Saturday, March 17, 2018

Anzac stories to treasure

The Anzac Violin: Alexander Aitken's Story by Jennifer Beck and Robyn Belton (Scholastic)

Jennifer Beck and Robyn Belton have done it again. They - along with the team at Scholastic - have produced a beautiful book about an unknown Anzac tale. We've had animals, women, soldiers, but we've never had a violin story before!

On board a ship bound for Egypt Alexander Aitken is gifted a violin; an unwanted present from a shipboard raffle. Alexander entertains the soldiers on the ship, in the Egyptian training camp, and then lugs it up the hilly terrain in Gallipoli. Whenever he goes into battle men volunteer to look after his violin for him - his music had become legendary and that was how the men felt they could pay him back. When the soldiers are evacuated from Gallipoli he has to leave it behind. However, an officer comes to the rescue and offers to take it with his gear. In France, he entrusts his violin to the nursing sisters in a hospice. But when he goes off to fight he has a feeling he might not return. Find out if he is ever reunited with his violin ...

Jennifer knows how to weave a moving story with research seamlessly. The book is a joy to read. Extras include the images on the endpapers: photographs, maps, posters, illustrations, pages from Alexander's journal - children will love poring over these images. There's also more notes on the real story and references.

Robyn Belton's stunning pictures illustrate this heartwarming tale of a soldier and his violin and the joy he brings to the rest of the army. The star-studded pictures are so breathtakingly beautiful you wish you could hang them on your wall. Robyn has drawn the illustrations in pencil, ink and watercolour.

The book has been designed by the very talented design team - Vida and Luke Kelly. I'm a huge fan of their work.

Highly recommended for Primary and Intermediate schools and home libraries.

ISBN: 9781775433910
RRP HB $29.99

Learn Te Reo Maori

A Māori Word a Day: 365 words to kickstart your reo by Hemi Kelly (Penguin)

I own a few Māori language books and a dictionary and find them very helpful. I love the online Māori dictionary; use it all the time. So this 'A Māori Word a Day' book will be a handy addition to my library. Would make a great app!

You will learn from the 365 words - definitions and word types, fun facts and background information, sample sentences in te reo Māori and English.

I found the circle boxes helpful in telling me whether the word could be used appropriately or what the protocol around the word was. For example on page 139:

It's considered extremely rude to leave the kūwaha of the wharenui shut when inviting manuhiri onto the marae. The open kūwaha lets the manuhiri know that they are welcome, while a closed kūwaha says the opposite. 

The word for that page was 'kūwaha' which means door.

There's an English - Māori index at the back and help on how to pronounce the letters in the Introduction.

I thoroughly recommend this little gem of a book.

Environmental themes…

Up the River: Explore & Discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes & wetlands, by Gillian Candler & Ned Barraud, Potton & Burton

There have been five previous titles in this excellent series – studying ancient New Zealand, native forests, the seashore, sea life, and the backyard. This new one may help today’s children understand why environmentalists are so concerned about our fresh water resources. These resources are an important part of a healthy life cycle for many creatures, insects and birds – and even for human beings. Restoring them to a pristine condition is essential.

I hope this whole series is well represented in all New Zealand public libraries and primary schools. Available in hardback ($29.99) and paperback.

Buy here.

ISBN 978 947503 34 5 RRP $19.99 Pb

Be Careful Where You Sit! By Ngaire Dolphin and Claudia Gadotti, Dolphin Publishing (

Ngaire has a background as a teacher and librarian. She was inspired to write and publish this picture book while helping a young struggling reader in her extended family. 

Emma is exploring a beach on Tiritiri Matangi when she discovers a strange creature in the tree trunk she’s just sat on – it’s a tuatara. Even stranger still, the tuatara starts talking to her! Emma hears the tuatara’s history and how it got to the island. When a friendly ranger appears Emma hears more about the extraordinary creature that she nearly squashed. The realistic illustrations provide a natural, relaxed background to Emma’s adventure. There’s a maze game at the end of the book, and a map of New Zealand with locations of tuatara, plus a listing of a few important native fauna.

ISBN 978 0 473 37366 5 RRP$20 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Friday, March 9, 2018

Winning Team Releases Anzac Animals book

Anzac Animals by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić (Scholastic New Zealand)

The winning author/illustrator duo that claimed the supreme children’s book award in 2016 – the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year prize – has again teamed up with publisher Scholastic New Zealand and designer Luke Kelly to produce a follow-up to the award-winning Anzac Heroes. This time they’ve written and illustrated a book about the animals that went to war.

Well-known children’s author Maria Gill and talented illustrator Marco Ivančić have proven they can do it again. Publishing Manager Lynette Evans says that Scholastic New Zealand couldn’t be happier with the response to the book from those who have already seen it. “Maria and Marco are a talented and unstoppable match. Maria’s meticulously researched text combines perfectly with the energy in Marco’s highly realistic illustrations to bring history to life in full colour and absorbing detail. We are privileged to partner with them in creating these timeless and information-loaded books for children.”

Anzac Animals includes the heartwarming stories of the mascots and working animals that helped the Anzacs during World War I and World War II. “There’s a mixture of the sad, funny, and awe-inspiring stories about the animals that went to war,” says Gill. “The tales show how much the animals meant to the Anzacs, and the lengths they would go to save their charges. I picked a wide range of animals, from kangaroos, cats, monkeys, a tortoise and a chicken, to dogs, horses, mules, donkeys, camels and pigeons. Some were found in the battle zones, others purchased from locals, and quite a few brought from home. They all made a difference to the men’s lives and helped them endure the war.” Girls and boys will enjoy reading the captivating stories, as well as poring over the stunning illustrations, photographs and graphics.

With 2018 being the final 100-year commemorations for World War I, the book is a compassionate note to end the anniversary. Gill is touring with Storylines to Christchurch schools from 12-16 March, with Duffy Books to Rotorua schools from 19-23 March, and giving workshops to local schools at the National Army Museum and then onto Napier Schools in the final week of March, including a book launch at Wardini’s Bookshop in Napier at 4pm on Wednesday 28 March.

Hardback $29.99
ISBN: 978-1-77543-474-0

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