Saturday, August 23, 2014

Exciting new author

Spark by Rachael Craw (Walker Books)

For most teenagers having your mum die, having to live with your mum's twin sister in another city, and having your body go all strange on you (massive growth spurt, tingling all over body, visions and nightmares) would send you in a depression - not Evie. She's feisty and motivated even when thrown a curve ball on top of everything else ... When she meets up with her childhood friend Kitty it sparks a desperate desire to protect her friend at all costs.

Find out who is trying to harm her friend and why Evie feels so compelled to rescue her. Throw in a potential romance, intrigue, and you have an exciting Sci-fi thriller for YA.  Okay, so I love science fiction but even people who do not have Dr Who or Star War leanings will love this book. There's no other world, or planets, or aliens but an ordinary girl mixed up in an experiment gone wrong two generations ago.

I literally couldn't stop reading this book (until the early hours of the morning); the twists and turns in the plot had me turning page after page. When I finished the book (matchsticks propping up my eyes) and tried to find out when the next book in the series was coming - I read the author's bio and was really surprised ... The story is set in USA and it reads like an international bestselling book - I was not expecting it to have been written by a first time author from a provincial town in New Zealand.

Rachael Craw has a great support team: agents Barbara and Chris Else, her writers' group, and the Walker Book team, and she has been an English teacher at High School - needless to say, this is a writer to watch. Her writing is taut, the plot is gripping, and her characters are very likeable.  I can't wait for the next two books in the series: Stray (book two, 2015) and Shield (book three, 2016). If you're a Divergent or a Viral fan - you'll be hooked on this new exciting series.

Author interview here and here

Discussion guide here

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chapter books for early readers

Symphony Smythe and the Baked Bean Birthday Party by Christine Hurst, Prickly Cat Publishing (

The author has had several books published with commercial publishers, but is now moving into self-publishing. This is the first in an intended series about Symphony Smythe; more titles are in the pipeline. I think the intended readership (girls of about 7 to 9) is a good one to target because there are actually very few New Zealand books being published for this age group at the moment. Having said that, this story could also be read quite happily by children overseas. It’s a handy little volume with a casually inviting cover; the print is large and not too daunting; and there are appealing black and white cartoon illustrations on nearly every page (done by Alicja Ignaczak). The story is one many children will identify with - Symphony is worried about the too-healthy food her mother intends to serve up at her daughter’s birthday party. I wish the author well with her intended series.

There's instructions on how to make a baked bean boat at the back of the book.

Readers 5-7 years

ISBN 9780473255855 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Symphony Smythe Wants a Pet by Christine Hurst, Prickly Cat Publishing

Symphony Smythe desperately wants a pet but her parents won't let her. In the meantime, she makes up imaginary pets - furry ones, feathered ones, and scaly ones. Her parents think she has taken it too far when she begins to lap milk, walk on all-fours and only says, 'Meow' when someone speaks to her. Find out what mayhem ensues.

Kids can follow instructions on how to make a papier-mâché dog at the back of the book.

Will suit readers (5-7 years) who want something more challenging than a picture book but still need illustrations on every page. Girls will more likely pick this book up but boys can identify with the problem, and will enjoy the story as well.

ISBN 978 047 326 3225

This is Christine Hurst's third and fourth children's book. She wrote 'The Boy who bounced around New Zealand' published 2007 with Reed Publishing. Christine works as a librarian at Macleans College and gets to read children's books all day.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Two delightful new picture books from Scholastic

I Am Not A Worm! By Scott Tulloch, Scholastic NZ

Children will love this very funny story - having first been attracted by the in-your-face title and the bright, eye-catching cover. “Hello, little worm,” says the sleazy, seemingly casual gecko. “I am not a worm,” replies the caterpillar indignantly. “Are you sure?” asks the gecko. And so the conversation goes, with use of brief speech bubbles in the illustrations. Eventually the harassed caterpillar knits himself a cocoon (this is a fabulous illustration) and hangs on the tree. He emerges as a beautiful butterfly. “Hello, little caterpillar,” says the gecko. “I am not a caterpillar,” retorts the ex-caterpillar. And then ... well, I won’t spoil the story! Young readers will love the ping-pong dialogue - they will possibly guess the end, but that doesn’t matter.

Scott Tulloch’s pencil and watercolour cartoon illustrations are delightful; the variety of picture shapes and perspectives provides interest as well as increasing the tension of the story. It’s perfect to read to a group of pre-schoolers or young primary-aged children, and will also work on a one-to-one basis. Children following the words will want to join in the conversation. Primary teachers should also find the book useful to support classroom work related to the caterpillar/butterfly life cycle. Recommended.

ISBN 978 1 77543 251 7 $19.50 Pb
Punctuation Mark by Belinda Ellis, Scholastic NZ

This is the second book in a series about the joys and quirks of the English language. The first was Back-To-Front Bob. This latest book focuses on punctuation, which Is an altogether more difficult topic that the fun-with- words theme in the first book. I believe this book is more suitable for upper-primary level pupils who can read and write competently and are ready to learn how to write well.

The text whisks us through Mark’s lively adventures with punctuation, accompanied by friendly illustrations of outsize punctuation marks. The first double spread introduces us to an asterisk, an “at”, an “and” (ie. an ampersand), an exclamation mark and a question mark, followed by brackets (also labelled parentheses), a dollar sign, and an ellipsis (ie. dot, dot, dot). Things don’t get any simpler as we move on. The next double spread introduces commas, full stops, semicolons and colons, followed by quotation marks, apostrophes, hyphens and dashes. There are some humorous offerings, such as what’s the difference between, “Let’s eat Grandma!” and “Let’s eat, Grandma!” but a subsequent focus on apostrophes requires four whole pages of explanation from Mark’s teacher. The book will be a useful resource for teachers focusing on improving punctuation - but I see it as more suitable for older primary levels (not age 5 to 10, as Scholastic’s blurb suggests).

A personal comment - as an awards judge I often read adult manuscripts that have bad spelling and punctuation, especially the use of the apostrophe. If only the writers had learned how to handle punctuation correctly when they were 8 or 9. I hope this book gets lots of use in classes. (N.B. Teachers’Notes are available on the Scholastic website).

ISBN 978 1 77543 184 8 $19.50 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman   

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Learning Te reo Maori with children's books

He aha tenei? What is this? by Sharon Holt, illustrated by Deborah Hinde (Writing Bug)

Readers are introduced to a ladybug, snail, spider, praying mantis, caterpillar, butterfly, cicada, worm, and weta with the following phrase written in Maori. Here's the English version:

Look here! Look, what is this?
What is this?
That is a ...................
Look here! Look, what is this?
That is a ...................
Be gentle.
It's special.

This book has more word phrases than the other books. This is a good idea because students who have used earlier books will most likely be ready for more challenging text.

Matariki, by Sharon Holt, illustrated by Deborah Hinde (Writing Bug)

This book is all about a family celebrating Matariki. Whanau turn up to celebrate and watch the Matariki stars together. Family bring special food to share, and children play with sparklers to make their own stars. The elders remind everyone to remember those who have passed away.

At the back of both books is an English translation, guitar chords, activity ideas and the CD.

These books would be great to have available for students wishing to learn Maori and students in Maori immersion classes. Also a wonderful resource for teachers teaching taha Maori, which all teachers are obligated to do (though, I suspect some might not because they don't feel confident - these books will help with that).

If I was still teaching I'd have the set in the classroom during a taha Maori unit and I'd use the suggestions at the back of the books in a learning centre and or activities in round-robins around the class. Junior Primary classes will enjoy singing along with the CD too.

RRP $ 24.99 each
ISBN 978-0-473-27423-8 Matariki
ISBN 978-0-473-28590-6 He aha tenei?

Go to the website to purchase directly and see inside and listen to some of the songs or videos. Otherwise buy from all good stores (or ask them to order them in).

Ko wai e huna ana? by Satoru Onishi (Gecko Press)
Te reo Maori translation by Paora Tibble

Who’s hiding? Who’s crying? Who’s backwards? Look carefully! Is it dog, tiger, hippo, zebra, bear, reindeer, kangaroo, lion, rabbit, giraffe, monkey, bull, rhino, pig, sheep, hen, elephant, or cat?
Throughout the book are the same ensemble of animals, with different expressions, standing in the same order and positions. The Maori phrase changes on each page. I completed two University papers in te reo Maori and one teaching college class 20 years ago, so my Maori is rusty. I was able to remember what 'He aha tenei?" meant (What is this?) but I needed to consult a Maori dictionary for the rest of the book. (wonderful resource if you haven't already found it).  There are no clues at the back of the book to tell me what is being said.  However, this book will be a great resource for kids who like to solve puzzles. There are no hints in the book so kids have to work out what is different on that page and that will help them work out what the phrase might mean. This book will be useful in kohanga reo and kura kaupapa schools where children have been introduced to the phrases and words already.  The answers to the questions on each page are on the back page in Maori.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

World War One book for the family

New Zealand and First World War by Damien Fenton (Penguin Group NZ)

If you are going to buy only one illustrated non-fiction book about World War One - this is the one that I recommend. It has just been shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards (adult book awards) but I believe every Intermediate and Secondary school should have a copy in their library. It is not cheap but you get a lot of bang for your buck! So why would it suit teenagers? Its 112 pages are beautifully illustrated with photographs, cut-out objects such as medals and weapons, and on every second page is either a pull-out letter/postcard/notice or a fold-out map. There are 8-10 photographs/illustrations/cut-outs/fold-outs per double page spread (approximately 620 images in total). Intermediate-aged students upwards are going to love investigating every detail on the page. (Note, that one double page spread does cover problems with prostitution (tactfully) and soldiers contracting venereal diseases as a result.)

The book is also very well organised. It starts with why the war began, New Zealand's position prior to the outbreak of war, enlistment, training in Egypt, the invasion of Gallipoli and different stages of the battle at ANZAC Cove (four double page spreads), and every other battle during the Great War. There's also pages about: crime and punishment, disease, how the soldiers were looked after if wounded, women at war, the war at sea and air, armistice, the signing of the treaty, repatriation and remembrance. The endpapers feature a world map in 1923.

This book is a fantastic resource for WW1 school projects, as well as for teenagers and adults who just love to collect knowledge and have a special interest in World wars. They'll get a comprehensive understanding of WW1 by the time they've finished reading it. I heartily recommend teachers using this book as a companion to fiction books about the war such as the 'Kiwis at War' series published by Scholastic (see review beforehand).

Dr Damien Fenton is a senior historian at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage in Wellington, New Zealand. He completed an MA in Defence and Strategic Studies at the University of Waikato in 1998 and a PhD in history at the Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales in 2006. His interests include Australian and New Zealand military history and he has worked in this area as an academic and a public historian in both countries.

ISBN 978-0-143-56975-6
RRP $75  (I bought my copy from Mighty Ape for $57 + postage)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Exciting new Kiwis at War series

On the centenary of the beginning of WW1 - Monday 4th August 2014 - Scholastic launched the first book in an exciting new series.  The five authors were on hand to share what the theme of their book was going to be about, which battles their protagonists would fight in, and what their speciality was. It was really interesting to hear the serendipity moments the authors had while researching their books and how they were going to connect with one book to another.

Susan Brocker's book 'Riding Into War' was officially launched that night. Susan told us about her connection with the Great War. Her Grandfather McGee, a Mounted Rifleman, fought at Gallipoli and lost his brother there. She used it as inspiration for her book.

Riding Into War is about 17 year old Billy Bowman and his best friend Jack signing up for war with their horses in August 1914. At the beginning of the story the boys are keen for adventure and travel, and are really excited to take up arms. We read about their experiences at Awapuni training camp, on board the ship taking them to Egypt, and at training camp in the desert. By then the boys are desperate to get into the action and fear the war will be over before they get a chance to fight. They needn't fear - they're despatched to Gallipoli (without their horses) and from the moment they land on ANZAC cove they're right in the desperate, horrific action.

Susan's love of horses shines through in this story through the main character's care of his horse and others. I won't give away what happens to the two boys but Billy does meet nurse Harriett the main character in the next book in the series, written by Diana Menefy due out next year.

Diana Menefy told us that her character Harriett would be one of the first 50 nurses to arrive in Alexandria to care for the many thousands of wounded soldiers. Diana found through her research that the nurses worked seven days a week sometimes 20 hours a day. If they got to the point of utter exhaustion and began weeping - they'd be given a couple of hours rest to compose themselves and then they'd be back into the weary work of trying to save the soldiers.

Diana showed us photographs of the floating hospitals that would pick up the soldiers from Turkey (Gallipoli) and sail back to Egypt. Only the severely wounded soldiers could have a bed - the rest lay on the floor. It is where the term 'walking wounded' came from - if they still had their limbs, no matter what other horrific wounds they had - they had to walk to the hospital.

Diana hinted at a possible friendship/romance with a soldier that may feature in David Hair's book - due out in 2016. David Hair had only started researching his book. His main character would be in the New Zealand Maori Pioneer Battalion.  They became the diggers and took part in the Battle of Somme in 1916. David found an interesting real character in his research who foretold some of the disasters that happened. David intends including him in the story.

Brian Falkner is writing the fourth book in the series due out in 2017. Brian's book is so far off he has only just begun his preliminary research. He wants to bring in the theme about the rise of technology. Brian told us that planes featured the first time in this war, as did tanks, and both caused many thousands of injuries. Brian discovered two real soldiers - Sir Keith Parks who destroyed 20 aeroplanes, and the ace pilot Keith Caldwell who destroyed 25 enemy aeroplanes, both of whom he wants to include in his story somehow. And yes his main character is going to be a pilot.

Brian told us that the life expectancy of the Royal Flying Corp pilots was about two weeks in the war. He will share some of his research in a blog he is going to write about his unfolding story:

Des Hunt's book in the series is loosely based on his Uncle's war. Des told us that his Uncle never talked about his experiences to the family but he did confide in Des, when as a youngster Des stayed on his Uncle's farm. Des said his Uncle's love of animals and the land will come through in his main character's story. Des wants to include about the use of chemistry in the war so it will be interesting to see if his character or soldiers in his battalion experience mustard gas poisoning. This story focusses on the last year of the Great War - 1918 - in France (book due out 2018).

Each book will feature a timeline of the year their main character features in, a glossary of key military words, photographs from the time, and an extensive bibliography.

Scholastic has chosen five excellent writers. Susan Brocker has set a high benchmark, of which the others will sure to maintain. Children will enjoy reading about the adventures during the Great War but will also learn about the horrors of war through graphic descriptions, which will have the side-benefit (for the teenagers/adults reading the books) of creating empathy for the soldiers whilst acknowledging the realities of war.

Kiwis At War: 1914 Riding into War by Susan Brocker (Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-1-77543-206-7
RRP $19.50  paperback,  RRP US$9.50 e-book
Ages 12+
216 pp
Teacher notes here

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Historical fiction for boys

Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand by Leonie Agnew, Penguin NZ

Fans of Leonie’s award-winning Super Finn will be bound to enjoy this new story. It’s set in Auckland in 1978 at the time of the Bastion Point occupation. It’s written from the point of view of ten-year-old Conrad, who’s very much an innocent abroad. He lives just down the road from Bastion Point and when the story starts he has no idea what’s going on. Conrad has his own problems trying to figure out gods and who to believe in and all that stuff. He settles on believing in Tane Mahuta, Maori god of the forests - so the story is written in a style that frequently addresses Tane. Conrad thinks Tane would like him to protest over the removal of an old pohutukawa in the school grounds, and this idea gradually ends up with Conrad getting involved in the Bastion Point protest. Conrad’s mental torments are described in a light-hearted, wry-sounding tone - but the underlying themes are anything but light-hearted. Conrad’s personal struggle over how to cope with his authoritarian stepfather is an important subject, and the background information about the Bastion Point occupation and eviction makes essential reading for New Zealand youngsters, both Maori and Pakeha. Heartily recommended for readers of about ten to thirteen, especially boys.

Themes:  family issues, historical fiction, reading age 8-13 years

ISBN 978 0 143 57119 3 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman