Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Books for all ages - Children and Young Adult

Picture Book
Sam Pylar by Shalesh Vasan, ill. Duncan West, Phantom Tree House

I couldn’t find any information on the internet about this writer, and the publisher’s website at www.phantomhouse.com wasn’t very forthcoming. Recommendation to small publishers: provide plenty of information online for reviewers, booksellers, and librarians. It’s a mildly spooky story about a vampire named Sam Pylar, written from the p.o.v. of Lucy, his 7-year-old classmate. When Sam eats a garlic sausage at Lucy’s birthday party, he is severely indisposed. He later re-visits Lucy as a vampire bat to deliver his good wishes. The production of the book is handsome, with a fold-over glossy cover and top-quality paper. The illustrations are done in an old-fashioned style reminiscent of the Phantom-type comics of the mid-1900s. The illustrator has taken a daring step by rendering the first half of the book in muted colour and the second half in heavy black ink, presumably to emphasis the spookiness of Sam’s transformation into a bat. Children may need this change of style explained to them. Definitely not a book for pre-schoolers.
ISBN 978 0 9864571 6 6 RRP $19.99 Pb

YA Novel
Snakes and Ladders by Mary-Anne Scott, Scholastic NZ
This is Mary-Anne Scott’s first book, but writing runs in her blood – her mother is Joy Watson, author of the popular Grandpa’s Cardigan series. The novel takes a contemporary look at several current issues such as parent-child relationships, bullying, and peer pressure. Finn’s aging rocker dad is on trial for accidentally killing a pedestrian. Initially Finn is glad to take up his grandmother’s offer to fund him at an exclusive boys’ boarding school – but Finn soon finds out that his family secrets make him a target for a bully. His life becomes more and more complicated as he tries to fulfil the expectations of Mia, a popular girl at a nearby school who has decided Finn will make a nice accessory for the school ball. But a disastrous after-ball party results in heartbreak for Finn and his mates, and Finn finally realises it’s time to face up to his own demons and reveal the truth about earlier events. Finn is an engaging hero, and it’s not hard to sympathise with his attempts to re-invent himself. The plot moves quickly (though I did get a bit fed up with Mia and her unlikely family), and the macho relationships among the boys are thoroughly convincing - as is the teen lingo.  Best for readers (both girls and boys) of secondary-school age.
ISBN 978-1-77543-040-7 RRP $21 Pb
Intermediate Novel
The Drover’s Quest by Susan Brocker, HarperCollins NZ
Susan Brocker’s fifth children’s novel is a cracker. It’s set during the goldrush days of 1886 on the wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It follows the adventures of two main characters – an American boy called Joseph who is running from a tragedy in his past, and Charlotte, a 13-year-old girl who is determined to get to the goldfields to find out what happened to her missing father. Joseph, who is half Cherokee, has horse-riding experience which enables him to join a cattle drove across the Southern Alps. While Charlotte used to go on cattle droves with her father before he tried his skills as a goldminer, so she joins the drove disguised as a young boy. She is accompanied by Tama, her father’s Maori partner. Susan Brocker’s interests in both history and animals have enabled her to craft an exciting adventure story as Charlotte and Joseph tackle the perils of a journey on horseback through wild and  dangerous country. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the historical details. However I’m not happy with the cover, which shows a very black silhouette of a drover superimposed on a bush scene, while the font used for the title is heavily Gothic – my first impression (subjective, I know) was that it’s very old-fashioned. Hopefully Susan has plenty of fans who will quickly move past the cover to enjoy the excellent story within. Teachers and librarians might need to recommend the book to intermediate-aged readers who like historical adventure stories. Teachers’ notes are available on http://harpercollins.co.nz 
ISBN 978 1 86950 907 1 RRP $19.99 Pb
Junior Novel

Fishing Fame by Melanie Drewery, ill. John Bennett, Scholastic NZ
Another lively little story for younger readers – Scholastic does these very well. Max and Dan are desperate to get their names and photos on to the fishing fame board on their local wharf. But all they ever catch are tiny little spotties from the wharf. Foolishly, Max devises a plan to take a paddle boat out into deeper water to catch something bigger. But a waste drain from a freezing works spills out nearby, and the area is swarming with sharks. The boys’ paddle boat gets caught up with a massive shark, and eventually the shark and the boat become entangled in a net. Max and Dan know they have to get help ... very soon. The shark theme together with the foolhardiness of the two boys will attract young readers, especially reluctant boys. They’ll also appreciate the funny cartoon pictures on most of the pages, and the use of words in different fonts and sizes to break up the blocks of text. Best for readers of about 6 to 8.

ISBN 978 1 77543 039 1 RRP $16.50 Pb

All reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fun Junior Chapter Books for Girls

Saffron: So quite excellent by Victoria M. Azaro (Penguin)

Mum keeps yawning. She is always tired at the moment. I don't understand why, because she sleeps a lot during the day. She says it's because Star Anise is such a creative baby.

Saffron's mother is exhausted.She needs to sew all the costumes for the ballet concert and finish some pieces for her exhibition. However,  Star Anise sleeps during the day and is awake all night. And Saffron's dad has been away for three weeks and two days. When he rings to say he won't be home for the weekend, Saffron's mother yells into the phone. Sage cries, then Star Anise and that sets off mother.  Saffron's father asks if she would help her mother until he gets home. Saffron says it is her favourite thing in the whole world to help. She draws up lists and creates pandemonium with everything she does at home, at the airport, in France and lastly at the concert. 

This is the third book in the series about Saffron and her family.  As a parent I could imagine some of these things happening with a precocious child in the family. Even though Victoria had a new baby at the same time (book two) she doesn't model the characters on her own children; she has two boys and a baby girl (sames ages though). Victoria has the knack of seeing the funny side of life and it comes through in her writing and pictures. She has created a wonderful quirky voice for her character Saffron and the three books are a joy to read. Great books for girls learning to read on their own and also read aloud to younger girls. 

See Victoria's new website plus Saffron's own website.

ISBN:  9780143306931  RRP $14.99
Little Witch by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Cat Chapman (Walker Books)

Mother Witch stood in front of the bathroom mirror, powdering her wart.
"Where are you going, Mummy?" asked Little Witch.
"To the Witches and Wizards Moon Dance," said Mother Witch. "It's a full moon tonight." She picked up a small frog and rubbed it lightly across her eyelids, leaving a lovely green streak.

Little Witch wants to go too but she's being babysat by Sorceress Monda Green. Only Sorceress Monda is a little deaf.  When Little Witch asks if they can play princess and dragon and she screams and screams. Sorceress thinks she wants icecream so she conjures up one thing after another that are nothing like what Little Witch wants.  Wherever Little Witch is - she gets up to mischief - sometimes not only her own doing. 

Each chapter is a complete story on its own. In the first she is babysat by Sorceress Monda, in the second she uses the wrong magic word, in the third Little Witch wanders into the spells room and casts a few of her own, causing much trouble.

Author Juliette MacIver has had a lot of fun playing with words and seeing how she can transplant a normal life for a young girl into a world of witches and spells.  Delightful humour throughout the book in words and pictures.  Will be enjoyed by young girls 5-7 years either read to, with or by.  I hope we'll see more of this character ...

Juliette MacIver is also the author of Marmaduke Duck and Marmadule Jam.  Both books have been shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Children's Book and LIANZA awards.

ISBN:  978-1-921720-46-8  RRP $13.99

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chapter Books with Maori folklore


The Drover’s Quest by Susan Brocker, Harper Collins NZ  

It’s the late 1860’s in the gold mining West Coast of New Zealand. A man is attacked for his gold and this is where the story begins.

‘The Drover’s Quest’ begins with two separate stories. Joseph is fifteen, half Cherokee and has just sailed into Lyttelton Harbour on a whaling ship from America. 

Charlotte has just turned fourteen, and misses her father who is mining on the West Coast. When she hears that her father was murdered, she won’t believe it, cuts off her hair and leaves the nun’s home her father left her in - dressed as a boy. Determined to find out the truth and skilled with horses, she joins a team of drovers taking 1000 head of cattle over Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika as Charlie.

Only Tama (her father’s best mate) knows her secret as they begin their long, arduous drove.

Joseph has also joined the team, his excellent horsemanship taught to him by his Cherokee grandfather. The youngest on the drove, Charlie and Joseph are drawn together and when Charlie nearly drowns, Joseph discovers her secret.

As their stories intertwine, the tension builds along the drove, with Joseph hiding his own secret.

‘The Drover’s Quest’ is interwoven with Maori folklore, and shows the strong bond between drovers and the animals they rely on. The dogs and horses are an important part of the drover’s lives and the novel itself, and this story gives a real insight into a part of the life and the land of early New Zealand.

With two strong main characters, both boys and girls will enjoy Susan Brocker’s latest novel. The detail is brilliant and the contrast between Maori and Cherokee is something different for readers.

ISBN – 978 1 86950 907 1 RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Adele Broadbent

Justice and Utu by David Hair, HarperCollins NZ
This is the fourth book in the series which began with The Bone Tiki and continued in The Taniwha’s Tear and The Lost Tohunga. The background of this series is becoming fairly complex, so I’d recommend interested readers begin with the first book. The main character continues to be Matiu Douglas, nearly 17 now, who is a trainee tohunga ruanuku (or Adept). He has magical powers which enable him to battle evil tohunga - and travel at will to the Ghost World, aka Aotearoa, which exists alongside our own world. Matui becomes reluctantly involved when his father, a lawyer, is summoned to defend an old enemy in Aotearoa, another magic wielder called Donna Kyle. A complicated situation develops when Donna escapes from prison and goes after her father, a much more powerful magican called Asher Grieve. The resulting chase from Auckland to Kororareka to White Island involves a host of characters and factions (many of them involving real people, such as Governor Hobson). The reader must pay close attention in order to understand what’s going on.  Non-stop action, secrets and suspense, bloodthirsty battles, magical duels and eventual death are combined to produce a fast and demanding read for teenage fantasy fans of about 14 to 16.

ISBN  978 1 86950 931 6 RRP $24.99 Pb     

Monday, June 4, 2012

Maori Language Teaching Resources

Maranga Mai! by Sharon Holt, illustrated by Deborah Hinde (published by Edumaxi Ltd)

He aha te tangi a te kau?
He aha te tangi a te hau?
Mu, mu, mu ... mu, mu, mu. Te tangi a te kau.

What does the cow say?
What does the cow say?
Moo, moo, moo ... moo, moo, moo. That's what the cow says.

The second book in the series:

Kei to Peke Ahau, by Sharon Holt, illustrated by Deborah Hinde (published by Edumaxi Ltd)

Kei te peke ahau, kei te peke ahau.
Peke, peke, peke.
Kei te peke ahu, kei to peke ahau.
Peke, peke, peke.
Ano nei he rapeti.

I am jumping, I am jumping.
Jump, jump, jump.
I am jumping, I am jumping.
Jump, jump, jump.
Like a rabbit.

Children can sing along with the CDs (sung by Stacy Walker and Graeme Stewart) in each book while looking at the pictures and and reading the Maori words to a song. In the first book it is about what the farm animals say. In the second book it is actions children perform that resemble animal movements.  The Maori version is illustrated with pictures and at the back of the book on page 22 is a loosely translated English version. On the left are pictures with Maori verbs and nouns to help children learn those Maori words. On page 23 are guitar chords and on the last page are ideas to use the book/song in the classroom. 

The pictures in both books are bright and colourful and are spread across the double page spread.  I would like to have seen more Maori children in the book, as all the children are European except for one boy who has European features and tanned skin.

The blurb on the book says that Te reo singalong books can help you and your children learn te reo Maori the easy way.  There is a real need for resources that teach Maori language and these two books make it fun and educational.  Junior and Middle school teachers will find these books very handy. I hope there are more...

Reviewed by Maria Gill


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Action Adventure stories


Justice and Utu by David Hair, HarperCollins NZ

This is the fourth book in the series which began with The Bone Tiki and continued in The Taniwha’s Tear and The Lost Tohunga. The background of this series is becoming fairly complex, so I’d recommend interested readers begin with the first book. The main character continues to be Matiu Douglas, nearly 17 now, who is a trainee tohunga ruanuku (or Adept). He has magical powers which enable him to battle evil tohunga - and travel at will to the Ghost World, aka Aotearoa, which exists alongside our own world. Matui becomes reluctantly involved when his father, a lawyer, is summoned to defend an old enemy in Aotearoa, another magic wielder called Donna Kyle. A complicated situation develops when Donna escapes from prison and goes after her father, a much more powerful magican called Asher Grieve. The resulting chase from Auckland to Kororareka to White Island involves a host of characters and factions (many of them involving real people, such as Governor Hobson). The reader must pay close attention in order to understand what’s going on.  Non-stop action, secrets and suspense, bloodthirsty battles, magical duels and eventual death are combined to produce a fast and demanding read for teenage fantasy fans of about 14 to 16.

ISBN  978 1 86950 931 6 RRP $24.99 Pb     
The Vitality Code by Michael Oehley, Scholastic NZ
This is the second title in the series The Adventures of Daren Sáner. It’s about a year since I read the first title, but the overarching story came back to me fairly quickly once I was a few pages in. At the same time, there’s enough background detail woven into the first part of the story for it to be happily read by people who don’t know the first book. Daren and his friends are on board a massive spaceship carrying interplanetary settlers on a long journey through space. During his first adventure (which involved time travel) Daren acquired a magical jewel which appears to have the power to control events. In this second title, the jewel takes Daren back to the past again – where he and his friends must fulfil a prophecy in order to save the Súperiae Empire from defeat. But Daren keeps on being switched back and forth in time – sometimes to help the Empire fight against powerful invaders, and sometimes to save the inhabitants of the spaceship from a mysterious killer virus. Plenty of action and adventure; best for fantasy/sci fi fans aged about 10 to 14. Teachers’ Notes available on the Scholastic website.
ISBN 978-1-77543-056-8 RRP $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman