Sunday, July 30, 2017

Exciting new historical graphic novel

Wars in the WhiteCloud: Wairau 1843 by M.H. McKinley (Kin Ltd NZ)

Non-fiction books for children and young adults nowadays have to compete with the internet, digital books, and social media. To encourage the target audience to pick it up in a library or bookshop it has to be visually exciting or interactive. First time author Matt McKinley has written and illustrated an episode of New Zealand’s land wars in graphic novel style and its stunning illustrations and speech bubbles are guaranteed to appeal to 13-15 year olds. The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adult judges think so, too, shortlisting it it in the Best First Book category.   

Matt uses two teenagers, Te Arana from Ngati Toa iwi, and Will Archer son of Chief Constable John Archer to lead readers into the tragic incident at Wairau in 1843. The two young men are caught up in the meeting between representatives of the New Zealand Company who believed they had purchased land in the Wairau area and Te Rauparaha and his tribe who felt they had been tricked into signing away their rights to the land. Past hurts, an accidental shooting, and two stubborn leaders failing to compromise and talk it through, results in a battle where one group meets a fateful end.

Matt began the 60 page historical story four years ago, after finishing his Master of Design with Massey University. In an interview with The Dominion newspaper, Matt said it took 16 hours to illustrate each double page spread. He’s now working on the next book in the series about the Flagstaff War in Nelson.

Bound to be popular with Intermediate and High School students, especially students who love to read historical recounts of New Zealand’s history. Will be suitable for young people with learning difficulties or reluctant readers; the realistic drawings and speech bubbles telling the story in easy-to-read chunks.

ISBN: 978-0473-356514

RRP $27.99

Buy here

Friday, July 28, 2017

Some kiwiana

Grandad’s Wheelies by Jack Lasenby, Penguin Random House NZ

I’ve said in an earlier review that Jack Lasenby’s books are an acquired taste – and the same comment applies to this anthology of (extra-tall) tall tales. Any young reader dipping into this book who hasn’t read Jack’s work previously will wonder what’s going on. Whenever Jack (the narrator) visits his Granny and Grandad they regale him with hilarious and impossible stories about their past, each trying to outdo the other. Grandad invented the first road between Wellington and Auckland; Granny invented the first railway between the two cities; then Grandad invented the first train and drove it from Wellington to Auckland; Granny drove the first train from Nelson to Invercargill; then Grandad flew his train across Cook Strait at 10,000 feet and landed it in Nelson with such a thump that the top of the island sank and the sea rushed in and created the Marlborough Sounds – and so it goes! Each story has its own chapter, and most include an appealing black pen illustration by Bob Kerr.

Likely to be enjoyed by keen readers of about 6 to 9 (mainly boys, I suspect).

ISBN 978 0 14 350733 8 RRP $16.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

New Zealand Kiwiana: To Read, Colour and Keep, by Dave Gunson, New Holland

This is the latest title in Dave Gunson’s series of activity books relating to New Zealand topics. Other titles in the series look at birds, wildlife, garden wildlife, extinct wildlife, etc. In this one the 30 colouring-in pictures include such New Zealand icons as the All Blacks, the local dairy, the koru, Vogel’s bread, Lemon and Paeroa, jandals, Jaffas and Weetbix, to name a few. Each picture is accompanied by a paragraph of simple information about the subject. An insert in the middle of the book provides some ideas for colouring in the pictures.

It should appeal to primary-aged children who like the peacefulness of colouring in easy pictures.

ISBN 9781869664527 RRP $9.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Zeustian Logic by Sabrina Malcolm

Zeustian Logic by Sabrina Malcolm (Gecko Press)

I remember the uproar when one of New Zealand's well known climbers, Mark Ingles, climbed Mt Everest and in doing so walked past a man who was dying. Many said he should have called off his expedition and helped the man. It was in the media for quite some time. There were people who were on the side of stopping and others who thought that anyone who climbs Everest should take the consequences. In the case of Mark he was barely making it himself, he needed help to climb with his two prosthetic legs. He'd invested a lot of money, training and effort. On their way back down from the summit they stopped to help the British climber but he died soon after. Sabrina must have been quite young when this happened but obviously it struck a chord with her and she used some of it for her story 'Zeustian Logic'.

In Zeustian Logic, the main protagonist's father was famous for climbing the highest mountains in the world until his last one. They found his client in the snow dead and his father nowhere to be found. As well as dealing with his father's death Tuttle has to come to terms with the negative media attention. He wants to prove his father did the right thing and in doing so help his family recover from the shock of his father's death.

I highly recommend this novel for 9-12 year olds. It's a coming of age story of a boy dealing with his fears and moving on into the next phase of his life. It's beautifully written and I hope we see more of Sabrina Malcolm's writing.

This is Sabrina Malcolm's first novel but not her first published book. Sabrina has illustrated a number of books including Flora of New Zealand Volume 5 Grasses  by E. Edgar and H.E. Connor (Manaaki Whenua Press, 1999), Skeletons by Jane Buxton (Learning Media, 2000) and Koro's Medicine by Melanie Drewery (Huia, 2004). Koro's Medicine was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and was also listed as a 2005 Storylines Notable Picture BookSabrina’s illustrations have appeared in the School Journal. In 2013 she wrote and illustrated Blue Moon Bird and she also drew the covers for the Flytrap Snap series, written by Johanna Knox. 

ISBN 978-1-776571-38-3

Sophisticated Picture Book

Grandad’s Guitar by Janine McVeagh and Fifi Colston, Makaro Press

Both author and illustrator are well-known in the New Zealand children’s book world. Janine has published stories for both adults and children, and this is her first picture book. The story is based on true family history. Fifi has illustrated over 30 picture books written by others, as well as writing and illustrating her own books for children.

This is a gentle, family-focused story best suited to older primary-aged children. Kahu’s nana gives him a battered old guitar for his birthday. When he criticises its condition, he is told that it belonged to his grandfather and went all round the world with him. As Kahu learns to play, he also learns about the travelling adventures of his grandparents in the 1960s or 70s. Fifi’s realistic illustrations capture the mystical, musical, freedom-loving atmosphere of the era, and will appeal to many of today’s grandparents.

It’s probably better to call this a sophisticated picture book – it’s not suitable for pre-schoolers or younger primary-aged children. Young readers will probably get more meaning from it if they’re beginning to learn a bit of history and geography.

Teachers’ Notes are available at  They contain some interesting ideas about using the book for music activities in the classroom.

ISBN 978 0994137968 $25 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

New picture books from little island press…

The Boy and the Dolphin by Robyn Kahukiwa, little island press

A search of the internet didn’t give me much information about this 24-page book, apart from the fact that it was published in April of this year. Two online booksellers didn’t have any copies in stock, so if you’re interested in purchasing it, you should probably go to the publisher’s website at Robyn Kahukiwa is a well-known New Zealand artist, but this is the first children’s book from her that I’ve seen for a few years.
It’s a calm, gentle story about a boy who frees a dolphin from a piece of netting, and they become friends. The dolphin visits the boy occasionally and many years later, when the boy has turned into a young man, the dolphin saves his life. The attractive seascapes in the illustrations are done with pencil outlines and swathes of ocean-coloured paint on a pleasant textured background. Just one technical criticism of the design – each page has its own full-page illustration going right to the edges, which means that the gutter down the middle of every double-spread makes an awkward  inside edge for all the pictures. And children looking at the double-spreads would try to interpret them as one big picture instead of two side-by-side.

Note that this is also available in a Maori version called Te Tamaiti me te Aihe.

ISBN 978 1 877484 30 8 $25 Pb 

A Gift For Ana by Jane Va`afusuaga, illus. Azra Pinder-Pancho, little island press

This was published in 2016 according to the book itself, but the publisher’s website says April 2017 – maybe it was re-issued.

The author’s passion is “to write stories that children from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands can relate to.” This 24-page story certainly fits the bill. In text blocks on the right-hand pages we read about Ana and her parents going to stay with Ana’s grandmother in Samoa. Ana shares a mango with her grandmother at the grave of her grandfather, and together they celebrate Ana’s Samoan heritage as they walk off together to plant the mango seed.

It’s a simple child-focused story that will appeal to children of about four to six, especially if they have some knowledge of Samoa. The striking illustrations on the left-hand pages are done with strong lines, lively colours and Pacific Island designs that are familiar to all New Zealanders.

The book is also available in Samoan, called O le MeańĀlofa mo Ana.

ISBN 978 1 877484 24 7 $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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