Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Non-fiction books for Young Adults

Together Alone: The story of the Finn Brothers by Jeff Apter
(Random House) RRP $42.00 ISBN: 978-1-74166-816 336pp paperback

The unauthorised biography of the Finn brothers describes Tim and Neil's middle class upbringing - with parents who were always supportive of their musical ambitions. The brothers began playing instruments from a very young age in an exciting time musically: Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan. After school Tim formed Split Enz with school friends and Neil was invited to join him several years later. The roles were reversed when Neil set up Crowded House and asked his brother to join them. We read about the brother's struggles with fellow band members, sibling rivalry, their world tours and inspiration for their music.

The book is targeted towards the adult market and teenage musos who would enjoy reading about Tim and Neil Finn's musical journey. The book does mention drug usage but does not glorify it or dwell on it. At the back of the book is a discography and historical photographs of the brothers .

Jeff Apter based the book on interviews, extensive research and more than 30 years of watching the Finn brothers performing. Jeff was a journalist for Rolling Stone and Vogue and has written about popular culture for more than 20 years.

Available in Australia and New Zealand. Go to Crowded House's website.

Blue Adrenalin: Life in the New Zealand Police by Bill O'Brien
(Longacre/Random House) ISBN: 978-1-877460-50-0 RRP $34.99

A non-fiction chapter book for teenagers who are interested in joining the police. Find out about the structure of the police, their training, communications centres, emergency responders and see behind the scenes. You'll also read about the other branches of the police such as armed offenders squads, dog handlers, criminal investigation branch, serious crime, traffic, maritime and air support, and search and rescue. At the end of some of the chapters is a problem-solving scenario. You get to decide what you would do if you were a police officer. It helps you to see that for every decision you make another set of options can confront you. The book design is pared back (text and photographs only) with a contents page only (no index). A no-nonsense book for those interested in the police force.

Author Bill O'Brien was with the New Zealand Police for 35 years and has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. He was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards with his junior fiction novel 'Castaway - the diary of Samuel Abraham Clark' and has held a Fellowship at the University of Otago College of Education. He has also written educational publications on a wide range of topics for the New Zealand, Australian, U.S. and Canadian markets.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Picture Books

Legends of the Cook Islands by Shona Hopkins, illus. Bruce Potter, Penguin NZ
There never seem to be enough books published for children about the Pacific Islands, so it’s good to see Penguin producing this one. It’s an attractive paperback that looks a bit like a picture book but is aimed at an older readership, probably children of primary-school age. It includes eight legends briefly told, usually four pages per legend. Titles include The Pearls of the South Seas, Ati and the Water Fairies, and Ina and the Shark. There is a Glossary of Cook Island words at the back. Each story has one main illustration by Bruce Potter, done in his uniquely realistic style. The peaceful design of the book and Bruce’s beautiful seascapes imbue the book with a true Pacific feel.
ISBN 978 014 35 0407 8 RRP $19.99

Magpie Mischief by June Peka, illus. Jo Thapa, Scholastic NZ
This lively story was the Joy Cowley Award winner for 2009. It is based on a true story – about the disasters caused by Pie the cheeky magpie. Pop is very proud of his vege garden, so when Pie gets up to her tricks, Pop is devastated. Pie pulls out the seedlings, undoes important knots, and pecks holes in the prize pumpkin. But Pop refuses to put her in a cage. Eventually desperation forces him come up with an unusual but effective solution. The bright, eye-catching illustrations offer some unusual perspectives and interesting textures. This warm-hearted story about the battle of wills between Pop and Pie should be fun to read aloud to children of about five to seven. Also available in a Te Reo edition.
ISBN 978 1 86943 932 3 RRP $18.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Three new chapter books


Organ Music by Margaret Mahy (Gecko Press)
ISBN: 9781877467479 RRP$ 19.99

'Watch the road! Watch the road!' screamed David. 'I don't have to,' Harley replied in a strangled voice. Slumping back in his seat, he took his foot off the accelerator and held his hands away from the wheel. The soft hum of the car's motor did not decrease. The car did not lose speed. If anything, it seemed to move even faster than before. 'It's driving itself,' Harley said. A thrilling tale of danger, ghosts and secret experiments hidden deep in the forest.

Margaret Mahy has written a chilling (read scary) story about taking risks and having to suffer the consequences. David and Harley are taken on a journey into hell, which they can only survive if they trust their instincts and a girl they've never met before. Margaret's masterful play on words comes to the fore in this slim chapter books for 8-12 year olds. An enjoyable read for those who liked to be spooked.

Boy Zero, Wannable Hero: The petrifying plot of the plummeting pants
ISBN: 9780571252473 RRP $15.99
Casey Applejack's career as a superhero might be over before it's even begun. His mother wants him to choose a safe job as a TV game show host and the Super School has rejected him because his super powers aren't super enough. However, when the evil villain and wannabe rock star General Pandemonium captures all of the world's superheroes, and threatens to vaporise every pair of pants on the planet, it's up to Casey to save the day. Will he be a superhero - or will he be a superzero?

Peter Millet has written a hilarious tale for Captain Underpant fans. This is the first in the series - published by Faber & Faber - where school boy with no prospect of qualifying for superhero school saves the day. I love Peter's play on words, and if you're a parent reading to a younger child - jokes aimed for parents. It is the funniest book I've read all year.

This is Peter Millet's fourth book for the retail market (plus he's also had 30 educational books published with Cengage Publishing). He knows how to engage 7-9 year old boys (and girls will like his humour too) with fun easy to read chapter books. Highly recommended for boys who've finished Captain Underpants and want something just as good (if not better).
Download a colouring-in picture

A crack in the sky by Kyle Mewburn (Scholastic)
ISBN: 9781869439347 RRP $ 17.99

When is a sofa not a sofa? When it is the entry to another world ...Nine-year-old Conor's day doesn't start well. His right arm seems to be missing! Then he appears to have grown horns. But it's the next event that proves fateful. His mum catches her skirt on a loose spring in the sofa. It's time to replace the sofa ...obviously. But money is tight. So when Conor sees an old sofa bobbing in the tide as he walks to school, about to strand itself on the muddy shore, it seems like fate is working in his favour. But there's something very strange about this particular sofa ...Kyle Mewburn's imagination runs riot in this humorous novel for young readers, with shades of The Borrowers.

Kyle Mewburn has won numerous awards for his picture books, including Kiss, Kiss, Yuck! Yuck!, The Hoppleplop, No Room for a Mouse, Old Hu-Hu, and Duck's Stuck and written three chapter books before ( Pop Hopper Pet set). He wrote 'A Crack in the Sky' under the New Zealand Society of Author's mentorship scheme - when he wanted to branch out into a new genre.

We find Kyle's quirky sense of humour in this book - with diverse range of characters veering into a highly original fantasy environment - behind the back of a sofa (but children won't know that until they're more than halfway through the book). An engaging read for 8-12 year boys (but again girls will enjoy it because they can handle lead male characters).
Download a teaching resource. Go to Kyle Mewburn's website

Sunday, August 15, 2010


The Ghosts of Iron Bottom Sound by Sandy Nelson, HarperCollins NZ
Eleven-year-old Paddy is haunted by 1,023 ghosts – the sailors who died in the Battle of Savo Island in 1942, the first naval battle at Guadalcanal. The ghosts compel Paddy to ask his grandfather about his experiences of the battle, because he was a survivor of the sinking of HMAS Canberra. His grandfather gives Paddy an account of his experiences which he’d written to calm his recurring nightmares. Shortly after that Paddy’s grandfather dies. But the ghosts still don’t leave Paddy in peace until he tells their story to the wider world.

This first-time author set herself a hard task in writing a book about the sinking of an Australian battle cruiser. Bringing such historical events into the present day and making them relevant to today’s young New Zealanders is not easy. However the author writes fluently and confidently, and she has done a huge amount of research into her topic. Intermediate-aged boys who are keen on war stories should enjoy this story. I look forward to Sandy Nelson’s next historical novel. See Teaching Notes here.

Sandy Nelson lives in Twizel, where she is a busy primary school teacher and mother. With a fascination for the stories of her own family's wartime experiences, she has researched the Battle of Savo Strait and interviewed survivors to bring authenticity to her writing.

ISBN 978 1 86950 867 8 RRP $19.99
Lorraine Orman

Friday, August 6, 2010

Three new non-fiction books

Scholastic has not published any children's non-fiction for a while so it is with great delight I see Betty Brownlie's series about the Life Cycle of the Pukeko and a reprint of the Royal Albatross - with more to come. This time Betty Brownlie's beautiful illustrations have disappeared and Scholastic have used photography from a range of photographers.

The life cycle of the Pukeko by Betty Brownlie
RRP$18.99 ISBN: 978-1-86943-963-7 pp32 (Scholastic)

Discover how pukeko live together as a tight-knit family group. How everyone feeds the chicks and if their nest is in danger of flooding they build it up higher with more reeds and grasses. You'll find out where pukeko live; what they look like - adult and chick; how they sound, move, mate and build nests;their life cycle, food, and threats to pukeko. This is the standard layout for each book in the series. Illustrations are drawn by Dave Gunson. The books include a contents, index, and bibliography page. The full-length photographs are sumptious, the text simple and easy to read and the layout crisp and pleasing to the eye. A great resource for junior Primary school classes upwards and for children who enjoy reading facts about New Zealand wildlife.

Other books in the The Life cycle series include: Frog, Kiwi, Monarch Butterfly, Tuatara (March 2011). Released at the same time as the Pukeko book - July 2010 - is The life cycle of the Royal Albatross. ISBN: 978-1-86943-904-0

Betty Brownlie was born in Feilding, trained as a dental nurse and includes as her hobbies and interests: traveling, flying her small aircraft, reading, and sponsoring an African family in Kenya. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) has prevented Betty from illustrating and writing much in the last couple of years but she's back with more in the Life Cycle series (without her illustrations).

Honors Awards
Aim Children's Book Award shortlist, 1993, for The Life Cycle of the Common Frog, The Life of the Monarch Butterfly, The Life Cycle of the Common Sparrow, and The Life Cycle of the Hedgehog, and 1995, for The Life Cycle of the Praying Mantis; New Zealand Library Association Book Award Honor award, 1995, for The Life Cycle of the Grasshopper; national awards for watercolor painting and pencil drawing.

New Zealand Wildlife: To read colour and keep by Dave Gunson
ISBN: 978 186966 2851 RRP $9.99 (New Holland)

Talented Dave Gunson provides the outlines of selected birds, animals and plants from his All About series. Each outline includes 1-2 sentences of basic explanatory text. Children can check they've got the right markings by looking on the 4-colour double-page insert or choose to do their own colour style when colouring-in. Children can rip the pages out easily afterwards (perforated pages) and hang them in their bedroom or on the fridge.

Dave Gunson has contributed illustrations and or text to over 100 children's books over the years. His inspiration comes from nature and wildlife. A number of his books have been finalists in the New Zealand Post Children's Book awards: The Natural World of New Zealand won the NZ Post Children's Book Awards, was a finalist in the Montana awards and a Notable book; Nature's Alphabet - finalist; The Life and Times of the Identification of NZ Land - finalist; Wildlife Stuff - Notable book; NZ Wildlife - finalist (BPANZ).

This is the second book in the series following NZ Birds to Read, Colour and Keep. Aimed for the 4-7 year old child but older children could find the outlines useful when doing native bird projects. A great book for the car or plane to keep children occupied.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Empire of the Undead by Gary Cross, Penguin NZ
This is the second title in the Chronicles of Blood series. The first was Plague of the Undead. Strangely, the publishers have not mentioned the previous title anywhere on this volume. This may indicate they want it to be regarded as a stand-alone title – but I don’t think it’s successful as a stand-alone. Empire begins with several pages of back story – a technique which only works when the reader recognises it as material from a previous book.
It’s 1666. London has burned, taking a massive horde of vampires with it. The heroine, Mary, recently turned into a vampire herself, has been whisked away by the vampire master on a ship to the New World. They are pursued by Mary’s brother, Peter, who is travelling with the vampire hunter Lucius. Throw in a storm, a bunch of pirates, a pyramid made of gold and jewels, some local natives who can do magic – and a tribe of horrendous creatures called the Vampiri (far worse than your average vampire) – and you have a tasty stew of blood, death and horror. It’s not to my personal taste, but I can see teenage boys of about 14 to 16 lapping it up with enthusiasm (pun intended). Visit the author’s website at http://garycross.com/ to find out more.
ISBN 978 0 14 330517 0 RRP $22
Reviewed Lorraine Orman

Tussock by Elizabeth Pulford, Walker Books Australia
Thirteen-year-old Kate is devastated when her father goes missing after a light aircraft crash. This thoughtful story looks at the few days after the crash when the family members are waiting for news and veering between hope and despair. Kate keeps up her courage by lighting a lamp for her father in the window of an old hut in the hills. While her younger sister Madeline builds a Stone Man (based on a local legend) who is meant to help their father to safety. But both girls are distracted when they meet a mysterious boy at the hut – Troy, who is participating in a nearby boot camp for disturbed teens.
Troy and Kate develop a delicate and tenuous friendship. When Troy’s abusive father appears on the scene Troy sacrifices his own safety to preserve Kate’s. This helps Kate understand the value of her own father at the same time as she finally hears the result of the search and rescue efforts. Beautifully written, this tale is imbued with the slightly eerie atmosphere of the New Zealand high country. Best for girls of about 10 to 13.
ISBN 978 1 921529 45 0 RRP NZ$19.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman