Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Ghost Tree by Anthony Holcroft. Published by Penguin Group ISBN: 9780143304739 RRP $30.00
This collection of stories has an old fashioned feel, from the style and language, to the themes, which range from Maori mythology, French angels, Ghosts, Hobgoblins to an invented kingdom with a horrible queen.
Holcroft writes well enough, though at times his descriptions and long sentences get the better of the story. With some tales between twenty and thirty pages, of mostly plain text, they could seem rather long to a child new to chapter books. The Ghost Tree, and The Stone which are both set in New Zealand work best. They donʼt
feel like a reproduction of the European tradition. I liked The Ghost Tree especially. It is fresh; it tells of friendship and adventure; is full of bicycle rides, camping out and being spooked of course (by the mysterious behaviour of the cabbage tree). At nine pages it
makes it a more accessible story to most readers.
I see this collection as a book for a family, where the stories can be dipped into by different
members; to read to a younger one, or to be read alone. 8+
Reviewed by Vivienne Lingard

Jonty and Choc by Vince Ford, Scholastic NZ
ISBN 978 1 86843 938 5 RRP $18.99
Jonty and Choc are best mates. But when they start at intermediate school, things change. Jonty gets involved with the school drama production, while Choc is more interested in hip hop and ki-o-rahi (a game developed from several traditional Maori ball sports). Their friendship could have survived these differences, but there’s something more pulling them apart – something weird. Jonty found a ball made of some strange substance lying on the beach, and gives it to Choc. Choc starts having spooky dreams – dreams which influence him during the day. What is the mysterious ball made of – and how are Jonty and Choc ever going to be friends again? In his usual relaxed, easy-to-read style Vince Ford takes a look at friendship and trust – and growing up. Especially recommended for boys of about 9 to 11.
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Limping Man

The Limping Man by Maurice Gee (Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-14-330516-3 RRP$19.99

Hana ran through the broken streets of Blood Burrow. The smell of burning followed, sliding into her mouth as she gulped for air. It was as damp as toads. She would never wash herself free of it, and never stop hearing the women scream or wipe out the memory of the Limping Man.

This the third instalment of Maurice Gee's breathtaking Salt series.

Hana watches in horror as her mother swallows deadly frogweed poison rather than be captured by the Limping Man's captors. Later, she sees her mother's body being erected on a cross and burned with the other women tarred as witches. Hana flees the city to avoid the Limping Man's power creeping into her mind and taking over. Along the way she befriends a hawk and meets Ben, son of Lo. The two journey back to the burrows to find out what the source of the Limping Man's power is and destroy it.

An original plot with unforeseen twists. Maurice Gee has written a page-turning fantasy/horror story. His character development and turn of phrase are as superb as ever. A highly recommended read for 12 years plus.

Teaching resources available for Salt , Gool and the Limping Man.

Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand's best-known writers for adults and children. He has won a number of literary awards, including the Wattie Award, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, the New Zealand Fiction Award, the New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award and the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement. Maurice Gee's children's novels include Salt, The Fat Man, The Fire-Raiser, Under the Mountain and the O trilogy. Maurice lives in Nelson with his wife Margareta, and has two daughters and a son.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Interview with Derek Landy

This site is meant to be only for New Zealand children's authors but I do get the opportunity to interview international authors occasionally. Just last week, I interviewed Derek Landy and if you're mad-keen on children's books you'll know all about the Skulduggery Pleasant series. We'll call the very Irish Derek Landy an honorary kiwi while he is in New Zealand.

I asked Derek how he got into writing children’s books:
By accident. I had written two films and thought I was firmly into horror movies. I thought I would write a book one day; a crime novel for adults.
Skulduggery popped into my head while I was in a dingy hotel. It came in an instant like an epiphany.
I knew straight away he was a book. I adore comics but I knew I had captured too much there to be captured in a movie or a graphic novel.

Why a female central character?
It wasn’t a conscious decision like, I now need to populate my story with strong female characters, sort of thing. I’ve grown up around strong woman; my mother and my sisters.
Stephanie is based on a real person I taught martial arts to when she was twelve – she’s 22 now.

Do boys read your books too?
The covers, title and skeleton – are an excuse for boys to allow themselves to enjoy the book and the fact that the main character is a girl hasn’t deterred them. As long as you have a story that they will respond to – they will read it.

Where did you get your names from?
I first came up with Skulduggery and then had a dilemma. Do I just have Skulduggery with a cool name and everyone else has normal names or does everyone have unusual names. In the end it was an excuse to have as weird, poetic, and pretentious names as I wanted to.
I tend to take note of unusual names. At home I keep a note book of names. While doing signings; I keep the post-it-note names of those that are different. It is entirely possible that if someone has an eye-catching name they’ll find themselves in a book.

Do you have another series in the pipeline?
I want to. Skulduggery is a nine book series so that is going to take up a chunk of my life. But I’ve orchestrated my time so that I have six months free. I don’t have to start writing the next Skulduggery until the end of the year. I won’t delay Skulduggery but I won’t have the pressure of that on my mind while I’m trying to come up with a new idea. I don’t want to finish the series then have the pressure of starting something new and coming up with something just as good – I want to create something now while I am in the midst of the skulduggery series.

Script writing has enabled you to write really visual scenes; tell me about that.
Yes, the script writing has enabled me to not tell what a character is thinking or doing – I tend to show it with all the dialogue and action. It respects the audience when you approach it that way. You don’t need an inner monologue of your thoughts. It is visual, it is dialogue. Because Skulduggery is a detective story I’ve been able to indulge in that 1940’s type detective repartee (rapid fire dialogue where everyone is smart and funny) and I’m introducing that style to a younger audience.

How do you bring a balance to writing and being on tours?
It is like a conspiracy against me. Whenever I’m in the middle of a book – I have to go off on a tour. Just before this tour I had practically finished number five in the series. I can’t write while I’m on tour. I need the quiet and space at home. But on tour you get to meet all of these interesting people – and it fires me up. From a writer’s point of view I didn’t get into it to go on tours – I got into it to write. These days you’re expected to be a performer; you have to talk to hundreds of people and entertain them – do a stand-up show, which is weird. Writers write because they like spending a lot of time on their own and then suddenly boom, you’re thrust into an arena of 100s of people and you have to smile and entertain them.
When I first started – well, you know I have a stammer, I had to get used to speaking live, on television and on radio – but I’m kinda okay with it. I know some who aren’t. A friend of mine is terrified of public speaking. She looks all calm but inside she’s not.
You don’t expect this side of it but it is all part of the deal now. You sign the contract and they send you away weeks at a time.

'The Faceless Ones' (book three) in the Skuldugger Pleasant series is out right now and book four comes out later in the year. See the Skulduggery Pleasant site: play the game; download the wallpaper, horror hop tune, and ring tone; investigate a skulduggery siting and shock your friends with an E-card.
Interview by Maria Gill

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dear Alison

Dear Alison: A new Zealand Soldier's Story from Stalag 383 edited by Simon Pollard (Penguin) ISBN: 978-014330460-9 RRP$30

Dudley Roberts Muff was captured by the Germans during the second world war. The Germans forced him to march and travel by train from Greece to Germany with 4,000 other New Zealand POW soldiers. He spent four years in an NCO camp until he was released by American soldiers in 1945. Dudley wiled away the hours writing in his journal, which he dedicated to Alison his favourite four-year-old niece. He wrote about daily life in camp and illustrated it with sketches and diagrams.
It starts, 'Dear Alison, Mummy has told you all about Uncle being a prisoner so now I must tell you what we do to pass the time.'
The entries are sometimes funny and other times sad - it is a poignant account of a soldier's time in a prisonor-of-war camp.

Editor Simon Pollard provides an introduction to the journal filling in the gaps of how Dudley was captured, his trip to Germany and journey back to New Zealand after the war.

Teachers will find this a very useful resource for studies about the war/ANZAC. It could be used in the reading and language programme or as an introduction to a social studies topic. See teacher's resource. Children 8-12 years will find it an interesting read about the war.

Dr Simon Pollard is the Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. He is a spider biologist, natural history writer, photographer and author. Alison's Book is written by his great uncle, Dudley Roberts Muff. Simon often wondered what had become of his great uncle's diary and by a lucky coincidence while visiting his brother in London he came across a newspaper clipping saying that Dudley had donated the diary to Canterbury Museum. Again, through either luck or coincidence, Canterbury Museum is where Simon has worked since 1997.Through the Museum database Simon was able to track down the archival box that had been the resting place of the original diary for many years.

Dear Alison is shortlisted for the 2010 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards. Simon Pollard's book, 'I am a spider' won the LIANZA Elsie Locke Award for non-fiction book of the year and his co-authored, 'Biggest, littlest spiders' won the Mocking Bird Book of the year Award in the US.
Reviewed by Maria Gill

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Picture Books from Scholastic

Kiwi Mums by Yvonne Morrison, illustrations by Ross Kinnaird
(Scholastic) ISBN: 978-1 86943 919 4 RRP$

A kiwi Mum's as good as gold.
Yep, she's a ripper, ay?

Her schedule's always chockablock
with stuff to do each day.

A Kiwi Mum plays netball,
she thinks the game is beaut...

We find out about all the different types of Mums in New Zealand: mothers who keep secrets, chauffeur the kids arounds, cooks up a storm, is fighting fit, supports her kids at their games... you get the picture - super mums who are always there for their kids. A tongue-in-cheek rhyming story for children to buy their mother for Mother's Day.

This is the second in the series; last year we saw Kiwi Dads just in time for Father's Day. Ross Kinnaird's cartoons are superimposed on blurred photographs. On the last page there's room for children to stick their own mother's picture.

Yvonne is one of our most treasured authors and has an impressive list of strong sellers to her name, from Down in the Forest through to the famous A Kiwi Night Before Christmas. Ross Kinnaird has illustrated several titles for Scholastic NZ, including the Joy Cowley award-winner The Biggest Number in the Universe and the recently published Kiwi Corker Cindy and the Lost Jandal, Ross has a fresh, loose style that is humorous, colourful and full of action.

Witchy Goes Shopping by Dianne Boles, illustrated by Aki Fukuoka
(Scholastic) RRP $18.99 ISBN: 978-1-86943-925-5

It was a particularly beautiful morning
and Witchy was awake earlier than usual.
She had remembered something very important.
It was her birthday!

Witchy inspects herself in the mirror and sees she is looking remarkably good for a 577 year old (or was it 775) year old witch. To celebrate she decides to make her particularly special birthday spell but wait... she's run out of ingredients. She writes her shopping list and in her haste forgets her glasses. When she walks around the supermarket she picks up all sorts of normal looking ingredients thinking they're just what she needs for her spell: a watermelon instead of a big fat toad, blueberries instead of spider eggs... you get the picture. How in earth, can she make her special spell when she gets home and finds she's got it all wrong...

I really enjoyed this quirky tale and so will kindergarten and Junior students at Primary. I can just hear the students shouting out the special magic word that Witchy has forgotten but remembers on the last page. They'll also laugh out loud at all Witchy's mistakes. Lots of fun!

A former international catwalk model and deportment teacher, Di Boles lived in LA, London and Amsterdam before settling back in NZ to raise her children. This is her first children’s book.
Aki Fukuoka was born in Japan. At the age of eight, she immigrated with her family of seven to New Zealand, settling in Whangarei. A graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts, Aki now lives in Auckland and works as a freelance illustrator/graphic designer.
Maori version available too.

The Mouse that Squeaked by Murray Ball
(Scholastic) ISBN 978-1-86943-961-3 RRP$21.99

Barry Mouse was a potter.
He had a wheel upon which he used to 'throw' his pots...
where they broke.
It was very disappointing.
It was very expensive, buying new pots.
What was the point of being a potter if his pots all broke on the wheel?
Barry had another problem...

Barry lives in fear of Razour the Rat but he also wanted to do something to impress pretty Titanya. In a brave/rash moment he says he'll bash up Razour for her. Only problem is - Barry is rather a frightened little mouse. Does he get the girl/mouse? Does he impress or get flattened? Read this comic/picture book to find out if Barry and Titanya live happy ever after.

A fun read for children and adults who are followers of the legendary cartoonist Murray Ball (of Footrat Flats fame). Murray Ball now writes and illustrates books for his grandchildren to enjoy.
His first title with this in mind, Fred the (Quite) Brave Mouse, was shortlisted for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, and Willie Wants to Wee-Wee has reprinted five times!


Seasons by Blexbolex (Gecko Press) RRP $34.99

This large picturebook (176pp, 260 x 195mm portrait) captures actions, periods of time and seasons, still life and animals in 1960's style print. Each page features a picture with a noun or verb. It would suit children wanting to increase their vocabulary (4-5 year olds) and English second-language users.

Gecko's Blurb:
A stunning book exploring the cycle of seasons, the passage of time, the way people live, play, forget, remember…

Through objects, places and actions, the world is revealed as both permanent and ever-changing.
‘At first glance, this is a beautiful art book reminiscent of the children’s book illustration of the 1960s.

‘The most striking thing about it for me is that it forces you to slow down and to reflect on the associations within, which are not always immediately obvious. When you read the book as a whole, you really do get the sense that the world is both changing and unchanging. It’s a meditation.

‘The more times you read this book, the more you get out of it.’
Julia Marshall, publisher