Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Girl Called Harry by Philippa Werry, Scholastic NZ

Harriet Jasmine Emerald Florence Mabey McDonald likes cats, drawing, and exercising her imagination. She doesn’t like sport, Karl Ballentyne (a boy in her class) or the new girl, whose name is Mallory. So she’s happy when her uncle gives her seven cats to look after while he’s overseas. But she’s unhappy when her best friend Jessica rejects her in favour of Mallory. She also unhappy when her mother starts working for Mallory’s father – Harry’s imagination runs away with her, and she imagines all sorts of terrible things. But everything works out in the end – and Harry is surprised to find that Mallory isn’t so horrible after all.
On the surface this is an amusing light-hearted story about classroom events, but underneath lie themes relating to growing up, friendship, tolerance and keeping an open mind. The phrase “sense and sensibility” even comes to mind. I’m not sure how old Harry is – maybe about eleven? It’s a strongly child-focused story that should be enjoyed by girls aged around nine to twelve who like a solid and entertaining read. Teachers’ Notes are available on Scholastic’s website. Read an excerpt on Philippa Werry's website.
ISBN 978 1 86943 970 5 RRP $18.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quin Majik and the Tidy Street Catastrophe by Fleur Beale, illus. Philip Webb, Penguin

This is the third title in an informal series, with the previous two titles published by Mallinson Rendel. Obviously aimed at young readers of about eight or nine, these slim paperback books are very inviting, with their handy size, easy layout, and friendly cartoon pictures on almost every page. They should work well at attracting the intended readership, particularly boys. The stories follow the same theme of Quin Majik and his offbeat family upsetting the tightly-controlled environment of Tidy Street. In this book, Quin and his friend Fred work hard to rescue the children of Tidy Street from their oppressive parents. With a series of zany inventions they prove that the real bad guy on the street is Mr Spick-And-Span. Light, funny, full of action, and focusing on parents v children, this is bound to be a successful formula.
ISBN 978 0 14 330553 8 RRP $14.99
Lorraine Orman

Swimming With Dishes by Alan Palmer, illus. Scott Pearson, Penguin
It’s good to see a picture book by a new author, particularly a Kiwi Write4Kidz member. Lucy likes swimming in her pool. She doesn’t like washing the dishes. But she hates tidying her room! Add to the mix a very crabby mother and a younger brother who keeps on breaking dishes – and something right over the top is bound to happen. Lucy’s mother threatens to hang her clothes on the tree in the front yard, but Lucy gets in first – she washes the dishes in the swimming pool and hangs them on the tree to dry... The quirky story is enlivened by the colourful cartoon pictures which are full of action and movement. I’m not particularly fond of the emphatic coloured words scattered throughout the text – I would find them quite difficult if I was reading the book aloud, because I think they’d upset my own reading rhythm.
ISBN 978 0143504290 RRP $19.99
Lorraine Orman

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two new non-fiction books

There are so few New Zealand children's non-fiction books published nowadays that I get excited with every book that arrives in the postbox. These two won't disappoint.

Sensational Survivors: An illustrated Guide to New Zealand's Remarkable Wildlife by Sandra Morris (Walker Books) Release date: 11 August 2010
ISBN: 978 1 921 150661 RRP$29.99 48 pages Target age: 6 years+

We haven't seen anything from Sandra Morris for a while - and she sure makes up for it with this publication. From the stunning cover, illustrated endpapers, beautiful black-and-white sketches, gorgeous water colour paintings, diagrams and interesting text right through to the illustrated glossary, index and recommended reading and website list at the back.

It is a topic that has been written several times before but Sandra brings a new slant to the subject. The information has been grouped in new and interesting ways including those animals who are gone forever and those that made epic journeys to get here, the quirky ways some animals find a mate, have children and the lengths some go to survive. She's covered New Zealand insects, birds, marine life and mammals.

Highly recommended for the school library and for children who like to draw and collect information about animals.

Sandra Morris is an author and illustrator from New Zealand. She gained her Masters in Fine Arts in 1990 where she completed her first picture book, One Lonely Kakapo, which won her the Russell Clark award for illustration in 1992. She has since written and illustrated Discovering New Zealand Birds, which was a finalist in both the Aim Children’s Book Awards and the Non Fiction Library awards. Sandra also holds a Graduate Diploma in Plant and Wildlife Illustration from the University of Newcastle, Australia. It was while she was in Australia that she developed a love for field sketching and this work has been exhibited in museums and galleries. Sandra also runs her own illustration agency promoting New Zealand illustrators overseas.

I am a Seal by Barbara Todd, illustrated by Helen Taylor (New Holland Publishers)
ISBN: 978 1 86966 287 5 RRP$ 16.99
On the land, in the sea
It's no big deal
They are both home to me

This is the third title in Barbara Todd's 'I am a ...' series. Barbara targets 4-6 year olds with her rhyming text about the seal's habitat, hunting, social behaviour and breeding habits. The simple text is complemented with cute cartoons and stunning photography. Recommended for the classroom to help children learn about seals but also encourage enjoyment of interesting non-fiction facts. The first two titles in the series include I am a Penguin and I am a Dolphin.

Barbara Todd is a naturalist, researcher and educator who for the past twenty years has studied whales and dolphins, seabirds, and the marine environment. She is the author and photographer of eleven children's books on natural history.

Helen Taylor has a flair for illustrating children's natural history books, with a long list of credits to her name. A Booming in the Night, co-produced with her writer husband Ben Brown, won the New Zealand Post New Zealand Best Picture Book Award n 2006.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Anna Mackenzie

Ebony Hill by Anna Mackenzie (Random House)
ISBN: 978-1-877460-48-7 RRP$ 19.99

From above the gardens that stride in wide stairs up the hillside, I look out over the wreckage of a world I'll never know. Vidya, the city of Devdan's promises, is all and more and none of what I expected.
For all that Dev told me before we left Dunnett Island, I had no scale to fit his stories around. The bared and broken skeletons of buildings sprawl across the heart of the old city, scarred concrete gradually giving way to a creeping carpet of green. Flags mark off the sites that are unstable or toxic, while the dark stain of fire is all that remains of the housing that once cloaked the hills.

Two years after escaping from Dunnett Island Ness still doesn't feel she belongs to Vidya and its people. Her only tie to her past, Dev, seems to regard her as a lovesick puppy. When Ness is asked to move to the country she feels it is to babysit new boy Ronan but realises it might give her a chance to find a place where she can fit in. She also wants to see if tilling the land is where her skills lie or whether it is working in the medical field. She tests both out on Ebony Hill becoming an important member of the team especially when they are attacked.

Anna Mackenzie's prose reminds me of Robin Hyde's writing - descriptive with wonderful use of figurative language. Ebony Hill is a coming of age story that would appeal to teens and young adults. It is the powerful and gripping sequel to the Sea-Wreck Stranger; a finalist in the 2008 LIANZA Children's Book Awards - Esther Glen Award (Fiction), Sir Julius Vogel Awards – 2008 Joint Winner, Young Adult Novel Category, NZ Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults – 2008 Honour Award, Young Adult Fiction Category and CLFNZ Notable Books List 2008.

Mackenzie, Anna (1963 –) writes fiction for young adults. She is a full-time writer with a background in public relations and publishing. Anna's first novel, High Tide (Scholastic) was published in 2003 and was listed as a Notable Book by the Children's Literature Foundation of New Zealand. In the Herald, Margie Thompson wrote that ‘Mackenzie has a terrific feeling for dramatic pace, and for the emotional and physical landscape her beleaguered teens are stumbling through.’ Her second novel, Out on the Edge (Longacre, 2005) explores the lives of two teenagers, one the victim of violent abuse, the other totally together – until their lives collide. 'This is an excellent piece of work from an emerging writer - well-written, intelligent, in character and perfectly pitched for the intended reader. Highly recommended!' (Reading Time)

See an interview with Anna Mackenzie on and download a Teachers' Resource