Friday, July 21, 2017

Three new fantasy books from IFWG Publishing

Brave’s Journey by Jan Goldie, IFWG Publishing Australia

Jan is a freelance writer living in Tauranga. This is her first book for YA readers, and was originally shortlisted for Storylines’ Tom Fitzgibbon Award 2014 as well as being a finalist in the Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2016. Jan has also had several short stories published in anthologies.
At the start of the story we find Brave being bullied by a school mate, Riley, and his two sidekicks. 

During this bullying we pick up the first signs of the supernatural – as Brave gets angrier, a storm erupts and its intensity is obviously driven by Brave’s emotions. It’s not long before Brave’s mother is forced to reveal that he has supernatural powers, he comes from another world, and he’s the heir to the kingdom of Arvalonia. A short time later Brave, his uncle, his mother, and Riley the bully are sucked into a magic portal which whisks them into the mysterious country of Arvalonia.

A large part of the story focuses not on Brave but on True, a girl who lives in Arvalonia. True is involved in the battle against an evil witch called Mallevia, the cruel queen of Arvalonia. Brave and True eventually meet up in Arvalonia, and become important players in the war against the queen and her powerful magic.

The plot spins along at a great rate, offering plenty of action, suspense and magic for readers of about 12 to 14 who like other-world fantasy.

ISBN 978 1 925148 84 8 $US15.87 on Amazon (also available for Kindle) Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

The Rejects: Ginomees Trilogy Book 1 by Ali Foster, IFWG Australia

I wasn’t familiar with this publishing house, so did some research. It was originally called the International Fantasy Writers’ Guild, and describes itself as an independent publishing house specialising in children’s and speculative genre fiction (their website is at The author lives near Masterton and has had three picture books published. This is her first junior novel.

Set in a strange world where no humans appear to exist, it tells of a box of rejected garden gnomes (ie. imperfect) that gets deposited at the dump, whereupon the gnomes come to life, emerge from the box and start talking to each other. They seem to have a kind of half-knowledge – for instance they know what to do with paint and a paintbrush, but they don’t know what their names are. They set off to look for adventure but it comes sooner than expected when some of their gnome hats are stolen by a band of wild ginomees. The Rejects are determined to get their hats back.

I’m not sure what age of readership would enjoy this story. It’s hard to spot one main well-developed character for young readers to identify with (though the gnome called Noname might be the one), and the constant bickering-type dialogue among all the gnomes can slow the plot at times. So it may only suit determined readers of upper primary ages who really like gnomes. The cover will give them a good idea of the story inside. It’s also available as an e-book.

ISBN 978 1925496253 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

The Locksmith: Reforging Book 1 by Barbara Howe, IFWG Publishing Australia

I’m presuming this is Barbara Howe’s first published novel – she’s certainly hit the ground running. The Locksmith is the first in a 5-book series, sitting within the YA/Adult High Fantasy genre. The main character is nineteen, so it’s better for older teens rather than young ones. It’s a long, demanding read but I was hooked in the first chapter – it’s a great escape from reality.

The story is set in a fantasy country controlled by four magic guilds – fire, air, water and earth. Some people are mundane (with no magic power) and others have differing degrees of magic power focusing on one of the guild elements. Lucinda knows she is mundane. But that doesn’t stop her applying to join the Fire Guild in the hope that she’ll earn some money and find a good husband. She meets the entry challenges and starts work in the kitchen of the Guild stronghold. But strange things happen and Lucinda finds that she is not mundane at all.

She becomes involved with the powerful and charismatic Fire Warlock – but then a war intervenes, and Lucinda must use her special magic to give the Fire Warlock both life and love.

Drawn in vivid detail, the fantasy world is intriguing and believable – I lost myself in it. Lucinda is an admirable heroine – both brave and self-effacing, sometimes confident and sometimes full of doubt. As the publicity promises, I can’t wait till the next book comes out.

Just one tiny quibble – I wish the cover had not been done in such sombre colours, and the heroine didn’t look quite so timid. Given the bold themes of fire and magic, the cover could have been done in bright, exciting colours to attract the reader’s eye.

ISBN 978 1 925496 28 4 $26.95 Pb (also available as an e-book)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Scholastic NZ’s Latest Picture Books…

What Are You Supposed to Be? By Paul Beavis, Scholastic NZ
Well, the moral of the story has to be: don’t judge a book by its cover! A very determined young lady meets a quirky creature who identifies himself as a wolf. He doesn’t look or act like a wolf (square teeth, eyes on stalks, playing a violin, eating aubergine salad) so it’s not surprising when the girl decides to turn him into a “proper” wolf. Some very funny scenes result as she tries to get him to toughen up. But then she meets a lion who doesn’t behave much like a lion…
Suitable to share with children of four and up, this would be great fun to read to groups because of its crazy cartoon illustrations and enticing sound effects, as well as the moral tucked away inside the humour.
ISBN 978 1 77543 405 4 $17.99 Pb

The Big Block of Chocolate by Janet Slater, illus. Christine Dale, Scholastic NZ 
This story was first published by Ashton Scholastic in the 1980s, and has gone on to sell over 250,000 copies round the world. Christine Dale illustrated the first version while she was employed as Scholastic’s Assistant Editor – she later went on to become Publishing Manager.
I remember the story as one of the early Big Books, published in a super-large size suitable for reading aloud to big groups – tattered copies are probably still in existence in many of today’s classrooms. This is a reformatted version which gives the original illustrations a new look, but the story is still the same old favourite using repetition and rhyme to describe the inevitable fate of the much-desired block of chocolate.
Take the chance to buy a fresh copy of this New Zealand classic for your pre-schoolers and early primary classes…
ISBN 978 1 77543 490 0 $17.99 Pb

Putangitangi Walks by Stephanie Thatcher, Scholastic NZ
Stephanie Thatcher will be known to many as the author/illustrator of The Great Galloping Galoot, Little Hoihoi, and The Other Brother. This work is a simple story using short sentences and bouncy rhyming text to tell how the female putangitangi (paradise duck) eats, preens, and goes in pursuit of her male friend. He gets a surprise when she playfully jumps out at him, but he soon comes round and is ready to partner up.
The book offers a good chance to teach youngsters a little about the duck pairs they see so often in New Zealand’s open spaces. Pre-schoolers will enjoy the spacious colourful illustrations with their calming pastel and white backgrounds. They’ll also enjoy spotting the playful green frog who enhances every picture. This would be a great book for reading aloud to a preschool group because of the short text and the fresh, bright pictures.
ISBN 978 1 77543 422 1 $17.99 Pb

Make a Putangitangi finger puppet here.

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, July 7, 2017

Latest Series From Scholastic…

Dinosaur Trouble: The Lava Melt Shake by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

Fans of Kyle and Donovan’s dinosaur stories will remember that the first book in this new four-book prequel series is called The Great Egg Stink. This second title doesn’t indicate that it’s part of a series, but that’s what the promotional material says. The series is written for transitional readers aged about five to seven, and should be useful with reluctant readers in those first years of school (especially boys).

With big print, simple sentences, an action-packed story, and extensive black and white cartoon-type illustrations, the story kicks off with a terrible situation – a volcano has erupted and a river of hot lava is threatening to engulf Arg’s village. Clever Arg is determined to come up with a solution but finds, like the warriors of the tribe, that there is little they can do to stop the lava. But a string of unintended actions involving a ticklish triceratops (and plenty of snot!) averts the flow and saves the village.

This book is going straight to my eight-year-old grandson who was very happy to receive and read the first book in the series.

ISBN 978 1 77543 367 5 $$8.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Miniwings: Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder by Sally Sutton, illus. Kirsten Richards, Scholastic 
Miniwings: Whizz’s Internet Oopsie by Sally Sutton, illus. Kirsten Richards, Scholastic NZ

Congratulations to author, illustrator and publisher for this delicious new series for young readers (and I reckon I can safely say it’s intended for girls!). It’s a series of six little books about two sisters whose lives are complicated by their magical toys – six flying miniature horses. Sounds lovely – but these horses are VERY naughty!

In the first book the sisters need to come up with costumes for Book Week – but the Miniwings get into Mum’s makeup with disastrous results and Mum is so mad she refuses to take the girls to the craft shop or help with costumes. What can they do?

In the second book the Miniwings have a play on the computer and end up ordering a foot spa, a cordless drill and … a goat! Sophia and Clara have to take the goat to school to stop Mum and Dad finding out, whereupon chaos ensues in the classroom! Fortunately Nana (grandmother, not goat!) saves the day…

The design of the books is fabulous – coloured illustrations on just about every page (created in acrylic inks and finished in Photoshop), intriguing integration of text and artwork, appealing characters (both human and horse), attractive pastel colours, and of course, stars and sparkles everywhere.

I’m sure this series will be a big hit. It’s aimed at readers of seven years and up, but younger girls of five to seven will enjoy sharing it with an adult reader. Highly recommended.

ISBN 978 1 77543 423 8 $14.99 Pb
ISBN 978 1 77543 424 5 $14.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, June 29, 2017

New book from Doug Wilson

Taupo Blows! By Doug Wilson, Bateman

Doug Wilson is probably best-known for his fantasy/adventure series starring a young hero called Tom Hassler (see He branches out with this New Zealand fantasy set within a disturbing scenario – Mount Ruapehu and Lake Taupo are exploding. Twelve-year-old Rachel and 10-year-old Sam are temporarily home alone in their lakeside house when the first fearsome eruption happens. The road to their house is damaged and communications are difficult. What should they do?

The story moves into fantasy mode when a lava spout heads towards them and deposits a strange little man on their deck, a little man who appears to be made of hot lava. His name is Guld. He tells them that he can stop the eruption, but they need to work with him and his supernatural friends – Saradonga the snowbeast, Turnwald the earth creature, Eerie Hoo the land spirit, and a few more. So begins a quest into the heart of Ruapehu to find the culprit whose thoughtless actions have caused the massive eruption and the resulting devastation.

The plot involves plenty of action and danger, so should appeal to readers of intermediate age who like a fast-moving story full of weird creatures. It’s not a story for younger readers, because the first few chapters about the eruption and its effects on New Zealand are quite frightening – sensitive children might be concerned.

ISBN 978 1 86953 967 2 $18.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2017 Finalists New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adult Awards announced

NEWS RELEASE: Strictly embargoed until 6am, Wednesday, 7 June 2017.  6 June 2017

Characters Burst Off the Pages
say Judges of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children
and Young Adults
-  Finalists announced today

“Characters burst off the pages, delighting us at every turn,” say the judges of this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. They have selected 35 finalists for the 2017 awards.
“This year’s shortlist reminds us that books are powerful vehicles for helping children make sense of their world and gain a better understanding of themselves and others. At times the vividly descriptive writing was brutal and heart-breaking, providing moving portrayals of life through the eyes of children and teenagers. All finalist titles are convincing in their realism, skilfully laced with honour and honesty throughout,” says convenor of judges Pam Jones.
Many of the books submitted dealt with serious issues. “War featured highly, alongside other topical themes like teenage pregnancy, surveillance, abuse, homelessness, racial tensions and bullying. Coming-of-age stories and characters that are living with extended family members highlighted the meaning of family and love,” Pam Jones says.
The finalists in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are selected across six categories: Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori; and the Best First Book category. There were 152 entries submitted for the 2017 awards.
This year, Copyright Licensing NZ (CLNZ) is the new sponsor for the Young Adult Fiction Award. CLNZ helps the owners of published content to earn a living from their work by licensing copying from books, journals, magazines and newspapers by schools and other education and commercial organisations. The licence revenue generated by CLNZ is a valuable source of income for authors and publishers.
CLNZ’s CEO Paula Browning says, “Celebrating great New Zealand books and supporting New Zealand authors is at the heart of what we do. We are delighted to contribute to the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults by sponsoring the Copyright Licensing NZ Young Adult Fiction Award.”

An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories – with the bonus of free pizza rewards from HELL Pizza.

HELL Pizza general manager Ben Cumming says the company has a very strong commitment to get kids hooked on books. “Reading is cool again and we want pizza to be a means of encouraging kids to read heaps of books. In 2016, 200,000 pizza wheels were distributed and more than 1 million books were read by Kiwi kids as a result. This year we want even more young readers to discover the thrill of a great book, and we’re aiming to circulate over 250,000 wheels. With 600 schools and libraries already registered and more than 175,000 pizza wheels already distributed, that target is looking easily achievable.”

The HELL Reading Challenge opened on 1 March and closes on Sunday, 3 December.

The judging panel for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults comprises children and young adults librarian, Pam Jones (convenor); education lecturer, Trish Brooking; author Ben Brown; reviewer and promoter of New Zealand children’s literature, Sarah Forster; and WORD Christchurch programme director and author, Rachael King. For the second year, the panel is joined by English academic, Professor Martin Salisbury who is the advisor for the Russell Clark Illustration Award. Professor Salisbury is the Professor of Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK and leads its MA Children’s Book Illustration programme. He has been a member of the international jury for a number of illustration and picture book awards.
The te reo Māori entries were judged by University of Auckland Kaitaiki Māori librarian, Riki-Lee Saua (convenor); Anahera Morehu, Library Manager Arts, Māori, and Pasifika Services at the University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services; Principal Librarian Children’s and Young Adult Services at the HB Williams Memorial Library, Gisborne, Te Rangi Rangi Tangohau; and Rongo Waerea, the Māori Services Librarian at Auckland’s Otara Library.
In the Picture Book Award the judges were delighted to see stories about people as well as animals, and they liked the way these authors wove in gentle messages for younger readers that delved beneath the stop story. “Caterpillars, dinosaurs, Amazonian penguins, a bad case of mistaken identity and magical dolphins; this list has it all.”
The Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction finalists will capture the imagination of every young reader, either immersing them in another world or reality, giving them a problem or mystery to solve or causing a laugh-out-loud response to witty conversations. “We’re pleased to see these books feature an equal mix of strong male and female characters from different races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” say the judges.
The judges enjoyed delving into the world of teenagers via the books entered for the Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction. “We immersed ourselves in the issues that plague young people—family, school pressures, relationship woes, sexuality and the looming adult world. Authors are not afraid to explore dark themes, but also to inject humour when it’s needed.”
The Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction category attracted a variety of entries with topics ranging from bugs to biographies, and history to habitats. The judges note that a clear integration of text, graphics and illustrations meant that all books in this category attained a high quality of overall design.
The judges say the Russell Clark Award for Illustration was a rich category from which to choose the finalists with illustrators working in a range of media including paint, collage, drawing and digital illustration. “The finalists are a strong and diverse group, with a lot of talent and love for craft on display. It was a pleasure to reward such beautiful work.”
This year’s Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori had a record number of entries. Convenor of judges Riki-Lee Saua says, “Each finalist stood out for their inspiring and relevant content, stunning illustrations and excellence in the quality of Māori language.”
The judges selected five books as finalists for the Best First Book Award; this is the first year that Best First Book finalists have been announced. Pam Jones says, “The judges were impressed with the calibre of writing from first-time authors and the increased number of first-published works entered. Noted particularly were the authors who had sought the wisdom and guidance of well-established writers. It’s great to see successful writers pass on their experience to help grow a richer children’s literary scene in New Zealand.”
The finalists for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are:

Picture Book Award
Fuzzy Doodle, Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ
Gwendolyn! Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton, HarperCollins Publishers (ABC)
My Grandpa is a Dinosaur, Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones, illustrated by Richard Fairgray, Penguin Random House (Puffin)
That’s Not a Hippopotamus! Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis, Gecko Press
The Singing Dolphin/Te Aihe i Waiata, Mere Whaanga, Scholastic NZ

Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction
Helper and Helper, Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop, Gecko Press
My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point, Tania Roxborogh, Scholastic NZ
Sunken Forest, Des Hunt, Scholastic NZ
The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain, Julie Lamb, Mākaro Press (Submarine)
The Impossible Boy, Leonie Agnew, Penguin Random House (Puffin)

Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction
Coming Home to Roost, Mary-anne Scott, Penguin Random House (Longacre)
Kiwis at War 1916: Dig for victory, David Hair, Scholastic NZ
Like Nobody’s Watching, LJ Ritchie, Escalator Press
Shooting Stars, Brian Falkner, Scholastic NZ
The Severed Land, Maurice Gee, Penguin Random House (Penguin)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction
From Moa to Dinosaurs: Explore & discover ancient New Zealand, Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud, Potton & Burton
Jack and Charlie: Boys of the bush, Josh James Marcotte and Jack Marcotte, Penguin Random House (Puffin)
The Cuckoo and the Warbler, Kennedy Warne, illustrated by Heather Hunt, Potton & Burton
The Genius of Bugs, Simon Pollard, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa Press)
Torty and the Soldier, Jennifer Beck, illustrated by Fifi Colston, Scholastic NZ

Russell Clark Award for Illustration
Fuzzy Doodle, illustrated by Donovan Bixley, written by Melinda Szymanik, Scholastic NZ
Gladys Goes to War, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, written by Glyn Harper, Penguin Random House (Puffin)
If I Was a Banana, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart, written by Alexandra Tylee, Gecko Press
Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock . . . and its tragic aftermath, illustrated and written by David Elliot (after Lewis Carroll), Otago University Press
The Day the Costumes Stuck, illustrated and written by Toby Morris, Beatnik Publishing

Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written completely in te reo Māori
Ngā Manu Tukutuku e Whitu o Matariki, Calico McClintock, illustrated by Dominique Ford, translated by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic NZ
Ngārara Huarau, Maxine Hemi, Illustrated by Andrew Burdan, Huia Publishers
Te Haerenga Māia a Riripata i Te Araroa, Maris O’Rourke, illustrated by Claudia Pond Eyley, translated by Āni Wainui, David Ling Publishing (Duck Creek Press)
Te Kaihanga Māpere, Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan, translated by Kawata Teepa, Huia Publishers
Tuna rāua ko Hiriwa, Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, Huia Publishers

Best First Book Award.  
Awatea’s Treasure, Fraser Smith, Huia Publishers
Like Nobody’s Watching, LJ Ritchie, Escalator Press
The Discombobulation of Summer Rain, Julie Lamb, Mākaro Press (Submarine)
The Mouse and the Octopus, written and illustrated by Lisala Halapua, Talanoa Books
Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau, 1843, written and illustrated by Matthew H McKinley, Kin Publishing

Finalist Author Events
Young readers will have a chance to meet the finalist authors in early August, at three big events. The first is in Christchurch (Monday, 7 August in association with WORD Christchurch); then in Dunedin (Friday and Saturday, 11-12 August in association with Dunedin Public Libraries and UBS Otago); and finally in Wellington (Monday, 14 August).
The winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be announced on the evening of Monday, 14 August in Wellington.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd, Copyright Licensing NZ, LIANZA, Wellington City Council and Nielsen Book. The awards are administered for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust by the New Zealand Book Council.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

An Excellent Series Continues…

1917: Machines of War by Brian Falkner, Scholastic NZ
The latest title in Scholastic’s Kiwis At War series, this follows the story of a 17-year-old New Zealander (initially named Keith, and therein lies a story) who is determined to become a pilot. He trains as an observer (flying in the rear seat of the bi-plane, back to back with the pilot, operating the Lewis gun) and the story opens when Keith is posted to La Bellevue Aerodrome just behind the lines on the Western Front. He arrives while the Germans are bombing the airfield, and manages to rescue a man from burning rubble, assist with pushing some Bristol Fighters out of a burning hangar, and prevent the armoury from exploding.

It’s not till the next day that Keith is able to report for duty, sporting bandages on his burned hands. He’s berated by the Squadron Commander for being late, and promised a disciplinary hearing. But he has no time to ponder on the unfairness of this – he’s asked to go up with one of the flying aces, and soon they spot and engage with an enemy aircraft.

The flying adventures come thick and fast after that, and it’s not long before Keith trains as a pilot. The death rate of these air crews in their flimsy aircraft was horrifyingly high, and the author has no compunction about telling it like it was – many of the characters we meet disappear from the story. But the focus stays firmly on Keith and his reactions to the fighting – his excitement turns to fear and disgust and then to cold-blooded determination. Every day he has to face the likelihood that he will be shot down.

A form of light relief is provided by the escapades of the youthful air crew, the descriptions of the engagements with the great German air aces such as the Red Baron, and a friendship/romance with a British nurse.

It’s a great read for teens (probably boys) who are interested in aircraft, war history, and the technology that eventually won the war – fighter planes, tanks, and armaments. Highly recommended. (Teacher Notes available at )

ISBN 978 1 77543 280 7 $19 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Four Picture Books…

Muddle and Mo’s Worm Surprise by Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press

This appealing minimalist picture book is a sequel to Muddle & Mo which was published in 2015. Muddle is an opinionated duckling and Mo is a white goat, both portrayed in a very idiosyncratic style. Muddle decides they will have a picnic and the special dish will be worm surprise. Mo is not at all sure about this. Mo’s long face is a funny representation of complete dejection. But of course when the picnic basket is unpacked things aren’t as bad as he thinks…I really like minimal text in a picture book – a few wannabe picture book authors, including myself, should take note of how well it works in this book. The style of the illustrations is also sparse but very striking, with no background and only the essential items of the story shown. Very suitable for sharing with young pre-schoolers of around two to four.

ISBN 978 1 927305 18 8 RRP $19.99 Pb (also available in hardback)

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 and 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

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 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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Three Great New Picture Books…

Witch’s Cat Wanted by Joy H. Davidson, illus. Nikki Slade Robinson, Scholastic NZ
This is the 2015 winner of Storylines’ Joy Cowley Award for an unpublished picture book manuscript. It’s a delightful story about a young witch (looking very un-witchlike) who needs the ultimate accessory – a cat. She puts out a sign, and very soon the cats start appearing on her doorstep. For each one she asks, “Could you ride on my broom across the moon, and stir my cauldron with a wooden spoon? Could you live in a house with toads and lizards, and feast each day on animal gizzards? Could you remember my spells from beginning to end? But most of all, will you be my friend?” Of course, none of the cats are suitable. It’s not until the witch’s cauldron sensibly tells her to go to the SPCA that she eventually finds the cat she needs.
The coloured pencil cartoon illustrations are quirky, lively, and refreshing. This book will become a favourite with many youngsters, particularly girls who love cats. My copy is going to my granddaughter, who’s four and a half. I’m sure she’ll love the cats and the happy touches of magic.
ISBN 978 1 77543 372 9 RRP $19.00 Pb

The Great Kiwi ABC Book by Donovan Bixley, Upstart Press
This ABC book has got everything – crisp, brightly coloured illustrations, familiar smiling faces, letters of the alphabet, labelled items – plus the challenge of items on every page that aren’t labelled, so the reader has to use some brain power to spot them. For example, the double spread for P includes (unlabelled) pirate ship, painter, pie, paua, present, pineapple, pear, pig, possum, parachute, pukeko, pogo stick, piano, panda, plane, pier, playhouse … phew, I’ve probably missed out a few. So the book will be good fun for both adults and children as they compete to come up with the most words beginning with the appropriate letter.
My copy will be given to my youngest grandson who’s about four and a half – I reckon he’s just the right age for it. In general it should be useful for children learning their alphabet aged about three to six. Recommended for all pre-school centres.
ISBN 978 1 927262 71 9 RRP $19.99 Pb

The Best Dad in the World by Patricia Chapman, illus. Cat Chapman, Upstart Press
I’m reviewing this too late for Father’s Day, but it was actually published on 1 August so hopefully a good number of copies were bought as presents. It’s based on a simple idea, as so many excellent picture books are: it’s a catalogue of reasons why “my dad” is the best dad in the world. He likes to get up early; he cooks the best breakfasts, he never gets tired; he likes really good music; he knows that icecream fixes everything … and so on (cleverly, there’s a different family on every page). Preschoolers will take all this at face value, but parents will smile to themselves when they see the picture of a dad awkwardly sipping out of a doll’s cup at a toys’ tea-party, or a sleeping dad having his eyelid prised open by small fingers… Because the book works well on these two levels, it has a particular appeal.
The handsome hardback format is utilised to enhance the story – the first end papers have a pleasant quilt-like appearance and offer an empty space where children can draw a picture of their own dad. The watercolour illustrations are rendered with bright, light colours and plenty of white space, so the atmosphere is one of light-heartedness and family love. Recommended for all pre-schoolers.
ISBN  978 1 927262 74 0 RRP $19.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A new gripping story from David Hill

Flight Path by David Hill, Penguin Random House NZ
With this gripping story David Hill continues his series of award-winning YA books on the World Wars, following on from Enemy Camp, Brave Company, and My Brother’s War.

It’s satisfying to see so many war-experience books for young readers being published in New Zealand at the moment – ten years ago there were hardly any local titles available (remember Ken Catran’s books?), but now the niche is being well and truly filled. I hasten to add that these books are NOT glorifying war. Quite the opposite – they should influence younger generations to prevent such devastating wars ever happening again.

It’s 1944 and 18-year-old Jack is beginning his first sequence of flights as a bomb-aimer and gunner, jammed in the nose of a Lancaster bomber. A desire for excitement and the chance to leave New Zealand and see the world kept him going throughout his training, but it doesn’t take long for his excitement to turn to terror and dread. The casualty rate for the bomber crews was unbelievably high. As well as coping with the discomfort and danger of the bombing runs over France and Germany, Jack has to come to terms with the realisation that he has a strong likelihood of dying.

I’m not the target readership for this book, but I couldn’t put it down. David has obviously done huge amounts of research to capture what life was like for the Lancaster crews, and has used his writing skills to capture the details that make the story come alive. Who knew that once they’d dropped their bombs, the bombers had to do a straight 30-second camera run over the target, through searchlights and streams of flak and attacking enemy fighters, in order to get a photographic record of the bomb damage?

David deftly weaves other themes into Jack’s story – a budding romance, the importance of teamwork, the cruel effects of war on families of all nationalities.

Recommended for keen readers of about 11 and up, especially those with an interest in the history of the world wars.

ISBN 978 0 14 377052 7 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman     

Sunday, May 14, 2017

New Books from Book Island Press

Here Comes Mr Postmouse by Marianne Dubuc, Book Island (

Fox and Goldfish by Nils Pieters, Book Island

Book Island was set up in New Zealand in 2012 by Belgian-born translator Greet Pauwelijn in order to translate and publish Dutch children’s books in English. In 2016 the business moved to Bristol in England. Its books are still distributed in New Zealand, but with the author, the translator, and the publishing business no longer based here, its books don’t really fit the criteria of this review blog.
However Book Island books are of very high quality, and the company recently won the Bologna 2016 Award for Best Children’s Publisher of Oceania. So these two books are being briefly reviewed.

Here Comes Mr Postmouse is a charming story for pre-schoolers about a mouse delivering parcels to a range of animal recipients. The illustrations are done in a clever cut-away style so that readers can see inside the crocodiles’ house (full of water), Mr Wolf’s house (complete with burglar pigs) and the penguins’ place (ice cubes in the bath), etc. Each page offers many points of humour that can be shared between adult reader and child viewer.

ISBN 978 0 9941282 0 1 RRP $29.99 Hb

Fox and Goldfish is quite different in subject and style. Goldfish’s death is drawing nigh, and Fox takes him on a wild dash round the world to experience its splendours – swimming in the ocean, singing in the rain, climbing mountains, landing on the moon… “Okay, my friend, now you can go,” says Fox. 

Pre-schoolers do need books that include aspects of death, but how the subject is handled is important. In this case, the story and the wildly-colourful illustrations are joyous and uplifting – but families will need to decide if their four to seven-year-old can cope with the theme.

ISBN 978 0 9941282 1 8 RRP $26.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

For Dads to Buy for Mothers’ Day…

A Mother’s Day Dilemma by Juliette MacIver and Janine Millington, Scholastic NZ
Juliette MacIver should be familiar to anyone involved in children’s literature, with her most famous rhyming picture books probably being the Marmaduke Duck series. In this story she veers away from crazy animal antics and focuses on two children (who happen to be a Prince and Princess) trying to find the perfect Mother’s Day present for their mother (the Queen). Being royal, they have a huge variety of items to choose from – but in the end they create something very simple. “The nicest gifts are made with love,” says the text.
According to Janine’s website, this is the Canterbury-based artist’s first children’s picture book. “She’s passionate about creating detailed art, using a blend of hand drawn and digital media…” Her illustrations in this book are done in a colourful and very realistic style which reminds me a lot of Bruce Potter’s work. Preschoolers will find it easy to identify with the children depicted, and girls in particular will like the royal theme. I think it would be better read one-to-one, or with a small group so everyone can see the pictures close up.
ISBN 978 1 77543 345 3 $17.99 Pb

My Meerkat Mum by Ruth Paul, Scholastic NZ
Meerkats are unbearably cute, so this delightful picture book is hard to resist. Ruth Paul, prize-winning author/illustrator, has produced a companion volume to My Dinosaur Dad, working with the interesting abbreviated rhyming text she used in her Bad Dog Flash books.
“Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” Anyone who has watched meekats in the zoo will recognise how well the staccato text matches the watchful manner and quick movements of this typical meerkat family. Mum and three babies have an eventful day in the savannah as they hunt, play, eat – and stare.
Pre-schoolers and new entrant classes at school will enjoy the focus on these popular animals, and they may even learn a few useful concepts such as left and right, up and down, out and in.
PS. A hardback picture book for $18.99 is good value.
ISBN 978 1 77543 489 4 $18.99 Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Monday, May 8, 2017

Two fun junior fiction titles

Sunken Forest by Des Hunt, Scholastic NZ

Since he began writing children’s fiction in the 1990s Des Hunt has published over 20 books. He’s captured an important part of the market with his combination of adventure and eco-science in a New Zealand setting, with the occasional dash of social issues, history, or supernatural events. I’m sure he must have a keen following of young readers by now.

Sunken Forest follows the same recipe as most of the previous books, so Des’s fans won’t be disappointed. Matt’s having family problems, and has to live with his grandmother and attend a new school. Things turn bad when he’s accused of stealing. He is sent to Lake Waikaremoana on a school-based wilderness camp, but things get even worse when the accusations of deceitful behaviour continue. Matt finds solace in the company of an ancient giant longfin eel whom he names Elsa. He’s determined that Elsa will not be caught and killed by a fellow camper. A sudden storm and flood puts everyone in danger, and Matt eventually finds himself rescuing the person who’s abused him the most…

It’s an excellent read for children of about 9 to 12, particularly boys. There’s plenty of action and suspense to keep the plot surging along. Recommended.

ISBN 978 1 77543 403 0 RRP $19 Pb

Johnny Danger: Spy Borg by Peter Millett, Penguin Random House NZ

This is book 3 in the series, with the previous titles being Johnny Danger: DIY Spy and Johnny Danger: Lie Another Day. It’s the first one I’ve read, and I did have trouble picking up the series storyline and characters in the first few pages – so I recommend that interested readers begin with book 1 in the series to get the full impact.

Johnny Danger is a boy spy working for MI6 whose arch enemy is Dr Disastrous. In this story the bad guy teams up with another ultra-bad guy, Yuri Boom-Boom, who has invented an army of Yuri-nators, cyborg clones that are so humanlike nobody can distinguish them from the original human. Johnny and his partner Penelope go in pursuit of the villains and find themselves on the island of Ikki Ikki Bunga where there’s an exciting confrontation in which nobody knows who is real and who’s a cyborg… The style can only be described as frenetic, with non-stop action, corny wisecracks, inside jokes, scatological humour and impossible plot events.

It’s worth reading an interview with the author at Peter is keen to target a particular category of readers – mainly boys of about 8 to 12 who are reluctant readers. He hopes teachers will read the books aloud to their classes in order to “hook” those boys who’d rather be playing video games or watching cartoons. Warning: some jokes may cause classroom chaos!

ISBN 978 0 14 330907 9 RRP $17.99 Pb

Books reviewed by Lorraine Orman           

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Fantastical fiction for children

Hot Air by Donovan Bixley, Upstart Press

This is the second title in Donovan’s illustrated storybook series called Flying Furballs. If you don’t remember the first title (Dogfight), the series focuses on a faux-World War II scenario where the Cat Allied Troops (CATS) are battling against the evil DOGZ forces which have taken over much of central Europe. Hot Air follows the adventures of a cat pilot called Claude D’Bonair and his flying chum Syd Fishus as they sneak into Switzerland to track down the DOGZ latest weapon. Lots of nail-biting adventures follow – as well as a fair few word plays and puns! Donovan’s cartoon illustrations are a delight – one on almost every page.

My three primary-aged grandsons love this series, so I hunted down two copies to give them (and to enable me to write this review). Unfortunately my local Paper Plus took ages to get them in. My advice – go to the Upstart Press website at and order your copies online. Hopefully they won’t take long to be delivered to your door.

ISBN 978 1 927262 54 2 RRP $14.99 Pb

Upon a Time by R. L. Steadman, Waverley Productions

A sultry and very eye-catching cover should grab the attention of the target audience – teenage girls. This anthology by one of our top fantasy writers is a pot-pourri – it offers some very short stories, some longer short stories, and even a novella. All were inspired by fairy tales, and there are certainly some challenging versions in this collection. Several were inspired by Cinderella, while the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale sparked the novella called Death and Roses. This story is a complex one, using several narrators and timelines, and I had to concentrate hard to keep track of them. But readers who prefer to dip into shorter and easier stories will find plenty to keep them happy. There’s a good variety of tone and setting. My favourite is a cheeky technological version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

At the end there are some interesting Teachers’ Notes relating to Death and Roses. And there’s a lot more information on the author’s website and blog.

Secondary school libraries will find this engaging collection proves to be a popular addition to their stock. It’s available from online book stores in both paper copy and digital versions.

ISBN 9780473374679 RRP $24.99 Pb

Squeakopotamus by Dawn Macmillan, illus. Ross Kinnaird, Oratia Books

Bouncy rhyming text tells us about a weird and very large animal called Squeakopotamus which appears to be a cross between a mouse and a hippopotamus …!! This unusual visitor creates some problems: “We’ve run out of cheese! No more potato or peas! My heart starts to race. I feel the blood in my face. My head’s in a fuss. Maybe Squeakopotamus wants to eat … us!” But a visit to the supermarket takes care of that, and a rainy day takes care of the visitor’s awkward size – phew! This light-hearted story is brought to life by Ross Kinnaird’s colourful and detailed cartoon illustrations.

This zany picture book would be a good present for pre-schoolers and children of early-primary years, especially if they’ve been pestering for a pet for Christmas…

ISBN 978 0 947506 11 7 RRP $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Picture Song Book review

10 Greedy Goats, pictures by Deborah Hinde, sung by Pio Terei, Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic New Zealand

Yes, it’s another one in Scholastic’s series of picture songbooks and CDs using the tune of 10 Green Bottles - following on from three earlier books featuring kiwis, geckos and penguins. It’s obviously a very popular series! The lyrics are written by Scholastic NZ staff, and there are a few hiccups in the scansion – but fortunately these are barely noticeable in the sung version. 

As always, Deborah Hinde’s Adobe Photoshop illustrations are crisp and colourful, and will retain the attention of any pre-schooler following the story of the ever-reducing goat clan having heaps of fun at the fair. The Maori lyrics are provided separately in the last few pages of the book.

ISBN 978 1 77543 407 8 

RRP $20 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, April 28, 2017

New from Makaro Press

The Sam & Lucy Fables by Alan Bagnall and Sarah Wilkins, Makaro Press

The first thing that strikes me about this little book is that it looks and feels friendly. The stories are very short, there’s lots of white space on the pages, and the illustrations are frequent and eye-catching. The cover flaps are classy, the thickness of the soft cover is reassuring, the interior pages are also of high quality, and the framed cover picture by Sarah Wilkins is enticing. There are even some interesting end-papers…

Alan Bagnall keeps up the classiness (quirkiness?) with his humorous allegorical tales focusing on two very smart pigs. Sam and Lucy provide a childlike but sensible logic that solves the problems of a bunch of silly humans. How do you teach fish to read when your book keeps disintegrating? Why, you use a plastic Ready to Read book, of course. (NB. And that’s why fish swim in schools).
Sarah Wilkins’ colourful illustrations are done in a cosy, relaxed style that suits the tone of the stories perfectly.

BTW, if you’re wondering where you’ve heard these names before, Alan Bagnall is a poet and writer with many stories published in the School Journal and the Ready to Read series. He and Sarah produced the picture book called The Immigrants (Mallinson Rendell) which won the 2003 LIANZA Russell Clark Award. Sarah is an experienced illustrator whose work also features in the delightful A Book is a Book (Gecko Press) written by Jenny Bornholdt.

I can heartily recommend this handy little book for primary school libraries and classrooms.

ISBN 9780994129987 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Latest titles from Scholastic

Dinosaur Trouble: The Great Egg Stink by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

There’s no mention on the book that this is a prequel to the popular Dinosaur Rescue series, but that’s what we are told on Scholastic’s website. Not just one prequel – it’s a whole new series! It’s written for transitional readers aged about five to seven, and should be useful with reluctant readers in those first years of school (mainly boys).

As with the Dinosaur Rescue series, there is a preponderance of rude bodily functions, so parents and teachers beware. It uses simple straightforward text to describe how Arg acquires his little microceratops pet, Krrk-Krrk. This involves the theft of some dinosaur eggs, copious vomiting, and similar gross activities performed by Arg’s family – all lavishly illustrated in black ink cartoons by Donovan Bixley.

I can’t really recommend this for reading aloud in the classroom – I suspect it would cause general hysteria… But most young male readers should love it.

ISBN 978 1 77543 366 8 $6.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Tui Street Tales by Anne Kayes, Scholastic NZ

This is the 2016 winner of Storylines’ Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a junior novel from an unpublished writer. It’s an unusual format for this award, consisting as it does of seven stories focusing on seven different families who live in Tui Street. There’s something unusual about Tui Street – you can find a tree that literally grows into the sky (with a giant at the top), and a Maero (Maori guardian) living in the creek, and a helpful tui that grows to an enormous size… As we read, we detect definite echoes of traditional fairy tales, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, The Princess and the Pea, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – to name a few. But these old tales have been brought into the 21st century and now focus on thoroughly modern children.

The narrative framework that surrounds the stories looks at the way the Tui Street children look after each other and help each other through difficulties. However another theme introduces the idea that many of the parents in Tui Street are heavily involved in the magical events woven through the seven stories.  As an adult, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief at this adult involvement – but probably most children won’t have the same qualms. Best for readers of about 8 to 11 who like a good dollop of magic inside their book covers.

ISBN 978 1 77543 472 6 $16.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman