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