Monday, December 21, 2015

A trip down memory lane

The Adventures of Hutu & Kawa by Avis Acres (Penguin)

Parents and grandparents are sure to remember this classic series, but probably haven't laid eyes on it for a while. The book was originally published in 1955 and has been republished to celebrate the 60th anniversary. The publishers have produced the book in a special padded hardcover, which will help it survive in your household, classroom or library for many years to come.

The author sets the scene with a large pohutukawa tree and introduces us to the main characters - little pohutukawa babies Hutu and Kawa. With the help of Grandpa Kiwi Hutu and Kawa build a canoe and begin their adventure exploring the river. Before they go, Grandpa Kiwi gives them a whistle to blow in case of an emergency and sage advice about how to keep safe. It's not long before they experience danger and wish they are home.

At the back of the book is a page about the author. Avis wrote and illustrated three books in the Hutu & Kawa book series. She also wrote a children's comic strip based on the characters for the New Zealand Herald. Avis also wrote and illustrated the popular book 'Opo the Gay Dolphin' about the friendly dolphin who frequented Opononi beach.

The story and art work has an old-world charm. Young children will enjoy the story and I'm sure there will be a few adults who will buy it for nostalgic reasons. Would the story have been published in these times ... An editor probably would have wanted to make the kiwi family more realistic - only one species of kiwi stay together as a family. Young kiwi find their own food and the parents don't feed them. Editors might be wary nowadays of publishing a story that has young children going off on an adventure along a river, too - for safety reasons.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A must read or listen for the holidays

Banquo's Son by T.K. Roxborogh (audio recording by Brilliance Audio)

Tania Roxborogh is the author of 25 books ranging from an autobiography, plays, Young Adult novels, to text books. She wrote all the books while teaching English at Secondary Schools. She always enjoyed reading Shakespeare to her students and often wondered what happened to the Macbeth characters after the story finished. It inspired her to write a series of three books. In 2009 'Banquo's Son' was published by Penguin, then the sequels in 2010 (Bloodlines) and 2013 (Birthright). Tania knew the books would appeal to an international audience and sold the international rights to Thomas & Mercer in the UK. 'Banquo's Son: A crown of blood and honour' Book 1 came out in 2015 with much acclaim.

I had the pleasure of listening to the 'Banquo's Son' audiobook. I played it while travelling around the countryside visiting schools. Sometimes I sat in the car and continued listening - the story was so gripping I didn't want it to end. I even arrived at one school with tears in my eyes after listening to one sad part in the story. The story is made even more memorable and authentic with English comedy actor Napoleon Ryan's Scottish voice impressions.

Banquo's son Fleance has survived the death of his father ten years before, with a kind family in northern England. He's in love with Rosie and the feelings are mutual. However, he cannot commit to marriage, even though it breaks his heart to say so and leave Rosie behind. He must revenge his father's death and find answers to the many questions that his nightmares raise. Fleance slips back into Scotland not revealing who he is, as he doesn't know who he can trust or who his father's enemies were. Along the journey he makes close friends, meets the three witches whose prophesies cause more deaths, and fulfils his destiny.

A gripping read that will appeal to young adults 13 years plus including adults. Listen to it while relaxing on holiday, walking the beach with earphones in, or driving around. You'll thoroughly enjoy the audio experience. I hope the publishers also bring the next two books in the series out in audio. Listen to a free segment here.

ISBN: 978-1-5012-6657-1

You can buy kindle, mp3, audio book, paperback copies from Amazon.

An exciting debut writer

They call me Alexandra Gastone by T.A. MacLagan (Full Fathom Five Digital)

Every year I decide which YA book is my favourite for the year. Up until I went on holiday there hadn't been any that had really stuck in my mind. I took four books away with me: two NZ and two international books. I really didn't expect a book written by a first time New Zealand* author to snatch that favourite title, but it did. You always know you've read a great book when you scrabble around on the internet afterwards trying to find out when the sequel is being released. I cannot wait for the next book from T.A. MacLagan.

When I say New Zealand author - I should clarify that Tiffany MacLagan is American born but now lives with her kiwi husband and son in Wellington. Her book is actually published in the States but she wrote it in New Zealand. Tiffany has some chops - she has a Ph.D in anthropology and it was while she was writing her dissertation that she discovered a passion for creative writing.

The story has a clever and original premise ... Eighteen year old Alexandra Gastone is a sleeper spy living in America, but is originally from Olissa (Russia). At eleven years old she changed places with the real Alexandra Gastone and has lived a lie; pretending she is the granddaughter of CIA agent Albert Gastone. Just before her 18th birthday she is activated - she must kill the newly elected Olissa President while he is in America. Can she carry out the mission or will she swap sides? She must decide who her allegiance is with - her real family, her spy family or her pretend family. Read this exciting thriller to find out.

Full Fathom Five (publisher) is selling 'They call me Alexandra Gastone' on Amazon for $1.99 - I highly recommend you grab one - you'll thoroughly enjoy reading this over the holidays. Link here. It's the sort of book that will appeal to those who love spy thrillers, romance, as well as enjoying books with a strong heroine, and a story with lots of twists and turns. Suitable for 13 years plus.

ISBN: 978-1-63370-060-4

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Hairy Maclary cloth book

Hairy Maclary and Friends: Cuddle and Play by Lynley Dodd (Mallinson Rendel)

There's been the books, compilations, a touch and feel book, board books and now it's the Cuddle and Play crinkly book. The Hairy Maclary books have been a huge success with the under four year olds. Parents enjoy reading them to their young ones, too.

In this cloth book, young babies will enjoy meeting Hairy Maclary, Slinky Malinki and Zachary Duck. A stanza from each book fills one double page spread. Babies can chew the corners, scrunch the crinkly pages, and even dump it in the bath and this book will survive!  It comes in a box with a see-through cover.

I am sure it will be a favourite Christmas present for toddlers!

ISBN:  978014350616
RRP $26.00
Available: 3 December 2015 onwards

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Interactive Junior Fiction Adventure book

Dragons Realm (You Say Which Way) by Eileen Mueller, Fairytale Factory Ltd

Eileen lives in Wellington and writes for children and teenagers, as well as doing editing work (she is one of the editors of the popular Twisty Christmas Tales anthologies). Visit her at

Here she turns her hand to interactive adventure – similar to the Twistaplot and Choose Your Own Adventure series published a couple of decades ago. The book comes in electronic and paperback versions, and I read it on my Kindle. The interactive capabilities (click on a link to make your plot choice) made it a very easy process compared to the old “turn to page 56” setup that I remember. The basic plot involves the hero (you – it’s written in the second person) fleeing from some bullies and ending up in a different world where dragons and other supernatural characters abound, some good, some evil. I didn’t follow all the plot strands, but read enough to get an idea of how it works. Most strands involved at least half a dozen choice opportunities, and when you reach the end there’s a brief summary that more or less wraps up that particular story. Navigation is carefully explained, and there’s a link to a summary of the choices available if you get confused.

Evaluating characterisation, setting, plot and style as per an ordinary book is pretty well impossible for this genre, so all I can say is that it would probably be most enjoyed by boys of about 8 to 11 who find reading a full-length, sequential chapter book to be fairly daunting. The interactive game-type element should appeal to readers who’d rather look at a screen than a printed page – they’ll have heaps of fun and develop their reading skills at the same time.

ISBN (print version) 9781519288363 RRP (print, Amazon) $9.95; (Kindle, Amazon) $2.97; 214pp (print version)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, November 23, 2015

Starship Hospital children's book launched

Home Sweet Home and Seven Hearty Tales edited by Maria Gill, illustrations by Keven Mealamu and other talented Kiwi artists

I had the pleasure of being one of the judges for the Barfoot & Thompson Young Authors Challenge. This year the theme was 'Home Sweet Home' and we had a wide mix of entries from over 1200 children. The eight winners were:

'Home Sweet Home' by Josephine Sim, Cockle Bay School, illustrated by Keven Mealamu

"Mr Cat" by Antoine Ashman, Glenbrook School, illustrated by Tracey van Lent

"My Family, My Home" by Jenna Hainsworth, Beachlands School, illustrated by Erika Pearce

"Black Cat's Venture" by Lucy Li, St Dominic's College, illustrated by Anna Harrison

"Rangi Ruru" by Emilia Finer, Kerikeri High School, illustrated by Jun Arita

"Spotty's New Home" by Caleb Palmer, Elium Christian College, illustrated by Kate Diprose

"The Topsy Turvey Day" by Ben Davies, Patumahoe School, illustrated by Keven Mealamu

"Rodney's Adventure" by Nicola Daria, Royal Oak Primary, illustrated by Jun Arita

Young readers will read charming stories about how turtles got their shell, a lonely cat found a new home, a jellyfish accepted who he was, a cat learned a valuable lesson, a lost owl found his mother, a young prince adopted a dog, a boy survives a crazy day, and a rabbit helps solves a problem for others before solving his own problem. They are delightful examples of creative writing from 8-13 year old authors.

The stories have been illustrated by three full-time artists: Tracey van Lent, Jun Arita and Erika Pearce. As well as Kate Diprose a gorgeous 7-year-old girl who is a patient at the Starship Hospital, ex Silverfern player Anna Harrison, and All Black Keven Mealamu, who finished his artwork while competing at the World Cup. The kids were delighted to work closely with the illustrators and see the finished artwork in the book.

All proceeds go to the Starship Foundation. Buy it at your local bookstore or online.

RRP $20

Friday, November 20, 2015

New sport book for teenagers

The Beginner's Guide to Adventure Sport in New Zealand by Steve Gurney (Random House)

It's not surprising that Steve Gurney has written this useful guide for teenagers and beginner sportspeople.  He wrote his autobiography (two versions) several years ago and he is very passionate about adventure sports.  As he says at the back of his book, "Adventure racing is one of the fastest-growing secondary school sports. The number of students joining adventure racing teams has doubled between 2010 and 2015." A book on the subject is long overdue and who better to write it, than adventure sport legend Steve Gurney.

In the style of the two other books in this series, 'The Beginners Guide to Hunting and Fishing' and 'The Beginners Guide to Rugby', there are many colourful photographs and graphics to complement the 176 pages of text.

Beginner adventure sport enthusiasts will find out what to do, what to wear and equipment they will need, and how to keep safe while participating in these disciplines:

  • Open-water swimming
  • Trail running, tramping and fastpacking
  • Paddling
  • Orienteering and Navigating
  • Snow Sports
  • Climbing
  • Triathlon, multisport and adventure racing

There are tips on how to how to read a map, use a compass, gear maintenance, first aid, as well as training schedules, advice on nutrition and how to look after yourself for a race before, during and after. Great advice and tips. Could even save someone's life one day.

Highly recommended for Intermediate and Secondary schools. Teenagers 12 years and upwards will find it visually attractive, and informative. High-energy sporting kids can dip in and out reading sections every time they sit still long enough to read it. I know my son will love it, but it's not just for boys - sporting girls will devour it too.

ISBN: 978-1-77553-837-0
RRP $35, 176 pp

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rhyming stories with an environmental message

The Sea and Me by Bianca Begovich, illustrated by Scott Pearson (Create Books)

Rhyming verse story about catching only what you need, never taking more than you need for a feed and leaving the sea clean.


The Bugs and Me by Bianca Begovich, illustrated by Scott Pearson (Create Books)

Rhyming verse story about taking care of bugs because they play an important role in our ecosystem.


The Trees and Me by Bianca Begovich, illustrated by Scott Pearson (Create Books)

Rhyming verse story about caring for our forests and wildlife.

The three books in the series follow a similar formula encouraging children to take small actions to protect the environment. Complementing the storyline are fact boxes with interesting information about different marine animals and mammals, recipes, etc. Young children (4-6) will enjoy the rhyming text and colourful cartoon-like illustrations.

Go to site for comprehensive teaching resources.

ISBN: 978-0-9941227-0-4 The Bugs and Me
ISBN: 978-0-9941102-6-8 The Trees and Me
ISBN: 978-0-473-28173-1 The Sea and Me

Printed books $17.00

Saturday, November 14, 2015

An exciting new voice in junior fiction

Lily Max: Satin, Scissors, Frock by Jane Bloomfield (Luncheon Sausage Books)

If you're a fan of Lauren Child, Victoria Azaro and Alan Bradley's precocious child characters then you'll thoroughly enjoy Jane Bloomfield's first book 'Lily Max: Satin, Scissors, Frock'.

Lily Max is a fashion designer extraordinaire. When her school puts on a ball with a promise that the boy and girl with the best outfits are crowned King and Queen - Lily Max goes all-out to design a spectacular outfit. However, her arch enemy Violet is also just as determined to win and will do so at all costs. Who will be crowned Queen? Will Lily Max be dateless? Can she beat her arch enemy to win the circus assistant job and will she ever hear from her BFF in the States?

Jane has developed delightful characters, with hilarious lines. There's drama, great costumes, and DIY assessories - sure to be popular with 8-12 year old girls. Guy Fisher's quirky illustrations complement the text.

Buy it at Unity online Bookstore or all main bookstores.

ISBN: 978-0908689910
RRP $22

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Monday, November 9, 2015

Two Picture Songbooks for Christmas

Two Picture Songbooks for Christmas

Jungle Bells, sung by Anika Moa, illus. Stephanie Thatcher, Scholastic NZ
If you’ve been waiting for Scholastic’s usual pre-Christmas offerings of picture songbooks with CDs, here are two of them (see also review below). This one is sung in light-hearted fashion by a popular New Zealand singer, and illustrated by a favourite artist, so it can’t go wrong. I recited the words of the song (presumably written by Scholastic staff?) to myself, and decided that Anika Moa’s version is the best way to approach this. Stephanie’s cheerful illustrations of jungle animals are full of action and colour and reward extra examination with little extras in the pictures. I can see that children’s librarians and teachers of children aged about three to five will find this book useful for activities combining looking, singing and maybe some movement.
ISBN 978 1 77543 364 4 RRP $21 Pb

Dingle Dangle Scarecrow, sung by the Topp Twins, illus. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic NZ
This is the fifth book in the popular illustrated songbook series begun by There’s a Hole in My Bucket. I have to admit I’m not familiar with the song but it certainly bounces along with lots of repetition in this version merrily sung by the Topp Twins. Jenny Cooper’s humorous illustrations are a delight – as usual. I enjoyed reading the information about the singers and the illustrators on the fold-over flap – on both this book and the one reviewed above. Who’d have guessed that Jenny Cooper had trouble drawing cows?? This book will also appeal to librarians and teachers of young children, and I imagine that given the words of the chorus about shaking hands and feet, it offers a good opportunity for children to stand and use up some energy. I’m not going to say which book is better – my advice is buy them both!
ISBN 978 1 77543 194 7 RRP $21 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, November 6, 2015

More dinosaurs from Ruth Paul

What's the time, dinosaur?  by Ruth Paul (Scholastic)

When my son was four years old, he LOVED everything dinosaur.  One of his favourite games at kindy also was 'What's the time, Mr Fox' - putting the two together - sure to be a huge winner with 4-6 year old children.

Big and small dinosaurs creep up to Tyrannosaur, Mr Rex, then Stegosaur and other dinosaurs, as they take their turn to lead. You can tell by the expressions on the dinosaur faces that they're loving the thrill of approaching and then running a

way from the head dinosaur. What happens when it is the little dinosaurs' turn? Is it time for bedtime or do they have a surprise in store for the big dinosaurs. 

This is the third book in the dinosaur series, following on from the popular 'Stomp' and 'Dinosaur Dad'. Little kids will enjoy tiptoeing, stretching and roaring their way through the story. I can imagine it will be the favourite game at playtime, after a reading.

RRP $19.00
ISBN: 978-1-77543-319-4

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Save Kiwi Month books

Kuwi's Huhu Hunt by Kat Merewether (Illustrated Publishing)

I've written a few kiwi (non-fiction) books myself so have a soft-spot for them. This is Kat's second book in the series about Kuwi and her little kiwi chick. In the first book Kuwi's First Egg, Kuwi is pregnant and waiting for her egg to hatch. When it starts to crack she tries to mend the egg. Then one day a gorgeous wee chick hatches.

In the second book Kuwi's Huhu Hunt, Kuwi takes her kiwi chick Huwi hunting for some kai. They find 'mouth-watering weta', which she dreams of making weta wontons and weta waffles. Next they find scrumptious snails, then moreish moths, and enticing eels ... Only, little Huwi turns down these treats - she only wants huhu. Children will notice something else going on in the pictures too, and can empathesise with little Huwi. Read on to find out what Huwi will eat.

Many parents will nod their heads and know all about fussy eaters. I certainly did. My daughter had a list of things she wouldn't eat when she was a toddler. When her friends came over to play - they were even worse! The book might encourage your toddlers to eat their vegetables, and parent and toddler can probably have some lively discussion on eating healthily.  But I'd be buying this book for its entertainment value ...

There's alliteration, repetition, and assonance - it's a delightful book to read aloud. The children (and parents) will enjoy poring over the illustrations too. Parents/teachers will pick out the little nods to ...'Weta with the Pearl Earing' painting, 'Anika the Moa' CD, and Huhu Beetles and other references to historical and popular culture. While children will laugh at the antics of the animals and insects featured in the book.

Kat is giving $1 to 'Kiwi's for Kiwi Trust' during Save Kiwi Month (October), and a portion of the proceeds for the months following.  Buy the book from your favourite book store or buy direct from

ISBN: 9780-0-473-32527-5
RRP $19.99

Operation Nest Egg Chick by Maria Gill, illustrated by Bruce Potter (Long White Cloud Books)

If you want your children to understand how we're saving kiwi you might want to read this book after/before reading the above entertaining book. Operation Nest Egg Chick is written in creative non-fiction style (non-fiction but in story format) about a father incubating two kiwi eggs and resulting chicks. One will go into the Operation Nest Egg programme. Carers raise the chick in a kiwi centre then release it into a kiwi creche until it is an adult. Find out where those centres are, who the predators are, and what you can do to help our iconic kiwi.

For a look inside go to

Buy from your favourite book store, conservation centre or zoo or buy direct:

ISBN: 978-0-473-28404-6
RRP $25

Quaky Cat sequel

Quaky Cat Helps Out by Diana Noon & Gavin Bishop (Scholastic)

Quaky Cat was written after the September 4th 2010 earthquake in Christchurch. It tells the story of how Tiger the cat responds to the quake and how he finds his family. Diana Noonan and Gavin Bishop donated their royalties and 50% of the publisher's proceeds were given to several Christchurch charities helping the people in the affected regions after that earthquake and the subsequent shakes on February 22nd, 2011. The book was a huge success raising over $150,000 for Christchurch charities.

It has taken a few years (with lots more work to be done) to help rebuild Christchurch. Many people and animals were affected emotionally by the quakes. Diana Noonan and Gavin Bishop have followed Quaky Cat with Quaky Cat Helps Out. This book shows how the animals are rebuilding their lives ... with the help of Tiger. It's also about showing kindness to others and sharing what you've got.  It is written in rhyme and illustrated with Gavin's rich colours. I am sure this book will be a great success too! This time the author, illustrator and publisher are donating proceeds to Orphans Aid International, who help homeless animals in disasters.

I love how the last page has words from kids on how they are rebuilding their lives. For example:

"I was like one of Quaky Cat's friends. I had to settle into a new school, new house and new friends. It was really hard at first but then I found my place and it wasn't bad anymore. It was good." Tom, age 9

Teacher resource for Quaky Cat.  Teacher resource for Quaky Cat helps Out.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

For Bernard Beckett fans

Lullaby by Bernard Beckett, Text Publishing

This multi-award-winning author continues to challenge readers with his provocative YA novels. Fans of Genesis and August won’t be disappointed with this exploration of scientific ethics and fraternal love. Rene’s twin brother Theo is on life support after a freak accident nearly destroys his brain. Rene has a chance to bring his brother back by allowing his own brain function to be extended into Theo’s mind – in an experimental procedure. Rene is assisted in his agonising decision by a young hospital psychologist, Maggie. As Maggie and Rene talk the reader learns the history of the twins’ relationship. Once Rene makes his decision, surprising (and even shocking) events unfold.
The back-story-by-conversation technique means that not a lot of action takes place, but in compensation the reader becomes involved in a high degree of emotion and suspense, with a powerful punch at the end. I suspect this story will appeal mostly to thoughtful teens of about 14 to 16, especially boys.

ISBN 9781922182753 RRP $26.00   Pb (also as an e-book)
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

I read it too, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Probably my favourite book for the year. 
Maria Gill