Saturday, April 26, 2014

Raining Cats and Dogs

Purrs, Paws and Claws by Errol McLeary, Scholastic NZ

This picture book and the following one arrived together, so it’s fitting to review them together. From the publisher’s website: “Errol McLeary grew up in Auckland and has been a magazine designer, a television designer, an art director at an advertising agency and a newspaper illustrator and cartoonist with the NZ Herald, as well as doing freelance work. Errol then set up a graphic design business, eventually concentrating on book design, but it was always his dream to illustrate, and over the years he has become more interested in illustrating his own books, using traditional techniques.” I’ve quoted this extract because it’s always interesting to know the background of a picture book creator who’s come to the market fairly recently.

Each page offers a humorous feline version of a limerick or nursery rhyme. The rhythm of the verses has its occasional rough bits, so do a bit of preparation before you actually read the book aloud to a young audience. Children won’t notice the bumps if you read with plenty of gusto. They’ll be intent on looking at the brightly-coloured, jovial cartoon pictures of the various cats. This book would do well for a read-aloud in pre-school centres and new entrant classes.

 ISBN 978 1 77543 227 2 $19.50 Pb

Doggy Ditties from A to Z by Jo van Dam, ill. Myles Lawford, Scholastic NZ

Jo van Dam is the librarian at two Auckland primary schools, so should have an excellent knowledge of successful picture books. This is her first book. Myles Lawford is a designer and illustrator who illustrated Scholastic NZ’s The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas in 2013. Together they have produced a book to fascinate young dog lovers. Each letter of the alphabet heads up a short humorous poem about a breed of dog - Affenpinscher, Boxer, Chihuahua, Dalmatian, English Setter, Foxie - and so on. Would you believe there’s even a dog for the letter X! The rhymes are bouncy and fun to read. The illustrations were created in Adobe Photoshop so have a crisp and colourful appearance, with some very appealing dog faces. Like the previous picture book, this is one that would be good for reading aloud to groups of pre-schoolers or young primary classes.

ISBN 978 1 77543 188 6 $19.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Two Classic New Zealand Picture Books Re-Issued

Two Classic New Zealand Picture Books Re-Issued
Bidibidi by Gavin Bishop, Scholastic New Zealand

It only seems a short time ago that I was reviewing the last re-released and re-designed edition of Bidibidi. I commented then that it’s very hard to review a classic book like this - it will simply go on forever. It was originally published in 1982, so if you’ve got tatty old copies of earlier editions on your shelves, here’s a chance to update your collection. I imagine every teacher and parent knows this book, but if you don’t all you need to be told is that it’s a story about searching for rainbows, that it can be slightly scary in parts, and that it’s imbued with “New Zealandness”. Every New Zealand child of about four to seven should read it or listen to it being read (there is a Te Reo edition available). My copy is going straight into my “must give to the grandchildren” pile.

ISBN 978-1-77543-192-3 $19.50 Pb

The Bantam and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck, ill. Robyn Belton, Scholastic New Zealand
Scholastic are taking the opportunity provided by the current WWI centenary events to publish a re-designed edition of another classic picture book. Originally published in 1996, this book won the New Zealand Children’s Book of the Year in 1997 - a prize richly deserved. On re-reading the book I was struck by the excellent integration of the story and the pictures. Bertha the bantam becomes a symbol of hope and survival for the unfortunate soldiers stuck in the trenches, and throughout the illustrations - mainly done in shades of brown and khaki and grey - Bertha’s rich red-gold feathers provide a cheering focal point. I particularly enjoyed the end papers with their reproductions of relevant photos, drawings and ephemera. Teachers will find these pictures useful for studies of WWI, along with the author and illustrator’s comments about their families during the war, also the Bibliography on the last page. This is another must-buy for public, primary school and intermediate school libraries; also for families who want to remember ancestors involved in The Great War.

ISBN 978-1-77543-207-4 $19.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman



Saturday, April 5, 2014

New Zealand Australian author's latest book

Dying to Tell Me by Sherryl Clark (Sherryl Clark)

I didn't want to sit in the front seat of our car - that's where Mum always sat - but Dad was pleading.
"Please, Sasha," he said. His voice caught, and he cleared his throat. "We promised a new start."
His face was so creased with sadness that I couldn't say no. I forced my foot and then my leg into the car and slid onto the dusty blue seat, yanking at the seatbelt. My hatred for Mum burned through me all over again.
"Bye, house," Nicky said, waving out the back window at the familiar cream weatherboard we'd lived in all our lives. I refused to look back."

Sasha, her brother and father are making a fresh start in small town Manna Creek. It is a chance to put behind trouble at school for Sasha, and the grief over their mother leaving home. Life looks like it is going to be dead boring until they're given King an ex police dog; a German Shepherd that speaks telepathically with Sasha. Sasha's life can't get more weird - only it does, it is not the only queer thing she can do - and she'll need all those skills and more to solve the mystery from the past and in the future - their lives depend on it.

This is a coming of age story about a young troubled teen. Sasha has bucket loads of anger towards her parents for upsetting her life but over the course of the story her character resolves personal issues and the book demonstrates how broken families can mend. Teenagers will want to read until the last page; they will have connected with Sasha's character and will want to know whether her family makes it out safely.  This is not a paranormal book - it's about a girl who experiences premonitions and communicates telepathically. There haven't been many books with this slant - it is refreshing - and a great crime novel for 10-14 year olds.

Available through Wheelers Books in New Zealand, Booktopia in Australia.

Read an interview with Sherryl Clark here

Teaching Notes

Sherryl Clark was born in New Zealand but went to live in Melbourne, Australia when 25 years old and settled there. She has written over 55 children's books and when she isn't writing she is teaching aspiring writers at Victoria University. She graduated with a Master of Fine Arts at Hamline University, USA,  specialising in writing for children and young adults in 2013. Many of her books have won awards including the Premier's Literary Award in 2005 for Farm Kid, and Honour Book in the 2008 CBCA Awards for Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!).  Visit her website: