Saturday, May 20, 2017

Three Great New Picture Books…

Witch’s Cat Wanted by Joy H. Davidson, illus. Nikki Slade Robinson, Scholastic NZ
This is the 2015 winner of Storylines’ Joy Cowley Award for an unpublished picture book manuscript. It’s a delightful story about a young witch (looking very un-witchlike) who needs the ultimate accessory – a cat. She puts out a sign, and very soon the cats start appearing on her doorstep. For each one she asks, “Could you ride on my broom across the moon, and stir my cauldron with a wooden spoon? Could you live in a house with toads and lizards, and feast each day on animal gizzards? Could you remember my spells from beginning to end? But most of all, will you be my friend?” Of course, none of the cats are suitable. It’s not until the witch’s cauldron sensibly tells her to go to the SPCA that she eventually finds the cat she needs.
The coloured pencil cartoon illustrations are quirky, lively, and refreshing. This book will become a favourite with many youngsters, particularly girls who love cats. My copy is going to my granddaughter, who’s four and a half. I’m sure she’ll love the cats and the happy touches of magic.
ISBN 978 1 77543 372 9 RRP $19.00 Pb

The Great Kiwi ABC Book by Donovan Bixley, Upstart Press
This ABC book has got everything – crisp, brightly coloured illustrations, familiar smiling faces, letters of the alphabet, labelled items – plus the challenge of items on every page that aren’t labelled, so the reader has to use some brain power to spot them. For example, the double spread for P includes (unlabelled) pirate ship, painter, pie, paua, present, pineapple, pear, pig, possum, parachute, pukeko, pogo stick, piano, panda, plane, pier, playhouse … phew, I’ve probably missed out a few. So the book will be good fun for both adults and children as they compete to come up with the most words beginning with the appropriate letter.
My copy will be given to my youngest grandson who’s about four and a half – I reckon he’s just the right age for it. In general it should be useful for children learning their alphabet aged about three to six. Recommended for all pre-school centres.
ISBN 978 1 927262 71 9 RRP $19.99 Pb

The Best Dad in the World by Patricia Chapman, illus. Cat Chapman, Upstart Press
I’m reviewing this too late for Father’s Day, but it was actually published on 1 August so hopefully a good number of copies were bought as presents. It’s based on a simple idea, as so many excellent picture books are: it’s a catalogue of reasons why “my dad” is the best dad in the world. He likes to get up early; he cooks the best breakfasts, he never gets tired; he likes really good music; he knows that icecream fixes everything … and so on (cleverly, there’s a different family on every page). Preschoolers will take all this at face value, but parents will smile to themselves when they see the picture of a dad awkwardly sipping out of a doll’s cup at a toys’ tea-party, or a sleeping dad having his eyelid prised open by small fingers… Because the book works well on these two levels, it has a particular appeal.
The handsome hardback format is utilised to enhance the story – the first end papers have a pleasant quilt-like appearance and offer an empty space where children can draw a picture of their own dad. The watercolour illustrations are rendered with bright, light colours and plenty of white space, so the atmosphere is one of light-heartedness and family love. Recommended for all pre-schoolers.
ISBN  978 1 927262 74 0 RRP $19.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A new gripping story from David Hill

Flight Path by David Hill, Penguin Random House NZ
With this gripping story David Hill continues his series of award-winning YA books on the World Wars, following on from Enemy Camp, Brave Company, and My Brother’s War.

It’s satisfying to see so many war-experience books for young readers being published in New Zealand at the moment – ten years ago there were hardly any local titles available (remember Ken Catran’s books?), but now the niche is being well and truly filled. I hasten to add that these books are NOT glorifying war. Quite the opposite – they should influence younger generations to prevent such devastating wars ever happening again.

It’s 1944 and 18-year-old Jack is beginning his first sequence of flights as a bomb-aimer and gunner, jammed in the nose of a Lancaster bomber. A desire for excitement and the chance to leave New Zealand and see the world kept him going throughout his training, but it doesn’t take long for his excitement to turn to terror and dread. The casualty rate for the bomber crews was unbelievably high. As well as coping with the discomfort and danger of the bombing runs over France and Germany, Jack has to come to terms with the realisation that he has a strong likelihood of dying.

I’m not the target readership for this book, but I couldn’t put it down. David has obviously done huge amounts of research to capture what life was like for the Lancaster crews, and has used his writing skills to capture the details that make the story come alive. Who knew that once they’d dropped their bombs, the bombers had to do a straight 30-second camera run over the target, through searchlights and streams of flak and attacking enemy fighters, in order to get a photographic record of the bomb damage?

David deftly weaves other themes into Jack’s story – a budding romance, the importance of teamwork, the cruel effects of war on families of all nationalities.

Recommended for keen readers of about 11 and up, especially those with an interest in the history of the world wars.

ISBN 978 0 14 377052 7 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman     

Sunday, May 14, 2017

New Books from Book Island Press

Here Comes Mr Postmouse by Marianne Dubuc, Book Island (

Fox and Goldfish by Nils Pieters, Book Island

Book Island was set up in New Zealand in 2012 by Belgian-born translator Greet Pauwelijn in order to translate and publish Dutch children’s books in English. In 2016 the business moved to Bristol in England. Its books are still distributed in New Zealand, but with the author, the translator, and the publishing business no longer based here, its books don’t really fit the criteria of this review blog.
However Book Island books are of very high quality, and the company recently won the Bologna 2016 Award for Best Children’s Publisher of Oceania. So these two books are being briefly reviewed.

Here Comes Mr Postmouse is a charming story for pre-schoolers about a mouse delivering parcels to a range of animal recipients. The illustrations are done in a clever cut-away style so that readers can see inside the crocodiles’ house (full of water), Mr Wolf’s house (complete with burglar pigs) and the penguins’ place (ice cubes in the bath), etc. Each page offers many points of humour that can be shared between adult reader and child viewer.

ISBN 978 0 9941282 0 1 RRP $29.99 Hb

Fox and Goldfish is quite different in subject and style. Goldfish’s death is drawing nigh, and Fox takes him on a wild dash round the world to experience its splendours – swimming in the ocean, singing in the rain, climbing mountains, landing on the moon… “Okay, my friend, now you can go,” says Fox. 

Pre-schoolers do need books that include aspects of death, but how the subject is handled is important. In this case, the story and the wildly-colourful illustrations are joyous and uplifting – but families will need to decide if their four to seven-year-old can cope with the theme.

ISBN 978 0 9941282 1 8 RRP $26.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

For Dads to Buy for Mothers’ Day…

A Mother’s Day Dilemma by Juliette MacIver and Janine Millington, Scholastic NZ
Juliette MacIver should be familiar to anyone involved in children’s literature, with her most famous rhyming picture books probably being the Marmaduke Duck series. In this story she veers away from crazy animal antics and focuses on two children (who happen to be a Prince and Princess) trying to find the perfect Mother’s Day present for their mother (the Queen). Being royal, they have a huge variety of items to choose from – but in the end they create something very simple. “The nicest gifts are made with love,” says the text.
According to Janine’s website, this is the Canterbury-based artist’s first children’s picture book. “She’s passionate about creating detailed art, using a blend of hand drawn and digital media…” Her illustrations in this book are done in a colourful and very realistic style which reminds me a lot of Bruce Potter’s work. Preschoolers will find it easy to identify with the children depicted, and girls in particular will like the royal theme. I think it would be better read one-to-one, or with a small group so everyone can see the pictures close up.
ISBN 978 1 77543 345 3 $17.99 Pb

My Meerkat Mum by Ruth Paul, Scholastic NZ
Meerkats are unbearably cute, so this delightful picture book is hard to resist. Ruth Paul, prize-winning author/illustrator, has produced a companion volume to My Dinosaur Dad, working with the interesting abbreviated rhyming text she used in her Bad Dog Flash books.
“Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” Anyone who has watched meekats in the zoo will recognise how well the staccato text matches the watchful manner and quick movements of this typical meerkat family. Mum and three babies have an eventful day in the savannah as they hunt, play, eat – and stare.
Pre-schoolers and new entrant classes at school will enjoy the focus on these popular animals, and they may even learn a few useful concepts such as left and right, up and down, out and in.
PS. A hardback picture book for $18.99 is good value.
ISBN 978 1 77543 489 4 $18.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, May 8, 2017

Two fun junior fiction titles

Sunken Forest by Des Hunt, Scholastic NZ

Since he began writing children’s fiction in the 1990s Des Hunt has published over 20 books. He’s captured an important part of the market with his combination of adventure and eco-science in a New Zealand setting, with the occasional dash of social issues, history, or supernatural events. I’m sure he must have a keen following of young readers by now.

Sunken Forest follows the same recipe as most of the previous books, so Des’s fans won’t be disappointed. Matt’s having family problems, and has to live with his grandmother and attend a new school. Things turn bad when he’s accused of stealing. He is sent to Lake Waikaremoana on a school-based wilderness camp, but things get even worse when the accusations of deceitful behaviour continue. Matt finds solace in the company of an ancient giant longfin eel whom he names Elsa. He’s determined that Elsa will not be caught and killed by a fellow camper. A sudden storm and flood puts everyone in danger, and Matt eventually finds himself rescuing the person who’s abused him the most…

It’s an excellent read for children of about 9 to 12, particularly boys. There’s plenty of action and suspense to keep the plot surging along. Recommended.

ISBN 978 1 77543 403 0 RRP $19 Pb

Johnny Danger: Spy Borg by Peter Millett, Penguin Random House NZ

This is book 3 in the series, with the previous titles being Johnny Danger: DIY Spy and Johnny Danger: Lie Another Day. It’s the first one I’ve read, and I did have trouble picking up the series storyline and characters in the first few pages – so I recommend that interested readers begin with book 1 in the series to get the full impact.

Johnny Danger is a boy spy working for MI6 whose arch enemy is Dr Disastrous. In this story the bad guy teams up with another ultra-bad guy, Yuri Boom-Boom, who has invented an army of Yuri-nators, cyborg clones that are so humanlike nobody can distinguish them from the original human. Johnny and his partner Penelope go in pursuit of the villains and find themselves on the island of Ikki Ikki Bunga where there’s an exciting confrontation in which nobody knows who is real and who’s a cyborg… The style can only be described as frenetic, with non-stop action, corny wisecracks, inside jokes, scatological humour and impossible plot events.

It’s worth reading an interview with the author at Peter is keen to target a particular category of readers – mainly boys of about 8 to 12 who are reluctant readers. He hopes teachers will read the books aloud to their classes in order to “hook” those boys who’d rather be playing video games or watching cartoons. Warning: some jokes may cause classroom chaos!

ISBN 978 0 14 330907 9 RRP $17.99 Pb

Books reviewed by Lorraine Orman           

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Fantastical fiction for children

Hot Air by Donovan Bixley, Upstart Press

This is the second title in Donovan’s illustrated storybook series called Flying Furballs. If you don’t remember the first title (Dogfight), the series focuses on a faux-World War II scenario where the Cat Allied Troops (CATS) are battling against the evil DOGZ forces which have taken over much of central Europe. Hot Air follows the adventures of a cat pilot called Claude D’Bonair and his flying chum Syd Fishus as they sneak into Switzerland to track down the DOGZ latest weapon. Lots of nail-biting adventures follow – as well as a fair few word plays and puns! Donovan’s cartoon illustrations are a delight – one on almost every page.

My three primary-aged grandsons love this series, so I hunted down two copies to give them (and to enable me to write this review). Unfortunately my local Paper Plus took ages to get them in. My advice – go to the Upstart Press website at and order your copies online. Hopefully they won’t take long to be delivered to your door.

ISBN 978 1 927262 54 2 RRP $14.99 Pb

Upon a Time by R. L. Steadman, Waverley Productions

A sultry and very eye-catching cover should grab the attention of the target audience – teenage girls. This anthology by one of our top fantasy writers is a pot-pourri – it offers some very short stories, some longer short stories, and even a novella. All were inspired by fairy tales, and there are certainly some challenging versions in this collection. Several were inspired by Cinderella, while the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale sparked the novella called Death and Roses. This story is a complex one, using several narrators and timelines, and I had to concentrate hard to keep track of them. But readers who prefer to dip into shorter and easier stories will find plenty to keep them happy. There’s a good variety of tone and setting. My favourite is a cheeky technological version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

At the end there are some interesting Teachers’ Notes relating to Death and Roses. And there’s a lot more information on the author’s website and blog.

Secondary school libraries will find this engaging collection proves to be a popular addition to their stock. It’s available from online book stores in both paper copy and digital versions.

ISBN 9780473374679 RRP $24.99 Pb

Squeakopotamus by Dawn Macmillan, illus. Ross Kinnaird, Oratia Books

Bouncy rhyming text tells us about a weird and very large animal called Squeakopotamus which appears to be a cross between a mouse and a hippopotamus …!! This unusual visitor creates some problems: “We’ve run out of cheese! No more potato or peas! My heart starts to race. I feel the blood in my face. My head’s in a fuss. Maybe Squeakopotamus wants to eat … us!” But a visit to the supermarket takes care of that, and a rainy day takes care of the visitor’s awkward size – phew! This light-hearted story is brought to life by Ross Kinnaird’s colourful and detailed cartoon illustrations.

This zany picture book would be a good present for pre-schoolers and children of early-primary years, especially if they’ve been pestering for a pet for Christmas…

ISBN 978 0 947506 11 7 RRP $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Picture Song Book review

10 Greedy Goats, pictures by Deborah Hinde, sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic New Zealand

Yes, it’s another one in Scholastic’s series of picture songbooks and CDs using the tune of 10 Green Bottles - following on from three earlier books featuring kiwis, geckos and penguins. It’s obviously a very popular series! The lyrics are written by Scholastic NZ staff, and there are a few hiccups in the scansion – but fortunately these are barely noticeable in the sung version. 

As always, Deborah Hinde’s Adobe Photoshop illustrations are crisp and colourful, and will retain the attention of any pre-schooler following the story of the ever-reducing goat clan having heaps of fun at the fair. The Maori lyrics are provided separately in the last few pages of the book.

ISBN 978 1 77543 407 8 

RRP $20 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, April 28, 2017

New from Makaro Press

The Sam & Lucy Fables by Alan Bagnall and Sarah Wilkins, Makaro Press

The first thing that strikes me about this little book is that it looks and feels friendly. The stories are very short, there’s lots of white space on the pages, and the illustrations are frequent and eye-catching. The cover flaps are classy, the thickness of the soft cover is reassuring, the interior pages are also of high quality, and the framed cover picture by Sarah Wilkins is enticing. There are even some interesting end-papers…

Alan Bagnall keeps up the classiness (quirkiness?) with his humorous allegorical tales focusing on two very smart pigs. Sam and Lucy provide a childlike but sensible logic that solves the problems of a bunch of silly humans. How do you teach fish to read when your book keeps disintegrating? Why, you use a plastic Ready to Read book, of course. (NB. And that’s why fish swim in schools).
Sarah Wilkins’ colourful illustrations are done in a cosy, relaxed style that suits the tone of the stories perfectly.

BTW, if you’re wondering where you’ve heard these names before, Alan Bagnall is a poet and writer with many stories published in the School Journal and the Ready to Read series. He and Sarah produced the picture book called The Immigrants (Mallinson Rendell) which won the 2003 LIANZA Russell Clark Award. Sarah is an experienced illustrator whose work also features in the delightful A Book is a Book (Gecko Press) written by Jenny Bornholdt.

I can heartily recommend this handy little book for primary school libraries and classrooms.

ISBN 9780994129987 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Latest titles from Scholastic

Dinosaur Trouble: The Great Egg Stink by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

There’s no mention on the book that this is a prequel to the popular Dinosaur Rescue series, but that’s what we are told on Scholastic’s website. Not just one prequel – it’s a whole new series! It’s written for transitional readers aged about five to seven, and should be useful with reluctant readers in those first years of school (mainly boys).

As with the Dinosaur Rescue series, there is a preponderance of rude bodily functions, so parents and teachers beware. It uses simple straightforward text to describe how Arg acquires his little microceratops pet, Krrk-Krrk. This involves the theft of some dinosaur eggs, copious vomiting, and similar gross activities performed by Arg’s family – all lavishly illustrated in black ink cartoons by Donovan Bixley.

I can’t really recommend this for reading aloud in the classroom – I suspect it would cause general hysteria… But most young male readers should love it.

ISBN 978 1 77543 366 8 $6.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tui Street Tales by Anne Kayes, Scholastic NZ

This is the 2016 winner of Storylines’ Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a junior novel from an unpublished writer. It’s an unusual format for this award, consisting as it does of seven stories focusing on seven different families who live in Tui Street. There’s something unusual about Tui Street – you can find a tree that literally grows into the sky (with a giant at the top), and a Maero (Maori guardian) living in the creek, and a helpful tui that grows to an enormous size… As we read, we detect definite echoes of traditional fairy tales, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, The Princess and the Pea, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – to name a few. But these old tales have been brought into the 21st century and now focus on thoroughly modern children.

The narrative framework that surrounds the stories looks at the way the Tui Street children look after each other and help each other through difficulties. However another theme introduces the idea that many of the parents in Tui Street are heavily involved in the magical events woven through the seven stories.  As an adult, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief at this adult involvement – but probably most children won’t have the same qualms. Best for readers of about 8 to 11 who like a good dollop of magic inside their book covers.

ISBN 978 1 77543 472 6 $16.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Makaro Press Blog Tour

Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala, Makaro Press

"I look to my band mates. They’re
wide-eyed. It’s time to put our
rock faces on. My fingers on
the strings, my shoulder under
the strap of the bass, my feet on
the floor – every part of me burns."

Not only is this the author’s first YA book, but it’s also just been given a 2017 Notable Book Award by the Storylines Foundation – one of only two YA books to receive the award this year. Congratulations to author and publisher!

Saradha is well qualified to be the author of a novel about a musical teenager. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Victoria University and has published two books of poetry. In her other life she’s a secondary school teacher of English literature and creative writing. She is also (surely) a bass guitar player in a band – I say this because the descriptions of her heroine’s life as a bass guitar player in a high school rock ban
d have the confidence of first-hand experience.

Paige’s band, Vox Pop, are selected for the final of the Rockfest competition. Their hopes are high. But then things start to fall to pieces. “I just want things to stay the same,” Paige laments. “The band, my friends… I want to keep a nice steady rhythm, a walking bass line where every note lands on the beat and you always know exactly what to expect.” But with two members of the band at loggerheads and another suffering a bad motorbike accident, Paige finds everything spinning out of control. When one of her best friends is hospitalized with anorexia, Paige simply can’t cope. After a devastating event at the Rockfest finals Paige hits rock bottom, but she finally pulls herself together and realises it’s time to pursue other dreams.

It’s an energetic and very readable story with a likeable heroine – I thoroughly enjoyed it, even the music-focused bits. I do have one little criticism which is nothing to do with the story – I think the cover is too austere (it’s a black and white picture of an amp). If only it was a dramatic picture of a girl playing a bass guitar, something full of life and verve that would attract the eye of a teen reader… As it is, librarians and teachers will have to make an effort to “sell” the book to teens. Hopefully the Notable Book Award will help with its promotion.

BTW, there’s a free teaching resource available on

Saradha Koirala has played in a number of bands over the years, all with dubious names. She’s a huge fan of 90s rock and Bob Dylan but appreciates the nuanced beauty of anything created with purpose, integrity and
love. After teaching English at high schools in Wellington for ten years, Saradha now lives in Melbourne with a drummer, a writing desk and a bicycle. She is the author of two collections of poetry, and Lonesome When You Go
is her first novel.

ISBN 9780994123749 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

The Blog tour continues ... Other  brilliant bloggers are:

4 April • Crissi Blair
5 April • Eirlys Hunter
6 April • Sarah Forster
7 April • Zac McCallum

The Disenchanted Wizard

The Disenchanted Wizard [e-book] by Mike Crowl with Cherianne Parks, Frank Joseph Publishing (127 Glenpark Ave, Maryhill, Dunedin 9011, email

Mike says this fantasy is part of a 3-book series that began with Grimhilda! in 2014. This third story is the best of all of them. It can certainly be read as a stand-alone.

The heroine, Della, is about to play in a very important football game – the opener before the top local premier team (the Wizards) plays against the All Stars. She’s dying to meet her hero football player, Xanadu Whitworth. But her cousin Harold interrupts her preparations with a newly-acquired old map – and when the two of them study the map they see some strange and spooky pictures, one of which seems to move. When they show Archie, Della’s father, his reaction is frightening - he turns white and rushes out of the house. Della and Harold try to track him down, but soon find themselves thrust into a nightmare of horrifying events involving people being folded up into the magic map, an old wizard who keeps on losing his memory at the crucial time, and a wicked wizard who can shapeshift into a wolf and is determined to use a magical talisman to take over the minds of all the spectators at the big football game.

Non-stop action and a strong focus on the child protagonists are combined to create a satisfying fantasy for readers (probably girls) of about 9 to 12.

Available as an e-book from the main online bookshops (these links copied from Mike’s blog):


ISBN 978 0 473 38856 0: Various prices: e-book

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Scholastic's latest picture book offerings

The Singing Dolphin: Te Aihe i Waiata by Mere Whaanga, Scholastic NZ

This accomplished author/illustrator has produced several books for children; probably the most well-known is Tangaroa’s Gift which won the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award in 2011. It’s great to see she’s written and illustrated a delightful new bilingual picture book. It was inspired by the real-life story of Moko the dolphin who lived and played in the sea near Mahia between 2007 and 2009. She tells of a wise woman who lived near the Pathway of the Whales and had three grandsons. The youngest grandson is good at singing magical songs, but when his two brothers cast him overboard from their canoe in a fit of rage, he transforms into a dolphin. Sadly, he doesn’t know the song for transforming back. Sometimes he returns to his old home, playing, bringing gifts, and singing songs – but he cannot stay.

The illustrations are delicately beautiful, combining fine black pen outlines with water-colour seascapes in fabulous shades of blue, green, purple, aqua and turquoise. Each double-spread illustration offers fascinating detail that will entertain quick-eyed youngsters while the text is being read.
Despite the beauty of the pictures it’s a sombre story, so I think it would be best shared with primary-aged children either in small groups or one-to-one.

ISBN 978 1 77543 402 3 RRP $19.99 Pb (also available in hardback, $27.99)

10 Greedy Goats, pictures by Deborah Hinde, sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic

Yes, it’s another one in Scholastic’s series of picture songbooks and CDs using the tune of 10 Green Bottles - following on from three earlier books featuring kiwis, geckos and penguins. It’s obviously a very popular series! The lyrics are written by Scholastic NZ staff, and there are a few hiccups in the scansion – but fortunately these are barely noticeable in the sung version. As always, Deborah Hinde’s Adobe Photoshop illustrations are crisp and colourful, and will retain the attention of any pre-schooler following the story of the ever-reducing goat clan having heaps of fun at the fair. The Maori lyrics are provided separately in the last few pages of the book.

ISBN 978 1 77543 407 8 RRP $20 Pb

Nee Naw: The Little Fire Engine Words and music by Deano Yipadee, illus. Paul Beavis, Scholastic 

We’re barely past Christmas with its usual profusion of Scholastic picture songbooks – and here’s another one! It’s a follow-up collaboration from the pair who produced the extremely popular Jingle Bells Rudolph Smells (Scholastic NZ). As with all books in this songbook genre, the text consists of the words of a song. Children can look at the illustrations, sing along to the song, and (if they’re able) read the words. There are some handy fire safety tips inside the back cover.

Dean O’Brien (aka Mr Yipadee) is a New Zealand singer, song-writer, performer and app-producer who lives and tours in Europe and the UK. He also tours New Zealand with Craig Smith (of Wonky Donkey fame). The words of his song sound better on the accompanying CD than they do on the printed page – so it’s best to have the whole family singing along rather than reading it aloud. It’s a bouncy feel-good story about a little fire engine who manages to deal with a difficult fire when his two bigger station-mates can’t do it.

The exuberant action-packed illustrations are done by Paul Beavis whose other work includes the illustrations for the award-winning junior novel Barking Mad (Scholastic NZ) and the picture book Mrs Mo’s Monster (Gecko Press) – I love both these books.

BTW, the book provides a website address for Deano Yipadee which didn’t work for me. I went to instead.

ISBN 978 1 77543 392 7 RRP $21.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, March 10, 2017

Stories, Activities and fun - all in one book

ANNUAL edited by Kate de Goldi and Susan Paris (Gecko Press)

Kate de Goldi and Susan Paris wanted to produce a book that appealed to the intelligent enquiring child. The child they were. A child that reads well above their age, devouring sophisticated language, but not ready for YA themes.

They’ve broken all the rules and started from scratch beginning with the stark orange cover with gold drawings, and endpapers that invite you to find the story. The contents page is a piece of art in itself. Dylan Horrocks produced each page title in the form of a poster or newspaper heading.

The stories, articles, activities, comics and poems have been written by mostly beginner writers or experienced adult writers. Kate wanted to give some gifted first-time authors an opportunity, and also encourage adult authors to enter into the world of children’s literature; hoping to break down barriers. You will also find some well-known children’s authors: Barbara Else, Joanna Orwin, Bernard Beckett and Ben Brown.

One of my favourite pieces in the book is Paul Beavis’s visual spread on storytelling (page 44-50). He uses his monster character, from his two books, to show how to get started with a story, how to draw your characters, create visual conflict, use contrast and conflict to build a story, show not tell, and how to wrap it all up. Lastly, he shows the young reader how to make their own 8-page book to write their story in. Teachers will want to use this to inspire story-writing and illustrating in their class. 
Some of the material is quite sophisticated like the photographs and some of the artwork. There's also some excellent activities that young children will enjoy. Such as Gavin Mouldey's maze and maps and spot the difference, Dylan Horrock's game board, and Fifi Colston's stunning bottle people. There's even a song and its chords called 'Always on your Phone'.

When considering who you would buy it for, I think you have to stop thinking in children’s ages but in their reading ability. Kids that are eight years old but sophisticated readers will love it, as will 12-14 year olds who like to visually pore all over a book. Adults who are lovers of children’s literature will also want it. A book you will want to dip in and out for years. Would make a great Christmas present.

ISBN: 978-1-776570-77-5
RRP $39.99 (hardback)

Buy at all good bookshops and online here

A book of Maori Wisdom

Mauri Ora: Wisdom from the Maori World by Peter Alsop & Te Ray Kupenga (Potton & Burton)

Mauri Ora is a beautiful book to hold. From the engaging photo on the front of a mother and baby sharing a laugh, to the gold edging on hardcover and pages, to the striking collection of black and white photographs throughout the book and the choice of Maori proverbs.

In the Introduction the authors suggest if you want to know more about a culture get to know their proverbs. They talk about the power of proverbs and how you can ‘use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you.’

Peter Alsop and Te Ray Kupenga have structured the book in six parts (virtues):

1.      Maatauranga – Wisdom – applying experience, knowledge and judgement
2.      Maaia – Courage –  staring down adversity and draw on strength
3.      Atawhai – Compassion – drawing on different emotions depending on the situation
4.      Ngaakau Tapatahi – Integrity – doing what is right
5.      Whakahautanga – Self Mastery – modifying behaviour and actions for desirable effect
6.      Whakapono – Belief – acknowledgement of the spiritual realm

They explain what those virtues are and before you launch into reading those virtues it  suggests that the book presents options and invitations ‘a whakatauki menu waiting for the right occasion, time or place’.

The first proverb in Wisdom is titled ‘Maatanga – Experienced’: Ekore e mau i a koe, he wae kai pakiaka: You will not catch the feet accustomed to running among the roots.’  You won’t find an explanation for this proverb, instead the book invites you to ruminate and think about what it means to you. On the opposite page is a full page historical photograph of a Kuia carrying a young Maori child on her back looking at you (photographer).

They've chosen photographs that depict Maori culture. You’ll find intimate photographs of family, famous Maori elders, and Maori going about their work. This book would be a great addition to Secondary School libraries; inspiring its students. As well as a book for the home library, and as a gift for expatriates or overseas friends. Would make an excellent Christmas present.

ISBN: 978-0-947-503147
RRP $39.99
Have a look inside the book here
Buy the book here

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A heartwarming children's war book

Torty and the Soldier: A story of a true WWI survivor by Jennifer Beck, Fifi Colston (Scholastic)

Stewart Little (the real one, not the movie character) had been walking to a field hospital in Salonika when he saw a small tortoise run over in 1916. Half buried in the dusty road Stewart picked up the squashed tortoise and took it back to the hospital ship where he worked. He cared for it while they traveled back and forth from England to France then Malta and back to England. Even though he was told no pets were allowed back into New Zealand he hid the tortoise, which had gone into hibernation in his kitbag. It lived with him for the rest of his life. This is their true story.

To accompany this heartwarming story is Fifi Colston's stunning sepia coloured illustrations. Fifi visited the real tortoise in Napier and the replica at Te Papa while finding reference material about the reptile before painting the images. This is the second children's war book, Fifi has illustrated. The first being The Red Poppy written by David Hill. Fifi captures just the right tone for the book and I love how she brings in texture, shading and morphs in other images.

Jennifer Beck communicated with the relatives of Stewart Little while researching the book. She'll be launching Torty and the Soldier with the family in Morrinsville this week. Jennifer Beck also wrote The Bantam and the Soldier, illustrated by Robyn-Belton. You can see an interview with Jennifer Beck here.

The creative non-fiction story will teach children about empathy for animals, and the span of a tortoise's life over several generations of a human's life. It's another untold story from WWI and 4-8 year old children (and older) will love this gentle tale.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-484-9
RRP $19.99 (hardback)

Torty and the Soldier and The Red Poppy also feature in a children's war book exhibition currently travelling around Australia. For more information about the Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages Exhibition go here.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tania Roxborogh's latest books

Bastion Point: 507 Days on Takaparawha by Tania Roxborogh (Scholastic)
(MY New Zealand Story series)

I was a teenager in the 1970s and can remember the Bastion Point protest. Newspaper and TV news reportage on the occupation were biased against Ngati Whatua's occupation, making out that what they were doing was scandalous. I didn't realise that then, that's why Bastion Point: 507 Days on Takaparawha is so important. Tania has ensured the backdrop to her fictional story is accurate and realistic; reading newspaper articles, court transcripts, and interviewing key people in order to give the Maori point of view of the historical protest.

The fictional story is about 12-year-old Erica who has just been given permission to buy a horse she has helped care for since its birth. Erica plans how she is going to train the young horse and is all set to begin when her parents tell her they are going on a short holiday down south. Erica is a reluctant occupant at Bastion Point but over the course of the 507 days she sees the passion, hears the stories, and experiences the hardship of what the protest really means to her whanau. Along the way she loses something that is precious to her and has to deal with that. She writes down everything that happens in her diary and we experience it along with her day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month.

If I was still teaching at Intermediate I would definitely be using this book either as a study in English or in Social Studies. It's a book that shouldn't be ignored; it sets the story right for Ngati Whatua (within a fictional story), and it is also inspiring for kids to read, showing that if you believe in something enough and stick to your resolve - you can make a difference. Written in diary format, it's also a coming-of-age story, showing a young girl realise that her own personal goals sometimes have to make way for a bigger project. Tania's writing is superb and will keep you reading until the end.

Tania Roxborogh has written over 25 books, many of which have won awards or shortlisted. Tania writes in the weekends and evenings - her day job is teaching English at her local high school. As well as a teaching degree she holds a BA in Maori language. In her spare time, she rides her horse, with her daughter in the Canterbury countryside.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-479-5
RRP $17.99

Bloodlines: A Crown of Honour, Book 2 by Tania Roxborogh (Thomas & Mercer) US & UK editions, audio version published by Brilliance Audio

I had never listened to audio books until I played first 'Banquo's Son' and then 'Bloodlines' on my car CD player. Wow, I'm a convert. Both books have been narrated by actor Napoleon Ryan and his Scottish voice is perfect for the setting. I had several long journeys while listening to these tapes and when I came to the end of the trip, I didn't want to stop - the story kept me on the edge of my seat from the first page until the end.

'Bloodlines' takes off after the rebellion that is the climax in 'Banquo's Son'. Fleance settles into his role as King of Scotland and must find out who the rebels are that threaten his reign and peace in the country. When Rachael is kidnapped he puts all that at risk to save her. Along the way he questions who he can trust; some people he thought were friends become frenemies. The story ends in a twist that I did not see coming. I can't wait to get my hands on the third book in the series 'Birthright', which is out end of March with 'White Glove', a branch of Amazon in print and kindle editions. Sadly, we'll have to wait a while before the audio version comes out.

I really enjoyed how Tania tells the story in a variety of point of views. For some books, I've found this irritating when there are many voices and it can stop the flow of a story, but it works for this book. We hear Fleance's story (his turmoil of who to marry; Rachel of royal blood or his first love Rosie). Then Rosie's point of view (her angst and need to carry on with her life), and Rachel (a strong female character who can get herself out of trouble), plus several other characters' point of views. It enables you to see the motives of some and the turmoil of others.

I hope High School English classes are using this series. They are expertly written, well researched for the medieval time period and have several themes running through them, which make them perfect for closer study. Would make a good comparison novel with Macbeth, too. I highly recommend this book for teenagers and adults.

Print version $11.99 (Amazon)
Ebook version $1.14 (Kindle)
Audio version $10 (CD) $6 (MP3)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Maurice Gee is back!

The Severed Land by Maurice Gee (Penguin)

It’s been a while since Maurice Gee has written for young adults and all I can say is WELCOME BACK! Maurice has written a fantasy-alternative future-adventure type story with a strong female protagonist and great supporting characters and it will have you on the edge of your seat.

The opening scene has the main character Fliss watching soldiers trying to break down the invisible wall. They can see her but their guns and cannons can’t touch her. She watches the unfolding events with amusement until she notices a drummer boy trying to escape. Fliss grabs hold of him through the invisible wall and pulls him to safety. She leaves him to sleep it off and returns home to Shoo and the Old One. The Old One prophecies that the boy is needed to save the wall. The Old One is dying and he needs to find the Nightingale - boy’s sister, who will take over the responsibility of holding up the wall. However, when the boy wakes up, he isn’t grateful and treats Fliss like she is a slave girl. She can’t believe she must tolerate his behaviour in order to carry out the mission. This is where I thought the story very clever. In all good books the character must grow. In this story, the boy’s personality changes throughout the mission from bad to good to bad and back again. It's not that he's not consistent, it's that one part of his personality dominates the other, and he struggles with that; sometimes wavering. I also really liked the girl’s empathy for her companions and her strength of character - it's empowering for young girls/women reading the story. 

Fliss, the drummer boy and the Nightingale are unlikely heroes and that's what makes this story so interesting. For young adults who like a good adventure with a dash of fantasy. The story could be a stand-alone but hopefully it will be part of a series and we'll meet Fliss and the Nightingale again. Maurice Gee is back with a gripping novel for young adults. Read an extract here, and see for yourself.

Maurice Gee is considered one of New Zealand's finest writers. He has written more than thirty books for adults and young adults and has won numerous literary awards, including the UK's James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the Wattie Award, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, the New Zealand Fiction Award and the New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award. In 2003 he received an inaugural New Zealand Icon Award and in 2004 he received a Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement. Maurice Gee's novels include The Plumb Trilogy, Going West, Prowlers, Live Bodies and The Scornful Moon. He has also written a number of much-loved children's novels, including Under the Mountain, The O Trilogy and The Salt Trilogy. 

ISBN: 978-0-14-377024-4

RRP $19.99 Paperback, $9.04 from digital retailers

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Favourite book of 2016

Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock ... and its tragic aftermath by David Elliot after Lewis Carroll (Otago University Press)

 Every now and then comes along a book with a story that is totally original complemented with outstanding artwork - David Eliot's 'Snark' is such a book. David's obviously been curious for a long while about why author Lewis Carroll set two stories in the one setting. His mind played around with scenarios and as does a creative mind came up with a theory of his own and recreated making it so real many will believe it to be true.

David begins with the premise that a journal - believed to be the journal of Boots on the fateful journey to snare a snark - has only just been discovered. The narrator - purchases the journal at an auction and has it published to reveal to the world that Lewis Carroll's two poems are based on truth. David's gone to the extent of recreating the contents of the hatbox; a journal, hat, and antique cloth - sewed and crafted by David's sister Karen Eliot and friend Simone Montgomery. The aged journal is photographed (by Alan Dove) and produced as evidence of its authenticity and extensive notes provide more light on the outrageous props in the story.

Illustrators who are also writers will often downplay their writing, but David's writing is just as wonderful as the illustrations. He's captured just the right tone and intention of Lewis Carroll's nonsense characters and their quest. David sets the scene of how the thoroughly incompetent crew came together, the lecture, train ride, setting off in the Bristol, the escapades on board the ship, and the landing - leading us right up to the beginning of the poem The Hunting of the Snark. Then he fills in the story between the two poems.  Boots sets off to find Baker; encountering beasts, strange plants and mysterious towers, which sets the scene for Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky poem. Afterwards we're treated to more details of the adventure and explanation of the objects in the two poems.

David's illustrations fill every page; pencil sketches of which many are coloured in watercolours. The expression of the characters and the way they stand/sit/lie are drawn are wonderfully funny. David has a great talent for bringing out the humour in his artwork.

This is a collector's piece. For people who love books, and kids who love fantasy stories. It's a book that you'll revisit time and time again and keep forever.

DAVID ELLIOT is an author and illustrator of children’s books, based in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. He has won many awards for his work, including New Zealand Post Children’s Book of the Year in 2011 (with Margaret Mahy) for The Moon & Farmer McPhee. Pigtails the Pirate won Best Picture Book in the 2003 awards. As well as writing and illustrating his own books, David has illustrated numerous books by others, including New Zealand authors Joy Cowley, Jack Lasenby and Margaret Mahy;
UK writer Brian Jacques (the Redwall series), and US writers T.A. Barron (Great Tree of Avalon series) and John Flanagan (Ranger’s Apprentice and The Brotherband Chronicles). Henry’s Map was selected by the prestigious School Library Journal in the US for its Best Books list in 2013. In 2011 David received the inaugural Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award, and in 2014 the Storylines Margaret Mahy Award.

Publication details

Jacketed hardback, full colour, 250 x 285mm, 208 pages, ISBN 978 1 877578 94 6, $59.95
November 2016

Buy from Otago University Press
RRP $59.95