Thursday, September 25, 2014

A gorgeous lyrical tale

Singing Home the Whale by Mandy Hager (Random House)
Whenever a new Mandy Hager novel comes out I’m excited to read it – she never disappoints.  I also know my heart and soul is going to connect with whatever topic she is going to explore in her story. Like her journalist brother Nicky Hager, Mandy is a deep thinker and believes in standing up for issues that affect her; each book tackles a different theme. In her latest Mandy has cleverly interlaced with an excellent story the relationship between a sensitive teenager called Will and Min, a young orphaned orca, with the plight of orca around the world.
Will and Min tell their story in their own voice, every second chapter. Will is learning to trust again in a small town after an incident that has left him scarred. While out sailing he sings an operatic song and is so shocked when a dorsal fin glides past his yacht that he trips and falls overboard. Two lonely beings look into each eyes and connect; a bond so strong it lasts one of their lifetime. When Min’s life is threatened by a greedy businessman, Will fights to save Min. He cannot do it alone though – to be successful he needs the help of his whanau and more. Can he put his past behind him, and be strong enough for Min?

I highly recommend you read it to find out.  Be warned that you’ll need tissues on hand; at times my eyes watered so much I could barely read the text. You’ll also thoroughly enjoy the beautiful lyrical language Min uses when telling his story. It’s stunning; with use of alliteration, imagery, metaphors – and it’ll have you bonding with the little orca too.  I have to confess I was a little afraid of orca – I’d heard stories of them attacking humans and after all they do eat cute seals and penguins. But after reading a story written in the point of view of an orca (every second chapter) it has you falling deeply in love with them (or is that just me). However, I won’t be jumping off a boat to swim with them in a hurry – the message that they are wild creatures and give them space is tactfully given too.
A great conservation story for High School students to read for enjoyment, as well as explore issues around endangered species and what one person (with the help of their whanau) can do to help them; it is also about: healing; acceptance; and being okay with who you are. Adults will thoroughly enjoy it too. If you like a little romance there's some of that as well ...  An extraordinary tale that you will want to revisit again and again.

ISBN: 978-1-77553-657-4
RRP $19.99 also available as an e-book

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two new swash-buckling picture book adventures

Dragon Island by Martin Baynton, illus. Terri Rose Baynton, Scholastic NZ.

Martyn Baynton needs little introduction for those who have been around a while, but for newbies to the scene he’s the author of Jane and the Dragon and Fifty the Tractor, and the producer of the TV series The Wot-Wots. His daughter Terri Rose has also worked on The Wot-Wots and was shortlisted for the 2013 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. This talented pair have produced a thoughtful picture book that will strike a chord with many teachers and parents. The partially-rhyming text introduces us to a dragon called Norman who tries to stop the other dragons from fighting and wrecking. He prefers to make useful things – but is ridiculed by the others for his peaceful activities. When he builds a hot-air balloon, wins the big race to Coconut Island, and is granted three wishes he asks for no fighting, no breaking, no burning. But do the other dragons take any notice…? It’s a slightly bittersweet ending that will generate discussion between adult and child. The delicately-coloured fine line and watercolour illustrations provide plenty of detail for study, and the dragons themselves are quite intriguing with their physiological hints of different animals and birds. This book will be popular with pre-school dragon-lovers, and can also be used as a resource for classroom studies of tolerance and socially-acceptable behaviour.

ISBN 978 1 77543 191 6 $19.50 Pb

Marmaduke Duck on the Wide Blue Seas by Juliette MacIver, illus. Sarah Davis, Scholastic NZ

This latest story about Marmaduke Duck and his friend Bernadette Bear is just as much fun as the first two (MD and the Marmalade Jam, and MD and Bernadette Bear). As always, the rhyming and the rhythm can’t be faulted, although they do demand a lot of stamina from the adult reader. Our intrepid duck decides to go to sea, so buys a galleon and outfits it with a motley crew (rat, dog, cat, llama, lamb, bull). But someone’s missing. Poor old Bernadette Bear is feeling lonely at home, so she sets off to find Marmaduke. While Marmaduke sails the seas - and ends up captured by the scary pirate gang calling themselves the Marmoset Monkeys and Orangutan Fang - Bernadette is slowly following his trail. Her quest is detailed in sub-pictures scattered throughout the main double-page spreads. Of course, Bernadette appears in the nick of time to save her friend from walking the plank...  The inventive, bouncy text is enhanced by Sarah Davis’s fabulous illustrations.  Children will love the rollicking shipboard scenes, but the stunning depiction of the arrival of the Marmoset Monkeys (all 52 of them!) will be the most popular of all. This book would be great fun for reading aloud to both small and large groups of children aged from 3 to 7 years. It is also available in hardback.

ISBN 978-1-77543-125-1 $19.50 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two Fabulous Picture Books

Construction by Sally Sutton, ill. Brian Lovelock, Walker Books Australia
The long-awaited third picture book by this talented pair (after Roadworks and Demolition), this handsome hardback volume will be greeted with joy by children and parents alike. It’s the same format as the previous two: “Build the frame. Build the frame. Hammer all day long. Make the stairs and floors and walls. Big! Bang! Bong!” And what are the busy workmen creating? Why, a library, of course. Some Aucklanders will recognise the completed building as the flash Birkenhead Public Library. Brian Lovelock’s expansive illustrations (done with pigmented inks) are full of busyness and interesting construction features. You’ll find the traditional Facts page at the end that offers information about cranes, trucks and construction workers, and readers will also notice the endpapers with their photograph of assorted nuts (not edible). This is the kind of book that pre-schoolers will ask for repeatedly – because of the irresistible rhythm, the clever onomatopoeia, and the bright, spacious illustrations. Heartily recommended for pre-school centres and junior primary classes.

ISBN 978 1 922077 30 1 $29.99 Hb

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox, ill. Brian Floca, Schwarz and Wade Books (dist. Random House NZ)

This delightful and good-looking picture book is based on fact, set in Christchurch, and written and illustrated by Americans. I love it – but crikey, why wasn’t the story of Elizabeth the elephant seal turned into a book by a New Zealand author? Anyway, congratulations to the enterprising Lynne Cox for her excellent story (her first children’s book). She was walking on the banks of the Avon when she met two children who asked her if she was looking for Elizabeth. Once she was told that Elizabeth was an elephant seal who lived in the Avon river and liked to sunbathe on the nearby roads, Lynne knew she had a great story to tell. It doesn’t take much research to check Elizabeth’s history, and to realise that the book sticks closely to fact. Elizabeth lived in the Avon and Heathcote rivers from the late 70s till her death in 1985. She was hugely popular with the people of Christchurch.

The text of the book is straightforward, suitable for pre-schoolers and early school-age children. The illustrations are done in pen and ink and watercolour, using different perspectives to provide light, bright pictures featuring the smiling seal. The illustrator has done his homework too – I can’t fault his rendition of Christchurch in the 1970/80s.

My review copy is going to my two preschool grandchildren in Christchurch for Christmas. They’ll love it.

ISBN 978 0 375 85888 8 $29.99 Hb 
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman      

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Comprehensive conservation book for High school students and adults

Paradise Saved by Dave Butler, Tony Lindsay & Janet Hunt (Random House)

Janet Hunt is well known for her award winning books 'A Bird in the Hand', 'E2 Call Home' 'From Weta to Kauri' and 'Wetlands of New Zealand'. For this book she has collaborated with two other conservationists - Tony Lindsay and Dave Butler - to bring us the remarkable story of New Zealand's wildlife sanctuaries. 

I live near three wildlife sanctuaries: Tawharanui, Motuora Island and Little Barrier Island, of which two I've visited several times and I am involved with kiwi releases on Motuora Island every September - March over the last eight years so I was keen to see what the authors would write about these islands and other sanctuaries. I showed the local DOC (Warkworth) office the book and they oohed and aahed over it. They were pleased to see their work being recognised in a beautiful book.

The book starts when Aotearoa separated from Gondwana super-continent and became a natural lifeboat thereby creating a unique range of fauna and flora.

"If you wanted to establish the particular ecological features of New Zealand, you might start by casting adrift a piece of land carrying a small crew of plants and animals - with not a mammal to be seen. You would float it over hot-spots, generating volcanoes. More plants and animals would come aboard by flying, swimming or drifting alongside on ocean debris. Eventually you would anchor it at between 35 and 47 degrees south ..."

The three writers use this storytelling style to show why we needed sanctuaries, how they were first set up,  and then take us to each (130) sanctuary one-by-one from the island sanctuaries, mainland sanctuaries, fenced sanctuaries, open sanctuaries, to the community sanctuaries, kiwi sanctuaries, and sanctuaries with a species focus. We also read about the organisations who are involved with the sanctuaries movement such as DOC, Forest & Bird, regional and local councils, Landcare Research, Native Forests Restoration Trust, etc. The book covers issues the sanctuaries face and how they are being solved or faced, and looking to the future of how they are going to control and perhaps get rid of the predators that are causing so much trouble for our natives in New Zealand.

Janet Hunt is a trained graphic designer and I'm sure she would have had a bit of say in the design (designer is Kate Barraclough); to the placing of the gorgeous photographs and maps, attractive headings and subtitles, and page number tab identification (a Janet Hunt feature). At the back of the book is an extensive index and list of sanctuaries.

It is an ambitious book and probably took a few years to research, write and gather photographs. I believe the book is long overdue and will be of interest to not only conservationists and people who work in the above organisations but also to people who visit these sanctuaries regularly to see our unique fauna and flora that New Zealand is so lucky to have.

The book targets adults but High School students and schools will also find it a useful resource for studying endangered species for natural history/science assignments.

ISBN: 9781869796860
RRP $55