Sunday, February 25, 2018

Latest from Scholastic NZ…

Dinosaur Trouble: The Secret Hunt by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

Young fans of cave-boy Arg will welcome another title in the Dinosaur Trouble series. Arg and his messy friend (owner of a miniscule brain) can’t work out why the men of the village are not going to their usual hunting grounds. Instead they’re heading for a sunny clearing on an isolated island. It’s not till the last couple of pages that we find the men are playing a “strange, chasing, wrestling game” with an oval-shaped gourd… No prizes for guessing what they’re doing.

My three grandsons (aged 10, 8 and 5) will all read this book because they like the two Arg series – especially the yucky bits. However the older two will zap through the book in five minutes – so it’s really a bit too young for them. It’s just the right level for the 5-year-old. It will be a popular buy for primary school libraries, and a can’t-fail birthday present for boys just learning to read.

ISBN 978 1 77543 369 9 RRP $9.99 Pb

Myths and Legends of Aotearoa retold by Annie Rae Te Ake Ake, Scholastic NZ

This is the second revised edition of the original anthology which was published in 1999, and became a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards. It’s been a good seller for the last twenty years, and I’m sure a handsome new edition will be very popular. It contains fifteen legends, all written in an easy-to-read style suitable for oral delivery. Favourites such as The Great Fish of Maui, Pania of the Reef, and Hatupatu and the Bird Woman are included, along with others I haven’t read before, such as The Legend of Waikaremoana.

Each story is accompanied by atmospheric illustrations done by a select group of talented young New Zealand secondary students – of Maori, European, Pacific Island and Asian descent. For me, one of the most interesting parts of the book is the section about the author and the various illustrators. Each young illustrator talks briefly about the inspiration behind his or her work.

It is almost twenty years since these teenage artists laid out their dreams. I think Scholastic NZ has missed an opportunity to give an added dimension to this book by providing up-to-date information about the artists – now that they’re adults. A quick Google search produced information about some of them – and proved that they did indeed follow their dreams. Possibly Scholastic couldn’t contact all the artists. Anyway, it’s an impressive book that should be in all school libraries – and also deserves to do well in the international and tourist markets.

ISBN 978 1 77543 523 5 RRP $27.99 Hb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Monday, February 5, 2018

New reads for 2018…

Cameo, the Street Pony by Kelly Wilson, Penguin Random House NZ

This is Book 2 in a “junior fiction series” called Showtym Adventures, inspired by true events from the Wilson Sisters’ childhoods. Book 1 was Dandy, the Mountain Pony. The publishers call it a fiction series, but that’s not quite right. The three sisters are real (and very well-known) people, and readers will become aware that the author is apparently writing about herself and her own horse experiences at the age of nine. The strong reality aspect explains why the plot is not structured like most fictional plots for children, with a strong story arc involving drama, suspense, setbacks and challenges.

Once I started reading it primarily as an autobiography, I felt more comfortable with it. Basically it describes how Kelly’s mother brings home an untrained mare for her to train up to competition level. The training is lengthy but successful, and Cameo eventually becomes a star at the Royal Easter Show.

Girls who love ponies and horses, along with fans of the Wilson Sisters’ books and TV show, will enjoy this series.

ISBN 978 0 14 377220 0 RRP $14.99 Pb

Catch Me When You Fall by Eileen Merriman, Penguin Random House

Eileen is the author of Pieces of You, a first-time YA novel that generated rave reviews. I believe this second novel will be just as successful, firmly establishing the author in the ranks of our top YA authors. It’s interesting to note that Eileen has honed her writing skills over the last few years, with her work appearing in a number of national and international journals, as well as anthologies. She also has several short fiction awards under her belt. She did a fiction writing course with Creative Hub in 2013.

Like Pieces of You, this story looks at teenagers with huge problems. Alex has just found out her childhood leukaemia has returned. In a hospital waiting room she meets Jamie and instantly falls in love. It’s only later that she learns he has bipolar disorder. Despite their problems, the pair become involved in an intense love affair. Crises happen and the suspense is killing –what happens to Alex and Jamie? Many readers will be forced to cheat and read the ending…

ISBN 978 0 14 377093 0 RRP 19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

For history enthusiasts…

Letters in a Different War by Joan Braddock, DayStar Books (

 The heroine of this story, Beverley, is in her early teens. It’s 1942 and New Zealanders are suffering under the burden of World War II. Food and petrol rationing, Japanese forces threatening Australia, paranoia about spies, local men fighting and dying in North Africa: this is the background to a detailed and warm-hearted story about Beverley’s relationship with a respected teacher and neighbour – who happens to be a Conscientious Objector.

Mr Maurice is taken away and imprisoned in extremely cruel conditions in a camp. Beverley and her mother offer practical help and spiritual support to his young wife and her baby son. But as the months go by, Beverley realises that a strong spiritual belief still doesn’t give her all the answers to the difficult questions arising from Mr Maurice’s moral stand. At the heart of the story lies Beverley’s determination to understand why ordinary people can be so vindictive – and what she can do about it.

Beverley is an engaging heroine. The historical setting and the Auckland neighbourhood are vividly captured, and there are plenty of humorous moments involving the local children to lighten the serious theme.

The strong Christian tone of the story means that it will probably appeal most to readers with similar beliefs, both teenagers and adults. It will also be of value to readers who have an interest in the history of Conscientious Objectors in New Zealand.

ISBN 0 9941330 7 3 RRP $28.95 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, February 3, 2018

For History Buffs…

Lucy Goes to the Lighthouse by Grant Sheehan, illus. Rosalind Clark, Phantom Tree House (distributor Publishers Distribution Ltd)

The first book in the Lighthouse Series was Ivan and the Lighthouse. I can locate three favourable reviews of it online (including my own, written for this blog and posted on 1 September 2017) but it does seem to have stayed under the radar somewhat, which is a shame. It illuminates a little-known part of New Zealand maritime history.

This book is written in a story-within-a-story format, with the main character, Lucy, being told the interesting tale of Mary Jane Bennet who was New Zealand’s first and only woman lighthouse keeper. She and her family lived in harsh conditions at the Pencarrow Lighthouse in the 1850s.

Its physical shape makes the book look like a picture book, but there is a lot of text on each left-hand page alongside the right-hand illustrations – in fact, so much text that it’s coming close to being an illustrated storybook. It would be best for mid-to upper primary ages, definitely not pre-schoolers.

The text is straightforward, the stylised illustrations are fresh and simple; and the design of the book is eye-catching (I love the linen-look textured backgrounds). There’s plenty of history but not a lot of action or excitement, so teachers and librarians will need to promote the book to avid readers (probably girls) who like stories of the old days.

PS. The next book in the series will be out in October 2018.

ISBN 978 0 9941285 3 9 RRP $25 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman