Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Illustrating Torty and Soldier

Fifi Colston shares how she illustrated Torty and the Soldier (written by Jennifer Beck, published with Scholastic New Zealand):

When Lynette Evans at Scholastic asked me if I’d like to read the manuscript with a view to illustrating another ANZAC book, she also mentioned the magic word ‘tortoise’. She’s a clever woman… I have a very soft spot for these hard-shelled creatures.

My oldest sister and I had a one each as small children in Britain. Mine was called Sootyafter the Sooty and Sweep Show (which left me with a lifetime love of puppets) and my sisters was Big Ears which was irony I missed at the time, given the lack of them on her shelly companion.
Tortoises have a tendency to roam far and wide in search of lettuce leaves which usually are in the garden proud neighbours place 4 doors down. They are the Peter Rabbits of the reptilian world. They also hibernate and I remember them in shoe boxes in the bottom of the wardrobe, wintering over. Sometime during this period of pet ownership, our family moved to Ghana in West Africa, and my parents line to this day around the tortoise disappearance whilst packing was ‘they wandered off.’ No amount of plying with wine will make my mother change that 50 year old story.


The book’s heroine, Torty (her real name) wandered off, all over the Greece and into the sight of Stewart Little (not the mouse), in 1917 where the story begins. I was entranced by her adventures bought to life by Jennifer’s writing and said yes to taking on the job of illustrating the book.
Normally, for a book based on realistic style illustrations, I would find models and photograph them to work from. So I paid Torty a visit when she was out of hibernation and residing with family in Havelock North. She has an enclosure that boasts a nesting box and plenty of access to grassy lawn and shady bushes, all with a tortoise proof fence, 25 cm high! She’s a feisty old lady of 200 years and I made my husband hold her whilst I photographed her from every angle. She gave him a good kicking in the process. I also visited the Weta Workshop- made replica of her in the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa. She's in a wooden crate and a very good likeness indeed!

As for Stewart and his brother, I had no real idea what they looked like apart from Stewart’s military records. Brown hair, hazel eyes. I was also running out of time to find models, so I tried a different method for the first time. I used a 3D programme called DAZ,

where I could create people and move them around from all angles. I am no expert with it, but managed to get what I needed by a fair amount of trial and error. The rest was interpretation with watercolours on paper and some digital textures layered on after the scans were done.

Read more here.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Two book reviews hiding

Rasmas by Elizabeth Pulford, illus. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic New Zealand

Both author and illustrator are experts at their craft, and their skill is evident in the light touch they use for this gentle and appealing story. Danny and his father go to live on Gran’s farm. Danny makes friends with a stroppy young goat, and soon the pair are inseparable. One day Dad introduces Danny and Rasmas to Rona – and soon after that Dad and Rona get married. But Danny now has to leave the farm – and Rasmas. He’s heartbroken. Of course there’s a happy ending, but I’m not going to tell how it’s reached.

The text is straightforward and beautifully written, and the illustrations are done in a soft, realistic style with pencil and watercolour paint. The focus on the high spirits and smiling expression of the goat promise the young reader that all will be well. I was particularly impressed with the integration of text and illustration – many self-published picture book authors could learn something from the layout of this book. Heartily recommended for group and one-to-one reading for four to six-year olds. Note that there is also a Maori version available entitled Ko Rama.
ISBN 978 1 77543 310 1 RRP $19 Pb


The Other Brother by Stephanie Thatcher, Scholastic New Zealand

I think this is Stephanie’s sixth picture book, and she’s really developing her own brand now. Think appealing animals, bright colours and child-focused stories. Bertie McQuerty is a little pig with a big problem. He has three brothers who are BRILLIANT. One is sporty, one is arty, and one is clever. Bertie is just “the other brother.” He’s tried being brilliant, but he’s always distracted by someone needing help. Eventually Bertie discovers his strength – and can proudly take his place on the podium. The illustrations are done in pencil and watercolour, with friendly animal faces, plenty of relaxing white space, and a variety of layout formats. Look out for the repeating motif in the illustrations ie. a little yellow chick. Integration of text and pictures on the page is excellent.

The message behind the story will be of comfort to many young readers who don’t excel at anything – in a society where there is a lot of pressure, even on children, to do better than one’s contemporaries. Recommended for group and one-to-one reading for three to six year-olds. The Maori version is entitled Ko Tera Atu O Nga Tama.

ISBN 978 1 77543 382 8 RRP $19 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Two quirky picture books…


Wildboy: the boy who walked around New Zealand by Brando Yelavich, illus. Donella Yelavich, Penguin Random House

You may have already heard of Wildboy because he has published two books for adults about his Bear Grylls-type adventures. The first, published in 2015, was called Wildboy, and the second was called Wildboy: to the edge and back. In 2013, as a restless young man, he set off to do the first circumnavigation of the New Zealand coastline on foot. He carried a 50 kg pack, walked 8,700 km, and took 600 days to do it.

He has teamed up with his mother to produce this strangely appealing children’s picture book. Strangely – because the illustrations are very modern and edgy with unusual proportions. And appealing – because I think youngsters will like the provocative mix of familiar landscapes, favourite wildlife, and Wildboy’s smiling face staring up from every page – even while he’s eating an insect…
The text is casual and friendly, with plenty of significant and/or amusing moments. Some advanced pre-schoolers might be interested, but I see the book being of most use in primary school libraries, where it will appeal to all age levels. It would lend itself to studies of the New Zealand environment, as well as being a source of inspiration in lessons on self-esteem. I’m giving my review copy to my almost-six-year-old grandson; he will probably decide to set off on his own adventure trek...

ISBN 978 0 14 377245 3 RRP $19.99 Pb

Muddle & Mo’s Rainy Day by Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press

Many readers will already be familiar with Muddle the duck and Mo the goat, with their angular but very expressive lines. Preceding titles are Muddle & Mo, and Muddle & Mo’s Worm Surprise, which I particularly liked.

The minimal text matches the simplicity of the illustrations. Muddle loves the rainy day – naturally. Mo is not keen at all – naturally. Eventually, with the promise of an extra cuddle, Muddle persuades Mo to go out and play in the rain. The message lies in the developing happiness portrayed on Mo’s face as they jump and splash and slide. Can goats smile? Well, this one does.

Winter is nearly here, with plenty of rainy days, so this will be a handy book for pre-schoolers at their learning centre and at their home.

ISBN 978 1 927305 40 9 RRP $19.99 Pb (also Hb for $29.99)


Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A book that combines cooking and science experiments!

The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Dr Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl Labs)

The name 'Nanogirl' started popping up around the country and in my ignorance I thought she was a visiting scientist. I've obviously had my head in the sand because Dr Michelle Dickinson - Nanogirl - has been making waves in this country for quite some time. Dr Michelle Dickinson has a PhD in Biomedical and Materials Engineering and is the founder and director of Nanogirl Labs. This is her second book, her first 'No. 8 Recharged' is a curated collection of 202 world changing innovations from New Zealand in a 210-page book.



Michelle has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all. She has carried out this goal with television appearances, live Theatre Science Shows, a science comedy podcast "Stupid Questions for Scientists" and science communication videos. For her work she has been awarded a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit, winner of the 2016 Women of Influence Award for science and innovation, the 2015 Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award, the Prime Ministers Science Media Communication Prize and the 2014 New Zealand Association of Scientists Science Communicators Award in 2014.


After one of her Nanogirl live shows a parent talked to Michelle, saying she wished she could teach her children science experiments in the kitchen but didn't have the confidence to do it. Then she offered Michelle one of her home-baked muffins. It set a light off in Michelle's head - perhaps there's a need for a kitchen science cookbook.  She promoted the idea on Kickstarter and received $85,000 in funding; well-over what she had hoped to raise.

Michelle must have plowed just about all those funds into the book because it is a huge, hardback book of 180 pages on good quality paper with hundreds of photographs throughout the book. She's retailing it for $50 but you're definitely getting your money's worth and proceeds from sale, will no doubt go into publishing the next book showcasing more experiments for the kitchen. Also, for every book you buy online (see link below) they will donate a copy to a community, school or family that would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore science in this way.

Michelle has ordered the book into the following experiments: colourful, construction, edible, electricity, motion, pressure, reaction, sound, surfactant - 168 in all! Michelle has picked experiments that use ingredients that most homes will have in their pantry. Safety first, Michelle gives seven basic kitchen science rules - to keep safe and therefore enjoy all the recipes in the book. She also encourages children to keep notes, like all scientists.

Each experiment takes up two foolscap pages; one full coloured picture on one side, and the instructions on the other side. The first experiment tells you how to make coloured flowers using a pair of scissors, jars, white flowers, food colouring and water only. At the end are ways to explore further. For example, for the above experiment she encourages you cut the stem length-ways down the middle to examine if there is any food colouring inside the stem or test what affects the transpiration rate of flowers by placing them in different places.

Wow, I think every Primary and Kindergarten school should buy this book for their science curriculum. Quite a few parents will want it at home to engage their bored children during the holidays and weekends too.  An excellent educational resource!

RRP $50 + P&P (ships worldwide). Available in good book stores or buy here.

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A book for all ages


ANZAC Animals by Maria Gill, illus. Marco Ivančić, Scholastic NZ

This is the kind of book where you flick through to have a little read for a few minutes … and an hour later you’re still sitting there, lost in the stories and pictures. Maria has followed up her 2016 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year ANZAC Heroes with this collection of fascinating true anecdotes about 20 animals that took part in WWI and WWII. Horses and camels are included, of course, but there are also tales of dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, a kangaroo and even a tortoise. Each featured animal has a double-page spread with an easy-to-read block of text, a superb digitally-produced colour illustration by Marco, and several extras such as historical photos and information boxes.

Every effort has been made to provide background and easy-navigating information for young researchers. There’s a Contents section, an Introduction, relevant maps of the main battle fronts for both world wars, Timelines, a Glossary, an Index and a Bibliography, plus other extras such as the use of symbols to identify country of origin, and the inclusion of veterinary and animal welfare facts.

Readers of all ages will enjoy this book, from eight to 108, but I see it being of most benefit to primary and intermediate ages, particularly animal lovers. They won’t be able to resist the bright-eyed, appealing face on the cover – that of Horrie, the dog mascot of the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion. Highly recommended.


RRP $29.99
ISBN: 978-1-77543-474-0

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Inspiring book for Under 5s


KIWICORN by Kat Merewether (Illustrated Publishing)

I can't remember reading such a positive affirmation type book for young readers before. I can imagine little 3-4 year old young children listening to the short and sweet texts with big eyes, then charging around afterwards saying 'I'm strong, sassy and smart' or 'I'm gentle, gutsy and goodhearted'. They might not understand it all, but it will open up discussions for parent and child to talk about positive behaviours. Those are the sort of positive messages that could stay with children for life. Here's an example of the text within:

Who is confident, cute and colourfully creative?
Kiwicorn!
I am so flamboyant, I could float away.

And funny ones that will get them laughing:


And helping children to accept that we're all unique and weirdness is okay:

Who is whimsical, witty and wonderfully weird?
Kiwicorn!
I love being different, because different is never dull.

Lots of discussions will come out of reading this to your children. Delightful illustrations are featured throughout the book, showing a little kiwi with a rainbow beak interacting with what the text is telling the readers. And at the end is a little foil mirror for children to look at and see that they can be all those things too (if they want).

A great buy for families with 3-6 year old children, kindergartens and Junior Primary classes.

20c from each sale is donated to Kiwis for Kiwi Trust.

ISBN:  978-0-9941364-2-8


RRP $19.99

If you can't find it in your local shops buy here.


Inspiring books for girls


Go Girl: A storybook of Epic New Zealand Women by Barbara Else (Penguin)

It's very appropriate in the year that we commemorate 100 years since New Zealand women were given the right to vote that there are a plethora of books about outstanding women. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls kick started the trend (published in 2016) and since then the following books have landed in our book shelves:

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh

Women Who Dared: 52 Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers, and Rebels by Jan Carr
Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women by various authors

Now we have Go Girl written by Barbara Else and illustrated by some of our most talented illustrators such as Fifi Colston, Phoebe Morris, Ali Teo, Helen Taylor, Vasanti Unka and others.

The chosen women are ordered in alphabetical order of their Christian names, starting with Ahumai Te Paerata a young wahine who stood with her men in battle, but one year later shows compassion and saves a young Navy officer from a revenge killing. Then we jump to the 1970s and read Beatrice Faumuina's story of winning Gold at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Forty-six biographies follow until the end pages, where you'll find a timeline showing where each woman featured from 1824 - present day. Each artist has drawn a picture of themselves and written a short bio, with a full page biography of the author Barbara Else (illustration of her drawn by Vasanti Unka).

You'll read stories about leaders, sports people, actors, scholars, writers, artists and pioneers. There are current people like Lorde, Lydia Ko, Ella Williams, Parris Goebel and those who have made historical firsts such as Elizabeth McCombs, Jean Batten, Yvette Williams and Whina Cooper. It's good to see a range of cultures represented including Maori, Chinese, and Pacific Island women.

Each entrant has a header page with a quote, the year they were born and died (if relevant), and where they lived. Then two pages of text covering their life history and a full page illustration. The text is simple and short, suiting 7-9 year old readers.

The illustrations are full colour and mostly stylised. Nine artists have drawn 5-6 illustrations each. I really like how Fifi Colston included backgrounds that represented what that person was well known for. For example, Kathryn Mansfield has a dolls house behind her, reminding us of one of Kathryn's most famous short stories.

Will be a popular book in Primary School libraries and households with 7-9 year-old girls. Go Girls and the books above will inspire young girls to reach towards their dreams and be empowered by these high-achieving role models.

Plus check out this Facebook site about incredible kiwi women called Our Wahine: 125 Extraordinary Women.

ISBN: 978-0-14-377160-0
RRP $45.00



Monday, April 2, 2018

Two new picture books for reading aloud…



I Am Jellyfish by Ruth Paul, Penguin Random House NZ

Fancy writing a story about a jellyfish! But here she is on the front cover, soft and white and blobby, smiling peacefully at us. What’s more, put her in a dark room and she’ll glow in the dark, along with the other fish and jellyfish in the picture…

In rhyming text we read the story of a big hungry swordfish swooping down to eat our drifting jellyfish. She hastily sinks down into the dark – but the swordfish follows her! He suddenly becomes prey in his turn – he’s grabbed by an enormous squid. When he implores the jellyfish to help him, she and her fellow floaters sting the squid until he lets go. “I am what I am,” comments the enigmatic jellyfish at the end of the story.

The double-spread deep-sea illustrations are entrancing. Children of about four to seven will pore over them. The bright colours, dense backgrounds, and the cruisy text make this a great read-aloud for groups and classes.

ISBN 978 0 14 377115 9 RRP $19.99 Pb

Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, illus. Brian Lovelock, Walker Books Australia

There are three previous books in this Roadworks series, all with a similar format and all beloved by small preschool boys. So it’s like revisiting a favourite book when you open the cover of this one.

Again, Sally has used abbreviated phrases, onomatopoeia and repetition to imitate the construction noises: “Bang-a-shudder, Clang-a-shudder, what’s at work? Here’s a clue: it will dig big holes for you.” Bulldozer, digger, dump truck, roller, concrete mixer, builders – they’re all here. Brian’s brightly-coloured, strong-lined illustrations (done with acrylic inks) will appeal to a whole new cohort of small boys. Naturally, it will make a fabulous read-aloud in preschool centres.

ISBN 978 1 760650 05 6 RRP $27.99  Hb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Anzac stories to treasure

The Anzac Violin: Alexander Aitken's Story by Jennifer Beck and Robyn Belton (Scholastic)

Jennifer Beck and Robyn Belton have done it again. They - along with the team at Scholastic - have produced a beautiful book about an unknown Anzac tale. We've had animals, women, soldiers, but we've never had a violin story before!

On board a ship bound for Egypt Alexander Aitken is gifted a violin; an unwanted present from a shipboard raffle. Alexander entertains the soldiers on the ship, in the Egyptian training camp, and then lugs it up the hilly terrain in Gallipoli. Whenever he goes into battle men volunteer to look after his violin for him - his music had become legendary and that was how the men felt they could pay him back. When the soldiers are evacuated from Gallipoli he has to leave it behind. However, an officer comes to the rescue and offers to take it with his gear. In France, he entrusts his violin to the nursing sisters in a hospice. But when he goes off to fight he has a feeling he might not return. Find out if he is ever reunited with his violin ...

Jennifer knows how to weave a moving story with research seamlessly. The book is a joy to read. Extras include the images on the endpapers: photographs, maps, posters, illustrations, pages from Alexander's journal - children will love poring over these images. There's also more notes on the real story and references.

Robyn Belton's stunning pictures illustrate this heartwarming tale of a soldier and his violin and the joy he brings to the rest of the army. The star-studded pictures are so breathtakingly beautiful you wish you could hang them on your wall. Robyn has drawn the illustrations in pencil, ink and watercolour.

The book has been designed by the very talented design team - Vida and Luke Kelly. I'm a huge fan of their work.

Highly recommended for Primary and Intermediate schools and home libraries.

ISBN: 9781775433910
RRP HB $29.99




Learn Te Reo Maori

A Māori Word a Day: 365 words to kickstart your reo by Hemi Kelly (Penguin)

I own a few Māori language books and a dictionary and find them very helpful. I love the online Māori dictionary; use it all the time. So this 'A Māori Word a Day' book will be a handy addition to my library. Would make a great app!

You will learn from the 365 words - definitions and word types, fun facts and background information, sample sentences in te reo Māori and English.

I found the circle boxes helpful in telling me whether the word could be used appropriately or what the protocol around the word was. For example on page 139:

It's considered extremely rude to leave the kūwaha of the wharenui shut when inviting manuhiri onto the marae. The open kūwaha lets the manuhiri know that they are welcome, while a closed kūwaha says the opposite. 

The word for that page was 'kūwaha' which means door.

There's an English - Māori index at the back and help on how to pronounce the letters in the Introduction.

I thoroughly recommend this little gem of a book.

Environmental themes…



Up the River: Explore & Discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes & wetlands, by Gillian Candler & Ned Barraud, Potton & Burton

There have been five previous titles in this excellent series – studying ancient New Zealand, native forests, the seashore, sea life, and the backyard. This new one may help today’s children understand why environmentalists are so concerned about our fresh water resources. These resources are an important part of a healthy life cycle for many creatures, insects and birds – and even for human beings. Restoring them to a pristine condition is essential.

I hope this whole series is well represented in all New Zealand public libraries and primary schools. Available in hardback ($29.99) and paperback.

Buy here.

ISBN 978 947503 34 5 RRP $19.99 Pb

Be Careful Where You Sit! By Ngaire Dolphin and Claudia Gadotti, Dolphin Publishing (www.dolphinpublishing.co.nz)

Ngaire has a background as a teacher and librarian. She was inspired to write and publish this picture book while helping a young struggling reader in her extended family. 

Emma is exploring a beach on Tiritiri Matangi when she discovers a strange creature in the tree trunk she’s just sat on – it’s a tuatara. Even stranger still, the tuatara starts talking to her! Emma hears the tuatara’s history and how it got to the island. When a friendly ranger appears Emma hears more about the extraordinary creature that she nearly squashed. The realistic illustrations provide a natural, relaxed background to Emma’s adventure. There’s a maze game at the end of the book, and a map of New Zealand with locations of tuatara, plus a listing of a few important native fauna.

ISBN 978 0 473 37366 5 RRP$20 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, March 9, 2018

Winning Team Releases Anzac Animals book


Anzac Animals by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić (Scholastic New Zealand)

The winning author/illustrator duo that claimed the supreme children’s book award in 2016 – the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year prize – has again teamed up with publisher Scholastic New Zealand and designer Luke Kelly to produce a follow-up to the award-winning Anzac Heroes. This time they’ve written and illustrated a book about the animals that went to war.

Well-known children’s author Maria Gill and talented illustrator Marco Ivančić have proven they can do it again. Publishing Manager Lynette Evans says that Scholastic New Zealand couldn’t be happier with the response to the book from those who have already seen it. “Maria and Marco are a talented and unstoppable match. Maria’s meticulously researched text combines perfectly with the energy in Marco’s highly realistic illustrations to bring history to life in full colour and absorbing detail. We are privileged to partner with them in creating these timeless and information-loaded books for children.”

Anzac Animals includes the heartwarming stories of the mascots and working animals that helped the Anzacs during World War I and World War II. “There’s a mixture of the sad, funny, and awe-inspiring stories about the animals that went to war,” says Gill. “The tales show how much the animals meant to the Anzacs, and the lengths they would go to save their charges. I picked a wide range of animals, from kangaroos, cats, monkeys, a tortoise and a chicken, to dogs, horses, mules, donkeys, camels and pigeons. Some were found in the battle zones, others purchased from locals, and quite a few brought from home. They all made a difference to the men’s lives and helped them endure the war.” Girls and boys will enjoy reading the captivating stories, as well as poring over the stunning illustrations, photographs and graphics.

With 2018 being the final 100-year commemorations for World War I, the book is a compassionate note to end the anniversary. Gill is touring with Storylines to Christchurch schools from 12-16 March, with Duffy Books to Rotorua schools from 19-23 March, and giving workshops to local schools at the National Army Museum and then onto Napier Schools in the final week of March, including a book launch at Wardini’s Bookshop in Napier at 4pm on Wednesday 28 March.

Hardback $29.99
ISBN: 978-1-77543-474-0


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Latest from Scholastic NZ…



Dinosaur Trouble: The Secret Hunt by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

Young fans of cave-boy Arg will welcome another title in the Dinosaur Trouble series. Arg and his messy friend (owner of a miniscule brain) can’t work out why the men of the village are not going to their usual hunting grounds. Instead they’re heading for a sunny clearing on an isolated island. It’s not till the last couple of pages that we find the men are playing a “strange, chasing, wrestling game” with an oval-shaped gourd… No prizes for guessing what they’re doing.

My three grandsons (aged 10, 8 and 5) will all read this book because they like the two Arg series – especially the yucky bits. However the older two will zap through the book in five minutes – so it’s really a bit too young for them. It’s just the right level for the 5-year-old. It will be a popular buy for primary school libraries, and a can’t-fail birthday present for boys just learning to read.

ISBN 978 1 77543 369 9 RRP $9.99 Pb

Myths and Legends of Aotearoa retold by Annie Rae Te Ake Ake, Scholastic NZ

This is the second revised edition of the original anthology which was published in 1999, and became a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards. It’s been a good seller for the last twenty years, and I’m sure a handsome new edition will be very popular. It contains fifteen legends, all written in an easy-to-read style suitable for oral delivery. Favourites such as The Great Fish of Maui, Pania of the Reef, and Hatupatu and the Bird Woman are included, along with others I haven’t read before, such as The Legend of Waikaremoana.

Each story is accompanied by atmospheric illustrations done by a select group of talented young New Zealand secondary students – of Maori, European, Pacific Island and Asian descent. For me, one of the most interesting parts of the book is the section about the author and the various illustrators. Each young illustrator talks briefly about the inspiration behind his or her work.

It is almost twenty years since these teenage artists laid out their dreams. I think Scholastic NZ has missed an opportunity to give an added dimension to this book by providing up-to-date information about the artists – now that they’re adults. A quick Google search produced information about some of them – and proved that they did indeed follow their dreams. Possibly Scholastic couldn’t contact all the artists. Anyway, it’s an impressive book that should be in all school libraries – and also deserves to do well in the international and tourist markets.

ISBN 978 1 77543 523 5 RRP $27.99 Hb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Monday, February 5, 2018

New reads for 2018…

Cameo, the Street Pony by Kelly Wilson, Penguin Random House NZ

This is Book 2 in a “junior fiction series” called Showtym Adventures, inspired by true events from the Wilson Sisters’ childhoods. Book 1 was Dandy, the Mountain Pony. The publishers call it a fiction series, but that’s not quite right. The three sisters are real (and very well-known) people, and readers will become aware that the author is apparently writing about herself and her own horse experiences at the age of nine. The strong reality aspect explains why the plot is not structured like most fictional plots for children, with a strong story arc involving drama, suspense, setbacks and challenges.

Once I started reading it primarily as an autobiography, I felt more comfortable with it. Basically it describes how Kelly’s mother brings home an untrained mare for her to train up to competition level. The training is lengthy but successful, and Cameo eventually becomes a star at the Royal Easter Show.

Girls who love ponies and horses, along with fans of the Wilson Sisters’ books and TV show, will enjoy this series.

ISBN 978 0 14 377220 0 RRP $14.99 Pb

Catch Me When You Fall by Eileen Merriman, Penguin Random House

Eileen is the author of Pieces of You, a first-time YA novel that generated rave reviews. I believe this second novel will be just as successful, firmly establishing the author in the ranks of our top YA authors. It’s interesting to note that Eileen has honed her writing skills over the last few years, with her work appearing in a number of national and international journals, as well as anthologies. She also has several short fiction awards under her belt. She did a fiction writing course with Creative Hub in 2013.

Like Pieces of You, this story looks at teenagers with huge problems. Alex has just found out her childhood leukaemia has returned. In a hospital waiting room she meets Jamie and instantly falls in love. It’s only later that she learns he has bipolar disorder. Despite their problems, the pair become involved in an intense love affair. Crises happen and the suspense is killing –what happens to Alex and Jamie? Many readers will be forced to cheat and read the ending…


ISBN 978 0 14 377093 0 RRP 19.99 Pb


Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

For history enthusiasts…

Letters in a Different War by Joan Braddock, DayStar Books (info@daystarbooks.org)

 The heroine of this story, Beverley, is in her early teens. It’s 1942 and New Zealanders are suffering under the burden of World War II. Food and petrol rationing, Japanese forces threatening Australia, paranoia about spies, local men fighting and dying in North Africa: this is the background to a detailed and warm-hearted story about Beverley’s relationship with a respected teacher and neighbour – who happens to be a Conscientious Objector.

Mr Maurice is taken away and imprisoned in extremely cruel conditions in a camp. Beverley and her mother offer practical help and spiritual support to his young wife and her baby son. But as the months go by, Beverley realises that a strong spiritual belief still doesn’t give her all the answers to the difficult questions arising from Mr Maurice’s moral stand. At the heart of the story lies Beverley’s determination to understand why ordinary people can be so vindictive – and what she can do about it.

Beverley is an engaging heroine. The historical setting and the Auckland neighbourhood are vividly captured, and there are plenty of humorous moments involving the local children to lighten the serious theme.

The strong Christian tone of the story means that it will probably appeal most to readers with similar beliefs, both teenagers and adults. It will also be of value to readers who have an interest in the history of Conscientious Objectors in New Zealand.

ISBN 0 9941330 7 3 RRP $28.95 Pb


Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, February 3, 2018

For History Buffs…


Lucy Goes to the Lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, illus. Rosalind Clark, Phantom Tree House (distributor Publishers Distribution Ltd)

The first book in the Lighthouse Series was Ivan and the Lighthouse. I can locate three favourable reviews of it online (including my own, written for this blog and posted on 1 September 2017) but it does seem to have stayed under the radar somewhat, which is a shame. It illuminates a little-known part of New Zealand maritime history.

This book is written in a story-within-a-story format, with the main character, Lucy, being told the interesting tale of Mary Jane Bennet who was New Zealand’s first and only woman lighthouse keeper. She and her family lived in harsh conditions at the Pencarrow Lighthouse in the 1850s.

Its physical shape makes the book look like a picture book, but there is a lot of text on each left-hand page alongside the right-hand illustrations – in fact, so much text that it’s coming close to being an illustrated storybook. It would be best for mid-to upper primary ages, definitely not pre-schoolers.

The text is straightforward, the stylised illustrations are fresh and simple; and the design of the book is eye-catching (I love the linen-look textured backgrounds). There’s plenty of history but not a lot of action or excitement, so teachers and librarians will need to promote the book to avid readers (probably girls) who like stories of the old days.

PS. The next book in the series will be out in October 2018.

ISBN 978 0 9941285 3 9 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Picture Books from 2017’s Review Stack…


Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too by Jane Millton, illus. Deborah Hinde, Allen & Unwin

Two cows and a calf became world famous after the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016 – pictures of them stranded on a hillock after a landslip were viewed around the world. Jane Milton lives on the farm and saw a great opportunity to turn the story into a children’s picture book, so she wrote the tale in rhyming verse. It was published in April 2017. I suspect it’s been very successful, and has probably gone through several reprints.

The text is appealing, with its New Zealand rural setting and the main theme of survival during a natural disaster. The cows are portrayed as being quite laid-back about their adventure, and a couple of in-jokes will appeal to adults. The rhythm and the rhyming are excellent – which makes it a great read-aloud for parents and teachers. No bumpy bits to trip up your tongue.

Deborah Hinde’s expansive double-spread illustrations are done in a warm, casual style that suits the tone of the story very well. Amazing how she managed to get so many different expressions on the cows’ faces!

This book has been recently followed up by a second one called Moo and Moo and Can You Guess Who – a must-buy for fans of the first book (it was reviewed on this blog on 9/11/2017).

ISBN 978 1 87750 592 8 RRP $19.99 Pb

The Kiwi Go Marching One by One by Peter Millett, illus. Deborah Hinde, singer Jay Laga’aia, transl. Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ

Here’s another picture songbook containing song lyrics together with a CD of the song sung in English and Maori. I’m interested to see the text being written by an established author, rather than the staff at Scholastic NZ. It certainly has an extra zing to it. Be aware that the text doesn’t follow the format of the traditional song (about the animals marching into the Ark) with its focus on teaching numbers. The focus in this version is on a bunch of cute kiwi having fun – hiking, fishing, bungee-jumping.

As always, Deborah Hinde’s illustrations (she has done many for Scholastic NZ’s picture songbooks) are bright and cheeky with stand-out colours and white backgrounds and the crispness of Adobe Acrobat. The song on the CD is bouncy and friendly, and will definitely appeal to pre-schoolers and junior primary ages.


ISBN  978 1 77543 512 9 RRP $19.00 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  


Monday, January 8, 2018

A fascinating read!

How to Mend a Kea by Janet Hunt, Massey University Press

This is subtitled + other fabulous fix-it tales from Wildbase Hospital. The subtitle   provokes curiosity, but before you reach that stage your gaze is captured by the cover photo showing the shiny eye and hooked beak of a towel-wrapped kea. If you’re like me, you can’t resist the challenge of the bird’s gaze. You must know more!

The book is arranged in four parts: Part 1 introduces the Wildbase Hospital and its staff; Part 2 follows the history of Kea (aka Patient #78129); Part 3 focuses on a variety of case histories (eg. de-oiling, mending broken bones, fattening up after near-starvation, etc); and the last part shows photos of more patients being treated, plus a section headed How to Put Wildbase Out of Business!

It’s an attractive book with excellent design, and its sturdy pages give it a feel-good quality. The friendly easy-to-read text tells the actual stories, but there are also numerous colour photos, along with interesting fact boxes. Also a Contents page and an Index.

It makes a great present for thoughtful young readers who care about our native wildlife (I gave a copy to a 10-year-old and another to a 7-year-old who’s an advanced reader). Needless to say, it’s a recommended purchase for primary school and intermediate school libraries, and I can even see it on the shelves in secondary school libraries.

ISBN 978 0 9941407 1 5
RRP $27.99 Pb


Reviewed by Lorraine Orman