Saturday, April 21, 2012

Harper Collins NZ latest!

Earth Dragon, Fire Hare by Ken Catran, HarperCollins New Zealand
I’m not in the target audience for this book (it’s aimed at teenage boys) but I definitely enjoyed reading it. Ken Catran continues his focus on war; however this title is not part of his earlier series about the Moran family at war. There are two young heroes in this story – Peter Hayes, a Kiwi soldier, and Ng, a Communist guerrilla. The era is the 1940s, and the setting is the jungle of Malaysia. Like most New Zealanders I know little about the fighting in Malaysia, first against the Japanese and later against the Communists, so I was interested in the background. As always with Ken Catran, this was extensively and thoroughly researched. The chapters skip back and forth between the two main characters, sketching in their totally different transitions from boyhood to young manhood. The characters are not connected directly until two-thirds of the way through the book, when they both are given Chinese horoscopes which link their destinies. After that they meet in the jungle – and discover the extreme difficulties that ensue from making friends with the enemy. Inevitably, the ending involves death.
The plot is fast-moving and full of action – and there aren’t any boring bits! So teenagers should enjoy it. They may even learn a bit of history while they read...
ISBN 978 1 86950 941 5 RRP $24.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt, HarperCollins NZ
This author specialises in exciting adventure stories for intermediate-aged boys, and his latest title should appeal to his fans. Dean Steele and Pete Kelly (aka Pelly) are a gang of two – the Steel Pelicans. Pete is the narrator of the story (in an older-and wiser tone), but Dean is the daredevil of the pair – he’s fascinated with explosions. The opening scene (set in Wollongong) is so memorable that one wonders if something similar really happened to the author. An explosion doesn’t work, Pete goes to see what’s wrong, Pete ends up with dead rat entrails plastered all over his face... But the gang of two is split up when Pete’s family shift back to New Zealand. Pete misses his friend, but manages to make a new friend at school called Afi Moore. Pete and Afi stumble across a smuggling operation involving a senior pupil at their school, together with a local criminal family. But when Dean comes across for a holiday and organises some sabotage to disrupt the operations of the bad guys, things really start happening. Inevitably, Dean, Afi and Pete get far more dangerously involved than they bargained for...  A good read for boys, and the eye-catching cover picture of a pair of steel pelican robots will certainly attract the target audience.
ISBN 978 1 86950 953 8 RRP $19.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Reach by Hugh Brown, HarperCollins NZ
This coming-of-age story is the inaugural winner of the Tessa Duder Award for Young Adult Fiction (sponsored by Storylines and HarperCollins NZ). It will be launched on 31 March at Margaret Mahy Day. The main protagonist is male, but teenage girls will probably read it quite happily. Will Clark is a boy of many parts, but a lack of confidence holds him back. He loves reading, and even writes his own fantasy/sci fi stories. He’s learning taekwondo but none of his friends are aware of this. He’s being bullied by a jock at school, teased by his nerdish best friend, and apparently ignored by a girl called Conway Jones, whom he fancies. But his life is riven by even deeper problems – his father is depressed and uncommunicative, his mother has taken off to join a commune, and his grandfather has a prostate cancer scare. Despite himself, Will needs to battle through these problems and come out stronger at the end – which he does. It’s a contemplative story, written with a strong understanding of teenage angst. Its strength lies in its characterisation, humour, and awareness of modern-day teenage issues. Personally, I’m glad the first Tessa Duder Award was given for a realistic and moving story about a likeable 21st-century New Zealand teenager – rather than a vampire or a werewolf...
ISBN 978 1 86950 956 9 RRP $22.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, April 16, 2012

Three Trans Tasman Books

Waiting for Later by Tina Matthews, Walker Books Australia

Nancy “feels small” and keeps on asking members of her family to do things with her. The answer is always, “Later.” Frustrated and rejected, Nancy climbs a tree where she invents her own tree-based entertainment. By the time she comes down, she’s feeling much more confident – and her family are all waiting for her. In today’s busy, bustling world it’s a theme many small children will identify with. The illustrations are done in an unusual style using Japanese wood cuts and stencils. I’d call it old-fashioned, though the proper phrase could be 1950s retro. The colours are subdued, with much use of  dense, textured backgrounds and stark silhouettes. The formatting is repetitive, with each double spread consisting of a page of plain text opposite a full-page illustration.
I suspect this quiet, subtle story will need some explaining if you’re reading it to a child of four or five (it’s not suitable for younger children). Nancy herself looks to be about seven in the illustrations, but it’s a very large tree she climbs and she goes right to the top – so I’m not sure what age she’s logically meant to be...
Tina Matthews is a New Zealander living in Australia.  'Waiting for Later' is shortlisted for the 2012 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards.
ISBN 978 1 921720 05 5 RRP $27.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Fearless in Love by Colin Thompson, illus. Sarah Davis, HarperCollins Australia
Many readers of children’s picture books know and love Fearless the bulldog – this second title will not disappoint his fans. “Fearless was not a complicated dog,” it begins, and goes on to explain that Fearless’s mother told him, “Life is much nicer if you love everyone.” So that’s what young Fearless sets out to do. But loving (and eating) his bed, and loving (and eating) the winning lottery ticket just makes his family cross with him. Poor Fearless is getting very confused – until he meets Primrose from next door, who turns out to be – you guessed it, a beautiful bulldog! At last Fearless has found true love.

Children will identify with Fearless, who only wants to do the right thing but gets into continual trouble. They’ll love the big, bright illustrations full of action and humour (and bulldog drool). You don’t have to be a dog person to enjoy this book. It would be okay to read to a small group, but especially good to read to individual children of about four to seven because of the interesting detail in the pictures.
Illustrator Sarah Davis is another New Zealander living in Australia.  Many of her books have won awards in Australia and been shortlisted or Honoured in New Zealand and overseas.
ISBN 978 1 921720 7333 2951 7 RRP $29.99 Hb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 
Seesaw Po by Kyle Mewburn, illus. Katz Cowley, Scholastic New Zealand

A group of animal friends (hippo, orang-utan, giraffe and armadillo) visit a playground. They’re keen to play on the equipment, but big, kindly hippopotamus Po makes sure a tiny ant gets a proper swing first. Uta, Raff and Madi have a fabulous time on the swing and the slide and the roundabout and the seesaw. But poor old Po is just too big and heavy. He can’t even have a play on the seesaw. But when his friends go home, Po sees the ant returning – with millions of other ants – and his kindness is rewarded.
Children will enjoy the simplicity of this little fable with its easy-to-understand message. They’ll also appreciate the spaciousness, clarity, and humour of the illustrations with their friendly cartoon animals. I’m looking forward to reading it to my four-year-old grandson - I’m sure he’ll be intrigued by the clever ending. The book could be comfortably read aloud to a pre-school group, and should be enjoyed by children of about four to six. The Maori edition is called E Pīoi e Po!     
Kyle Mewburn is an Australian living in New Zealand. He has won many awards for his picture books in New Zealand and overseas. Katz Cowley is a New Zealander now living in Australia. She illustrated the bestselling book The Wonky Donkey.
ISBN 978 1 77543 026 1 RRP $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Two new exciting chapter books for teens

When Empire Calls by Ken Catran, Scholastic NZ

Not much is known in New Zealand about the Boer Wars. So this book is definitely filling a niche – and supplying easily-understood information about a war that rewarded scores of loyal New Zealand men with disease and death. It’s written from the (adult) point of view of young James McDonald, whose two older brothers sign up in 1899 to fight for Britain against the Boers in Africa. The actual fighting is described by letters to James from his brother, Edward - letters that convey the increasing horrors of the British Empire’s determination to wipe out the Boers and take over their land and mineral resources. Meanwhile James is fighting his own battles at home – mainly with an alcoholic ex-soldier (turned shopkeeper) who is trying to open James’s eyes to the true nature of war.

As always, Ken Catran writes a low-key but totally absorbing story that neatly portrays the attitudes of the time to the aggression of the British Empire. I was interested to read an essay by the author at the end of the story called New Zealand At War – A Personal Perspective. As well as offering an overview of New Zealand’s involvement in overseas and local wars, it also provides the information that 71 New Zealanders died in action in the Boer Wars, with twice that number killed by disease. Most of the Boer fighters were killed, and 100,000 of their family members were rounded up and herded into camps where many of them died of malnutrition and disease. This is a book that should be available in every school and library in the country, and would be of most interest to boys of around 10 to 13.

ISBN 978 1 86943 555 4 RRP  $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Telling Lies by Tricia Glensor, HarperCollins NZ

The extremely subdued pastel cover picture does not give a good indication of the exciting story that lies inside. It’s the first novel by this author, who has been editing the New Zealand School Journal for the last fifteen years. The story was inspired by her father’s experiences during WWII when he parachuted from his crippled plane into occupied France and was assisted by a local family. The story focuses on Simone, the teenage daughter of a farming family, who discovers an injured New Zealand airman stumbling across the fields. Her family take him in, fix him up with false papers, and plan to help him get to safety. However at the last minute their plans fall through, and Simone and her cousin Claudette have to escort Paul to the local railway station, stay with him during the trip to Paris, and see him handed over to people who will help him cross the border to safety. It’s a suspenseful and nail-biting journey as the little group try to avoid spying locals, suspicious gendarmes, and bullying German soldiers. Best for girls of about 10 to 14 who like devouring stories in one gulp – but you’ll have to persuade them that the story is a lot more riveting than the cover indicates.

ISBN 978 1 86950 934 7 RRP $19.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman