Thursday, November 21, 2013

A sport biography for children about one of New Zealand's most exciting league players

Stepping with Benji Marshall by David Riley

I came across this book while researching a sports' book I'm writing myself. And I have to say that I'm impressed. I am a sucker for biographies but I'm not a rugby/league sports fan (at all). Yet David Riley grabs me from the first page with rugby league player Benji Marshall's crowning moment winning the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. We read about Benji's 'stupefying sidestep', his 'phenomenal passing', 'sizzling speed' and his toughness; subtitles that will draw young boys to read further. Author David Riley knows what he is doing - he is a High school English and Drama teacher himself.

In the next chapter, David tells us about Benji's not ideal beginnings. His 16 year old mother brought Benji up along with the help of their whanau. Benji did not have a dad but he had 8+ uncles who took him under his wing. We find out that Benji was often over-looked for junior teams because of his small stature. He compensated by learning tricks; moves that would make him stand out from the other team players.

I like that David tells us about the whole person. Read the biography to find out what else Benji was talented in - you'll find them surprising (and refreshing). You'll also find out how he was selected for the big league, how he wasn't afraid to volunteer tricky moves - moves that helped his teams win against the odds. The wins are incredible culminating in Benji winning the biggest prize of all ...

To keep the book interesting for reluctant readers David keeps the chapters small, with punchy sub-headings, lots of photographs, quotes and breakouts such as commentaries on important moments in the game: Here's How it Went Down; and Did You Know Facts. At the back of the book is a bibliography so boys can read further about Benji and rugby league. Also an interesting page about how Benji is helping other people; visiting sick kids in hospital, starting a foundation, and being an inspiration to young players. There's even a page on what to do if you're facing challenges, plus a timeline.

The book is professionally designed by Tau Ceti One (I particularly like the type-set) and printed in New Zealand. You can buy a printed and digital version of the book.

Order directly from the author
Cost: $20 plus postage and packaging: postage in NZ: 1- 4 copies $4.50 ; 5 -10 copies $5.50; postage to Australia: 1- 4 copies $5.50. 10% discount for orders of 20 or more
Electronic version can be purchased here:

For teachers - David has written an English resource teaching metacognitive (learning to learn) strategies using articles about the All Black Team players, and another book for the Rugby League team. I write teaching resources and I can tell you these are first class. If you teach an all-boy class - you'll definitely want to download these AND THEY'RE FREE! David tells me he is writing something for girls and boys who are interested in other sports that aren't rugby or league. Go to his website for some great reviews of his book, and find out what else David has written (a play, picture book, another biography - about Sonny Bill Williams). 

An excellent book that you'll want to buy for your class, school library or for the boy (or girl) who is a rugby league fanatic.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Watch Out Snail! children's non-fiction book

Watch Out Snail! by Gay Hay, illustrated by Margaret Tolland

Night slips in.
The forest stirs.
Down in its depths lives Snail,
its shell as big as your fist.

This is the first time a Powelliphanta snail has featured in a book, I am sure. Written in creative non-fiction style we meet the snail lithering through the forest floor. Can it escape the hunters? You'll also find out how the snail eats in an alien-like way, where it lives and other interesting bits of information at the back of the book. Teachers will find this last fact page useful for further study. I liked that they include the Maori words too.

The illustrations are vivid with accents of purple. They've also gone the extra expense and laminated the shell. Young hands will enjoy sliding their fingers over it - imagining they are touching the real thing.

This book will encourage 3-6 year olds to look for garden snails and have a whole new respect for them. Unfortunately, they are highly unlikely to find a Powelliphanta snail, as they are an endangered native species. A much needed book about a very rarely talked about species in New Zealand. It will help bring awareness to this snail's scarcity and uniqueness.

This duo also published 'Fantail Quilt' which was shortlisted for the LIANZA award.

Gay Hay is an environmental enthusiast and primary school teacher. She is a volunteer for Nga Uruora Trust and, as the Pukerua Bay school environmental officer, she has helped children plant and nurture over 6000 trees.

Margaret Tolland is an artist and teacher by trade. Margaret is currently the Education Coordinator at Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures where she teaches people of all ages about art.

RRP $25 Buy here

Sunday, November 17, 2013

For teachers/students' election study in 2014

Running the Country: A Look inside New Zealand’s Government by Maria Gill (New Holland)

Maria Gill has transformed a potentially dry subject into a bright and attractive book that will be a “must-buy” for all libraries and schools in New Zealand (yes, I think it will be useful for primary through to secondary levels). Her Contents page lists subject headings such as: How does our government work, Traditions in Parliament, Political parties, How laws are made, and Local government. There’s a Glossary, a Resources page, and an Index, so it’s very user-friendly from a research point of view. Each topic runs across two pages, including blocks of easy-to-read text, a coloured photo, an information box, a profile of an important person with a cartoon illustration by Malcolm Evans, and (usually) a Click Here spot which provides an URL for further information or an activity. Not forgetting a useful Timeline which runs through the whole book.

Probably the best feature of this book is its approachability. Youngsters won’t pick it off the shelf for a light read, but it certainly invites browsing and dipping. Any young researcher working on a subject-related project will find it very handy, and I suspect teachers will find it an absolute boon when looking for resources for civic studies. Recommended.

ISBN 978 1 86966 396 4 $24.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Picture Song Books

My Daddy Ate an Apple by Craig Smith, ill. Scott Tulloch, Scholastic NZ (includes CD with song)

After some discussion with colleagues, I’m identifying  
a new genre for this review blog (KidsBooksNZ). I’ve reviewed several picture song books previously and always felt I wasn’t evaluating them properly. Generally, they don’t match with one of the main traditional picture book criteria ie. requiring a skilfully written (and original) text for an adult to read to a child, usually in prose or poetry format. Text and illustration in traditional picture books enhance each other as part of the shared reading experience.

Music and song bring a new and significant element to the traditional text/illustrations format. They’re not better or worse than standard picture books - they’re just different. Picture song books will probably continue to be included with traditional picture books in both bookshops and libraries, but for the purposes of this review blog, I’ll be evaluating them differently.

Craig Smith’s song describes in hair-raising detail what happens when a zebra eats an apple containing a worm. Be warned - the conclusion contains scatological material which could result in a classroom meltdown. Scott Tulloch’s cartoon illustrations are bold, bright and hectic - children (boys particularly) of about four to seven will think they’re hilarious. This is definitely not a bedtime story!

ISBN 978 1 77543 200 5 $21 Pb with CD
She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain sung by the Topp Twins, ill. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic NZ (includes CD with song)

Well, it’s the old country song that we all know, but I suspect there are a few extra lyrics thrown in, eg. And we’ll all have cake and ice cream when she comes... This is the third picture song book from the Topp Twins (after There’s A Hole in My Bucket and Do Your Ears Hang Low?) and I’m sure it will be very popular. I can see this CD being kept in the car for travelling - but probably not the song book itself (beware carsickness...!). Jenny Cooper’s cartoon illustrations are great fun (shades of red-headed Annie-Get-Your-Gun), and the expressions on the faces of the dancing and instrument-playing animals are priceless.

ISBN 978 1 77543 172 5 $21 Pb with CD

The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas, ill. Myles Lawford, sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Kotuku and Te Okahurangi Tibble, Scholastic NZ (includes CD of song in English and Maori)

This song begins, On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a meat pie from the local dairy... The accumulations carry on with a distinctly New Zealand flavour - two boogie boards, three white sheep, four sausage sizzles, five chocolate fish, six rugby players, seven Hobbit extras ... and so on. The main illustrations accompany the English text, while the Maori text has smaller versions. I googled the illustrator but couldn’t find any info apart from Facebook and LinkedIn entries, so I suspect this is his first picture song book. His cartoon illustrations (“created in Adobe Photoshop with a wacom tablet”) are colourful, modern, and a bit zany, focusing on three children and a dog who are enjoying the unusual bounty of the song. I see this song and book being enjoyed by primary-aged children rather than pre-schoolers.

ISBN 978 1 77543 167 1 $19.50 Pb with CD

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Monday, November 11, 2013

For ages four to infinity ...

A Book is a Book by Jenny Bornholdt, ill. Sarah Wilkins, Gecko Press

Small and perfectly formed, this book offers a prose poem by one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed poets. It was conceived and developed to commemorate the 20th birthday of the Whitireia publishing programme. It’s been published in the guise of a children’s book, but it’s more likely to be appreciated by older children and adults. In a fresh and whimsical fashion it looks at answers to the question, “What is a book?” Every avid reader will find delicacies to savour - I especially liked the following: Reading a book of pictures is still reading, and You can read a book while you walk, but you have to be careful not to bump into things (e-book readers take note!). Sarah Wilkins (winner of the Russell Clark Award in 2003 for The Immigrants) enhances the text with finely drawn, imaginative and almost surreal illustrations that reward close scrutiny. Congratulations to Gecko Press for the care that has gone into the production - it has a detachable cover, a different picture on the cover of the book itself, and a bookmark; and  the pages have a sturdy old-fashioned matt quality which appeals to both eye and fingertip. This would make a great Christmas present for friends, young and old, who love books (real books!).

ISBN  878 1 877579 92 9 $24.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dunger by Joy Cowley

Pre-teen Fiction

Dunger by Joy Cowley, Gecko Press

Congratulations to Gecko Press for publishing this warm-hearted novel by one of New Zealand’s most loved children’s authors. It’s a homely story set in Joy’s beloved Marlborough Sounds, focusing on 11-year-old William and 14-year-old Melissa, who take turns to narrate the chapters. They are horrified at the idea of spending ten days at a remote bach in the Sounds with their ancient grandparents. No electricity, no cell phone coverage - it’s the pits. But their noisy, opinionated grandparents teach them a few living-off-the-land skills, and gradually their ideas change. When Grandpa has a bad accident William and Melissa are able to take charge and sort things out. The setting is vivid, the characters are likeable (even the doddery old grandparents) and the plot is well-paced and interesting. It’s a comfortable read for intermediate ages, with a strong New Zealand theme. Recommended.

ISBN 978 1 877579 46 2 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, November 1, 2013

Two action stories from David Hill

Brave Company by David Hill, Penguin NZ

It’s so nice to be reading David Hill books again! David and Ken Catran are virtually the only New Zealand children’s authors writing about our country’s involvement in international wars. It’s so important for our authors to introduce our young readers to the realities of warfare - but in stories that emphasise human virtues. This very readable novel is set in 1951, during the Korean War. Boy Seaman Russell Purchas is sixteen, stationed on board HMNZS Taupo, a frigate with 100 crew. He’s full of excitement at going into battle as part of the UN forces - but he carries a weighty secret. He’s determined to be brave and do the right thing, unlike his dead Uncle Trevor who was lauded as a hero of WWII but in reality (according to official information) was a deserter. The plot whisks us quickly into the active battle zone, interweaving the main story with a heart-rending theme focused on the agony of the Korean civilian refugees.  It’s not long before Russell finds himself in the front line of the land battle, and his courage is tested as never before. Heaps of action and excitement, lots of war details (no doubt thoroughly researched), and a likeable young hero make this a riveting read for boys of about 12 to 15.

ISBN 978 0 143 30757 0 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman   

Sinking by David Hill (Scholastic)

Early one morning as a young teen named Conrad is crossing the park on the way to swim training, an old man runs out of the bushes. He is shouting about someone called Ted. Conrad is shaken by this but doesn’t tell anyone at the pools. Not even his best mate Jaz who is also training for the Nationals.

Back at school there is a new girl in Conrad’s class. She’s skinny, short and feisty and not scared of anyone – even guys much bigger than her. Conrad soon learns this girl (Bex) is in town to look after her grandfather – the same man who was ranting in the park. Bex is waiting for her mother to come to town to help but she is caught up with the shearing back on their farm.

As Conrad gets to know Bex, she introduces him to her grandfather, George Abbott. Conrad gets on well with him and wants to know why he was out so early and behaving strangely. He begins asking questions and his dad tells him of a local tragedy years before, where a young guy drowned in the strong current of the river. He’d argued with a friend over a girl and had been drinking. The friend was asleep on the bank at the time and not responsible, but had carried the guilt with him his entire life. That man was George Abbott.

As Conrad’s friendship with Bex builds, her trust in him grows. She tells Conrad that George’s wanderings have got worse since his wife died and when he goes missing one day, Conrad is the first person she calls for help. George has left a note. Where can he be? Will they find him before something terrible happens?

Conrad and Bex race to the river on the back of her horse towards an action packed finale, to face another near tragedy.

Sinking is a fabulous story full of believable characters and David Hill’s wonderful wit. Conrad made me laugh out loud and I felt for George and his battle with early Alzheimer’s.

ISBN 9781775431329 $19.50

 Reviewed by Adele Broadbent