Sunday, May 29, 2011

Diary of a Pukeko by Sally Sutton, illustrations Dave Gunson (Scholastic)
At last, it's Christmas! Problem is, the Wekas are coming for lunch. Dad says, 'Can't we just uninvite them this year?' and Mum says, 'Of course we can't they're family,' but I can tell she's tearing her feathers out because she knows Aunty Weka will drink too much swamp water and go on and on about how weka are a threatened species.
Sure enough, this is exactly what happens.

A humorous chapter book for 6-8 year olds about a young pukeko's life. In Pukeko's diary he writes about the Christmas party gone wrong, training for the Swim-Run-Fly competition and trying to win the attentions of Indigo Tuk Tuk a hot young chick in the wetlands. Will Pukeko get the girl or will he lose out to his rival Billy Flicktail...

Author Sally Sutton uses lots of bird humour to get a chuckle. Just about each double page spread includes a Dave Gunson's full-page illustration, which will also get a laugh. I hope we'll see more of these young chapter books from Sally Sutton. They fill the gap that Kiwi Bites left when they were stopped by Penguin NZ.

Sally Sutton has written several books. Her book 'Roadworks', illustrated by Brian Lovelock, won the NZ Post Children's Picture Book Award in 2009.

Auckland author/illustrator Dave Gunson has illustated many children's books for himself and other authors including: Lucy Davey’s Pandora’s Potato Romp, Santa and the Reindeer by Maria Farrer, and the charming Will and Woof by Tanya Warren. In addition, he has illustrated two of the popular Kiwi Corkers series. Dave Gunson’s Mr Muggs the Library Cat was the Read-
Aloud title for NZ’s Biggest Storytime as part of LIANZA
Library Week 2010.

Teacher Notes here

ISBN: 978-1-86943-975-0 RRP $16.50

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Resurrection by Mandy Hager

Resurrection by Mandy Hager (Random House)

In 'The Crossing' Book One Maryam discovers that the elders who govern their island are really a religious cult that use and abuse the native islanders. Maryam flees Onewere Island with Ruth, Joseph and Lazarus in a boat to the unknown...

In 'Into the Wilderness' Book Two the foursome land on an isolated island and find the remains of a slaughtered tribe. The foursome patch their boat and set off determined to find help for Joseph, whose reoccurence of a deadly illness worsens. They are struck by a vicious storm and drift for days until they are rescued by people who treat the refugees as prisoners. They are thrown into a detention camp and Lazarus shows sign of the illness that killed his brother Joseph. Maryam looks for a cure to save Lazarus and to take back to her people...

In 'Resurrection' Book Three Maryam willingly asks to be taken to where she was picked up by the boat people. She spends several days back on the deserted island until Lazarus joins her in his yacht. Together they sail back to their island and endeavour to tell their people they do not have to be slaves to the elders any more...

The trilogy deals with a variety of issues including rape, unwanted pregnancy, slavery and religious fanaticism. Tough issues for teenage readers but Mandy Hager tempers it with hope, love, excellent writing and a powerful ending.

Mandy Hager won the Esther Glen Award for Fiction for her novel 'Smashed' and Best Young Adult book in the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2010 for 'The Crossing'.

ISBN: 9781869795221 RRP $19.95

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pyre of Queens by David Hair (Penguin NZ)
David Hair’s first fantasy/horror series was set in New Zealand and began with The Bone Tiki. He will have accumulated a fan base (mainly teenage boys) who will be keen to try his latest four-volume series set in India – called The Return of Ravana. The first book in the series is Pyre of Queens. The author draws upon the Indian epic, the Ramayana, to provide a mythological background for his plot. The timeframe alternates between present-day India and an eighth-century kingdom called Mandore. The ancient story involves a wicked raja who attempts to burn himself and his seven wives as part of a spell to give him eternal life. However one wife is rescued at the last minute by a love-struck poet, thus interfering with the spell and turning the raja and the other wives into zombie-like demons. The poet and the queen are hunted by imperial soldiers, but the military commander is also in love with the queen and ends up helping the pair. However the three fugitives are also being hunted by something much worse than mere soldiers – the furious demon-raja and his hideous demon wives... The present-day story involves a similar triangle of teenagers – two boys and one girl. Eventually they realise they are reincarnations of the ancient Mandore characters, and they doomed to re-enact the old story. Or maybe not...

It’s a very complex plot, best for fantasy/horror fans of about fourteen and upwards. Be prepared for plenty of action, suspense, violence, bloodshed and death. My advice to readers is to first read the section at the end called A Brief Introduction to the Ramayana. That really helped me understand what was going on.

ISBN 978 0 14 330612 2 RRP $25

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

A Bigger Digger by Brett Avison, illus. Craig Smith, The Five Mile Press

My two little grandsons are in the target audience for this excellent picture book, so I was delighted to be given a copy to review. Yes, it does evoke memories of the Gilderdales’ classic book The Little Yellow Digger but there’s enough of an individual spin in this story to allow the two to compliment each other. Bryn and his dog Oscar are digging in the back yard when they discover ... a dinosaur head! The museum sends round a digger, but dinosaurs are VERY big – soon they need a bigger digger. And so on. I don’t want to give away the twist at the end of the story – suffice to say that things keep escalating. The very last double-spread contains a superb paper-engineered digger – librarians beware, because little fingers will poke and prod at it.

The rhyming text flows well and will be great fun to read aloud. The book’s hardback presentation and lavish design make it a joy to handle. Craig Smith’s illustrations are colourful, action-packed, and extremely inventive – they reward careful study. Heartily recommended for children of about four to eight. I can’t wait to read it to my grandsons...

ISBN 978 1 74248 410 5 RRP $24.99 (Publication date 18 May)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer

The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer by James Norcliffe, Longacre (Random House)
This is the sequel to The Loblolly Boy, published by Longacre in 2009. Readers should hunt out the first title before they read this – the basic premise might be confusing if you haven’t read the first book. Ben has lost his real identity and has become the loblolly boy – an ethereal and magical being who flies on big green wings, is invisible to all but a handful of Sensitives, and doesn’t have normal human functions. Ben longs to become human again by exchanging his loblolly identity with the boy who took his place, Benjy. But unscrupulous Benjy likes Ben’s life and doesn’t want to give it back. Ben haunts the city where Benjy lives, enlisting various strange characters to help him retrieve his identity – three blind jugglers, a treacherous sorcerer, and an inventive but unreliable gadget man. There are many mistakes, shocks and surprises before Ben finally gets what he wants.
As with the first book, I enjoyed the elegant writing and the extremely inventive plot. But I have a niggling urge to regard these stories as allegories – and if they are, then I can’t identify their message. Why does a succession of unhappy boys become the loblolly boy? Should they have stayed in their own lives and coped with whatever came along, rather than retreating into some detached and fantastical identity? James Norcliffe’s world is a puzzling and intriguing one - I’d love to hear him talk about it. Best for dedicated readers of intermediate age who like magic and fantasy.

For more information see RandomISBN 978 1 877460 69 2 RRP $19.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

I (Maria Gill) asked James Norcliffe a few questions about his latest book:

1.       Lorraine Orman wondered if these stories are allegories – and if they are, what is their message?
I imagine the question relates to the two Loblolly books, although it probably has application to a lot of my work...

‘Allegorical” suggests a double-barrelled narrative along the lines of Gulliver’s Travels or The Pilgrim’s Progress. In that sense – where a surface story is essentially a cover or decoy for a “real” story, the Loblolly books are not allegorical. That said, I am a poet so tend to write with a poet’s take on the world, so my stocks in trade are metaphor, allusion, layered meanings, and flights of imagination. So, quite naturally, these elements, are woven into and often inform the books.  The ideas of flight & invisibility (every child’s and not a few adults’ dreams) represent ultimate freedom (escape) and security (safety in invisibility). The catch is if we were granted either of these meta-human gifts we would become beyond human... no longer part of the real world, an aberration. Yet it is such a beguiling dream, and such a dangerous one, for such gifts allow us to break rules with impunity. Absolute power – that sort of thing. That’s why Superman, an obvious precursor, had to have kryptonite. The books spell out that ultimate freedom, while a wonderful idea to those who are trapped and unhappy, is an illusion – and a morally fraught one as Suzy found when she reduced her teacher to an ambulance case. To be a loblolly boy can lose you your humanity in both senses.
Other characters in the book do have symbolic overtones – in a broad-brush cartoon-like way. Captain Bass represents omniscience somehow. He can see what is and what will be, but does not interfere in the process. The Collector? He represents the unbridled pursuit of what psychologists call crystallized knowledge (knowledge without understanding). He’s also a deliciously nasty character and I had fun imagining him. The jugglers in the second book represent poetry to an extent: they create patterns of harmony and beauty, patterns that are beyond seeing; the Gadget Man represents technology and the idea that some new device can solve problems. His is the approach that is more concerned with the gadget than the consequences. In an earlier version of the book he was a darker figure and spent time developing military gadgets. The Sorcerer is my tale on the archetypal trickster. The mixer-upper who behaves with utter amorality in order to make his own mischief. One of the ironies of the book (and I love irony) is that it is the Sorcerer who ultimately restores Ben to his father and he does so for utterly amoral reasons.

Having written the above, I should stress that these are retrospective musings. I am very much an organic writer and there was no programme followed in the making...
2.       She asks why does a succession of unhappy boys become the loblolly boy? Should they have stayed in their own lives and coped with whatever came along, rather than retreating into some detached and fantastical identity?

Well, of course they could have. But where would be the magic and the fun. There are such books but I consider them moral tracts and I’m incapable of reading them let alone writing them. I did try once at the insistence of my agent but I found the experience utterly depressing. Rather like soviet new realism in architecture.
3.       Will there be any more in the series?

When she reviewed The Loblolly Boy in NZ Books, Diane Hebley picking up on the original meaning – an assistant to a ship’s surgeon in British warships in Napoleonic times – wondered about the origin of the first Loblolly Boy (my version) and whether there could be a connection. There wasn’t, but the idea has taken hold and I’m playing around with a Roderick Random type  adventure with the Captain the Sorcerer & the very first loblolly boy.
I’m not sure what will come of it, but it’s lovely and fizzy at the moment.

4.       Where did you get the idea for these wonderful books?

Dunno... I do have a hyper-active fantasy life and I love playing around with characters, situations, and odd juxtapositions and squirreling around for the most unlikely but really most likely explanation. Sometimes I get a poem, but every so often a story starts to emerge. When the story really gets going, it’s like taking dictation & it’s just delicious. That’s why I do it.