Monday, August 21, 2017

More off-the-wall picture books from Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

If I Had an Elephant by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones, colouring by Tara Black, Scholastic NZ

The two previous two picture books by this trio (My Grandpa is a Dinosaur and That’s Not the Monster We Ordered) were published by Penguin NZ. This latest book is with Scholastic NZ. All have the same distinctive graphic style – which I’d like to call Almost-a-Comic-But-Not-Quite. All have the same quirky theme of taking the impossible and pushing it even further.

“I wish I had an elephant,” says the boy. “If I had an elephant we’d win every water fight!” Then the idea takes flight: “If I had an elephant, we’d build a time machine together. Then we’d travel back in time to meet his great, great [many greats] grandfather.” Who just happens to be a mastodon wearing spectacles. It’s always hard to end a flight of fancy story, but I’m happy with this ending: “But this year, for my birthday, I got a gorilla and a dragon.” Just think what you can do with a gorilla and a dragon…

The book design is impressive, with an eye-catching cover picture, cute end papers, and edgy comic-style illustrations (fine pen and ink) that happily enhance the story. Mention must be made of the Photoshop colouring which is done with unusual but effective colours.

My copy will be going to my 5-year-old grandson who spends a lot of time imagining and pretending – he’ll love it.

BTW, there’s an interesting article at The Sapling.

ISBN 978 1 77543 476 4 $19.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

That's not the Monster we ordered by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones (Penguin)

Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones are on a roll. Their book 'My Grandpa is a Dinosaur' recently shortlisted for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. They're now published with Scholastic and Penguin; the two biggest children's book publishers in New Zealand. Their latest book 'That's not the monster we ordered' has the same 'off-the-wall' quirky type humour , as the others, and is printed in foolscap portrait size with their distinctive illustration style.

'That's not the monster we ordered' starts off with a family observing a neighbour receiving a monster that they'd ordered online. The whole neighbourhood piles into that family's house to check out the monster. It can do tricks, make loud noises, run down stairs faster than anyone else. Of course, then everyone wants one.

The narrator of the story, a young boy, has trouble convincing his family they need one. His parents tell him he'd never get his homework done, it'll be too expensive ... the usual parent-excuses. Will the parents give in and will they get the type of monster they want ... a super-duper monster that will be the envy of the neighbourhood or will they get what they need?

A fun picture book that will delight kids 4-8 years old either read aloud in a classroom (it's big enough for every kid to see), or read to a child on your lap. Afterwards you could ask children if they've ever pined for something and got it and did it live up to their expectations? And which monster did they prefer in the story and why?

What is even more extraordinary about these books is that Richard Fairgray is classed as fully blind. He says that he sees everything flat and in order to illustrate he holds the paper up close to his face. Richard knows what he wants to draw before he starts and then approaches it mathematically. See an interview of him talking about it here.

I particularly like that Richard gets away from stereotypes of what is 'family'. He has drawn mixed cultures; the main character and his family is either Maori or African American (the book does have an American feel to it), and the mother fixes the car.  There's lots of extra humorous bits that kids will enjoy noticing on second, third, and more readings. Will be a favourite in the home or classroom.

Reprint of a Classic…

The Great White Man-Eating Shark: a Cautionary Tale by Margaret Mahy, illus. Jonathan Allen. Hachette NZ

Apparently Hachette NZ have obtained the reprint rights to some of Margaret Mahy’s classic picture books. They’ve already produced A Lion in the Meadow and The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate. These stories scarcely need describing to most teachers, librarians, and parents. But there are always tatty old copies lying round that can be replaced with a bright new reprint; and there are always more pre-schoolers coming along who haven’t yet had the stories read aloud to them. These new generations will love Norvin’s forays as a fearsome shark, as well as Jonathan Allen’s sneaky-eyed pointy-toothed portrayal of Norvin as he terrorises the beach.

Recommended for every age from three upwards.

ISBN 978 1 86971 361 4 RRP $19.99 (not released till 29/8/17) Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Featuring Pacific Island heroes

Preview of a Magpies article…

The July issue of Magpies (an Australasian children’s book review magazine) will contain an article about David Riley, Reading Warrior (visit him at Many New Zealand teachers, librarians and young readers will already know David and his passion to get teenagers reading, particularly boys from Pacific Island backgrounds.

David sent three self-published books as examples of the main strands of reading material he’s currently creating and marketing. The first category covers books about Pacific Island heroes and achievers. The book he sent is Samoan Heroes (Reading Warrior, 2015, a Storylines Notable Book). It’s a solid, glossy book packed full of information and graphics about mythological heroes, sporting stars, and achievers in areas such as literature, politics, science and music.
The second category consists of books about sporting stars written for teenage readers, including well-known athletes such as Steven Adams, Sonny Bill Williams, and Benji Marshall. Again, the books in this series are packed with personal and professional information about the star, along with numerous action photographs. The supplied example of this category was Jammin’ With Steven Adams (Reading Warrior, 2015, a Storylines Notable Book).

The third category is the Reading All Stars series, which are smaller, shorter books about local sports stars written for younger readers (and unconfident readers) of around intermediate age. The example is Joseph Parker (Reading Warrior, 2017), which has a bigger font and lots of interesting coloured photos.

Watch out for the Magpies article – it will also include a Selected Bibliography of David’s works. They can all be bought from

Lorraine Orman

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A happy ending…

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 9780994137944 $25.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 NZ Book Award winners

Congratulations to all the winners!

Recent picture books from Scholastic NZ…

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978 1 77543 437 5 RRP $17.99 Pb

Too Much Poo by Scott Tulloch, Scholastic NZ

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978 1 77543 408 5 RRP $17.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, August 11, 2017

Augmented Reality … or Augmented Fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978 0 473 37621 5 $22 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman