Thursday, August 17, 2017

A happy ending…

I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess by Petra Kotrotsos and Christina Irini Arathimos, Makaro Press

Petra Kotrotsos
This picture book is a labour of love for a lot of people. Petra Kotrotsos was only six when she had a playground fall and doctors investigating her sore back discovered she had a neuroblastoma in her chest. So began weeks of treatment involving operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The story describes Petra’s high and low moments as she copes with the time in hospital, the treatments, and the side effects. She’d always wanted to be a fairy princess, but when her hair falls out she realises she’s better suited to being a fairy warrior in the battle against cancer. The story ends when her hair starts to grow back, but in reality Petra’s neuroblastoma recurred four times until she was fifteen.

Christina Irini Arathimos
The story was originally written by Petra when she was seven, and sympathetic editing has turned it into a straightforward, easy-to-read account of a brave little girl’s battle against cancer. The illustrator Christina Irini Arathimos was mentored by Fifi Colston and together they have produced appealing child-focused pictures, full of life and common sense, that show what Petra is going through – but at the same time they’re not frightening or overwhelming.

The printing of the book was funded by the Wellington Hospitals Foundation, and the list of thank-you names on the last page includes family members, friends, and medical professionals. As I said, a labour of love for many people.

The book would be particularly welcome for families with an ill child, but I can also see a firm place for it in hospital libraries, public libraries and primary school libraries.

ISBN 9780994137944 $25.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 NZ Book Award winners

Congratulations to all the winners!

Recent picture books from Scholastic NZ…

The Curious Ar-Chew by Sarah Grundy, illus. Ali Teo and John O’Reilly, Scholastic NZ

This is the winner of the 2016 Storylines Joy Cowley Award for an unpublished picture book text. My heart sank slightly when I saw the rhyming text, because I read an awful lot of not-very-good rhyming text. But I’m delighted to say this is excellent – it flows beautifully, there aren’t any bumpy bits, and the rhymes are fresh and unforced. Congratulations to this first-time children’s book author.

It’s a friendly, uncluttered story about three forest creatures spotting a strange animal sleeping inside a hollow tree. It’s got big orange feet. Is it a goose? It’s got long ears. Is it a rabbit? It’s got a thick woolly coat… What is it? Of course the creature wakes up with a big sneeze – and soon we see exactly what it is. But I’m not going to tell.

The illustrators have used a clean-cut straightforward style that matches the simplicity of the story. Swathes of green convey open, rolling countryside; black shadows and silhouettes provide drama; and the tall straight tree trunks reflect the comfort of a forest full of sunshine. The illustrations also offer a pleasing array of sizes and viewpoints.

This is an excellent picture book for preschool centres and early primary classes; it would be great fun to read aloud to a group.

ISBN 978 1 77543 437 5 RRP $17.99 Pb

Too Much Poo by Scott Tulloch, Scholastic NZ

Author/illustrator Scott Tulloch’s previous picture books include one of my all-time favourites I Am Not a Worm! I’m saying this first, because I’m now going to admit that I don’t like scatological stories. However other professionals may not have the same qualms, so I’ll try to gloss over the “poo” aspect of this book. The promotional material says that the author’s observations on human greed were the inspiration for the story. 

It focuses on a blowfly (looking rather like an electrocuted pompom) who spots ever-larger animals defecating on the ground – until the piles of poo he investigates are too big for him to cope with. What is a poor blowfly to do?

The illustrations get more and more outrageous (I’m not going to describe the elephant scene!). Which prompts a warning about these types of story – any ambitious teacher trying to read this book aloud in a preschool or classroom environment would probably provoke a class riot.

Note that the book mentions a link to “for a hilarious free audio reading of this book.”

ISBN 978 1 77543 408 5 RRP $17.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, August 11, 2017

Augmented Reality … or Augmented Fiction?

The Dragon Defenders: Book One by James Russell, animations by Yongtao Zhang, Dragon Brothers Books

Warning – I am discussing a multimedia experience here, more than reviewing a book. Most children’s lit enthusiasts will be aware of James’ earlier picture book series, The Dragon Brothers Trilogy. These were very popular, and the first one was reviewed on this blog in 2013.

This new series confronts us with some massive changes. Same two main characters, but different genre and format (it’s a junior novel, not a picture book), a total change in illustrative style, and the introduction of a digital characteristic popularly known as augmented reality.

Flynn and Paddy live on a remote island with their parents. For entertainment they read books, play games, go exploring, ride their horse, train their falcon, fish and hunt for food. They haven’t even heard of smartphones. But they do know that a colony of dragons lives on their island. When a boatload of thugs arrives on the island intent upon stealing a dragon’s egg and killing an adult dragon, the two boys know they have to foil the evil plan. The story is fast-moving and will keep young readers eagerly turning the pages.

The author says, “As far as I can tell, The Dragon Defenders is one of only two or three novels in the world to have ‘augmented reality’ content, accessible via a free app downloaded to your smartphone or tablet.” Once you have downloaded the app, you follow a few simple instructions and point your device camera at indicated pages to view the augmented reality. There are five of these pages throughout the book, showing extras such as a video of the evil guy being gross, and the decoding of a coded document, and an instructional map of the island. BTW, if you don’t have access to the app, the next page in the book tells you what you missed.

Having downloaded the app on to my Samsung Galaxy tablet, I did the camera bit and studied the extra segments. Then I thought about what it would be like to share this experience with a grandchild.
Firstly, to operate the app you have to be connected to the internet. Unless you have an incredibly trustworthy child, you will probably want to keep a close eye on what’s going on. Secondly, I didn’t have enough hands to hold the book open, clutch the tablet, get it centred on the GO arrow, and tap the screen (a grandchild would have been useful at this point!) Thirdly, I had a few problems with the app not doing what I expected it to do and booting me back to the beginning (though this might be the fault of my ageing tablet).

Lastly, I found the augmented reality segments a tad disappointing. Having seen many popular computer games full of action, noise, explosions, surprises and suspense, loud theme music, etc, I would like to see more of these features in the app segments - particularly more exciting sound effects to fill in the blank-page bits. And I’d love to see an enormous dragon swooping past, blasting out fire… 

As for the phrase ‘augmented reality’, aren’t we just adding an extra layer of fiction to something that is already fiction? Why use the word reality?

Buy the book, use the app, read the story (preferably with children), consider the potential of the augmented reality (ie. fiction?) aspect – and
plenty of encouragement to James and his crew to come up with MORE! You can visit them at

ISBN 978 0 473 37621 5 $22 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Three very different picture books from Duck Creek Press…

Nina’s Phantom Friend by Andy Conlan, Duck Creek Press
Andy Conlan is a man of mystery – I couldn’t find out much about him. But his website at says “Author and Illustrator of Books for the World’s Luckiest Children,” as well as identifying him as a professional photographer and filmmaker. The website also introduces two previous picture books – Mr Gloomingdale’s Downpour, and Portrait of a Waiting Pig. I suspect these are written in the same wry (some would say blackly humorous) style as Nina’s Phantom Friend.

The book is certainly a departure from the usual Duck Creek Press publications – good on them for venturing out of their comfort zone. This story is best regarded as a sophisticated picture book – it’s definitely not for the littlies. Nina’s cat, Masaccio, has died, and she misses him terribly. But his ghost visits her, and tells her that she must retrieve his remains and bury them. To do this, Nina must venture into the underworld where she meets and outwits the Ferryman and the Bone Counter, both very spooky characters. Definitely shades of Orpheus in the underworld here, also Garth Nix’s Sabriel series. The artwork is stunning – as well as being challenging and unsettling. Picture in your mind a mountain of skulls…

Recommended for readers of intermediate age and older. It would also be of interest to art teachers and students – it’s really cutting-edge stuff.

ISBN 978 1 927305 32 4 RRP $19.99 Pb

So Special by David Hill, illus. Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press

David Hill needs no introduction – as one of New Zealand’s most prolific and recognised children’s writers. He’s recently turned his hand to writing picture book texts – he received the 2016 Children’s Choice Non-Fiction Award for First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hilary’s Amazing Everest Adventure.

Nikki Slade Robinson has illustrated over sixty children’s books and readers as well as writing and illustrating her own stories, with several having been published by Duck Creek Press.
This latest picture book was created in collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force. It addresses the difficult issues faced by children when a parent is deployed overseas. The story is suitably low-key, with an easy-to-read text featuring a boy called Oscar. People keep telling him he’s special because he comes from an Army family, and his Dad is special too because he’s helping out in war-ravaged countries. But all Oscar can think of is how much he misses his Dad. The story is probably most suitable for primary-aged children, particularly those with parents away from home for long periods of time.

The illustrations are done in a straightforward style with clean lines, calming colours, and plenty of white space. The book will be available in September, and there will also be a Maori language version available for the same price – He Tino Taonga.

ISBN 978 1 927305 33 1 RRP $19.99 Pb

Dragons under My Bed by Kath Bee, illus. Lisa Allen, Duck Creek Press

Here’s one for the littlies, pre-schoolers and early primary age. It’s the first picture book from Kath Bee, an award-winning children’s songwriter who has travelled all over New Zealand since 2002. Her most popular and requested song, Dragons Under My Bed, which won the 2014 APRA Children’s Video of the Year, has been turned into a book - with the song downloadable. I also found a version of the song on Kath’s YouTube channel.

As always with picture song books, the words are at their best when being sung. Any glitches in the rhythm of the words are miraculously ironed out when there’s a musical background. It’s a bouncy light-hearted tale told from the point of view of a little boy who has a bunch of pesky dragons living under his bed. It’s amazing how often they come out and create chaos after lights out!

I can see this book being welcomed by children’s librarians, pre-school and primary teachers, and musically-minded parents – anyone who likes to combine music and singing aloud with a popular song.

ISBN 978 1 927305 35 5 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Exciting new historical graphic novel

Wars in the WhiteCloud: Wairau 1843 by M.H. McKinley (Kin Ltd NZ)

Non-fiction books for children and young adults nowadays have to compete with the internet, digital books, and social media. To encourage the target audience to pick it up in a library or bookshop it has to be visually exciting or interactive. First time author Matt McKinley has written and illustrated an episode of New Zealand’s land wars in graphic novel style and its stunning illustrations and speech bubbles are guaranteed to appeal to 13-15 year olds. The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adult judges think so, too, shortlisting it it in the Best First Book category.   

Matt uses two teenagers, Te Arana from Ngati Toa iwi, and Will Archer son of Chief Constable John Archer to lead readers into the tragic incident at Wairau in 1843. The two young men are caught up in the meeting between representatives of the New Zealand Company who believed they had purchased land in the Wairau area and Te Rauparaha and his tribe who felt they had been tricked into signing away their rights to the land. Past hurts, an accidental shooting, and two stubborn leaders failing to compromise and talk it through, results in a battle where one group meets a fateful end.

Matt began the 60 page historical story four years ago, after finishing his Master of Design with Massey University. In an interview with The Dominion newspaper, Matt said it took 16 hours to illustrate each double page spread. He’s now working on the next book in the series about the Flagstaff War in Nelson.

Bound to be popular with Intermediate and High School students, especially students who love to read historical recounts of New Zealand’s history. Will be suitable for young people with learning difficulties or reluctant readers; the realistic drawings and speech bubbles telling the story in easy-to-read chunks.

ISBN: 978-0473-356514

RRP $27.99

Buy here

Friday, July 28, 2017

Some kiwiana

Grandad’s Wheelies by Jack Lasenby, Penguin Random House NZ

I’ve said in an earlier review that Jack Lasenby’s books are an acquired taste – and the same comment applies to this anthology of (extra-tall) tall tales. Any young reader dipping into this book who hasn’t read Jack’s work previously will wonder what’s going on. Whenever Jack (the narrator) visits his Granny and Grandad they regale him with hilarious and impossible stories about their past, each trying to outdo the other. Grandad invented the first road between Wellington and Auckland; Granny invented the first railway between the two cities; then Grandad invented the first train and drove it from Wellington to Auckland; Granny drove the first train from Nelson to Invercargill; then Grandad flew his train across Cook Strait at 10,000 feet and landed it in Nelson with such a thump that the top of the island sank and the sea rushed in and created the Marlborough Sounds – and so it goes! Each story has its own chapter, and most include an appealing black pen illustration by Bob Kerr.

Likely to be enjoyed by keen readers of about 6 to 9 (mainly boys, I suspect).

ISBN 978 0 14 350733 8 RRP $16.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

New Zealand Kiwiana: To Read, Colour and Keep, by Dave Gunson, New Holland

This is the latest title in Dave Gunson’s series of activity books relating to New Zealand topics. Other titles in the series look at birds, wildlife, garden wildlife, extinct wildlife, etc. In this one the 30 colouring-in pictures include such New Zealand icons as the All Blacks, the local dairy, the koru, Vogel’s bread, Lemon and Paeroa, jandals, Jaffas and Weetbix, to name a few. Each picture is accompanied by a paragraph of simple information about the subject. An insert in the middle of the book provides some ideas for colouring in the pictures.

It should appeal to primary-aged children who like the peacefulness of colouring in easy pictures.

ISBN 9781869664527 RRP $9.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Zeustian Logic by Sabrina Malcolm

Zeustian Logic by Sabrina Malcolm (Gecko Press)

I remember the uproar when one of New Zealand's well known climbers, Mark Ingles, climbed Mt Everest and in doing so walked past a man who was dying. Many said he should have called off his expedition and helped the man. It was in the media for quite some time. There were people who were on the side of stopping and others who thought that anyone who climbs Everest should take the consequences. In the case of Mark he was barely making it himself, he needed help to climb with his two prosthetic legs. He'd invested a lot of money, training and effort. On their way back down from the summit they stopped to help the British climber but he died soon after. Sabrina must have been quite young when this happened but obviously it struck a chord with her and she used some of it for her story 'Zeustian Logic'.

In Zeustian Logic, the main protagonist's father was famous for climbing the highest mountains in the world until his last one. They found his client in the snow dead and his father nowhere to be found. As well as dealing with his father's death Tuttle has to come to terms with the negative media attention. He wants to prove his father did the right thing and in doing so help his family recover from the shock of his father's death.

I highly recommend this novel for 9-12 year olds. It's a coming of age story of a boy dealing with his fears and moving on into the next phase of his life. It's beautifully written and I hope we see more of Sabrina Malcolm's writing.

This is Sabrina Malcolm's first novel but not her first published book. Sabrina has illustrated a number of books including Flora of New Zealand Volume 5 Grasses  by E. Edgar and H.E. Connor (Manaaki Whenua Press, 1999), Skeletons by Jane Buxton (Learning Media, 2000) and Koro's Medicine by Melanie Drewery (Huia, 2004). Koro's Medicine was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and was also listed as a 2005 Storylines Notable Picture BookSabrina’s illustrations have appeared in the School Journal. In 2013 she wrote and illustrated Blue Moon Bird and she also drew the covers for the Flytrap Snap series, written by Johanna Knox. 

ISBN 978-1-776571-38-3

Sophisticated Picture Book

Grandad’s Guitar by Janine McVeagh and Fifi Colston, Makaro Press

Both author and illustrator are well-known in the New Zealand children’s book world. Janine has published stories for both adults and children, and this is her first picture book. The story is based on true family history. Fifi has illustrated over 30 picture books written by others, as well as writing and illustrating her own books for children.

This is a gentle, family-focused story best suited to older primary-aged children. Kahu’s nana gives him a battered old guitar for his birthday. When he criticises its condition, he is told that it belonged to his grandfather and went all round the world with him. As Kahu learns to play, he also learns about the travelling adventures of his grandparents in the 1960s or 70s. Fifi’s realistic illustrations capture the mystical, musical, freedom-loving atmosphere of the era, and will appeal to many of today’s grandparents.

It’s probably better to call this a sophisticated picture book – it’s not suitable for pre-schoolers or younger primary-aged children. Young readers will probably get more meaning from it if they’re beginning to learn a bit of history and geography.

Teachers’ Notes are available at  They contain some interesting ideas about using the book for music activities in the classroom.

ISBN 978 0994137968 $25 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

New picture books from little island press…

The Boy and the Dolphin by Robyn Kahukiwa, little island press

A search of the internet didn’t give me much information about this 24-page book, apart from the fact that it was published in April of this year. Two online booksellers didn’t have any copies in stock, so if you’re interested in purchasing it, you should probably go to the publisher’s website at Robyn Kahukiwa is a well-known New Zealand artist, but this is the first children’s book from her that I’ve seen for a few years.
It’s a calm, gentle story about a boy who frees a dolphin from a piece of netting, and they become friends. The dolphin visits the boy occasionally and many years later, when the boy has turned into a young man, the dolphin saves his life. The attractive seascapes in the illustrations are done with pencil outlines and swathes of ocean-coloured paint on a pleasant textured background. Just one technical criticism of the design – each page has its own full-page illustration going right to the edges, which means that the gutter down the middle of every double-spread makes an awkward  inside edge for all the pictures. And children looking at the double-spreads would try to interpret them as one big picture instead of two side-by-side.

Note that this is also available in a Maori version called Te Tamaiti me te Aihe.

ISBN 978 1 877484 30 8 $25 Pb 

A Gift For Ana by Jane Va`afusuaga, illus. Azra Pinder-Pancho, little island press

This was published in 2016 according to the book itself, but the publisher’s website says April 2017 – maybe it was re-issued.

The author’s passion is “to write stories that children from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands can relate to.” This 24-page story certainly fits the bill. In text blocks on the right-hand pages we read about Ana and her parents going to stay with Ana’s grandmother in Samoa. Ana shares a mango with her grandmother at the grave of her grandfather, and together they celebrate Ana’s Samoan heritage as they walk off together to plant the mango seed.

It’s a simple child-focused story that will appeal to children of about four to six, especially if they have some knowledge of Samoa. The striking illustrations on the left-hand pages are done with strong lines, lively colours and Pacific Island designs that are familiar to all New Zealanders.

The book is also available in Samoan, called O le Meaālofa mo Ana.

ISBN 978 1 877484 24 7 $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, July 21, 2017

Three new fantasy books from IFWG Publishing

Brave’s Journey by Jan Goldie, IFWG Publishing Australia

Jan is a freelance writer living in Tauranga. This is her first book for YA readers, and was originally shortlisted for Storylines’ Tom Fitzgibbon Award 2014 as well as being a finalist in the Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2016. Jan has also had several short stories published in anthologies.
At the start of the story we find Brave being bullied by a school mate, Riley, and his two sidekicks. 

During this bullying we pick up the first signs of the supernatural – as Brave gets angrier, a storm erupts and its intensity is obviously driven by Brave’s emotions. It’s not long before Brave’s mother is forced to reveal that he has supernatural powers, he comes from another world, and he’s the heir to the kingdom of Arvalonia. A short time later Brave, his uncle, his mother, and Riley the bully are sucked into a magic portal which whisks them into the mysterious country of Arvalonia.

A large part of the story focuses not on Brave but on True, a girl who lives in Arvalonia. True is involved in the battle against an evil witch called Mallevia, the cruel queen of Arvalonia. Brave and True eventually meet up in Arvalonia, and become important players in the war against the queen and her powerful magic.

The plot spins along at a great rate, offering plenty of action, suspense and magic for readers of about 12 to 14 who like other-world fantasy.

ISBN 978 1 925148 84 8 $US15.87 on Amazon (also available for Kindle) Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

The Rejects: Ginomees Trilogy Book 1 by Ali Foster, IFWG Australia

I wasn’t familiar with this publishing house, so did some research. It was originally called the International Fantasy Writers’ Guild, and describes itself as an independent publishing house specialising in children’s and speculative genre fiction (their website is at The author lives near Masterton and has had three picture books published. This is her first junior novel.

Set in a strange world where no humans appear to exist, it tells of a box of rejected garden gnomes (ie. imperfect) that gets deposited at the dump, whereupon the gnomes come to life, emerge from the box and start talking to each other. They seem to have a kind of half-knowledge – for instance they know what to do with paint and a paintbrush, but they don’t know what their names are. They set off to look for adventure but it comes sooner than expected when some of their gnome hats are stolen by a band of wild ginomees. The Rejects are determined to get their hats back.

I’m not sure what age of readership would enjoy this story. It’s hard to spot one main well-developed character for young readers to identify with (though the gnome called Noname might be the one), and the constant bickering-type dialogue among all the gnomes can slow the plot at times. So it may only suit determined readers of upper primary ages who really like gnomes. The cover will give them a good idea of the story inside. It’s also available as an e-book.

ISBN 978 1925496253 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

The Locksmith: Reforging Book 1 by Barbara Howe, IFWG Publishing Australia

I’m presuming this is Barbara Howe’s first published novel – she’s certainly hit the ground running. The Locksmith is the first in a 5-book series, sitting within the YA/Adult High Fantasy genre. The main character is nineteen, so it’s better for older teens rather than young ones. It’s a long, demanding read but I was hooked in the first chapter – it’s a great escape from reality.

The story is set in a fantasy country controlled by four magic guilds – fire, air, water and earth. Some people are mundane (with no magic power) and others have differing degrees of magic power focusing on one of the guild elements. Lucinda knows she is mundane. But that doesn’t stop her applying to join the Fire Guild in the hope that she’ll earn some money and find a good husband. She meets the entry challenges and starts work in the kitchen of the Guild stronghold. But strange things happen and Lucinda finds that she is not mundane at all.

She becomes involved with the powerful and charismatic Fire Warlock – but then a war intervenes, and Lucinda must use her special magic to give the Fire Warlock both life and love.

Drawn in vivid detail, the fantasy world is intriguing and believable – I lost myself in it. Lucinda is an admirable heroine – both brave and self-effacing, sometimes confident and sometimes full of doubt. As the publicity promises, I can’t wait till the next book comes out.

Just one tiny quibble – I wish the cover had not been done in such sombre colours, and the heroine didn’t look quite so timid. Given the bold themes of fire and magic, the cover could have been done in bright, exciting colours to attract the reader’s eye.

ISBN 978 1 925496 28 4 $26.95 Pb (also available as an e-book)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Scholastic NZ’s Latest Picture Books…

What Are You Supposed to Be? By Paul Beavis, Scholastic NZ
Well, the moral of the story has to be: don’t judge a book by its cover! A very determined young lady meets a quirky creature who identifies himself as a wolf. He doesn’t look or act like a wolf (square teeth, eyes on stalks, playing a violin, eating aubergine salad) so it’s not surprising when the girl decides to turn him into a “proper” wolf. Some very funny scenes result as she tries to get him to toughen up. But then she meets a lion who doesn’t behave much like a lion…
Suitable to share with children of four and up, this would be great fun to read to groups because of its crazy cartoon illustrations and enticing sound effects, as well as the moral tucked away inside the humour.
ISBN 978 1 77543 405 4 $17.99 Pb

The Big Block of Chocolate by Janet Slater, illus. Christine Dale, Scholastic NZ 
This story was first published by Ashton Scholastic in the 1980s, and has gone on to sell over 250,000 copies round the world. Christine Dale illustrated the first version while she was employed as Scholastic’s Assistant Editor – she later went on to become Publishing Manager.
I remember the story as one of the early Big Books, published in a super-large size suitable for reading aloud to big groups – tattered copies are probably still in existence in many of today’s classrooms. This is a reformatted version which gives the original illustrations a new look, but the story is still the same old favourite using repetition and rhyme to describe the inevitable fate of the much-desired block of chocolate.
Take the chance to buy a fresh copy of this New Zealand classic for your pre-schoolers and early primary classes…
ISBN 978 1 77543 490 0 $17.99 Pb

Putangitangi Walks by Stephanie Thatcher, Scholastic NZ
Stephanie Thatcher will be known to many as the author/illustrator of The Great Galloping Galoot, Little Hoihoi, and The Other Brother. This work is a simple story using short sentences and bouncy rhyming text to tell how the female putangitangi (paradise duck) eats, preens, and goes in pursuit of her male friend. He gets a surprise when she playfully jumps out at him, but he soon comes round and is ready to partner up.
The book offers a good chance to teach youngsters a little about the duck pairs they see so often in New Zealand’s open spaces. Pre-schoolers will enjoy the spacious colourful illustrations with their calming pastel and white backgrounds. They’ll also enjoy spotting the playful green frog who enhances every picture. This would be a great book for reading aloud to a preschool group because of the short text and the fresh, bright pictures.
ISBN 978 1 77543 422 1 $17.99 Pb

Make a Putangitangi finger puppet here.

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, July 7, 2017

Latest Series From Scholastic…

Dinosaur Trouble: The Lava Melt Shake by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

Fans of Kyle and Donovan’s dinosaur stories will remember that the first book in this new four-book prequel series is called The Great Egg Stink. This second title doesn’t indicate that it’s part of a series, but that’s what the promotional material says. The series is written for transitional readers aged about five to seven, and should be useful with reluctant readers in those first years of school (especially boys).

With big print, simple sentences, an action-packed story, and extensive black and white cartoon-type illustrations, the story kicks off with a terrible situation – a volcano has erupted and a river of hot lava is threatening to engulf Arg’s village. Clever Arg is determined to come up with a solution but finds, like the warriors of the tribe, that there is little they can do to stop the lava. But a string of unintended actions involving a ticklish triceratops (and plenty of snot!) averts the flow and saves the village.

This book is going straight to my eight-year-old grandson who was very happy to receive and read the first book in the series.

ISBN 978 1 77543 367 5 $$8.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Miniwings: Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder by Sally Sutton, illus. Kirsten Richards, Scholastic 
Miniwings: Whizz’s Internet Oopsie by Sally Sutton, illus. Kirsten Richards, Scholastic NZ

Congratulations to author, illustrator and publisher for this delicious new series for young readers (and I reckon I can safely say it’s intended for girls!). It’s a series of six little books about two sisters whose lives are complicated by their magical toys – six flying miniature horses. Sounds lovely – but these horses are VERY naughty!

In the first book the sisters need to come up with costumes for Book Week – but the Miniwings get into Mum’s makeup with disastrous results and Mum is so mad she refuses to take the girls to the craft shop or help with costumes. What can they do?

In the second book the Miniwings have a play on the computer and end up ordering a foot spa, a cordless drill and … a goat! Sophia and Clara have to take the goat to school to stop Mum and Dad finding out, whereupon chaos ensues in the classroom! Fortunately Nana (grandmother, not goat!) saves the day…

The design of the books is fabulous – coloured illustrations on just about every page (created in acrylic inks and finished in Photoshop), intriguing integration of text and artwork, appealing characters (both human and horse), attractive pastel colours, and of course, stars and sparkles everywhere.

I’m sure this series will be a big hit. It’s aimed at readers of seven years and up, but younger girls of five to seven will enjoy sharing it with an adult reader. Highly recommended.

ISBN 978 1 77543 423 8 $14.99 Pb
ISBN 978 1 77543 424 5 $14.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, June 29, 2017

New book from Doug Wilson

Taupo Blows! By Doug Wilson, Bateman

Doug Wilson is probably best-known for his fantasy/adventure series starring a young hero called Tom Hassler (see He branches out with this New Zealand fantasy set within a disturbing scenario – Mount Ruapehu and Lake Taupo are exploding. Twelve-year-old Rachel and 10-year-old Sam are temporarily home alone in their lakeside house when the first fearsome eruption happens. The road to their house is damaged and communications are difficult. What should they do?

The story moves into fantasy mode when a lava spout heads towards them and deposits a strange little man on their deck, a little man who appears to be made of hot lava. His name is Guld. He tells them that he can stop the eruption, but they need to work with him and his supernatural friends – Saradonga the snowbeast, Turnwald the earth creature, Eerie Hoo the land spirit, and a few more. So begins a quest into the heart of Ruapehu to find the culprit whose thoughtless actions have caused the massive eruption and the resulting devastation.

The plot involves plenty of action and danger, so should appeal to readers of intermediate age who like a fast-moving story full of weird creatures. It’s not a story for younger readers, because the first few chapters about the eruption and its effects on New Zealand are quite frightening – sensitive children might be concerned.

ISBN 978 1 86953 967 2 $18.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2017 Finalists New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adult Awards announced

NEWS RELEASE: Strictly embargoed until 6am, Wednesday, 7 June 2017.  6 June 2017

Characters Burst Off the Pages
say Judges of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children
and Young Adults
-  Finalists announced today

“Characters burst off the pages, delighting us at every turn,” say the judges of this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. They have selected 35 finalists for the 2017 awards.
“This year’s shortlist reminds us that books are powerful vehicles for helping children make sense of their world and gain a better understanding of themselves and others. At times the vividly descriptive writing was brutal and heart-breaking, providing moving portrayals of life through the eyes of children and teenagers. All finalist titles are convincing in their realism, skilfully laced with honour and honesty throughout,” says convenor of judges Pam Jones.
Many of the books submitted dealt with serious issues. “War featured highly, alongside other topical themes like teenage pregnancy, surveillance, abuse, homelessness, racial tensions and bullying. Coming-of-age stories and characters that are living with extended family members highlighted the meaning of family and love,” Pam Jones says.
The finalists in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are selected across six categories: Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori; and the Best First Book category. There were 152 entries submitted for the 2017 awards.
This year, Copyright Licensing NZ (CLNZ) is the new sponsor for the Young Adult Fiction Award. CLNZ helps the owners of published content to earn a living from their work by licensing copying from books, journals, magazines and newspapers by schools and other education and commercial organisations. The licence revenue generated by CLNZ is a valuable source of income for authors and publishers.
CLNZ’s CEO Paula Browning says, “Celebrating great New Zealand books and supporting New Zealand authors is at the heart of what we do. We are delighted to contribute to the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults by sponsoring the Copyright Licensing NZ Young Adult Fiction Award.”

An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories – with the bonus of free pizza rewards from HELL Pizza.

HELL Pizza general manager Ben Cumming says the company has a very strong commitment to get kids hooked on books. “Reading is cool again and we want pizza to be a means of encouraging kids to read heaps of books. In 2016, 200,000 pizza wheels were distributed and more than 1 million books were read by Kiwi kids as a result. This year we want even more young readers to discover the thrill of a great book, and we’re aiming to circulate over 250,000 wheels. With 600 schools and libraries already registered and more than 175,000 pizza wheels already distributed, that target is looking easily achievable.”

The HELL Reading Challenge opened on 1 March and closes on Sunday, 3 December.

The judging panel for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults comprises children and young adults librarian, Pam Jones (convenor); education lecturer, Trish Brooking; author Ben Brown; reviewer and promoter of New Zealand children’s literature, Sarah Forster; and WORD Christchurch programme director and author, Rachael King. For the second year, the panel is joined by English academic, Professor Martin Salisbury who is the advisor for the Russell Clark Illustration Award. Professor Salisbury is the Professor of Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK and leads its MA Children’s Book Illustration programme. He has been a member of the international jury for a number of illustration and picture book awards.
The te reo Māori entries were judged by University of Auckland Kaitaiki Māori librarian, Riki-Lee Saua (convenor); Anahera Morehu, Library Manager Arts, Māori, and Pasifika Services at the University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services; Principal Librarian Children’s and Young Adult Services at the HB Williams Memorial Library, Gisborne, Te Rangi Rangi Tangohau; and Rongo Waerea, the Māori Services Librarian at Auckland’s Otara Library.
In the Picture Book Award the judges were delighted to see stories about people as well as animals, and they liked the way these authors wove in gentle messages for younger readers that delved beneath the stop story. “Caterpillars, dinosaurs, Amazonian penguins, a bad case of mistaken identity and magical dolphins; this list has it all.”
The Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction finalists will capture the imagination of every young reader, either immersing them in another world or reality, giving them a problem or mystery to solve or causing a laugh-out-loud response to witty conversations. “We’re pleased to see these books feature an equal mix of strong male and female characters from different races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” say the judges.
The judges enjoyed delving into the world of teenagers via the books entered for the Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction. “We immersed ourselves in the issues that plague young people—family, school pressures, relationship woes, sexuality and the looming adult world. Authors are not afraid to explore dark themes, but also to inject humour when it’s needed.”
The Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction category attracted a variety of entries with topics ranging from bugs to biographies, and history to habitats. The judges note that a clear integration of text, graphics and illustrations meant that all books in this category attained a high quality of overall design.
The judges say the Russell Clark Award for Illustration was a rich category from which to choose the finalists with illustrators working in a range of media including paint, collage, drawing and digital illustration. “The finalists are a strong and diverse group, with a lot of talent and love for craft on display. It was a pleasure to reward such beautiful work.”
This year’s Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori had a record number of entries. Convenor of judges Riki-Lee Saua says, “Each finalist stood out for their inspiring and relevant content, stunning illustrations and excellence in the quality of Māori language.”
The judges selected five books as finalists for the Best First Book Award; this is the first year that Best First Book finalists have been announced. Pam Jones says, “The judges were impressed with the calibre of writing from first-time authors and the increased number of first-published works entered. Noted particularly were the authors who had sought the wisdom and guidance of well-established writers. It’s great to see successful writers pass on their experience to help grow a richer children’s literary scene in New Zealand.”
The finalists for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are:

Picture Book Award
Fuzzy Doodle, Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ
Gwendolyn! Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton, HarperCollins Publishers (ABC)
My Grandpa is a Dinosaur, Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones, illustrated by Richard Fairgray, Penguin Random House (Puffin)
That’s Not a Hippopotamus! Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis, Gecko Press
The Singing Dolphin/Te Aihe i Waiata, Mere Whaanga, Scholastic NZ

Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction
Helper and Helper, Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop, Gecko Press
My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point, Tania Roxborogh, Scholastic NZ
Sunken Forest, Des Hunt, Scholastic NZ
The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain, Julie Lamb, Mākaro Press (Submarine)
The Impossible Boy, Leonie Agnew, Penguin Random House (Puffin)

Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction
Coming Home to Roost, Mary-anne Scott, Penguin Random House (Longacre)
Kiwis at War 1916: Dig for victory, David Hair, Scholastic NZ
Like Nobody’s Watching, LJ Ritchie, Escalator Press
Shooting Stars, Brian Falkner, Scholastic NZ
The Severed Land, Maurice Gee, Penguin Random House (Penguin)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction
From Moa to Dinosaurs: Explore & discover ancient New Zealand, Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud, Potton & Burton
Jack and Charlie: Boys of the bush, Josh James Marcotte and Jack Marcotte, Penguin Random House (Puffin)
The Cuckoo and the Warbler, Kennedy Warne, illustrated by Heather Hunt, Potton & Burton
The Genius of Bugs, Simon Pollard, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa Press)
Torty and the Soldier, Jennifer Beck, illustrated by Fifi Colston, Scholastic NZ

Russell Clark Award for Illustration
Fuzzy Doodle, illustrated by Donovan Bixley, written by Melinda Szymanik, Scholastic NZ
Gladys Goes to War, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, written by Glyn Harper, Penguin Random House (Puffin)
If I Was a Banana, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart, written by Alexandra Tylee, Gecko Press
Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock . . . and its tragic aftermath, illustrated and written by David Elliot (after Lewis Carroll), Otago University Press
The Day the Costumes Stuck, illustrated and written by Toby Morris, Beatnik Publishing

Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written completely in te reo Māori
Ngā Manu Tukutuku e Whitu o Matariki, Calico McClintock, illustrated by Dominique Ford, translated by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ
Ngārara Huarau, Maxine Hemi, Illustrated by Andrew Burdan, Huia Publishers
Te Haerenga Māia a Riripata i Te Araroa, Maris O’Rourke, illustrated by Claudia Pond Eyley, translated by Āni Wainui, David Ling Publishing (Duck Creek Press)
Te Kaihanga Māpere, Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan, translated by Kawata Teepa, Huia Publishers
Tuna rāua ko Hiriwa, Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, Huia Publishers

Best First Book Award.  
Awatea’s Treasure, Fraser Smith, Huia Publishers
Like Nobody’s Watching, LJ Ritchie, Escalator Press
The Discombobulation of Summer Rain, Julie Lamb, Mākaro Press (Submarine)
The Mouse and the Octopus, written and illustrated by Lisala Halapua, Talanoa Books
Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau, 1843, written and illustrated by Matthew H McKinley, Kin Publishing

Finalist Author Events
Young readers will have a chance to meet the finalist authors in early August, at three big events. The first is in Christchurch (Monday, 7 August in association with WORD Christchurch); then in Dunedin (Friday and Saturday, 11-12 August in association with Dunedin Public Libraries and UBS Otago); and finally in Wellington (Monday, 14 August).
The winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be announced on the evening of Monday, 14 August in Wellington.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd, Copyright Licensing NZ, LIANZA, Wellington City Council and Nielsen Book. The awards are administered for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust by the New Zealand Book Council.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

An Excellent Series Continues…

1917: Machines of War by Brian Falkner, Scholastic NZ
The latest title in Scholastic’s Kiwis At War series, this follows the story of a 17-year-old New Zealander (initially named Keith, and therein lies a story) who is determined to become a pilot. He trains as an observer (flying in the rear seat of the bi-plane, back to back with the pilot, operating the Lewis gun) and the story opens when Keith is posted to La Bellevue Aerodrome just behind the lines on the Western Front. He arrives while the Germans are bombing the airfield, and manages to rescue a man from burning rubble, assist with pushing some Bristol Fighters out of a burning hangar, and prevent the armoury from exploding.

It’s not till the next day that Keith is able to report for duty, sporting bandages on his burned hands. He’s berated by the Squadron Commander for being late, and promised a disciplinary hearing. But he has no time to ponder on the unfairness of this – he’s asked to go up with one of the flying aces, and soon they spot and engage with an enemy aircraft.

The flying adventures come thick and fast after that, and it’s not long before Keith trains as a pilot. The death rate of these air crews in their flimsy aircraft was horrifyingly high, and the author has no compunction about telling it like it was – many of the characters we meet disappear from the story. But the focus stays firmly on Keith and his reactions to the fighting – his excitement turns to fear and disgust and then to cold-blooded determination. Every day he has to face the likelihood that he will be shot down.

A form of light relief is provided by the escapades of the youthful air crew, the descriptions of the engagements with the great German air aces such as the Red Baron, and a friendship/romance with a British nurse.

It’s a great read for teens (probably boys) who are interested in aircraft, war history, and the technology that eventually won the war – fighter planes, tanks, and armaments. Highly recommended. (Teacher Notes available at )

ISBN 978 1 77543 280 7 $19 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman