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 www.mariagill.co.nz) 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 (www.ducklingpublishing.com)

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 www.facebook.com/LittleMouseTail.

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