Monday, September 30, 2013

Joy Cowley Award winner and shortlisted picture books

Alphabet Squabble by Isaac Drought, ill. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic NZ
This picture book is the winner of last year’s Joy Cowley Award (awarded by the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust) so it has to live up to  high standards. It does this admirably. The story is set in Alphabet Land, where the busy and popular letters such as A and C look down upon the much less popular letters such as X,Y and Z. When the downtrodden letters protest, they are commanded to discover five words that start with their letter. Y and Z do this with no problem, but the Xs have difficulty - until a young X comes up with a word that neatly illustrates the theme of the story (I’m not going to tell you what the word is). The text is dramatically brought to life by Jenny Cooper’s fabulous cartoon illustrations. She used pencil and watercolour paints to create letters with real personality, and the intriguingly detailed pictures will reward close study by child readers (and adults). The book will be useful for primary-level lessons relating to the Health Curriculum because of its focus on tolerance and acceptance of others. But it’s still a delightful picture book in its own right, and pre-schoolers who are learning their alphabet will be fascinated.
ISBN 978 1 77543 124 4 $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
Adventures With Daddy by Cathy Kearse, ill. Gabriella Klepatski, Scholastic NZ

Shortlisted for the Joy Cowley Award, this picture book is a first for Cathy Kearse. It impresses with its simplicity - the rhyming text is minimal. Try this: “We go to the park to eat some old bread, but Daddy gives his to the ducks there instead.” At the end of an activity-filled day for the preschool narrator and his father, it’s obvious that Daddy has simply run out of steam. Most of the time the rhy 
thm bounces along happily and makes for a pleasant read-aloud experience. The pictures by Gabriella Klepatski, an experienced illustrator, are delightful. I’ve probably said this before, but her style reminds me of the superb Shirley Hughes. There’s plenty of reassuring white space, and the use of coloured pencils and subdued colours creates a soft, calming effect. It’s a perfect bed-time book for preschoolers, especially boys. I’m going to give it to my worn-out son and my three-year-old grandson - they’ll love it. PS. There’s also a Maori edition.

ISBN 978 1 77543 126 8 $19.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A review of The Freedom Merchants by Sherryl Jordan

The Freedom Merchants by Sherryl Jordan, Scholastic NZ
I’ve just read two historical stories by NZ authors - one after the other - and relished the refreshing change in genre and setting, as well as enjoying both books in their own right. The first was Murder at Mykenai by Catherine Mayo, and the second is this title by one of our most well-known and experienced authors. Almost by accident Sherryl discovered information about the Barbary Coast white-slave trade (which took place between 1500 and 1800) and the horror of the trade stayed with her - prompting her to write this fascinating and moving story.
It is 1615 - and the young hero, Liam, lives in a small Irish coastal village. His first encounter with Muslim slave-trading pirates results in an unusual friendship being set up - but his second encounter is heart-breaking. His brother and a dozen other people from his village are kidnapped. Liam eventually manages to accompany some Christian monks to the Barbary Coast in the hope of buying the villagers back. But he and his fellow travellers are also captured and sold as slaves by the pirates - and all seems lost. But is it??
This is a riveting story - genuine read-under-the-blanket stuff. The author has beautifully captured Liam’s bravery and determination, together with the strong but gentle faith of the monks. But the most vivid part of the story - and the most harrowing - is the description of the tortured lives of the white slaves. In the author’s Note at the end Sherryl says that over a million white Christians were enslaved to Muslim masters during the course of the trade.
I’m recommending this for mature and capable readers of about 11 to 14 years. Boys in particular will be absorbed by it, but girls will also find it a stimulating read. Teachers’ Notes are available at Scholastic’s website.
ISBN 978 1 77543 146 6 $19.50  Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fictional book about bullying for 10-13 year olds

Batjack by Ann Neville published by Create Books
Thirteen year old Tom wants to audition for the school musical Batjack but he has a problem …

A Big One – Dylan, the school bully, and Tom’s arch enemy want the same part.

When Tom is cast as the main character and Dylan is his understudy the battle begins – fights, verbal abuse, vandalism, theft … You name it, it happens.

How will Tom and his friends deal with the bullying? What is Dylan’s secret? Can they reach a compromise and manage to co-habit on the same planet let alone the same stage? Read on to find out …
Bullying is an issue in most (if not all) schools. Kids are often too scared to tell their parents or teachers and suffer in silence.  As a teacher I saw it happening all the time and talked to the class about looking out for each other.
Batjack is a much needed story that would make a wonderful read aloud in class. After each chapter the students could talk about the issues that have been brought up and also role play or problem solve how they would get out of situations.  I think Ann has taken the issue of bullying one step further than most books too.  She has addressed the problem that a bully might have and looked at how victims can be more confident and therefore not look like victims or easy targets.
If I was still teaching I would encourage the students to turn the problem solving techniques  into posters. I suggest that schools perhaps invite a self defence instructor to teach a few sessions.  At the moment, schools seem to deal with the problems rather than search for solutions. This book will be a great addition to middle, senior Primary and Intermediate schools libraries (even years 9 and 10 where bullying is often rife) plus I'd recommend schools purchase it as a resource for their Health curriculum.
Ann also has two small books - one for children and another for parents - as a follow up to the book.  She'll also be adding a free downloadable teaching resource to her website:
Ann Neville has lived in Hamilton most of her life and taught in various towns in New Zealand and the UK. She has written Bullying Guides for parents and children, as well as other educational resources.
Ann has a Master’s in Education, Diploma in Educational Management, Diploma in Educational Leadership and Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing. She has also studied Short Story Writing for Children and is currently completing a Diploma in Publishing through Whitireia New Zealand.
Her research has looked at all forms of violence including physical, verbal, isolation, sexism, ageism and cyber bullying. This lead Ann to write the book ‘Violence...not in our school’, which was made possible through a Graduate Study Award from the University of Waikato.  A Winston Churchill Fellowship enabled Ann to travel to USA to study their strategies for dealing with violence in American schools.
Her book ‘Batjack’, aimed mainly at 9 to 13 year olds, was short-listed for the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2011.