Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New book in Lightning Strikes series

‘Spitting Image’ by James Roy, published by Walker Books in their ‘Lightning Strikes’ series of Chapter Books. Soft cover book, ISBN: 978-1-921977-49-7

When twins Charlie and Helen arrive with their family at ‘Farmer Phil’s Fabbo Funtime Family Farm’ they are sure their day out will be boring. They had been looking forward to a day of skin-creeping thrills at a proper zoo with gorillas, reticulated pythons and an anaconda. They cannot believe their father wants to see chickens and piglets and wants to hold them.

Charlie sees their father hasn’t noticed Helen has walked off, so he follows his sister. He finds her at an enclosure where Capone, an alpaca wearing an afro wig and false eyelashes, is as interested in them as they are in him. When Helen gets out her camera and takes a close-up photo of Capone, she leans into the fence, drops her camera and falls into the enclosure after it.

From that moment on, Capone, plays 'Hide and Seek' and 'Chase Me' with Helen and Charlie, making their day at ‘Farmer Phil’s Fabbo Funtime Family Farm’ anything but boring.  

“Spitting Image” is an amusing, fun read with many surprising twists and turns to the story. It includes information about farm animals that would be useful if readers were learning about them.

It is suitable for independent readers aged 8 -10 years, but its content also makes it an entertaining, fast-paced read for 10-12 year olds.

 Reviewed by Anne Smith

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Anzac Book

The Red Poppy by David Hill, illustrated by Fifi Colston (Scholastic)

Move over Wonkey Donkey - here comes The Red Poppy.  A stunning new book written by one of New Zealand's favourite chapter book authors David Hill (his first picture book, I think) and illustrated by the very talented Fifi Colston.  David Hill captures the drama of the moment with his countdown before the battle. You get a sense of the soldier's anticipation and dread with his choice of words: "It was now 5.30 in the morning. At 6 o'clock, the attack would begin. The battlefield was silent. No guns fired. Even the birds were quiet. The black sky was slowly turning blue along the horizon." Characters are introduced before the soldiers advance towards the enemy: Jim the main character, Frank and Matui - his soldier friends, Nipper the messenger dog, the red poppies (yes, the flowers are a character in this story) and when Jim falls in the hole after being shot - we meet Karl the German soldier.  A story that shows the real picture of war; the feelings, the pain, the sorry state of the environment and what happens when two men from opposing sides of the war meet up. They put aside global issues and be their real selves.
A poignant story that brings a tear to your eye but also gives you a sense of hope for human nature. Of course, you'll also adore the messenger dog, the beautiful symbolic poppies and Fifi's artwork captures it all.  You can tell she spent a lot of time researching everything: the uniforms, the artifacts, and landscapes look authentic. Her colour palette adds drama to the tale. 
This book is going to be a wonderful resource for classrooms from Junior to Intermediate (I used to be an Intermediate teacher and picture books are great for introducing units at this age).  It will be very popular in the classroom, library and home. 
Well done to Scholastic for making it hardback and including the gorgeous end papers (splash of red poppies) and packaging it with a CD. The CD is a song written by Canadian Rob Kennedy and sung by Giselle Sanderson.  Rob wrote the song because he thought children needed to have their own way to commemorate fallen soldiers and war veterans around the world for their deeds and sacrifices.

To find out the story behind Fifi's pictures go here.  Fifi created the artwork with chalk pastel, oil paint and Photoshop. Simply stunning!

ISBN:  978-1-86943-998-9  Hardback $33.00