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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A great Christmas book for 4-6 year olds

Hare by Deborah Hinde (PictureBook Publishing)

I showed this book to my writers’ group and they all oohed and aahed over it. Illustrator Heather Arnold thought the art work very captivating and said it was an excellent example of artwork and white space, as well as contrasting pages. She also liked the creative way Deborah incorporated speech bubbles. We thought Deborah had cleverly introduced extra story into the art and speech bubbles for the adult reading the story to the child too. For example, the tortoise worrying the lost idea was going to be a race referring to the fable ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, and the rabbit being indignant that the hare was taking over his/her job and then being delighted when it is presented with its first Easter egg.

The story premise is that Hare has lost his idea. [How many of us can relate to that?] The animals in the forest ask for descriptions but the Hare has no idea. The animals help him look for it, but they only come back with things they’ve found littering the forest. In frustration the hare goes back to where he lost his idea and finds it. Read on to find out what his harebrained idea is.
Pre-school and Junior school teachers will use the book as a great lead-in to discussions about direction and opposite words: high low, big small, etc. Also teachers can talk about the saying ‘hair-brained ideas’. And how many parents have said – go back to where you last had it - when you’re looking for something? There are lots of discussions that can come out of reading this book to pre-schoolers and 5-6 year olds. It’s going to be a family, kindy and new entrant favourite!

Deborah has illustrated over 60 books for mainstream publishers Scholastic and independent publisher Sharon Holt. This is the second book Deborah Hinde has published herself; she recently released her and Kyle Mewburn’s book The Hopplepop. Hare is the first book she has written and illustrated, and she’s done a fabulous job. I wish her good luck in her marketing and I hope it sells well.

ISBN:  978-0-473-36294-2
RRP $19.99
Buy it at all good shops or here

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Heather Hunt's latest book

The Cuckoo and the Warbler: A true New Zealand story by Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne (Potton & Burton)

The Cuckoo and the Warbler is an excellent example of creative non-fiction writing. It tells the true story of the two species relationship in a way that will engage young readers. The language targets readers 4-8 years old, but could be used in the classroom for children up to 12 years. Teachers will be keen to use this resource for their native bird study, but the story is interesting enough for teachers and parents to use it as a read aloud story. It will lead to interesting discussions afterwards about why the cuckoo doesn’t incubate its own egg. The author has also included a Maori proverb and greetings that the teacher can use as a teaching point.

The story introduces us to a pair of warblers building their nest in a forest in Aotearoa. On another double page spread we meet a female cuckoo who is filling up with insects before it makes its long journey from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand. On the next page, we see a map outlining its trip and how the trade winds will help the cuckoo on its journey. From then on, we find out what happens when the cuckoo arrives in New Zealand. It finds a warbler’s nest and lays its own egg, chucking out one of the grey warbler’s eggs so that when the warbler returns it doesn’t notice it has an intruder in its midst. When the cuckoo chick hatches it gets rid of the other eggs and hungrily calls out for food. The warbler mother and father are kept busy feeding the greedy bird until it fledges to make its journey to the Pacific.

Children might feel outraged on behalf of the grey warblers but Kennedy Warne talks about the birds unique relationship in a way that helps them understand the bond between the two birds. On the last two pages, readers discover more information about the grey warbler and shining cuckoo.

Author Kennedy Warne co-founded the New Zealand Geographic magazine in 1988 and served as editor for 15 years. He now writes for the magazine and for National Geographic, as well as giving a fortnightly report on the environment on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme. He has written several books for the adult market before.

Heather Hunt is an illustrator and exhibiting artist. Her first book Kiwi: The Real Story shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards. She also developed the ‘Backyard Kiwi’ character for kiwi recovery projects.

A highly recommended buy for schools and for children who are fans of nature. It’s a beautiful book that invites children to read several times.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jane Bloomfield Queen-of-Humour-for-kids NZ style

Lily Max: Slope, Style, Fashion by Jane Bloomfield, illustrations by Guy Fisher (Luncheon Sausage Books)

Jane Bloomfield and Guy Fisher collaborate again for the second book in the Lily Max series. It’s not surprising Jane has set this book mostly on the slopes – she lives in Queenstown and spends most of her winter skiing at Wanaka. Her son is a champion skier competing at the Nationals and in America. However, Jane didn’t learn to ski until she was an adult and can remember the feeling of being a beginner skier amongst all the skilled skiers around her. She uses those memories for her main character Lily Max.

Lily Max has told her classmates she can ski; an absolute porky – she’s like a pre-beginner. She hopes to distract everyone with her customised ski suit; only problem is, it's a school ski suit and she was told to NOT LILY MAX-IMISE IT. That's just waving a flag at Lily Max. Her sister Angelica sums it up when she finds it hiding under the bed, "That's ex-trah-eeem-ly OUT-RAY-JUSS, Lily Max".

It's not a Lily Max story without a fashion show. Lily goes into hyper-drive with fashion ideas, while trying to work out the family mystery with her grandma. Find out whether Queen-of-mean Violet gets the better of Lily Max this time, and whether she can go from Klutz to Klammer-wannabe ...

This book is even better than the last. You'll be laughing-out-loud on every page. I loved the precocious child voice of Lily Max, the antics she gets up to, and the sub-plots that run along with the day-to-day dramas of being a left-of-the-field student in a square-box world.

For young girls who loved Jane's first book 'Lily Max: Satin, Scissors, Frock'. If your daughter or student hasn't read any yet but enjoyed Victoria Azaro's Saffron series, or Lauren Child's Ruby Redfort's series - then this is the perfect book for quirky creative kids. Adults will enjoy it too.

Great cover, too!

ISBN: 978-0-908-689934

RRP $22

Buy it here or at your local store

Friday, November 18, 2016

More Christmas Goodies ...

The Kiwi Hokey Tokey, illus. Stevie Mahardhika, Maori lyrics Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ

It wouldn’t be Christmas without another Kiwi-themed picture song book from Scholastic. The cartoon illustrations are bright, repetitive, and very in-your-face. The jolly-looking birds and animals involved in the familiar dance range from kiwi to sheep. Most of the book is taken up with the English text, with the Maori version on the last seven pages. There’s also an accompanying CD with popular Pio Terei singing the song. This is a good pre-schooler present for under the Christmas tree, especially if you think you’re going to suffer from Christmas carol overload… Also excellent for pre-school centres where the young ones can dance and sing along.

ISBN 978 1 77543 411 5 RRP   Pb $21

Parakeet in Boots by Chris Burney, illus Myles Lawford, Scholastic NZ

This is the latest title in Scholastic’s well-known Kiwi Corkers series (Great New Zealand Yarns). It’s a local-flavoured version of the old Puss in Boots story, delivered in humorous rhyming text: “There once was a farmer, who fell ill and died, leaving three sons and a farm to divide.” The digitally-created cartoon illustrations feature a cheeky and very cunning parakeet wearing ugg boots. This would be great for reading aloud to groups in pre-school centres because of the expansive and colourful pictures.

ISBN 987 1 77543 438 2 RRP   Pb $14

A Is for Aotearoa: a Lift-the-Flap Treasure Hunt by Diane Newcombe and Melissa Anderson Scott, Penguin Random House NZ

It’s not long since these two produced a similarly formatted picture book called A Is for Auckland, though the first one did not contain an interactive lift-the-flap feature. This story starts with Girl and Bird discovering a message in a bottle that sets them off on an alphabetical jaunt round the country. At each location, the reader must study the clues in the double-spread illustrations, and also lift the flap to read more clues about where they are. Some of the locations are easy to identify, but others are more challenging. Fortunately there is an informative list of solutions in the back. The illustrations are done in a complex style that combines collage, speech bubbles, black-pen outlines and subdued watercolours, so there’s a lot going on in every picture. I think pre-schoolers wouldn’t appreciate all the elements in the pictures  without an adult’s assistance. But younger primary-aged children would cope with the challenge of the location puzzles, and should enjoy spotting the subtle humour hidden on every page.

ISBN 978 0 14 350730 7 RRP $25 (not published till 28 November) Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, November 14, 2016

For Brian Falkner fans

Shooting Stars by Brian Falkner, Scholastic NZ

Brian Falkner has written successfully in several different genres – here’s another work from him that’s different to anything he’s written before. With my librarian’s hat on, I’d say this is a mix of adventure/survival and social issues, written mainly for teenage boys (although book-addicted girls will read it too). Egan Tucker is the 15-year-old narrator who has lived all his life in a remote hut in the Coromandel bush, with only his mother to raise him and books to educate him. When his mother vanishes while on a trek to the nearest grocery shop, Egan must emerge into society to find out what has happened to her.

Armed with a bow and arrow, Egan makes his way to Auckland. The reader is made uneasy by seeing through Egan’s eyes the dangers and cruelties of 21st-century urban life. Egan meets a group of street kids – meanwhile trying to locate the friendly deer culler whom he’d met in the bush months beforehand.

Egan finds there is plenty he doesn’t know about his own family background. He ends up living with his sports-star father – but be warned, it’s far from a happy ending. This story is an absorbing read with an unforgettable hero, packed with action and emotion, but it poses many uncomfortable questions about the ethics of our modern lifestyle. You’ll still remember Egan’s story many years later.

ISBN 978 1 77543 360 6 
RRP $21 Pb
Ages: 12 years +

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman