jean liked to daydream she was a bird flying high in the sky. Her brother laughed at her fancy. And so did her classmates when she told them. When she asked her grandfather if she was silly to dream she could fly one day, he asked her if she believed her dream could come true. She did – she just didn’t know how. Jean never let go of her dream … Find out how she makes it come true.

Terry Fitzgibbon has illustrated 15 books and creates artwork in a variety of traditional and digital mediums. Terry illustrated ‘Jean Dreams of Flying’ digitally. The young Jean looks a bit like Snow White but the older Jean resembles well-known photographs of Jean. Text boxes are highlighted in white fuzzy boxes.
The premise of this story is to hold fast to your dreams and one day – if you believe in it enough – you will make it happen. The story is simply told so that children as young as 5-7 can understand the underlying message.

Several make-believe characters have been added to both stories (brother, grandparents) – and Dreydon has acknowledged this with this statement: “Although this story is based on a real life character, the events may have been dramatised, and fictional characters added, to convey an inspirational message.”  
Teachers, download teaching resources on site.

ISBN: 9780473227845  RRP $20

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Excellent read for 10 years plus

A Winter's Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik (Scholastic)

This has to be the best book I've read this year.  It has adventure, emotional moments and tense moments.  It is the sort of book you buy extra copies so you can give them to other people to read because you want them to be acquainted with such an excellent book. What's it about?

Twelve-year-old Adam lives with his family in Poland attending school and helping on the farm until the Russians invade their country. His family are transported to work in a labour camp in Russia. They are forced to work to buy meagre food supplies and survive in over-crowded unclean conditions. Not everyone makes it out alive. When the Germans declare war on the Russians they are freed - but where to? They are sent from one side of the country to another by train, ship and by foot. Will the family make it out together or does illness claim one or more of their lives ...

It is a coming of age story - Adam at first naive and angry about small things learns to overcome his issues with his father and take over the responsibility of looking after his mother and little sister while his father and older brother are away fighting. You'll cry, you'll stay up late to read-on, and you'll be grateful to read about a bit of Polish history you may not have known about.

Melinda Szymanik writes picture books, short stories, and junior fiction for several publishing houses. She won the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards for her book 'The Were Nana' in 2009. Other books include: Jack the Viking (Scholastic), The House that Went to Sea (Duck Creek), The Half Life of Ryan Davis (Pear Jam), Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective (Tale-Spin).

Friday, March 1, 2013

A new book from Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley

The Three Bears (sort of) by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic)

Once upon a time,
There were three bears,
And they lived …
What kind?
What kind of bears?

The narrator isn’t expecting questions and the reader is pretty clued up. He or she is not going to be fobbed off with any old answers … no siree … they want specifics … and they know a thing or two about bears. For example, ‘How did the three bears come to live in a cottage? They live in caves.’ The narrator is kept on his or her toes while the reader questions every detail of the ‘Three Bears and Goldilock’ fairytale.
Children and adults will love the humour (in the words and the illustrations). They might chuckle if they recognise themselves as a parent who doesn’t always know the answers, and the child who, well … likes to ask lots of questions.

Will be very popular with the 4-8 year old crowd and parents are going to enjoy reading it to them.
Yvonne Morrison is a zookeeper, former school teacher, and writer of popular children’s books such as ‘A Kiwi Night Before Christmas’, ‘A Kiwi Jingle Bells’ and ‘Down in the Forest’.

Donovan Bixley is a talented illustrator living in Taupo. He illustrated ‘Phoebe and the Night Creatures’, ‘Wacko Kakapo’, ‘A Right Royal Christmas’ and the very popular ‘Dinosaur Rescue’ series.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-068-1  RRP $19.50