Saturday, April 25, 2009

New Picture Books from Gecko Press

I pondered long and hard whether to include the Gecko books in this blog because the stories are not written by New Zealand authors. However, they are translated by Catherine Chidgey, edited by Penelope Todd and published in New Zealand so in the end I decided that was good enough. One thing for sure, Gecko Press know how to present: their books are nearly all hard backs (which happens rarely in NZ) and when they courier their books they package them in coloured tissue paper with gorgeous stickers that have pictures of the books on them - Full marks!

The Fearsome Five by Wolf Erlbruch (Gecko Press) ISBN: 978 1 877467 22 6 RRP $18.99 (paperback) $29.99 (hardback)

Toad, Bat, Spider and Rat feel disgruntled with how they look. They tell Hyena he isn't much of a picture himself but instead of feeling miserable he says:

"It doesn't matter a jot if others think you're ugly," he said warmly. 'It's what you do that matters. I advise you to do something - anything.'"

The animals reveal their talents, then decide to have a party with their offbeat music and a pile of pancakes.

A delightful tale about beauty being more than skin deep. Hans Christian Andersen Medal award winner from Germany Wolf Erlbruch is renown for his witty and winsome stories. Targeting ages 7+
Zou by Michel Gay (Gecko Press) ISBN 978 1 877467 20 2 HB$ 29.99 PB$18.99

When Mummy and Daddy wake up,
Zou is allowed to climb into their bed.
Knock, knock!
"Are you awake?" asks Zou.
"We're asleep," they say.
How can Zou wake them so they won't be grumpy?

An endearing tale of how Zou solves the situation of waking his parents so he doesn't get told off. He has a few problems at first, but he solves it in the end with a sweet twist at the end. The pictures are pared back, mostly in black and white drawings with occasional splashes of colour.

Michel Gay is an illustrator of more than 60 books for children in Europe. Target age 2+.

The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez (Gecko Press) ISBN 978 1 877467 31 8 RRP$24.99

When fox steals steals chicken, her friends set off determined to rescue her. Rooster, Bear and Rabbit have to pursue them through forests, over a mountain and across the sea to catch up but find out in the end that chicken is perfectly happy with fox. All this without words!

Beatrice has captured the look of horror, determination and bafflement beautifully on the faces of the characters. The darkness of the pictures builds the tension in the story and when you find the fox and chicken happy in their home - the colours are all yellows and reds - one of contentment. Teachers would find this an excellent book to inspire storytelling or poetry in the class.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ozzie Kingsford series

An Electrifying New Year in the Life of Ozzie Kingsford by Val Bird, illus. Rebecca Cundy, Random House, New Zealand

This is the third book in the Ozzie Kingsford series – the second one is currently shortlisted for the Junior Section of the NZ Post Book Awards. This story describes the series of disastrous events that happen when Ozzie and his brainbox friend Fletch decide to build an electricity storage machine. This involves Dad’s workshop, a vacuum cleaner, an old tea chest, and a fishing rod. Luckily Dad has gone off to a golf tournament. But then he comes back – injured – and strange things start happening... The books have plenty of visual appeal, with a very lively layout involving cartoon pictures on every page and lots of variation in font and bolding. The intended age range is 7 to 10 – but I would recommend the series to confident readers, rather than those who are still at the beginner’s stage, because of the occasionally demanding vocabulary.
ISBN 978-1-86979-156-8 RRP $19.99
Whakatane writer Val Bird is the author of the adult novel Wednesday's Child. This is her fourth novel in the Ozzie series. Illustrator Rebecca Cundy is Val's daughter and she's a graphic designer who lives in Hamilton with her partner and two daughters.
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Two new picture books

Cindy and the Lost Jandal by Chris Gurney, pictures by Ross Kinnaird, Scholastic NZ
The Tuatara and the Skink by Yvonne Morrison, pictures by Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ
Representing excellent value, and handsomely produced on quality paper in hardback format, these two titles are part of a series called Kiwi Corkers: Great New Zealand Yarns. The first is a humorous modern version of the Cinderella story, made into a New Zealand tale by the use of a jandal instead of a glass slipper. The second is a version of the hare and the tortoise fable, with the wrinkly old tuatara taking the place of the tortoise. Both stories are told in lively rhyming prose, with plenty of modern phraseology - which would make them fun to read aloud in a classroom. The illustrations in both books make heavy use of Photoshop, which gives them a bright, glossy style that should go down well with today’s youngsters. These are definitely not picture books for preschoolers – they are aimed at primary-aged readers who will enjoy the glitzy presentation and appreciate the echoes of the original stories.
ISBN 978 1 86943 888 3 RRP $17
ISBN 978 1 86943 878 4 RRP $17
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Non-Fiction book for children


Get Growing: A New Zealand step-by-step guide to growing your own vegetables and fruit by Helen Cook (Random) ISBN: 978 1 86979 159 9 RRP $34.99

A step-by-step guide on growing your own fruit and vegetables from choosing the right spot and having all the tools you'll need to keeping the plants watered and fed. The second half of the book has projects such as growing cherry tomatoes in a pot, growing a bucket of potatoes, making and using 'plantable' seed pots, making a scarecrow and making your own compost. The book includes a seasonal and growing guide. It also has an extensive glossary and index.

Children will find the book instructive and enjoy the attractive layout of the pages, which includes illustrations and photographs. Schools will find it handy when starting their edible garden.

Helen Cook grew up on a dairy farm where her family only ever ate what they grew. She now has two gardens: a salad garden in her townhouse and a large productive one in Matakana.
Reviewed by Maria Gill

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sting by Raymond Huber

Sting by Raymond Huber, (Walker Books)
ISBN: 978 1 921150 89 0 RRP $

"Oddbee," said a Sister as she pushed past me.
I ignored her and kept moving towards the sunlight.
"You're in the way, misfit," said another Sister.
"It's my first flight," I said, but she'd gone. I wasn't going to let their teasing stop me.
I reached the entrance of the hive - thick with bees taking off and landing. When there was a gap in the traffic, I rushed out. The sky was so wide and so blue. I'd stood here before imagining myself flying high and away. Now it was for real. I hovered over the edge."
Sting is written in the perspective of Zinger, a drone honey bee. He knows he's the odd one out in his hive but not why. Zinger goes in search of why he is different from the other bees and encounters several adventures on the way.

Raymond Huber has written an engaging story about a bee on a quest. His passion for bees shows through with the little pockets of information inserted cleverly into the story. At the end of the book, he describes the different types of bees, interesting facts about the bees' senses and why we should help save the bees - they're vanishing all around the world - and how you can help. If you liked 'Sil' and any of Morris Gleitzman's books - you'll enjoy this stinging tale. Highly recommended for boys and girls 9-12 years.

Teaching resource for classroom here. Kids read an interview with Raymond Huber about writing Sting here.
Reviewed by Maria Gill

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fifi la Belle

Fifi La Belle Ship's Cat by Lucy Davey, illustrated by Christine Ross (Scholastic) ISBN 978 1 86943 892 0 RRP $17.99

In Paris Cafe in the heart of Parnell,
a hullabaloo woke Fifi la Belle.
Madame la Mousse was bubbling about,
loading her Citroen both inside and out.
Piling in packages, boxes and bags,
suitcases fastened with fanciful tags,
hold-alls and haversacks, hampers as well...

Fifi la Belle is taken on a journey in sumptuous style through the country, fields, forests, deserts and snow until they arrive at the edge of the sea. Then much to her disdain she is put into a box. Of course Fifi makes short work of that and takes off to discover the ferry boat...
Young children are going to love this delightful tale about Fifi le Belle - cat extraordinaire - the third book in the series. The rhythm and rhyme bounce off the pages and the gorgeous illustrations compliment the book perfectly. Read aloud to 4-7 year old children.
Reviewed by Maria Gill
Archie Saves The day, By Leonie Thorpe (Harper Collins) 2009
This is the second book about Archie by Leonie Thorpe. While it is marketed as one book, it is in fact two separate stories with the same main character.
In the first story, Archie is unwittingly roped into helping a local kid save his grandad's house from the clutches of a mortgagee sale. Archie and Ted have to come up with ways to make money. Quickly. After attempts at busking and online auctions, they finally discover that granddad was sitting on a goldmine all along. It’s a sweet tale of helping others and introduces us to some interesting characters – my favourite is the paranoid Italian restaurateur who thinks everyone is out to steal his secret family recipe.
In the second story, bad-boy Troy is being punished by the local policeman by having to go to the Sea Scouts group. Afraid of the water and with a bad attitude to boot, it looked like Troy’s time with the group would end badly.
I kept waiting for Archie to save the day (hence the title of the book), but this story was really Troy and Archie’s tale about overcoming fear.
Though set in New Zealand, the stories don’t have a particular parochial feel, which would help their appeal in overseas markets. Both genders would enjoy this book, although the topics (fishing & boating) would probably enrapt boys rather than girls. Archie is a loveable character (if somewhat pitiable) and I’m sure we’ll see plenty more of Archie in future tales.
Reviewed by Christine Hurst

Friday, April 10, 2009

Salt River


Salt River by Elizabeth Hegarty, Scholastic NZ
Winner of the 2008 Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a previously unpublished writer, this book is a fascinating combination of history and adventure. Set in the 1920s, it looks at the life of 14-year-old Tom Pook in the remote backwaters of the Kaipara Harbour. Tom lives with his parents and seven brothers and sisters in a one-roomed house where the only access is by boat. Tom doesn’t go to school – he helps his father earn a living by fishing. But Tom wants to leave his home and see the world – how can he possibly achieve this? Well written and well researched, this story is based on the life of a real person. Recommended for readers aged about ten to thirteen.
ISBN 978-1-86943-908-8 RRP $17.99 Teaching notes available
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, April 6, 2009

A collection of animal poems

Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals, edited by Siobhan Harvey ISBN: 978-186962-160-5 RRP $36.99

If you love animals and poetry - well, you are going to love this anthology of poems. From Baxter to Bland, Fleur to Frame, Hone to Hume - you will find our finest poets putting verse to animal's peculiar ways. Siobhan Harvey says, "I believe that in the animals whose barks, miaows, grunts, roars, whinnies, moos, baas, buzzing and birdsong you'll meet as you read this anthology, you'll meet echoes of yourself."
This collection is probably meant for an adult market with its sophisticated packaging and whimsical black and white photographs BUT teachers of Years 5 - 8 and English classes Years 9 -13 I recommend you buy this book for your classroom and dip into it regularly. The nature of the poems will appeal to most children and there is plenty to intellectually debate and techniques to look at closely. You will also find a generous paragraph about each poet, an index of titles and first lines and an index on poets. If you want your students to hear the artists perform the song I would also buy the 'Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance' series too.
Mark Smith's black and white photographs enhance the collection. He believes each photograph tells its own story. Mark exhibits his work regularly and his photographs feature in two books: 'Neil Finn Once Removed' and 'Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood'.
Siobhan Harvey is the author of two poetry collections. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous international publications and anthologies, and have been broadcast on Radio New Zealand.
Due out in shops - April 17th.
Revewed by Maria Gill

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On a Rabbit Hunt

On a Rabbit Hunt by Elizabeth Pulford and Jenny Cooper (illustrator) Scholastic ISBN 978-1-86943-886-9

“Tiptoeing through the garden on a warm summer’s day, Mum, Sam and Baby Sara are on the trail of a rabbit …”

A wonderfully illustrated book for pre-school children, with plenty of repetition in the story. Mum, Sam and Baby Sara and a collection of animals are on the path of a runaway rabbit. Animal sounds are emphasized, and the pictures are sure to delight.


Elizabeth Pulford Elizabeth Pulford was born in Canada in 1943, raised and educated in Dunedin, and currently lives in Waikouaiti, Otago. Elizabeth and Jenny first worked together on the junior novel, Jellylegs.

Jenny Cooper Jenny’s recent work includes Shut the Gate, which sold internationally, and the junior novels The Mad Tadpole Adventure (shortlisted for the 2008 NZ Post awards) and ella and ob, to name but a few. Her style is warm and friendly, using a watercolour wash and a lovely sense of humour.

Reviewed by Jenni Francis