Tuesday, August 23, 2016

For all dinosaurs; human kind and animal kind

My Grandpa is a Dinosaur by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones, colouring by Tara Black, Penguin Random House

The people behind this quirky picture book are better known as the producers of comic books, including the Blastosaurus series (you can visit them at www.squareplanetcomics.com). They took some steps a while ago towards traditional picture books with their series about a boy called Morgan. Now they have found a traditional publisher and have adopted some standard picture book conventions. The humorous heart of the story is revealed in the title phrase: old people are often called dinosaurs, and in this book the phrase is taken literally as well as figuratively. Wanda can’t understand why nobody will accept that her grandpa is an actual dinosaur. The fact that her big sister shreds chippies in an electric fan, while her parents fish for their dinner in a glass of water is irrelevant (but keen-eyed youngsters will find these pictures hilarious). The trope is continued till Wanda goes to her grandfather’s retirement village and finds many more dinosaurs.

The sophisticated humour and the very modern, edgy style of the illustrations prompt me to say that the book is probably more suitable for children of primary-school age rather than pre-schoolers.

ISBN 978 0 14 350719 2 RRP $19.99 Pb

Reviews by Lorraine Orman

One Junior Fiction, one Young Adult Fiction…

The Road to Ratenburg by Joy Cowley, illus. Gavin Bishop, Gecko Press

The story in this junior novel is narrated by Spinnaker Rat, husband of Retsina and father of four little ratlets. The family lose their nest when a city building is demolished and they vow to travel to Ratenburg, known by all as a kind of rat heaven where life is easy. They begin their perilous journey with a train trip, accompanied by a single rat called Jolly Roger (who’s generally regarded as an annoying fellow). Following a memorised map, they have to get across Sunsweep Lake with its killer eels, navigate the Bottomless Bog, and keep safe through meadows, forests and a mountain range. Inevitably, the end of their journey is not what they expect.

The plot is action-packed, with our intrepid band of rats facing one life-threatening danger after another. But the subtext of the story works away quietly underneath – the family dynamics change as they travel, relationships develop, youngsters mature and take responsibility – and at the end they all realise what is most important to them.

It’s beautifully written, and Gavin Bishop’s black ink illustrations convey a lot of meaning with a minimum of clutter. Because it’s narrated by an older rat, I think the story would be best enjoyed if an adult reads it aloud to a group or to an individual child aged about six to nine. I imagine many children would then want to read it again for themselves.

ISBN 978 1 776570 75 1 RRP $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Milk Bar Warriors by Brent Leslie, Brent Leslie Books (www.brentbooks.co.nz)

During World War Two New Zealand played host to thousands of United States GIs and Marines. These troops were either training for the forthcoming invasions in the Pacific, or enjoying some rest and recreation. Their time here was a memorable experience for the young American troops and the New Zealanders who came into contact with them.

This story is narrated by 16-year-old Aucklander Bruce Bickerton who befriends a group of GIs and looks after their flashy car, a Studebaker President called Mabel. Bruce and the Americans go on lots of drives to local milk bars, dances, and sly-grog dens, as well as sightseeing tours to nearby beaches. It sounds idyllic, but trouble is brewing. Bruce discovers racism is alive and well in his Air Raid Precaution Unit, while the GIs run up against racism in their own ranks – and make an enemy of a vicious and violent MP. When Bruce sees this MP strike a fatal blow to one of his American mates, he fights desperately to bring the man to justice.

The voice of the narrator seems to be that of an older man – so I decided the point of view is that of an adult Bruce looking back on his experiences. The historical setting of the story is interesting and very authentic, the style is economical and easy to read, while the plot picks up speed about half-way through the book, pulling the reader on towards a bitter-sweet ending where some problems are resolved but others aren’t. It’s a book that deserves a place in all New Zealand secondary school libraries.

ISBN 978 0 473 34861 8 RRP $28 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman (author of My Story: Here Come the Marines, Warkworth, 1943)   

Two Picture Books From Scholastic NZ

Rasmas by Elizabeth Pulford, illus. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic New Zealand

Both author and illustrator are experts at their craft, and their skill is evident in the light touch they use for this gentle and appealing story. Danny and his father go to live on Gran’s farm. Danny makes friends with a stroppy young goat, and soon the pair are inseparable. One day Dad introduces Danny and Rasmas to Rona – and soon after that Dad and Rona get married. But Danny now has to leave the farm – and Rasmas. He’s heartbroken. Of course there’s a happy ending, but I’m not going to tell how it’s reached.

The text is straightforward and beautifully written, and the illustrations are done in a soft, realistic style with pencil and watercolour paint. The focus on the high spirits and smiling expression of the goat promise the young reader that all will be well. I was particularly impressed with the integration of text and illustration – many self-published picture book authors could learn something from the layout of this book. Heartily recommended for group and one-to-one reading for four to six-year olds. Note that there is also a Maori version available entitled Ko Rama.
ISBN 978 1 77543 310 1 RRP $19 Pb

The Other Brother by Stephanie Thatcher, Scholastic New Zealand

I think this is Stephanie’s sixth picture book, and she’s really developing her own brand now. Think appealing animals, bright colours and child-focused stories. Bertie McQuerty is a little pig with a big problem. He has three brothers who are BRILLIANT. One is sporty, one is arty, and one is clever. Bertie is just “the other brother.” He’s tried being brilliant, but he’s always distracted by someone needing help. Eventually Bertie discovers his strength – and can proudly take his place on the podium. The illustrations are done in pencil and watercolour, with friendly animal faces, plenty of relaxing white space, and a variety of layout formats. Look out for the repeating motif in the illustrations ie. a little yellow chick. Integration of text and pictures on the page is excellent.

The message behind the story will be of comfort to many young readers who don’t excel at anything – in a society where there is a lot of pressure, even on children, to do better than one’s contemporaries. Recommended for group and one-to-one reading for three to six year-olds. The Maori version is entitled Ko Tera Atu O Nga Tama.
ISBN 978 1 77543 382 8 RRP $19 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Olympic Sport Book

Apologies for taking so long to post. It has been such a busy year, and I've just moved house, and don't have internet consistently on in our new house ...

I meant to post David Riley's latest book review for 'Golden Kiwis' weeks ago, but have somehow lost it on my iPad (and then the move ...). So here's my second review (the first never seeing the light).

Golden Years by David Riley (Reading Warriors)

David gives the history of the Olympic Games before launching into each Olympian Gold winner's profile.  He begins with Leonard Cuff's story, who represented New Zealand on the revived Olympic Games committee and then the first Olympic gold medal winner Malcolm Champion (how apt). All the legends are included such as Yvette Williams (first woman award winner), Peter Snell, John Walker, Russell Coutts, etc., including the single gold medal winners and the multi award winning medalists, as well as the Paralympians. At the back of the book the gold medals and their winners are written in a chart showing where and when they were won.

On each double page spread David has included q-codes, which young smart phone readers can wave their phone over and watch a video of that sports person in action. He has also included quotes, interesting facts and photographs. Young sport fans will enjoy reading about their sporting heroes.

Other sporting books by David Riley:

  • Olympic Islands
  • Jammin with Steven Adams
  • Offloading with SBW
  • Steppin with Benji Marshall
  • Rugby: The History
  • Rugby: The players, skills and the style
  • Read & Achieve with the All Blacks
  • Reading All Star Series: Gold

ISBN 978-0-473-34010-0
Soft cover, 92 pages,190 x 250mm
$25 (exc GST)