Monday, December 18, 2017

A new kiwi book on the scene

It's my egg (and you can't have it) by Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne (Potton & Burton)

A mother kiwi lays an egg, it's now father kiwis job to look after it. While he's incubating it, a ranger lays a trap near his burrow; it'll help protect the kiwi and his egg. Soon a cat comes prowling, then a dog with its young girl handler, and lastly a stoat. Each time father kiwi wards them off with the refrain, "It's my egg, and you can't have it!' Is he successful? Read it and find out.

Heather Hunt and Kennedy Warne have successfully paired before with 'The Cuckoo and the Warbler'. Heather Hunt also illustrated 'KIWI: The Real Story'. Heather has her own unique style of illustration; using contrasting colours of black and fluorescent yellows, greens and reds, and spiky outlines on flora and fauna.

A delightful creative non-fiction book about the dangers that a kiwi and his egg face. It also carries the message that dog owners need to keep their dogs on a leash when going for a walk in our forests. Would suit 4-6 year old budding conservationists.

Take a look inside.

ISBN: 978-0-947503-56-7
RRP pb $19.99 hb $29.99

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Connections to the sea…

Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands by Maria Gill, illus. Marco Ivančić, Scholastic NZ

On 5 November 2017 Maria launched two picture books at the Children’s Bookshop in Ponsonby – Toroa’s Journey, and this one about Abel Tasman. The books are a long way apart in subject matter, but one element is common to both – the sea. This stately picture book impresses all the way through, from the cover realistically portraying an intrepid explorer scanning the horizon, to the inside front cover which show maps of the chartered world circa 1600, and to the inside back cover which shows the world circa 1670 (after Abel Tasman’s voyages in the 1640s).

Maria uses straight-forward language to describe Abel Tasman’s childhood ambitions, but moves quickly on to the departure from Batavia of the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen in August 1642. The ships made landfall on what would eventually become Tasmania. The Aboriginals watched these pale people with suspicion but no confrontation occurred. Abel Tasman’s next landfall was on the coast of New Zealand, and here a terrible battle with the Maori resulted in casualties on both sides. The book finishes with several pages of easy-to-read factual information and diagrams about mapping, the voyage routes, the explorers, the countries visited, and the ships.

Marco’s luminous, lifelike illustrations of Abel Tasman, his ships, and the inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand are breath-taking, and the design of the book is excellent.

This is not a picture book for pre-schoolers or very junior classes, but children of around seven to eleven with some awareness of the world around them will pore over it – to soak up the information and absorb the illustrations. Recommended for all public libraries, also primary and intermediate school libraries.

ISBN 978 1 77543 509 9 RRP $27.95 Hb  

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman   

Not New Zealand but a good read…

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge, Macmillan

Maybe this was sent for review because Macmillan still have a foothold in the New Zealand market… The award-winning author is very decidedly British, which comes through strongly in the plot and setting of this haunting YA novel. 

Twelve-year-old Makepiece has a strange problem – if she’s anywhere near a dying person she risks the dying spirit taking up residence in her brain. In a country riven by civil war, there’s plenty of dying going on. Makepiece learns to prevent the spirits from entering her (mostly) but has trouble with the accidental arrival of an angry, mistreated bear spirit. The story bowls along at a great pace as Makepiece learns why she has this curse upon her, and does her best to avoid being taken over by a posse of ancient and evil spirits. It’s an excellent read for teens (and adults) who like a vivid and exciting blend of ghost tale and historical story.

ISBN 978 1509 869305 RRP $24.99 Pb

The Cleo Stories: Book Bag by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Allen and Unwin

The first two stories in this delightful Australian series have been packaged together into an enticing cardboard carry case. If you’ve forgotten them, the two titles are: The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present, and The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet. The first story was winner of the 2015 CBCA Book of the Year Award for Younger Readers. The two hardback books are beautifully presented, with softly-shaded pastel-coloured pictures on every page to entertain girls who are just on the borderline of reading for themselves. The warm-hearted stories about an enterprising young miss are written for girls of about five to eight, both early readers and not-quite-readers. My granddaughter falls into the second category, and these are her favourite books (when read to her by Mum or Dad).

The Book Bag would make a marvellous Christmas present for young primary-aged girls.

ISBN 9781760296971 RRP $24.99(AUD) Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Three animal picture books…

The Whale and the Snapper by Jo Van Dam, illus. Richard Hoit, Scholastic NZ

Here’s another title in Scholastic’s popular Kiwi Corkers series – New Zealand versions of traditional tales. This one is inspired by the story called The Lion and the Mouse. A big whale is about to eat a school of baby snapper, when one of the little fish persuades him not to do so – by promising to help him one day. The whale thinks this is most unlikely, but does spare the snapper. Sure enough, the young snapper comes upon the whale caught in a fishing net, about to die. She uses her sharp teeth to nibble through the net and finally the giant is free. The rhyming text flows well and would be excellent to read aloud. The bright, friendly illustrations are done as double-spreads with imposing close-up views of the main characters. They would be great to display to a group. Double ticks to this book as a fun read-aloud for preschoolers and early primary classes.

ISBN 978 1 77543 494 8 RRP $14.99 Pb

Moo and Moo and Can You Guess Who? By Jane Milton, illus. Deborah Hinde, Allen & Unwin
This carries on the popular story about the cows stranded on a hillock during the upheaval of the Kaikoura Earthquake, published as Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too. The focus in this rhyming tale moves to the farming of cows and the birth of calves. Moo and Moo sometimes look at the landslip that made them famous, but they are both more concerned with the cycle of birth and mothering. It’s not long till they slip away to different quiet spots in the paddock to deliver their calves. And what will the new calves be called? You guessed it! There isn’t the same tension in this story as in the first one, but children who remember the first book will be keen to re-visit the famous cows. The rhyming text flows competently, and the double-spread   illustrations are suitably sunny, rural and green. Another good one to read and display to early primary-aged classes, especially in country areas.

ISBN 978 1 76063 161 1 RRP $19.99 Pb

Little Truff and the Whale by Anne Russell, illus. Lara Frizzell, Ann Russell Books (Distributor: South Pacific Books)

This is the fourth picture book in the Little Truff series. The books have an animal welfare focus, and are all narrated by Little Truff who is a Blenheim Cavalier spaniel (inspired by a real dog). This story looks at the difficult situation that arises when a whale is caught in a fishing net – should people try to rescue it? The answer to that is “no”. It’s far too dangerous, and a specialized rescue team needs to be called. So Little Truff’s family phone for help and wait till DOC arrive, then they watch as the difficult task is performed successfully and the whale is free. Little Truff is a fictional narrator who communicates in rhyme, but towards the end of the book the style becomes openly didactic with an adult voice, and the dog’s point of view fades out.

The expansive double-spread illustrations offer attractive seascapes, and the use of close perspectives on the large whale creates dramatic and interesting effects. There are several pages of useful non-fiction information at the end relating to whale rescues. The book is supported by relevant wildlife organisations, and the message is an excellent one to convey to primary-aged children. It would be a successful read-aloud to a primary class to support studies of marine conservation.

ISBN 978 0 473 36775 6 RRP $21.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

New book from Peter Millett and Deborah Hinde

The Kiwi Go Marching One by One by Peter Millett, illustrated by Deborah Hinde (Scholastic)
Sung in English and Maori by Jay Laga'aia, translated by Ngaere Roberts

The Kiwi go marching one by one,
hooray, hooray!
They're hoping for some outdoor fun,
to play, play!

Have you guessed the tune? It's 'The Ants go marching one by one'. Peter Millet has turned this playful lyric into a kiwi version. When writing it he imagined a New Zealand (kiwi) family on holiday around different parts of the country. It celebrates New Zealanders love of outdoors and adventures 'down under'. The kiwi family in the story go tramping, fishing, camping, and even bungee jumping! But like all adventurous families they slump into bed at the end of the day tired from their exertions.

Deborah Hinde's artwork is colourful, has good use of white space, with occasional pages full of detail. Kids will love poring over all the little kiwiana extras she has included. I particularly loved the little kiwi with its tongue sticking out while it tries to fix its fishing line. I also liked how she made it a blended family - the brown kiwi and Great Spotted kiwi. (Technically that wouldn't ever happen, but Deborah has gone for a cartoon version of the kiwi and therefore can get away with it.)

The rhyming verse easily slips off the tongue and children will enjoy joining in with the onomatopoeia words at the end. Teachers and parents are going to love the fact it has the Maori version of the story in the second half of the book. They'll be able to play the CD and pick up how to pronounce Maori words as they sing along. I can see this song being performed by many a classroom for their school assemblies.

I imagine this is going to be a big hit in classrooms and young children's homes. Parents can play it in the car, as they travel to their holiday destination or even on the way to school. Be prepared to listen to it many times, it's going to be hugely popular with 4-6 year olds. Highly recommended for Junior school classrooms and families with pre-schoolers.

ISBN: 978-1-77543-512-9
RRP $18.99

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A special book…

Toroa’s Journey by Maria Gill, illus. Gavin Mouldey, Potton & Burton

While researching the background to this stunning book I was amazed to read (from Maria’s website at that it has been many years since Maria visited the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin and interviewed a ranger about Toroa, the 500th chick to hatch at Taiaroa Head. She then waited seven years for Toroa to return safely to his hatchery. Only then did she finalise the story and send it to Potton & Burton.

The story is a perfect example of a genre that Maria is passionate about – creative non-fiction. Toroa is a real albatross. Many of the events in his story are true, proven by the transmitter he wore for some time. But Maria has shaped these real events into a cohesive story that will “hook” children into reading it as they would a fictional work.

The structure is simple – it begins with Toroa as a chick, learning to survive and fly in a hostile environment. Once he fledges (his wing-feathers are fully developed and he can fly) he launches himself off the cliff – and soars. After many adventures Toroa returns to his hatchery (probably not touching land for seven years), finds a mate, and raises his own chick. The circle of life is complete.
The illustrations are breath-taking, from the stately, bordered painting on the cover to the inside back cover where Toroa’s offspring flies over the wide, restless sea towards the glow of the sun on the horizon.

I asked Gavin what media he used for the paintings. He replied, “The paintings are a mix of gouache paint, gesso, wood staining gel and pastels on paper, wood and card. The birds were painted after using a stylus and digital paint brushes. The plastic patch spread includes plastic waste washed up on my local beach, glued directly on the painting.”

He added that working on a true life character in a fictionalised setting was new for him. He often had the live royal albatross webcam open while sketching, as well as using screen grabs, books, clippings, online photos and postcards. The research stage doubled his workload but made the process very rewarding.

Mention must be made of the excellent book design which combines Gavin’s expansive double-spreads with simple black pencil sketches and fact boxes. There’s even a spectacular double fold-out indicating the span of full-grown albatross wings.

This book is essential buying for primary and intermediate school libraries, as well as all public libraries. I can also see it in the homes of families who are concerned about the environment and the preservation of our native species.

ISBN 978 0 947503 52 9 $19.99 Pb (also available in hardback)
Buy the book here or at your local bookstore.

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Monday, October 30, 2017

It must be Christmas soon…

Old Macdonald Had a Farm sung by the Topp Twins, pictures by Jenny Cooper, Scholastic NZ

It must be Christmas soon because Scholastic have started releasing their usual batch of illustrated songbooks. When I first looked at this one I thought they must have surely already done this well-known song – but no, the imprint says First Published in 2017. The words are the traditional ones so everyone of any age can sing along. The magic of the book lies in Jenny Cooper’s friendly and funny animal pictures – which also offer some subtle humour that children will be able to spot with a bit of encouragement. A great addition to the sing-along collections of pre-school centres and primary schools.

PS. Over 320,000 copies sold of the first five titles by this talented team!
ISBN 978 1 77543 498 6 RRP $18.99 Pb

Row, Kiwi, Row Your Boat, illus. Stevie Mahardhika, sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ

Here’s another one in the popular series which includes If You’re a Kiwi and You Know It, and The Kiwi Hokey Tokey. Three cheeky and cheerful kiwi row their boat down the stream and to the ocean, looking for a taniwha. They check in with lots of animals and birds on the way, but they don’t realise – until the end – that the taniwha is shadowing them all the way. There’s a grand party to finish it all off. The text of the song is provided in English and Maori, and both versions are sung on the CD. 

There’s also a glossary of Maori words inside the back cover. The illustrations are big and bright and bold, and would be good for displaying to a group of pre-schoolers or younger primary-aged children.

ISBN 978 1 77543 493 1 RRP $18.99 Pb

Stink-o-saurus by Deano Yipadee and Paul Beavis, Scholastic NZ

The well-known team who gave us Jingle Bells, Rudolph Smells, and Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine have produced another song that’s going to be outrageously popular with the younger set – because its story centres on farts. Not just ordinary farts – huge stinky dinosaur farts. Stan is upset because the other dinosaurs won’t play with him because of his smells. But a massive T-Rex terrorizes the community – and guess who’s got the perfect weapon to get rid of the monster?? The cartoon illustrations are full of colour, detail and action, perfectly matching the over-the-top enthusiasm of Deano singing on the CD. One word of warning – small boys will roll on the floor shrieking and girls will giggle madly when they hear the story, so you have to be a brave teacher or parent to try to read the book in a public space. Best for ages 3-7.

ISBN 978 1 77543 473 3 RRP $18.99 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


Friday, October 27, 2017

Building Site Zoo book

Building Site Zoo by Sophie Masson, illustrated by Laura Wood (Lothian Children's Books)

I met author Sophie Masson at the Ibby Conference in 2016, and again at the SCBWI conference later that year. She's a prolific author/publisher from the Sydney region. Sophie has mostly written junior fiction and YA stories, as well as five picture books.

Building Site Zoo encourages children to look at an object and then imagine what else it looks like. In this case, vehicles that help on a building site. A bull's charge is compared to a bulldozer, a kangaroo's bouncing up and down to a pneumatic drill (jackhammer), a hippo's round stomach to a concrete mixer and so on. The end line encourages children to liken objects to animals on their walk to kindy or school, too.

Children 4-6 years old will enjoy the story and teachers could also use with middle school children to develop language and imagination. For example, could build on children's imagination of objects looking like animals and use it in a haiku, or to encourage children to use similes and metaphors in their fictional stories.

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, of French parents, Sophie Masson came to Australia at the age of five. Sophie grew up between worlds, and between languages, an experience which has formed a lot of her work. A bilingual French and English speaker, she was educated in schools in both Australia and France, and has a BA and M.Litt in French and English Literature, and is currently finishing her PhD.

Sophie has had more than 50 novels published in Australia and internationally, mostly for young adults and children. Much of her work for children and young adults has also been in the fantasy genre, but she has also written ghost stories, mysteries, thrillers, family stories and a graphic novel(The Secret Army: Operation Loki). 

Illustrator Laura Wood is currently based in Bristol, U.K., but was born and raised in Italy, and lived in Australia for a number of years. She's completed a Bachelor of Cinema and Multimedia, and while living in Australia, finished a Diploma of Illustration and hasn’t stopped drawing ever since. 

Laura says her illustrations have a sunny style, earthy and pastel tones with a strong sense of narrative. She likes to use textured lines to give a traditional feeling to her digital images. 

ISBN 978-0-7344-1753-4
RRP hardback $26.99, paperback $16.99, e-book $13.99

Thursday, October 26, 2017

More exciting Term 4 reading…

Dinosaur Trouble: the Runaway Coat by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

Just in time for Term 4 comes the third book in the easy-reading Dinosaur Trouble series. In this one Arg is in trouble because the winter is freezing and everyone needs to wear their furs to keep warm. But Arg ends up without his precious sabre-tooth tiger coat – he’s going blue with cold! Desperately he tries to track down his coat, but tracks down a sabre-tooth tiger instead. The situation gets worse when an angry ankylosaur appears – with Arg’s coat stuck on its head!

Boys of 5 to 7 who like the series will be happy to have a new title with the usual dollop of vomit and snot. As always the story is enhanced by Donovan’s lively black ink cartoons. I’m giving this copy to the family with three grandsons (aged 9, 8 and 5). One of them will grab it first and sit down to devour it…

ISBN 978 1 77543 368 2 RRP $8.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Three Holiday Picture Books

Three picture books for the holidays…

Scarface Claw, Hold Tight by Lynley Dodd, Penguin Random House NZ

He’s back! And he’s in trouble. Scarface Claw is one of the favourite Hairy Maclary characters in my family. But I think he’s getting on in years – in this story he’s snoozing happily in the sunshine, when suddenly his warm metal bed begins to move. You guessed it, he was sleeping on top of the car! They travel through town, with poor old Scarface Claw desperately hanging on to the top of the windscreen. People yell and point and wave and faint – thank goodness Constable Chrissie is in her car and turns on the siren. Tom jams on his brakes, and you-know-who slides down the windscreen looking as angry as any cat who has lost his dignity can look.
The book is designed in the tried-and-true format of picture on the left and large text on the right. As always Lynley’s rhyming text is impeccable – it’s a delight to read aloud. Definitely another book to add to your Hairy Maclary collection both at home and at the pre-school centres.
ISBN 978 0 14 3770985 RRP $25 Hb

1 – 2 – 3 Bird! By Dave Gunson, Scholastic NZ

Well, it’s a counting book, but there’s a lot more to it that will keep children occupied with looking and locating. The rhyming text starts off with one noisy seagull asking to be fed, and finishes with 13 sleepy moreporks slowly waking in each tree. But wait, there’s more. All the way through, each double-spread illustration includes references to the pictures before and after. Children can start spotting the picture parts which refer to the following page. There are other puzzles as well – such as Dave painting himself into a picture as the illustrator, and including lots of little sparrows “being painted by … ME!” The last double spread lists animals, fish, birds and insects that can be identified in the pictures.

Dave’s double-page illustrations are large and lively – so much so that I found myself holding the book out at arm’s length while I read it, in order to appreciate the impact of the pictures. This book will be excellent for reading aloud in pre-schools and junior primary classes, and the fauna and flora aspect will support New Zealand nature studies.

ISBN 978 1 77543 394 1 RRP $17.99 Pb

Max and His Big Imagination: The Race Car by Chrissy Metge, illus. Dmitry Chizhov, Duckling Publishing (

This is the fourth book in this series, all titles focusing on the power of Max’s active imagination. I reviewed the third book (The Sandpit) earlier this year, and commented on the fact that it was very short, with only eleven pages of story (the industry standard being 32 pages). The same comment applies to this book. The shortness of the text does mean that the story is undeveloped. However the illustrations are modern, bright and eye-catching, and the book has a pleasant glossy feel to it. It will be enjoyed by (mostly) small boys who like racing cars but don’t want to spend much time on reading a book. Parents and teachers may find it useful to read it with reluctant boy readers who can’t sit still through a standard-length picture book.

ISBN 9780473401757 RRP $16.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Tale of a tail ...

The Little Mouse’s Tail by Ardi Alemi, Digital Alchemist Media Productions 

This striking picture book seems to be a labour of love involving a lot of people, with Ardi Alemi, and Charlotte and Russell Wanhill mentioned on the cover. There is also the large number of backers who raised over $13,000 on Kickstarter to get the book into print. It all began with Ardi’s wish to create illustrations for a children’s book for his daughter, so he wrote an English version of an old Persian fable that his grandmother used to tell him when he was a boy.

Digital Alchemist Media Productions is a one-stop shop for video productions, and the book is for sale for $30 via their website (URL above). It’s probably also for sale at good children’s bookshops. More information (plus a reading-aloud video) is available via a Facebook page at

The hardback book has good visual appeal with its white cover and fat pink mouse. The 58 pages offer a lengthy rhyming story, with a repeated design of a full-page stylised picture on the left-hand pages and the text on the right pages. The story follows the desperate efforts of a mouse to have her broken tail stitched up again – how can you get something mended when the tailor has no sewing yarn and the yarn-spinner has no wool? The intrepid mouse has many frustrations but she gets there in the end. The moral of the story is explained on the last page.

The rhyming text is lively (with a bit of bumpy scansion here and there). The cartoon-type pictures are delightful, with the pink and white mouse standing out beautifully. Some interesting perspectives are used. But at 58 pages (instead of the standard 32) the story is quite long, and I think it would be better being read with a child on a cosy one-to-one basis rather than to a fidgety preschool group.

ISBN 978 0 473 39223 9 RRP $30 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Another Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock collaboration

Gecko by Raymond Huber, illustrated by Brian Lovelock (Walker Books)

Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock paired for the bee book 'Flight of the Honey Bee' several years ago. They've used the same successful formula - beautiful understated artwork with Brian's characteristic blotted/splattered paint look and Raymond's creative non-fiction style.

In Gecko readers discover a snippet of a (blue-grey coloured Tokay) gecko's daily life over three days. Gecko begins his day peeking out from a crack in a cliff. Raymond hints the gecko has to be on alert because there are many dangers in the daylight. Gecko then encounters two predators and one intruder. Through story Raymond cleverly shows us how the gecko protects itself, what it eats, and its daily routine. To accompany the story are facts (in bold) to give inquiring minds extra information about the reptile. There's a further page of information plus an index on the last two pages.

Brian created the illustrations with water colour paint, acrylic ink and coloured pencil. The whole effect is just stunning. The hardback book has gorgeous endpapers in radiant green. This book is a delightful edition to the Nature Storybook series. All Primary schools should have at least one copy in their library but would also be a useful resource for the science curriculum too. Parents / grandparents might like to buy a copy for their nature-loving children/grandchildren.

ISBN 978-1-925126-55-6
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99
Available 1 October 2017

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Two more Te Reo Singalong Books

Te Taiao by Sharon Holt, photography by Rachael McKenna (Te Reo Singalong Books)
Ngā Āhua by Sharon Holt, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Te Reo Singalong Books)

Sharon Holt and her creative team have produced two more Te Reo Singalong picture song books. These books are super handy for teachers who aren't confident with te reo Maori and need all the resources they can get to help implement it, but also a great resource for Kohanga reo schools for tamariki to read themselves, and kindergartens for children to sing along to the songs. The books have English translations, follow up ideas, guitar chords so you can strum along to the song, and a CD for you to play so the kids can join in too. Added bonus - it helps those just learning te reo Maori to pronounce the words correctly.

Sharon got the idea for Te Taiao after reading about a Raglan kindergarten that encourages children to have unstructured play in nature. She spent a morning with the children and it inspired the story. It's about all the fun things kids do outside: playing hide and seek, crossing bridges, running freely through the forest, feeding eels, walking across wobbly ropes, etc. Photographer Rachael McKenna spent a day with a group of kindergarten kids playing outside to take the beautiful photographs.

In Ngā Āhua children can learn how to make geometrical shapes with their body and learn the English and Maori words for it, too. Here's an example:

He manawa ōku matimati. Me kaute ngā manawa.
(My fingers make a heart. Let's count the hearts.)

He porotītaha tōku waha. Me kaute ngā porotītaha.
(My mouth makes an oval. Let's count the ovals.)

This book would be a great entry into a new unit in maths for shapes and number. It'll help children to kinesthetically learn the names of the words (in English and Maori). This will help the words go into their long term memory. Add the CD song into the mix and you're encouraging children to use three senses (see, feel, hear), which will help them learn it even better. So as well as being an awesome resource for learning te reo Maori it would be very useful in your Maths curriculum.

Te Taiao ISBN 978-0-994-11715-1 $24.99 (includes CD)
Ngā Āhua ISBN 978-0-994-11715-1 $24.99 (includes CD)

Go to the website to see inside and hear the songs.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Two More “Proudly New Zealand” picture books…

Whose Feet Are These? By Gillian Candler, illus. Fraser Williamson, Potton & Burton

Gillian Candler has written numerous factual books for children, some of them award-winners. Her recent book Whose Beak Is This? was so successful that she has followed it up with a book in the same format. Each right-hand page has a peep-hole picture of feet belonging to a native bird, insect or animal. There is only one line of text, eg. “Whose feet are these, covered in spikes, climbing in the trees?” Turn the page, and the left-hand page provides a bigger picture of the relevant creature, with a small paragraph of explanation. Note that Maori names are given precedence over European names. There’s a double-spread of all the creatures near the end, and also a general fact page about feet.

Fraser Williamson’s art works are well-known both nationally and internationally. He has illustrated many books for children, using different styles that are all very idiosyncratic. In these nature books his colours are muted and sometimes dark, while the backgrounds are rich and dense and have a tactile quality. The creatures themselves, finely drawn, glisten and glow and almost glide off the page.

Pre-schoolers, especially young ones, will be fascinated by both the interactive format and the beautifully realistic pictures. Primary schools will find this book useful for their native fauna and flora studies.

ISBN 978 0 947503 32 1 $14.99  Pb (also available in hardback, $24.99)

Tawhirimatea: A Song For Matariki by June Pitman Hayes, illus. Kat Merewether, Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ
Matariki is due to begin on 25 June, so libraries, schools and pre-school centres need to gather up their Matariki books. Here is a delightful new picture songbook to add to the collections (it includes a CD). It’s a lilting song that weaves together aspects of Maori mythology, nature, and family life. It begins with “Tawhirimatea, blow winds blow, Ra, warm us up with your sunshine glow,” and ends with “Marama, moon, rises big and bright, Matariki star sisters light up the sky.” The first version in the book and on the CD is in English (with many Maori words), and the second version is in Maori.

June Pitman Hayes is a well-known singer, producer, writer, songwriter, and poet. Her previous work for Scholastic NZ was the music to accompany Joy Cowley’s Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby. Her voice on this CD is pure and melodious, and children will love it.

Kat Merewether is probably best known for her award-winning picture book series about Kuwi the Kiwi. In this book her illustrations celebrate the New Zealand environment. The colours are light and bright with much use of appealing sea shades. Maori motifs decorate the faces of the wind, the sun and the moon, while New Zealand icons are everywhere – a tui, a kereru, a pohutukawa tree. This book/CD combination will be great fun for preschool centres and early primary classes.

ISBN 978 1 77543 413 9 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, September 1, 2017

New Junior Fiction Title

Snails, Spells & Snazzlepops by Robyn Cooper, Makaro Press

This is Robyn Cooper’s first published book for children, though she has proved her writing skills with previous publications and stories. It’s a whacky tale written for junior readers aged about 8 plus – and I’m glad to see it because not many books are published in New Zealand for this level.

Charlie is sick of feeling poor. He decides to make money by becoming a TV chef, and his first attempt at haute cuisine finds him gathering, feeding, cleaning, and cooking a bunch of garden snails – with some very funny problems along the way. When that meal is not a success, he fortunately gives up the idea of cooking frogs’ legs and tries some magic spells instead. The spells are meant to make a local bully see the error of his ways.

Finally Charlie and his sidekick, Millie, cook up a batch of Snazzlepops (biscuits) for the school fair – and these are a great success because they include popping sugar (which really exists) and Fumovanadix granules which produce blue smoke (and don’t exist, according to Google).

The story is humorous, fast-moving, and full of action, and should keep the interest of readers, especially boys. My only criticism is of the middle portion of the story where Charlie and Millie (and, strangely, Charlie’s granny) set up spells to reform a bully called Ivan. This portion of the story introduces a puzzling fantasy element which doesn’t integrate well with the light-hearted, realistic tone of the first and last sections of the story.

But the book is not aimed at picky adult reviewers like me, and I’m sure keen readers will be attracted by the goofy cover and will devour the story quite happily.

PS. There are useful Teachers’ Notes at

ISBN 978 0 9941379 3 7 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

A bit of Auckland history…

Ivan and the Lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, illus. Rosalind Clark, Phantom Tree House (

The lighthouse on Bean Rock is a familiar structure to Aucklanders. This well-presented and attractive picture book is loosely based on events in the life of Ivan Anderson and his father James, who was the lighthouse keeper at Bean Rock from 1909 to 1911. Ivan goes to school in Devonport, but he spends a lot of time daydreaming about going out to Bean Rock and helping his father. Finally – as a birthday present – he’s allowed to row out with his father for the two-night weekend stay. Ivan enjoys watching the birds, and he’s lucky enough to see Halley’s Comet in the night-time sky. He also watches as a steamer temporarily runs aground on a rock some distance away. Of course, Ivan vows that he also will become a lighthouse keeper.

The author is a photographer and publisher with a lifelong interest in lighthouses. The illustrator is a graphic designer and illustrator specialising in narrative graphics; she uses pencil, collage, pixel and ink. Phantom Tree House is an offshoot of Phantom House, a local publisher that produces good-quality non-fiction books for adults.

The text is straightforward and interesting; the stylised illustrations are fresh and simple; the design of the book is excellent. There’s not a lot of action or excitement, but the publisher pretty well sums it up: “Aimed at readers aged 5-7 who like history, science, astronomy and a sense of adventure.”
Best for early primary-aged children who will be attracted by Ivan’s cheerful cartoon face on the cover – and, of course, Bean Rock Lighthouse itself.

ISBN 978 0 9941285 1 5 RRP $25 Pb (with flaps)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Two more kiwi stories

Little Kiwi has a Forest Feast by Bob Darroch (Puffin)

Little Kiwi has a Forest Feast is the 12th book in the successful Little Kiwi series. These books are often on the bestseller list.

Little kiwi has a cold and is not feeling well. He's also hungry but his blocked nostrils are not helping him find worms. Later, his sister enquires why he hasn't gotten up for the day. She misinterprets 'coldt' for 'colt' and spreads a rumour around the forest that kiwi is getting a horse. Perhaps to ride away ... The forest animals crowd around his burrow to see if it is true. When they realise he has a cold ... find out what they do next.

An animal story about friendship and supporting your friends when they need help. Young children (4-6 year olds) will enjoy the humorous colourful illustrations and the positive ending.

Bob Darroch has been drawing cartoons for most of his life. His work has appeared on
toys, jigsaws, souvenirs and postcards and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. He
started writing and illustrating his own books for children in 1999. In 2001, the first of the
popular Little Kiwi stories were published. Little Kiwi is Scared of the Dark has since been
awarded the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book. Bob has illustrated
books for other authors, including for his wife, Ruth

ISBN: 978-0-14-377095-4

Kuwi's very shiny bum by Kat Merewether (Illustrated Publishing)

Okay, I confess, I'm very late with this review. I should have typed it up end of last year in time for Christmas, but I figure people are probably already looking for Christmas stories and this book can stand alone, as well. Plus Kat has two more books, floor puzzle, and baby cup and plate set coming soon ... so thought I better get this out, better late than never.

Kuwi's very shiny bum is the third book in the Kuwi the Kiwi series (with more coming soon - see above). The series has been hugely popular and is flying to happy children's homes all around the globe. Kat donates a portion of her profits to Kiwis for Kiwi Trust and has so far raised $10,000. The Trust has made Kat Merewether an Ambassador for Kiwis for Kiwi Trust.

This book is a story within a story. Mama kiwi reads a Christmas story about paying it forward in a xmas setting. A little kiwi finds a red ball and attaches it to its bottom and then makes, builds, and bakes presents for all its friends. Find out their response. And the lovely surprise for Kuwi at the end.

The illustrations are full of humour and reference kiwiana in many different ways including the King of Kiwiana Dick Frizzell himself (as a kiwi).

Go to Kuwi the Kiwi's website for more information and other kiwi goodies.

RRP $18.99 Te Reo Maori versions available too.

ISBN: 978 0 994 136404

Cooking for Kids Recipe books

I Quit Sugar: Kids' Cookbook by Sarah Wilson (MacMillan)

When my son was six years old we noticed he never stopped jiggling. His teacher said it was like he wanted to go to the toilet all the time. He didn't, in desperation she drew a small circle around his body and told him he could not move out of it. We took him to a Naturopath and he told us we had to take sugar out of his diet.  So began the scrutinising of every label on packets of food while at the supermarket. I found the amount of sugar in food quite shocking. Foods that I thought were healthy were loaded with sugar. It meant I had to do more baking and use stevia instead of sugar. And yes it made a huge difference taking sugar out of his diet.

I wish this recipe book had been around 15 years ago (my jiggly son is now 21 years old). It begins with reasons why parents should consider taking their kids off sugar. Sarah says it is not about 'bad' foods and banning certain items. Instead, parents should try to encourage them to fill-up on other sugarless snacks, treats and meals. She says it's about eating like our grandparents did; less packaged food and with the least number of ingredients.

The World Health Organisation recommends children aged 4-8 years old shouldn't be eating more than 3 teaspoons of sugar a day. Yet some foods such as a glass of apple juice, bowl of cereal or toast with jam can blow that count in one serving. You can read about what too much sugar does to young children and advice about what we should be feeding our children. There's a very helpful allergy substitution guide and advice on how to navigate the book.

The recipes are then organised into the following categories:

Simple staples that get kids to the table - 10 pages
Breakfast for brain power - 12 pages
Vegetable dishes (and the art of disguising they're vegetables) - 14 pages
Classic dishes but with the IQS makeover - 14 pages
Creative fun sweet dishes - 10 pages
Lunchbox ideas - 20 pages
Grab'n'Run dishes - 10 pages
Party dishes - 22 pages

One hundred people responded to Sarah's plea for sugarless recipes, as well as specialised contributors such as Kate Burbidge; registered psychologist who is also a health nut in the kitchen, Bree Hateley creator of, a website dedicated to providing healthy and wholesome tips for feeding kids; and Lee Holmes author of multiple cookbooks; and others.

The recipes are fun, healthy and original. Take this recipe for example:

Nutty Teeth
1 red or green apple cut into thin wedges.         1-2 tbsp nut butter
2 tsp silvered almonds or pumpkin seeds

1. Spread the nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew) over half of the apple slices and stick on another slice at a 'jaw-like' angle.
2. Spike the almond slivers or pumpkin seeds into the nut butter to form teeth.
3. Serves two or three as a snack.

Author Sarah Wilson is a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. Her site an online wellness site featuring the latest news, science and nutritional support for anyone wanting to ease their sugar load in their diet.

RRP $29.99 paperback
ISBN: 978-1-925479-50-8

Weekday Meals in Minutes by Simon & Alison Holst (Hyndman Publishing)

Okay this book is for all the busy parents who rush home from work, scratch their heads wondering what nutritious meal they can whip up quickly. I think there are plenty of parents who need help at those bewitching hours.

The book gives you hints on what to stock in your pantry, weekly meal planning, and then divides the recipes into the following: salads; sandwiches, wraps & burgers; pasta, noodles & rice; curries & chillies; vegetarian meals; main meals with fish & seafood; main meals with meat. You can also find more recipes on their website and find it with a q-code.

The meals have been chosen for their quickness to prepare. Each recipe has from 3-5 steps and it should only take 30 minutes to make. You'll find delicious meal ideas like Chinese-style chicken salad, Greek-style lamb burgers, Mediterranean meatballs in pita pockets, seafood laksa, Chicken & Chorizo Jambalaya, Pad Thai ... they've mined the globe for culinary delights. They haven't taken up unnecessary room with cakes, biscuits and desserts recipes you're never going to make when you're in a rush; they're all lunch and dinner menu ideas. Just what busy parents need.

Dame Alison Holst and her son Simon Holst have written over 40 recipe books together. They've all been bestsellers and have sold over 2.1 million copies to date.


ISBN: 978-0-908319-07-7

Monday, August 21, 2017

More off-the-wall picture books from Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

If I Had an Elephant by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones, colouring by Tara Black, Scholastic NZ

The two previous two picture books by this trio (My Grandpa is a Dinosaur and That’s Not the Monster We Ordered) were published by Penguin NZ. This latest book is with Scholastic NZ. All have the same distinctive graphic style – which I’d like to call Almost-a-Comic-But-Not-Quite. All have the same quirky theme of taking the impossible and pushing it even further.

“I wish I had an elephant,” says the boy. “If I had an elephant we’d win every water fight!” Then the idea takes flight: “If I had an elephant, we’d build a time machine together. Then we’d travel back in time to meet his great, great [many greats] grandfather.” Who just happens to be a mastodon wearing spectacles. It’s always hard to end a flight of fancy story, but I’m happy with this ending: “But this year, for my birthday, I got a gorilla and a dragon.” Just think what you can do with a gorilla and a dragon…

The book design is impressive, with an eye-catching cover picture, cute end papers, and edgy comic-style illustrations (fine pen and ink) that happily enhance the story. Mention must be made of the Photoshop colouring which is done with unusual but effective colours.

My copy will be going to my 5-year-old grandson who spends a lot of time imagining and pretending – he’ll love it.

BTW, there’s an interesting article at The Sapling.

ISBN 978 1 77543 476 4 $19.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

That's not the Monster we ordered by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones (Penguin)

Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones are on a roll. Their book 'My Grandpa is a Dinosaur' recently shortlisted for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. They're now published with Scholastic and Penguin; the two biggest children's book publishers in New Zealand. Their latest book 'That's not the monster we ordered' has the same 'off-the-wall' quirky type humour , as the others, and is printed in foolscap portrait size with their distinctive illustration style.

'That's not the monster we ordered' starts off with a family observing a neighbour receiving a monster that they'd ordered online. The whole neighbourhood piles into that family's house to check out the monster. It can do tricks, make loud noises, run down stairs faster than anyone else. Of course, then everyone wants one.

The narrator of the story, a young boy, has trouble convincing his family they need one. His parents tell him he'd never get his homework done, it'll be too expensive ... the usual parent-excuses. Will the parents give in and will they get the type of monster they want ... a super-duper monster that will be the envy of the neighbourhood or will they get what they need?

A fun picture book that will delight kids 4-8 years old either read aloud in a classroom (it's big enough for every kid to see), or read to a child on your lap. Afterwards you could ask children if they've ever pined for something and got it and did it live up to their expectations? And which monster did they prefer in the story and why?

What is even more extraordinary about these books is that Richard Fairgray is classed as fully blind. He says that he sees everything flat and in order to illustrate he holds the paper up close to his face. Richard knows what he wants to draw before he starts and then approaches it mathematically. See an interview of him talking about it here.

I particularly like that Richard gets away from stereotypes of what is 'family'. He has drawn mixed cultures; the main character and his family is either Maori or African American (the book does have an American feel to it), and the mother fixes the car.  There's lots of extra humorous bits that kids will enjoy noticing on second, third, and more readings. Will be a favourite in the home or classroom.

Reprint of a Classic…

The Great White Man-Eating Shark: a Cautionary Tale by Margaret Mahy, illus. Jonathan Allen. Hachette NZ

Apparently Hachette NZ have obtained the reprint rights to some of Margaret Mahy’s classic picture books. They’ve already produced A Lion in the Meadow and The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate. These stories scarcely need describing to most teachers, librarians, and parents. But there are always tatty old copies lying round that can be replaced with a bright new reprint; and there are always more pre-schoolers coming along who haven’t yet had the stories read aloud to them. These new generations will love Norvin’s forays as a fearsome shark, as well as Jonathan Allen’s sneaky-eyed pointy-toothed portrayal of Norvin as he terrorises the beach.

Recommended for every age from three upwards.

ISBN 978 1 86971 361 4 RRP $19.99 (not released till 29/8/17) Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Featuring Pacific Island heroes

Preview of a Magpies article…

The July issue of Magpies (an Australasian children’s book review magazine) will contain an article about David Riley, Reading Warrior (visit him at Many New Zealand teachers, librarians and young readers will already know David and his passion to get teenagers reading, particularly boys from Pacific Island backgrounds.

David sent three self-published books as examples of the main strands of reading material he’s currently creating and marketing. The first category covers books about Pacific Island heroes and achievers. The book he sent is Samoan Heroes (Reading Warrior, 2015, a Storylines Notable Book). It’s a solid, glossy book packed full of information and graphics about mythological heroes, sporting stars, and achievers in areas such as literature, politics, science and music.
The second category consists of books about sporting stars written for teenage readers, including well-known athletes such as Steven Adams, Sonny Bill Williams, and Benji Marshall. Again, the books in this series are packed with personal and professional information about the star, along with numerous action photographs. The supplied example of this category was Jammin’ With Steven Adams (Reading Warrior, 2015, a Storylines Notable Book).

The third category is the Reading All Stars series, which are smaller, shorter books about local sports stars written for younger readers (and unconfident readers) of around intermediate age. The example is Joseph Parker (Reading Warrior, 2017), which has a bigger font and lots of interesting coloured photos.

Watch out for the Magpies article – it will also include a Selected Bibliography of David’s works. They can all be bought from

Lorraine Orman

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A happy ending…

I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess by Petra Kotrotsos and Christina Irini Arathimos, Makaro Press

Petra Kotrotsos
This picture book is a labour of love for a lot of people. Petra Kotrotsos was only six when she had a playground fall and doctors investigating her sore back discovered she had a neuroblastoma in her chest. So began weeks of treatment involving operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The story describes Petra’s high and low moments as she copes with the time in hospital, the treatments, and the side effects. She’d always wanted to be a fairy princess, but when her hair falls out she realises she’s better suited to being a fairy warrior in the battle against cancer. The story ends when her hair starts to grow back, but in reality Petra’s neuroblastoma recurred four times until she was fifteen.

Christina Irini Arathimos
The story was originally written by Petra when she was seven, and sympathetic editing has turned it into a straightforward, easy-to-read account of a brave little girl’s battle against cancer. The illustrator Christina Irini Arathimos was mentored by Fifi Colston and together they have produced appealing child-focused pictures, full of life and common sense, that show what Petra is going through – but at the same time they’re not frightening or overwhelming.

The printing of the book was funded by the Wellington Hospitals Foundation, and the list of thank-you names on the last page includes family members, friends, and medical professionals. As I said, a labour of love for many people.

The book would be particularly welcome for families with an ill child, but I can also see a firm place for it in hospital libraries, public libraries and primary school libraries.

ISBN 9780994137944 $25.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 NZ Book Award winners

Congratulations to all the winners!

Recent picture books from Scholastic NZ…

The Curious Ar-Chew by Sarah Grundy, illus. Ali Teo and John O’Reilly, Scholastic NZ

This is the winner of the 2016 Storylines Joy Cowley Award for an unpublished picture book text. My heart sank slightly when I saw the rhyming text, because I read an awful lot of not-very-good rhyming text. But I’m delighted to say this is excellent – it flows beautifully, there aren’t any bumpy bits, and the rhymes are fresh and unforced. Congratulations to this first-time children’s book author.

It’s a friendly, uncluttered story about three forest creatures spotting a strange animal sleeping inside a hollow tree. It’s got big orange feet. Is it a goose? It’s got long ears. Is it a rabbit? It’s got a thick woolly coat… What is it? Of course the creature wakes up with a big sneeze – and soon we see exactly what it is. But I’m not going to tell.

The illustrators have used a clean-cut straightforward style that matches the simplicity of the story. Swathes of green convey open, rolling countryside; black shadows and silhouettes provide drama; and the tall straight tree trunks reflect the comfort of a forest full of sunshine. The illustrations also offer a pleasing array of sizes and viewpoints.

This is an excellent picture book for preschool centres and early primary classes; it would be great fun to read aloud to a group.

ISBN 978 1 77543 437 5 RRP $17.99 Pb

Too Much Poo by Scott Tulloch, Scholastic NZ

Author/illustrator Scott Tulloch’s previous picture books include one of my all-time favourites I Am Not a Worm! I’m saying this first, because I’m now going to admit that I don’t like scatological stories. However other professionals may not have the same qualms, so I’ll try to gloss over the “poo” aspect of this book. The promotional material says that the author’s observations on human greed were the inspiration for the story. 

It focuses on a blowfly (looking rather like an electrocuted pompom) who spots ever-larger animals defecating on the ground – until the piles of poo he investigates are too big for him to cope with. What is a poor blowfly to do?

The illustrations get more and more outrageous (I’m not going to describe the elephant scene!). Which prompts a warning about these types of story – any ambitious teacher trying to read this book aloud in a preschool or classroom environment would probably provoke a class riot.

Note that the book mentions a link to “for a hilarious free audio reading of this book.”

ISBN 978 1 77543 408 5 RRP $17.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, August 11, 2017

Augmented Reality … or Augmented Fiction?

The Dragon Defenders: Book One by James Russell, animations by Yongtao Zhang, Dragon Brothers Books

Warning – I am discussing a multimedia experience here, more than reviewing a book. Most children’s lit enthusiasts will be aware of James’ earlier picture book series, The Dragon Brothers Trilogy. These were very popular, and the first one was reviewed on this blog in 2013.

This new series confronts us with some massive changes. Same two main characters, but different genre and format (it’s a junior novel, not a picture book), a total change in illustrative style, and the introduction of a digital characteristic popularly known as augmented reality.

Flynn and Paddy live on a remote island with their parents. For entertainment they read books, play games, go exploring, ride their horse, train their falcon, fish and hunt for food. They haven’t even heard of smartphones. But they do know that a colony of dragons lives on their island. When a boatload of thugs arrives on the island intent upon stealing a dragon’s egg and killing an adult dragon, the two boys know they have to foil the evil plan. The story is fast-moving and will keep young readers eagerly turning the pages.

The author says, “As far as I can tell, The Dragon Defenders is one of only two or three novels in the world to have ‘augmented reality’ content, accessible via a free app downloaded to your smartphone or tablet.” Once you have downloaded the app, you follow a few simple instructions and point your device camera at indicated pages to view the augmented reality. There are five of these pages throughout the book, showing extras such as a video of the evil guy being gross, and the decoding of a coded document, and an instructional map of the island. BTW, if you don’t have access to the app, the next page in the book tells you what you missed.

Having downloaded the app on to my Samsung Galaxy tablet, I did the camera bit and studied the extra segments. Then I thought about what it would be like to share this experience with a grandchild.
Firstly, to operate the app you have to be connected to the internet. Unless you have an incredibly trustworthy child, you will probably want to keep a close eye on what’s going on. Secondly, I didn’t have enough hands to hold the book open, clutch the tablet, get it centred on the GO arrow, and tap the screen (a grandchild would have been useful at this point!) Thirdly, I had a few problems with the app not doing what I expected it to do and booting me back to the beginning (though this might be the fault of my ageing tablet).

Lastly, I found the augmented reality segments a tad disappointing. Having seen many popular computer games full of action, noise, explosions, surprises and suspense, loud theme music, etc, I would like to see more of these features in the app segments - particularly more exciting sound effects to fill in the blank-page bits. And I’d love to see an enormous dragon swooping past, blasting out fire… 

As for the phrase ‘augmented reality’, aren’t we just adding an extra layer of fiction to something that is already fiction? Why use the word reality?

Buy the book, use the app, read the story (preferably with children), consider the potential of the augmented reality (ie. fiction?) aspect – and
plenty of encouragement to James and his crew to come up with MORE! You can visit them at

ISBN 978 0 473 37621 5 $22 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Three very different picture books from Duck Creek Press…

Nina’s Phantom Friend by Andy Conlan, Duck Creek Press
Andy Conlan is a man of mystery – I couldn’t find out much about him. But his website at says “Author and Illustrator of Books for the World’s Luckiest Children,” as well as identifying him as a professional photographer and filmmaker. The website also introduces two previous picture books – Mr Gloomingdale’s Downpour, and Portrait of a Waiting Pig. I suspect these are written in the same wry (some would say blackly humorous) style as Nina’s Phantom Friend.

The book is certainly a departure from the usual Duck Creek Press publications – good on them for venturing out of their comfort zone. This story is best regarded as a sophisticated picture book – it’s definitely not for the littlies. Nina’s cat, Masaccio, has died, and she misses him terribly. But his ghost visits her, and tells her that she must retrieve his remains and bury them. To do this, Nina must venture into the underworld where she meets and outwits the Ferryman and the Bone Counter, both very spooky characters. Definitely shades of Orpheus in the underworld here, also Garth Nix’s Sabriel series. The artwork is stunning – as well as being challenging and unsettling. Picture in your mind a mountain of skulls…

Recommended for readers of intermediate age and older. It would also be of interest to art teachers and students – it’s really cutting-edge stuff.

ISBN 978 1 927305 32 4 RRP $19.99 Pb

So Special by David Hill, illus. Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press

David Hill needs no introduction – as one of New Zealand’s most prolific and recognised children’s writers. He’s recently turned his hand to writing picture book texts – he received the 2016 Children’s Choice Non-Fiction Award for First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hilary’s Amazing Everest Adventure.

Nikki Slade Robinson has illustrated over sixty children’s books and readers as well as writing and illustrating her own stories, with several having been published by Duck Creek Press.
This latest picture book was created in collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force. It addresses the difficult issues faced by children when a parent is deployed overseas. The story is suitably low-key, with an easy-to-read text featuring a boy called Oscar. People keep telling him he’s special because he comes from an Army family, and his Dad is special too because he’s helping out in war-ravaged countries. But all Oscar can think of is how much he misses his Dad. The story is probably most suitable for primary-aged children, particularly those with parents away from home for long periods of time.

The illustrations are done in a straightforward style with clean lines, calming colours, and plenty of white space. The book will be available in September, and there will also be a Maori language version available for the same price – He Tino Taonga.

ISBN 978 1 927305 33 1 RRP $19.99 Pb

Dragons under My Bed by Kath Bee, illus. Lisa Allen, Duck Creek Press

Here’s one for the littlies, pre-schoolers and early primary age. It’s the first picture book from Kath Bee, an award-winning children’s songwriter who has travelled all over New Zealand since 2002. Her most popular and requested song, Dragons Under My Bed, which won the 2014 APRA Children’s Video of the Year, has been turned into a book - with the song downloadable. I also found a version of the song on Kath’s YouTube channel.

As always with picture song books, the words are at their best when being sung. Any glitches in the rhythm of the words are miraculously ironed out when there’s a musical background. It’s a bouncy light-hearted tale told from the point of view of a little boy who has a bunch of pesky dragons living under his bed. It’s amazing how often they come out and create chaos after lights out!

I can see this book being welcomed by children’s librarians, pre-school and primary teachers, and musically-minded parents – anyone who likes to combine music and singing aloud with a popular song.

ISBN 978 1 927305 35 5 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman