Thursday, July 23, 2015

A cracker of a creative non-fiction picture book from David Hill and Phoebe Morris

First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary's Amazing Everest Adventure by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Penguin Puffin)

I'm a huge fan of creative non-fiction picture book biographies. I have a small collection that include biographies on Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einsteen, and Charles Darwin. I also have one from Random House Australia's delightful series called 'Meet ... Captain Cook'. They've published stories on several other famous Australians including the notorious Ned Kelly.  I'm not sure if Penguin Random House (NZ) intends this book being part of that same series but they are publishing a few of these biographies in picture book format.  The first, naturally, is about our most famous New Zealander ... Sir Edmund Hillary.

We first meet Edmund Hillary as a boy who enjoys building rafts and exploring the Waikato River. He grows up and goes onto bigger things ... tramping up the Southern Alps, flying planes in the Pacific during WW2, and then his most famous achievement - climbing Mt Everest. David Hill skillfully keeps up the suspense on the big climb; Edmund is rescued from a fall down a crevasse by Tenzing, and has to cut a path between two massive rocks until he and Tenzing reach the summit. Read on to find out what other amazing achievements Edmund Hillary made.

First time illustrator Phoebe Morris has used a stylised realistic illustration style. It looks like she has drawn the outline in pencil then scanned it into her computer and painted in the figures using a software art programme. Some pages are full double page spread illustrations, others have one page illustration complemented with half or quarter page illustrations. The effect is very striking (especially the cover). On second and third looks you'll find things you missed the first time ... see if you can find the swirling moster face on one page, the bees on other pages, and look at what some of the shadows are doing.

Who is the book targeting? Children who enjoy a great adventure or historical story. This is also an excellent resource for teachers and librarians. It introduces history to a younger age group. If I was still teaching I'd be reading this story to kids from ages 8-13 years old. I'd use it as a starter for a unit on famous people or leaders, or if the class was studying Nepal.  It definitely should be in every Primary, Intermediate and Public library.  I can see grandparents (and parents) buying it for their grandchildren too. Teachers, there is a useful timeline at the back of the story too.

Expect another picture book biography out next year too, also written by David Hill.

ISBN: 978-0-14-350687-4
$25 hardback
Release: 29 July 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

Three Very Different Picture Books

Three Very Different Picture Books…

Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby by Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan, Scholastic NZ
This is a handsome book, with its hard cover, appealing cover picture, illustrated end papers, and glossy pages – so thumbs-up to Scholastic for the presentation. It’s a New Zealand version of the lullaby, “Hush, little baby, don’t you cry…” with lines such as “Hush, little baby, and go to sleep, Mama’s going to give you a woolly sheep.” The text winds its way round some New Zealand icons, such as kowhai flowers and paua shells, with a lively kunekune pig as a bit of a surprise. The mother and baby in the soft-focus, dreamy illustrations are of Maori descent, so the book offers an interesting blend of European and Maori cultures. Joy Cowley needs no introduction, but I was interested in the illustrator – he’s a self-taught award-winning illustrator who has been illustrating children’s educational resources and books for over ten years. In this book I enjoyed his realistic style and his use of colour to create atmosphere. There’s a Maori version of the lullaby included, as well as a Glossary of Maori words. Recommended for children of 0 to 3; it would make a good present for a new baby.
ISBN 978 1 77543 296 8 $27 Hb

Grasshoppers Dance by Juliette MacIver and Nina Rycroft, Scholastic NZ
Once I got over the absence of a possessive symbol in the title (was this deliberate??), I settled down to enjoy the playful language of Juliette and the intriguing illustrative work of Nina. It’s a rhyming text that actually cries out for a musical version – the Scholastic people often add a CD with a song version to their picture books – but not this time. The text focuses on combining animals and noise, eg. “The conch-shell wails As the big ship sails… While the kingfisher sings In the springtime gales. And the grasshoppers dance in the lush green vales.” The illustrations pick up on the flight-of-fancy theme, using bright colour, expansive movement and interesting detail to catch the breathless pace of the text. Parents and teachers of 3 to 7 year-olds will need to call on a few performance skills to read this book the way it should be read, emphasising repetition, rhythm and rhyme.
ISBN 978 1 77543 224 1 $19 Pb 

Why Do Cats Have Tails? By David Ling, illus. Stephanie Thatcher, Duck Creek Press
I have a soft spot for any books about cats – as do many people. David Ling (Duck Creek Press publisher as well as author) hits the soft spot with this cosy story about a grandfather bamboozling his two grand-daughters. So why do cats have tails? To swing through the trees? To help them fly? I won’t give away the answer, but you can be sure it will appeal to all those cat-lovers. Stephanie Thatcher is an award-winning picture-book illustrator who uses pencil and watercolour to produce light, friendly pictures with plenty of calm-inducing white space. The expressions of her various cats are a joy to behold. The end of the story is satisfying, but I can see it opening up an opportunity for children to discuss their own ideas on why cats have tails. The book is suitable for one-to-one reading, but also for group reading with 4 to 7 year-olds. The hardback version has a good feel to it, including the cute illustrations on the end papers, and it’s also available as a paperback for $19.99.
ISBN 978 1 927305 03 4 $29.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, July 10, 2015

Exciting new debut author - Sam Blood

Shadows by Sam Blood (Blood Books)

I first met Sam Blood when he was around 11 years old. At the time I was organising a weekend workshop with internationally famous children’s author John Marsden in Auckland.  The workshop was for adults but we received an enquiry from Sam’s mother, asking if Sam could join the workshop. It was apparent that Sam was passionate about writing. He had started writing his novel at nine years and had been honing it ever since. We let him join the adult workshop. John Marsden took a shine to Sam and they communicated for a while afterwards.  

Sam  rewrote his novel every year for fourteen years. Along the way he sought advice from John Marsden, Brian Falkner, and other well known writers. Friends and family gave him feedback and typed his manuscript and he never gave up on his dream to have his novel published one day. In 2014 he met a successful self-published author at Armageddon who gave him another option. Why not publish it himself instead of sending it to a traditional publisher. It all made sense to Sam and he published 'Shadows' in June 2015.

Shadows is book one in the Shadows Series. The prologue starts with Griffin a six-year-old boy being kissed goodnight by his Scientist mother before she goes downstairs to the laboratory to begin work. We’re also introduced to Cirrus his shadow friend. We soon find out that Cirrus is not a childhood imaginary friend but a real shadow that saves his life. Chapter One takes us forward ten years when the main character is in his last two years of school. His brother is now running his late Mother’s company Cameron Technologies. Griffin has been in and out of counselling for telling the truth – a truth that no one wants to believe. He’s lonely, misunderstood, and mixed-up. Did he really see two shadows fight over him when he was younger? Did his shadow friend save him? Who was the other shadow and why did he kill his mother and try to kill him?  Find out what happens when Griffin crosses over to a parallel world and discovers that everything he has been told has been a lie.

It’s a riveting read … one that 12-18 year olds will enjoy. The characters are fully realised, the action exciting and the language tight. There's twists and turns in the plot that will have you on the edge of your seat, and Sam hasn't been afraid to take risks with his characters. This coming of age story is a must read.

"I read his manuscript and was very impressed at his writing ability at such a young age. I thought then, and still think now, that if he continues to develop, he has a very rewarding career in front of him as an author. I look forward to seeing him up on stage at the Book Awards one day in the future!”
 Brian Falkner (author of 'Brain Jack', 'Tomorrow Code' and many other international best sellers)

Available from all good book stores or buy direct or Amazon.

E-book $3.00
Paperbook US$14.20
ISBN: 9780473326272

Reviewed by Maria Gill