Sunday, November 27, 2011

Early Childhood Books

The Big Book of Words and Pictures by Ole Kรถnnecke, Gecko Press
This is definitely a big board book (about 35cm tall) so it’s probably best viewed on the floor – both you and your preschooler, that is. In fact, you may even like to just leave it lying on the floor in view of the preschooler, and watch what happens. Hopefully the child will open the sturdy pages and become intrigued by the simple, attractive displays. There is no story, just a host of objects on each page with names underneath. The first page contains child-related objects (book, bed, pillow, teddy bear), the third and fourth pages contain household objects such as spoon, frying pan, bib, chair – and so on through topics such as the seasons, food, animals, the sea, flight, transport, music, sports, etc. Most objects are within the ken of a 3-year-old (for instance) but you may be called upon to explain some unfamiliar items, such as moisturiser, overtrousers, secateurs, sleigh bells, unicycle, water pump, petanque... The book was originally published in German, so does not have a New Zealand tone. However the illustrations are fresh and appealing, and the interested adult will pick up subtle flashes of humour tucked away here and there.
ISBN 978 1 877467 87 5 RRP $29.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
A Kiwi Jingle Bells by Yvonne Morrison and Deborah Hinde, Scholastic NZ
This is the board book edition of the original 2006 version (over 35,000 copies printed). I have to admit I checked the last page to see if there was a CD there –but no. So you’re left to sing the numerous verses on your own. “Dashing to the bay, In a Kombi campervan, Christmas at the beach – The family’s master plan. Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, Christmas in New Zealand on a sunny summer’s day, ay!” This board book version is sturdy and a suitable size for small hands. Deborah Hinde’s illustrations are colourful and active and contain plenty of objects that a pre-schooler should recognise. If you’re looking for a Christmas-themed stocking-filler for your 2-year-old, you should check this one out.
ISBN 978 1 77543 045 2 RRP $13.50
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chapter Books for Teenagers

Heart of Danger by Fleur Beale, Random House NZ
This is the third book in a trilogy (the previous titles are Juno of Taris, and Fierce September), and I wish I had been able to read the three titles one after the other, rather than with big gaps of time in between.  To spend so long in Juno’s world would be a fascinating and absorbing read. I’m pleased to see that the publishers weren’t too coy to include plot summaries of the first two books – for people like me whose memories are getting creaky...
In this final instalment, Juno and her family and friends are beginning to settle in Aotearoa, but then little sister Hera comes out with one of her prophecies – an announcement that she will be going away soon. Panic-stricken, Juno’s family move to another settlement where they hope she will be safer. Juno starts to make friends, including a handsome young man who takes a romantic interest in her. But before Juno can sort out her complicated feelings for Ivor, Hera is kidnapped. Instead of denying her own extra-sensory abilities, Juno must now open her mind and use her instincts to track down her sister. An exciting chase and confrontation result, and Juno finally realises how strong her powers are. Further developments help her understand that she and Hera are not freaks – they have been created by their genetic heritages.

An excellent read for teenagers, especially girls – how about buying the whole trilogy for your daughter or grand-daughter for Christmas?
ISBN 978 1 86979 543 6 RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Battle of the Birds by Lee Murray, Taramea Publishing

Annie is eleven years old, and currently stuck in Wisconsin. She’s homesick for New Zealand, and her mind is full of images of home as she sprawls out on the top of an eagle-shaped effigy mound. Amazingly, a real eagle arises from the dirt and Annie is still sitting, stunned, on its back as it flies into the sky. The eagle flies to New Zealand, but a time-slip has happened – she has gone back 1000 years in time. The eagle delivers Annie close to a Maori tribe, and she soon meets up with Moana, a girl of her own age, along with Moana’s tribe. Eventually Annie realises that she has a special power that enables her to talk to birds, and that she must play a part in protecting the native flightless birds against the murderous intentions of Te Hokioi, a huge Haast eagle. There is plenty of action and suspense as Annie fights against the evil bird and his minions.
This first-time author worked with an experienced mentor to write this story, so it avoids many of the pitfalls of a book published by a small press (as opposed to a big commercial publisher). The cover is attractive, the layout is pleasing, and the style is very fluent and suitable for the age group (intermediate level). A bonus is that Teachers’ Notes are available at
As a writer myself, I was a bit uneasy with some of the authorial decisions eg. writing in the present tense, and giving a mythological American eagle the language of a 21st-century American teenager – but young readers probably won’t be so picky. I imagine they’ll simply get swept along in the non-stop action.  
ISBN 978 0 473 18928 0 RRP $19.99 
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Nest of Lies by Heather McQuillan, Scholastic NZ
Books with dystopian settings are all the rage at the moment. It would be interesting to explore why so many authors for young people seem to believe that our civilization is destined for self-destruction. Heather McQuillan’s book is set in a world where most of society has been destroyed by a plague (blamed on birds). The remnants of the human race live in distinct groups – such as the oppressive and wicked regime of the Citadel; and the Outsiders roaming the countryside (trying to preserve the environment); and the Eggheads (scientists) who live on a cruise liner and are determined to restore the beneficial aspects of human technology.
Ashlee is a 14-year-old Cinderella-type heroine who is treated as a slave by her wicked father and vicious step-family. She misses her brother, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Her hopes are raised by a mysterious message from him that is delivered by a bird. Ashley finds the courage to run away to look for Felix – and gets involved in all sorts of adventures and battles involving the various groups of people.
It’s an easy and engaging read, and there’s plenty of action and suspense to draw the reader on, especially girls who like a brave heroine. My only qualm focuses on a  possible mismatch between the straightforward, plot-focused style of the story (which indicates a readership of around intermediate age), and other indicators that point to a teenage readership ie. the age of the heroine, the dystopian setting, and the escalation of violence, bloodshed and chemical warfare at the climax of the story. I’m not quite sure what age group the book would suit, but Scholastic says 11+.
ISBN 978 1 77543 025 4 RRP  $18.50
Lorraine Orman
I read the book too and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the book targeted 11-13 year olds (Intermediate aged) girls.
Maria Gill

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stories of the Wild West Gang by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Trevor Pye (Gecko Press)

As 11 year old Eliot says on the back cover 'Just the right amount of craziness. One of the funniest books I've ever read.'

When Michael's five cousins move in next door, his parents are horrified - Michael thinks it's wonderful. His parents make him go to bed at 9pm, eat a strict diet and coddle him as their only child. At the West's household he gets to stay up as long as he likes, eat anything, have scandelous fun and be treated as any other in the household. He manages to convince his parents to go away so he can go on wild jaunts with the West family, and Michael cannot get enough of it. He goes rafting, camping, to the school fair, Pong Castle, over the wonky fence, puts up with the grumpy guest, survives the haunted fridge, and the wedding, goes fishing and has wickedly fun hullabaloo time with them.

A laugh out loud book for 8-12 years olds. This series has been published before as single books but now all ten stories are in one volume. Joy Cowley's characters are original and funny. It's a book about families and how they're all different. Plus it is a young boy's adventures and making fun out of nothing much. Highly recommended for home and school libraries. An excellent book for Primary Middle, Senior and Intermediate teachers to read aloud to their class.

Joy Cowley's books are loved by children all around the world. She has been awarded the OBE for her services to children's wrting, and the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement.

Trevor Pye lives in Tauranga and he is an award-winning illustrator whose work has featured in more than 200 children's books.

The Margaret Mahy Treasury: Eleven favourite stories by Margaret Mahy (Penguin)

A compilation of some of Margaret's best picture books including A Lion in the Meadow, The Witch in the Cherry Tree, A Summery Saturday Morning, The Great Piratical Rumbustification, The Boy with two Shadows, The Great White Man-Eating Shark, Jam, The Three-Legged Cat, The Boy who was Followed Home, The Librarian and the Robbers, and The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate.

This is the sort of Treasury that Grandparents would buy their mokopuna, teachers would keep in their class to read to their students, and parents would buy for their children and keep afterwards for the next generaton.  It contains all your favourites with original illustrations.

Margaret Mahy has won the Carnegie Medal twice, the IBBY Honour Book Award, the Hans Christian Andersen Award and numerous other international and national awards. Her books are loved by several generations.  Every library should have this Treasury (along with her Poetry collection).