Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Wolf in the Wardrobe by Susan Brocker, HarperCollins NZ
The title is a great enticement and the cover (incorporating a stunning photo of a wolf’s face) is guaranteed to attract readers – the story will not disappoint. Thirteen-year-old Finn has always wanted a dog. He witnesses a huge dog being hit by a car and disappearing into the bush. Finn tracks it down and recognises it as a wolf called Lupa, a fugitive from a recent circus in the area. Finn is determined to look after Lupa, but it’s a difficult task when he has to keep her secret from his family. He initially hides her in his wardrobe, but eventually shifts her to the garden shed. Things get complicated when Finn’s forgetful old Nana discovers the dog and takes a fancy to her. How can Finn keep a tame wolf well and happy when he doesn’t want his mother to know – and he’s paying a fortune for dog food? Then Cackles the Clown, the previous owner of the wolf, appears on the scene and makes Finn’s life a misery... The tension never slackens in this riveting story for intermediate-aged readers. The author has obviously done her homework, and the information about wolves is engaging. Recommended as an excellent fast-paced read, especially for boys.
ISBN 978 1 86950 906 4 RRP $19.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

My First Car Was Red by Peter Schössow, Gecko Press
This is certainly not your ordinary picture book, and it might be another one for the “Complex Picture Books” collection. My first impression was “old-fashioned” but further reading indicates that the book is a lot more subtle than that. Written from the point of view of a primary-aged boy, it tells how Grandpa gives him a rusty old pedal car which is then renovated to driveable standards. The boy and his little brother (who manages to issue plenty of concise instructions through the dummy in his mouth) set off on a drive. It doesn’t take long for hazards to appear and the drive turns into a helter-skelter dash from reality into a strange world where nothing is quite what you’d expect. The text is simple (lots of dialogue) but the humour is tongue-in-cheek and fairly advanced, so I don’t think it’s suitable for pre-schoolers.
The illustrative style also appears to be more suitable for older children, maybe about six or seven. It’s an unusual cartoon style involving thick black outlines and camouflage colours of brown, olive green, muted red, dull yellow, burnt orange, khaki and pale blue. There’s a lot going on in the pictures, including the addition of relevant (European?) road signs on each page. I suspect children will either love or hate the illustrations, with not many in between. Gecko’s presentation is excellent, using top-quality paper and turn-in flaps on the cover. Also available in hardback, and not released till 5 August.
ISBN 978 1 877467 69 1 RRP $19.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Harry’s Hair by Jane Buxton, illus. Jenny Cooper, Puffin NZ
In this whacky cautionary tale we read about Harry, who wouldn’t brush his hair. First of all birds come to nest in his hair – then chinchillas, then a whole host of weird creatures. The smell is disgusting because the inhabitants of Harry’s hair do their business down his neck. Having been banished from school, Harry ends up with his hair turning into an art installation – and then he’s interviewed on TV. Eventually he finds that being a celebrity isn’t all that marvellous...
Children will enjoy the suggestion of the dire events can happen to you if you don’t brush your hair, especially having poop going down your neck. The story is told in rhyming text, and Jenny Cooper’s bright, cheeky illustrations add an extra zing to the outrageousness of the plot. Best for children of about four to seven – and it would make a popular read-aloud as long as you don’t mind some degree of chortling and nudging from the boys in your audience.
ISBN 978 0 14 330616 0 RRP $19.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The kiwi kid’s ABC by Rebekah Holguin, HarperCollins NZ
ABC books are always popular, especially with grandmothers like me! As I read it, I was imagining how I’ll share it with my 3-year-old grandson, who already knows his ABCs. I think he’ll be most intrigued, firstly with the bright, bold, in-your-face style of the illustrations, and secondly with the distinctly New Zealand flavour. The letters of the alphabet (shown in heavy black print, both small and capital) have either a single or double spread, with the doubles being particularly striking. For A we get aroha, for D we get dolphin, for J we get jandals; also rugby for R, and ukulele for U. The double spread for B gives us bucket, bare feet, beach, ball and bay. The illustrations are done with eye-catching colours and strong black outlines (to my mind, the black outlines look rather retro).
I tried to find out a bit about the author/illustrator but couldn’t detect much, not even on the publisher’s website or her own. This is obviously her first book. Her previous work seems to lean towards fantasy illustration, and she has trained with Weta Workshops. I suspect we may see more of her work, so I hope the publishers update their website. If you’re looking for an ABC book for New Zealanders, this is a good one to try.
ISBN 978 1 86950 895 1 RRP $16.99 (pb)
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

100 Things by Masayuki Sebe, Gecko Press
This counting book (by the author/illustrator of Dinosaurs Galore) for ages 3 to 6 is typical of what we’ve come to expect from Gecko Press – bright and funky, eye-catching and very 21st century. On each double spread you will find 100 whatevers – mice, moles, children, cars. As well as exhaustive counting, you will also find other activities such as “Can you find 1 rabbit?” on the sheep page, and “Where is the other cat?” on the children page. The last double spread offers ten subjects arranged in 10s, followed by a page of extra location challenges – “Who lives in this house?” The illustrations are done in simplistic cartoon style, and are very appealing.
This book would be best shared with children who understand the concept of counting to one hundred. It would be a bit too much for children who can only go up to 10 or twenty, so not many 3-year-olds would appreciate it. But I’ll be keeping it safely on my bookshelf for when grandson Lachlan develops his counting skills a bit more – and I’m sure we’ll both have lots of fun with it. It would be a popular buy for preschool centres and kindergartens.
ISBN 978 1 877467 82 0 RRP $19.99 (pb) $32.99 (hb)
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto, illus. Komako Sakai, Gecko Press
Gecko Press specialises in “curiously good books from around the world” and this is definitely at the high end of the curiousness scale. It’s a story about death and grieving (for ages 4 to infinity, originally published in Japan). Bear’s best friend, a little bird, dies – and Bear is full of grief. He carries the bird round in a box, much to the dismay of the other animals in the forest. He withdraws into his house and sits in the darkness. But eventually he emerges and meets a wildcat who is also a roving violinist. This strange character enables Bear to grieve properly and find the courage to finally bury his friend.
This is not a book that children will select off the shelf, and I imagine libraries will have problems working out where to shelve it. I heard of one library putting it in a collection called “Complex Picture Books”, which sounds like a good idea. It will be useful as a resource for counsellors, teachers, hospices and grief services.
It’s a gentle, touching story, delicately told. As always with Gecko Press, the presentation is superb – hardback, book jacket, and luxurious heavy-duty paper. The illustrations are totally in tune with the story – done in fuzzy black and white (with pink touches on the “happy” pages) using heavy shading and lots of texture. Whether deliberate or not, the sombre illustrative style will probably deter youngsters from reading the book independently. If libraries and schools wish to add to their collections relating to death and loss, this is definitely one to buy.
ISBN 978 1 877467 70 0 RRP $29.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Three Cheers for No-Ears by Kyle Mewburn, illus. Deborah Hinde
Once there was an elephant with very small ears. Kind friends tried to create new ears for him with feathers and leaves and bananas and fur and flowers – but nothing worked. No-Ears was very sad. But then the elephant leader was buried under a rock slide, and No-Ears was the only elephant who could stick his head in far enough to touch trunks with the big guy. Of course, he manages to pull the prisoner out – and something strange happens – but by this time No-Ears has obviously learned to live with his differences...
It’s a very light story, but its theme of accepting physical differences in others is an important one for pre-schoolers. Deborah Hinde’s illustrations are big and bright and colourful, with plenty of action involved, and would be good for reading aloud to a group. Also available in a Maori edition.
ISBN 978 1 86943 978 1 RRP $19.50
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig and the Camping Holiday by Diana Neild, illus. Philip Webb
This is the fourth title in the series which began with Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig – a wildly popular book that won awards and plaudits. In this story the Jig family go camping. As you can imagine with 11 family members it’s a logistical nightmare, especially when Piggity-Wiggity’s little tent proves impossible to erect. But clever brother Jim saves the day. Fans of the series will be familiar with the friendly tone and cheeky rhythm of the rhyming text, and Philip Webb’s exuberant cartoon illustrations carry the story along at a great rate. It will be a popular read-aloud for pre-schoolers who already like the series. Just one quibble from this pedantic reviewer – I didn’t understand why the tent couldn’t go up until I read the blurb on the back which referred to a missing tent pole. Then I looked back through the illustrations and saw the pole lying on the ground as the family’s van pulled away. This plot development could have been made clearer, and some smart pre-schoolers may pick up on this...
ISBN 978 1 77543 016 2 RRP $19.50
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman