Monday, January 8, 2018

A fascinating read!

How to Mend a Kea by Janet Hunt, Massey University Press

This is subtitled + other fabulous fix-it tales from Wildbase Hospital. The subtitle   provokes curiosity, but before you reach that stage your gaze is captured by the cover photo showing the shiny eye and hooked beak of a towel-wrapped kea. If you’re like me, you can’t resist the challenge of the bird’s gaze. You must know more!

The book is arranged in four parts: Part 1 introduces the Wildbase Hospital and its staff; Part 2 follows the history of Kea (aka Patient #78129); Part 3 focuses on a variety of case histories (eg. de-oiling, mending broken bones, fattening up after near-starvation, etc); and the last part shows photos of more patients being treated, plus a section headed How to Put Wildbase Out of Business!

It’s an attractive book with excellent design, and its sturdy pages give it a feel-good quality. The friendly easy-to-read text tells the actual stories, but there are also numerous colour photos, along with interesting fact boxes. Also a Contents page and an Index.

It makes a great present for thoughtful young readers who care about our native wildlife (I gave a copy to a 10-year-old and another to a 7-year-old who’s an advanced reader). Needless to say, it’s a recommended purchase for primary school and intermediate school libraries, and I can even see it on the shelves in secondary school libraries.

ISBN 978 0 9941407 1 5
RRP $27.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman 

Monday, December 18, 2017

A new kiwi book on the scene

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

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

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

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

Take a look inside.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Connections to the sea…

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN 978 1 77543 509 9 RRP $27.95 Hb  

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman   

Not New Zealand but a good read…

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge, Macmillan

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

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

ISBN 978 1509 869305 RRP $24.99 Pb

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

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

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

ISBN 9781760296971 RRP $24.99(AUD) Hb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Three animal picture books…

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

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

ISBN 978 1 77543 494 8 RRP $14.99 Pb

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

ISBN 978 1 76063 161 1 RRP $19.99 Pb

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

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

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

ISBN 978 0 473 36775 6 RRP $21.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

New book from Peter Millett and Deborah Hinde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A special book…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman