Thursday, May 12, 2016

New picture book titles from Scholastic

The Harmonica by Dawn McMillan, illus. Andrew Burdan, Scholastic NZ

Dawn’s dedication says, “For the loved ones gone before us. We remember them.” It’s a delicate, lyrical story that touches briefly on warfare, and will be much more meaningful to older primary-aged children rather than to pre-schoolers. Carlos finds an old harmonica in a box in the attic. It belonged to his Uncle Jack, who was a soldier in Afghanistan. Carlos secretly teaches himself to play the harmonica, and the music he makes helps him understand more about the world – and about his family. The illustrations (digitally created in Photoshop and Painter) are stunning, especially the cover. The expansive double-spreads with their warm, soft colours and mood of contemplation match the story extremely well. I can see this book being very useful in the primary classroom as a way of bridging the gap between yesterday’s soldiers and today’s youngsters.

ISBN 978 1 77543 344 6 RRP $19 Pb

The Mystery Box & Finnigan Flynn by Lucy Davey, illus. Cat Chapman, Scholastic NZ

The author and illustrator don’t need much introduction, but here are a couple of reminders: Lucy Davey is the author of The Fidgety Itch and the Fifi la Belle picture books, while Cat Chapman has previously illustrated three picture books written by Juliette McIver. This is their first combined effort with Scholastic NZ. In excellent rhyming text we read about the magical mystery box that turns up on Finnigan’s doorstep.”Don’t open!” it says. So of course he opens it – and two crocodiles jump out. How can Finnigan stop them from nibbling his toes? All sorts of weird and wonderful things pop out of the box, and it’s Finnigan’s job to get them back in again. The illustrations are suitably zany, using colour and movement to make every page a treat. It would be great to read aloud to groups of pre-schoolers and young primary ages of about 3 to 6.

ISBN 978 1 77543 299 9 RRP $19 Pb

Saturday, May 7, 2016

At home war story

Enemy Camp by David Hill, Penguin Random House NZ

Being a great fan of New Zealand historical stories, I was keen to read this riveting tale about the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Featherston in 1942/1943. The story is written in diary format by 12-year-old Ewen, whose father is a guard at the camp. It focuses on Ewen, his best friend Barry, and Barry’s 10-year-old brother Clarry. Clarry recently caught polio, and is using crutches and leg braces to get round. The main plot thread is the uneasy relationship between the Japanese prisoners and the New Zealand guards, and the narrative tension steadily tightens as the fateful date draws close – 25 February 1943.

When the climax of a story is already known, it takes much skill to weave a plot that keeps the reader’s interest right up to the big event. David Hill does this superbly by developing sympathetic characters along with excellent secondary plot strands (eg. Clarry’s recovery, coping with life in a country at war, a respectful relationship between the boys and a Japanese officer).

The shootings are is not glossed over in any way. When the riot occurred the New Zealand guards opened fire and 31 Japanese were killed instantly, 17 died later, and 74 were wounded. The boys witness the terrible happenings, and their subsequent trauma is gut-wrenching.

The publisher’s blurb says it’s suitable for 9 to 14-year-old readers. I’d be a bit cautious about the lower end of the scale – maybe better to say 10-year-olds, and mature ones at that. Highly recommended as an addition to intermediate and secondary school library collections on the topic of New Zealand at war.

ISBN 978 0 14 330912 3 RRP $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Book about Armistice Day

Armistice Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry (New Holland)

This is the third book in the series marking important dates in New Zealand’s calendar. The first ‘Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story’, and then ‘Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story’. Both books have been Storylines Notable Books and been on the bestseller list. They are important books for the school curriculum.

‘Armistice Day’ helps children understand how the war ended in WWI and other wars New Zealanders fought in. It follows the aftermath of WWI, including the influenza epidemic, through to how we remember Armistice Day now.  The book also takes you to Europe to see how the fallen are remembered in cemeteries and peace memorials. Several countries brought an unknown fallen soldier back to their countries and established a memorial for all the unknown fallen soldiers too.

Philippa’s meticulous research is complemented with many illustrations, photographs and artefacts. At the back of the book is a glossary, index, recommended books and websites. A much needed resource for the classroom – Years 5-8.

Teaching resource here.

ISBN: 978-1-86966-441-1

RRP $24.99