Becoming Muhammad Ali

By James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

ISBN 9780316498166

Houghton Mifflin

I’m writing this review on a warm autumn afternoon in Christchurch, New Zealand and enjoying memories of the time I met Muhammad Ali and our short but amazing conversation. It was many years ago and I was living in London, doing my big OE; working in hotels for cheap accommodation and experiencing life on the other side of the world.

I was cleaning hotel rooms and working in the Forum Hotel, one of the biggest hotels in London at the time. Ali was no longer boxing but he was still doing the rounds working for charities and trying to make the world a better place. I was lucky enough to clean his room and when I was in the hall he came out and told me he had had an accident. Before I could say much, he stuck his hand out and showed me his finger, cut off and sitting in the palm of his hand. I looked up at him (I’m barely 5 foot) and back at his hand and I screamed. Not the best response, I admit and it wasn’t really that loud but he gently placed his hand on my shoulder and told me it was a fake finger, which you really could tell straight away. We both laughed after that. I think, his fame, his height and the suggestion that he had cut off one of his famous boxing fingers was just a bit much for this young girl from down under. It was and always will be one of my most treasured experiences. Despite his size and fame, there was a gentleness to him that I found quite humbling. So to read this book has been a total delight.

Getting to know the young Cassius Clay before he became famous, before he changed his name is kind of magical. It’s like watching a movie and knowing the ending, but having no idea how it started because you had missed the beginning. Patterson and Alexander have created a beginning that is easy to read. It is a mix of poetry and prose. Kwame does verse novels with impact and perfection and the poems here are beautifully written. Patterson’s writing shows the love and respect of a best friend and we feel it. Ali tells his side of growing up, knowing he wanted to be a champion boxer and just how he set out to achieve that. One of his best friends Lucius, aka Lucky, tells his version of events. His obvious sense of pride in his friend as he watched it all play out is evident as he shares his insights to the young Cassis Clay.

I love the illustrations throughout the book; graphic novel type that suit the tone of the book. I think one of the strengths of this book is that you can feel the love Ali has for his family, particularly his younger brother Rudy, and his friends. His determination and confidence is inspiring. This is not just a book about boxing, or a biographical account of his life; it’s about friendships, belief, faith and courage at a time when black people still had to sit at the back of the bus. I felt many emotions reading this book. Anger; for racism he had to endure in a time when segregation was everywhere. Hope; for his dreams to come through, and relief that he made it. Happiness; that I had the fortune to have been pranked by this amazing man.

I am so glad this book has been published and is out there for everyone to read, enjoy and get to know the young, Muhammad Ali. I don’t want to return the book to the library but I will (reluctantly) as I want others to enjoy it too.

Many different kinds of love : A story of life, death and the NHS

By Michael Rosen

ISBN 9781529109450

Penguin Random House UK

This is not a book for children, but it is about one of my favourite children’s writers so I am sharing my thoughts here. I want to start off first by thanking author Michael Rosen for sharing this incredibly personal account of his experience suffering from Covid-19. I use the word suffer because he certainly suffered.

His experience is told and shared with honesty, and a rawness that is palpable. At times I smiled when reading this book, but many other times I cried. His pain is real. So too, is his anger. For 47 days and nights Michael was in an induced coma. While he was still able to answer doctors but his condition worsening, they told him they wanted to put him in an induced coma. He asks…

‘Will I wake up?’

‘There’s a 50:50 chance.’

‘If I say no?’ I say.

‘Zero.’

And I sign.

He has no recollection of those days. The world, his world, according to Michael didn’t exist with him in it. You can tell how hard it has been for him to lose those days and everything they mean.

While he was out of this world, sleeping, attached to tubes, and machines doing all the work for him of staying alive, nurses at the hospital he was staying in recorded messages for him. They wrote notes, hello messages and recorded his state of being. Many of these messages are in this book. It not only shows just how much Michael means to so many people, but also, the caring and kindness of nurses in these terrible times we are living.

The writer follows these messages up with his own thoughts, poems and updates. He takes us on a journey through his hospital stay, rehabilitation, and continued recovery. The virus is real. In Michael’s case, he lost nearly two months of his life where he hovered between dying and living. He lost sight and hearing on his left side. He had to learn to walk all over again. His struggle is still going on but what we see in this book, is his determination to keep trying, and his courage, to not give up. It is obvious that his family are his strength and his wife, Emma, must be amazing.

This book is an eye-opener for an insight to people suffering from severe cases of Covid-19. It is profound in its honesty and his book serves to remind us all, that nothing is certain. This moment in time is what we have now. Nothing else is guaranteed.

I am incredibly grateful during this terrible pandemic, that I live in New Zealand. We have not suffered as those in so many other countries, including the UK, have suffered. We have mostly been able to go about our days normally. We have had lockdowns, and losses, but by world comparisons we are so fortunate.

Best wishes Michael on your continued recovery. Stay safe everyone, wherever you are.

White Rose

By Kip Wilson

ISBN 9780358376699

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Sophie Scholl is anti-Nazi political activist. The more she learns about Hitler and his regime, the more she is determined to make others aware of how dangerous he is but the risk is huge and the cost, if caught, unthinkable.

Based on the real life of Sophie, her family and friends, we read back and forth between the the time when Sophie first realised what was really happening to her neighbours, Jews and other innocent people, and the time when she is imprisoned for her own actions.

We learn of her strengths, fears, and those she loves. We learn about the atrocities and brutalities on Jews and anyone who disagrees with Hitler. We learn about the growing group of activists known as White Rose; a group of people who secretly print out information about the atrocities of Hitler’s regime. They are consequently considered as traitors of Hitler and are wanted. The story is well-researched, well written and has impact. I won’t forget about Sophie Scholl.

Sophie’s bravery to go against everything Germans are taught is inspiring and heroic. Along with Hans, one of her brothers, Sophie is eventually caught and imprisoned, yet even then, Sophie remains strong and dedicated to her need to make a difference to try and stop the war. Her belief is that

“…the world will see

and the world will know

and the world

will

make

them

stop.”

This is written in verse form which is the perfect way to tell Sophie’s story. It offers brevity and clarity and with all the white space on the page the poem and language becomes the focus. Powerful, haunting and insightful. This book and Sophie’s life will stay with me a long time.

Ellie Copter: Nee Naw and Friends

By Deano Yipadee

Illustrated by Paul Beavis

ISBN 9781775437048

Nee Naw is a little red fire engine who finds himself caught up in many adventures. There has been a number of picture books written about him and his numerous friends.

In this latest picture book Nee Naw can’t cross a broken bridge to put out a fire so he calls upon his friend Ellie Copter. Of course, like all good friends, Ellie comes to the rescue and saves the day. The book highlights the lesson not to play with fire.

Paul Beavis creates bright, bold and quirky illustrations which are instantly recognisable. There is no white space on the page, just corner to corner, bright illustrations set in the country landscape of hills and farmyards. Love the sheep!

As with previous books in this fun series, you can download or stream the song.

Oh, so many kisses!

By Maura Finn

Illustrated by Jenny Cooper

ISBN 9781775436829

Scholastic NZ

This delightful book first came out as a picture book with a lovely blue cover in 2018. Now it is available as a padded board book with a new cover. The cheeky smile of a baby stares out and we can’t help but smile.

It is a book of kisses. All sorts of kisses from so many faces. Family, friends, and animals all lovingly offer kisses to the new baby.

This is ideal for brand new babies who will no doubt squirm delightfully as readers plant kisses on them as they read the story.

Jenny Cooper’s illustrations are warm with just the right amount of cuteness. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, this is the perfect gift for a new mum too.

The Grinny Granny Donkey

By Craig Smith

Illustrated by Katz Cowley

ISBN 9781775436874

Also in time for Mother’s Day is the board book of The Grinny Granny Donkey. There is probably a copy of the original story of the Wonky Donkey in almost every home in New Zealand. The story continues now with Granny Donkey. The same sweet but funny illustrations, quirky sense of humour and repeated lines make this a story which will quickly become a familiar favourite with young children.

Even more so if read by a real granny or nana.

Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories

By Jeff Kinney

ISBN 9781761043956

Penguin Books

Jeff Kinney has written yet another book and his popularity keeps growing. He has a generation of children who read his books over and over again. This latest one has over a dozen short stories full of spookiness for those readers who enjoy a good scare. Be careful though, there just may be things that will haunt you.

Definitely one to grab hold of if you enjoy comedy, scary stories and comic illustrations. Check out the story about Rusty and Gabe the ghost. As Rusty finds out – ghosts never sleep!

I love the purple cover.

Katipo Joe: Spycraft Book 2

By Brian Falkner

ISBN 9781775436607

Scholastic NZ

Grrrrr!

So I have just finished the second exciting book in the Katipo Joe series about Joseph St George, a Kiwi teen working for the British Intelligence during World War Two and now I am desperate for the next book. Brian Falkner I hope you are frantically writing the next book because I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Joe is the son of diplomats and spent much of his youth living in Germany where he speaks perfect German and English making him a good choice for spy. His father is taken prisoner by the Gestapo in the first book and he soon realises his mother is a British spy and she goes missing. Joe does everything he can to find her and his strength and abilities capture the interest of the British where is recruited as a spy himself. His spy abilities and powers of deception see him eventually recruited into the Hitler Youth movement where he becomes one of 12 teens being prepared to work for Hitler.

We follow the daily routines, tests and dangers of the 12 teens who work diligently towards an end goal with the support of Eva Braun, companion to Adolf Hitler.

The book has everything. Action, death, survival, betrayal, all neatly packaged in a tense, thrilling fast-paced adventure that will keep you turning the pages. In order to infiltrate the cause, Joe must become someone else. Doing so is dangerous and one slip-up could result in capture and probable execution. The trouble with being a spy, is knowing who to trust, if anyone.

The places and background happenings are based on facts. Some of those facts are quite harrowing but Joe has to convince others he has the stomach to deal with them. Some scenes left me feeling quite yuck but the reality is, those things really did happen. Joe is believable. He is flawed, at times doubting his own ability, over thinking things and he makes mistakes. Costly mistakes which he struggles with.

This is a solid read, gritty and gory in places but definitely one to read and remember. Joe as a character continues to grow but so too, does his willingness to step over that line. Death is simply part of how life is during the war. Falkner is one of those writers who captures the reader and keeps them hooked. This is a definite young adult title and series.

Hurry up, Brian!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Chris Riddell

ISBN 9781529002461

Macmillan Children’s Books

First published in the 1860’s this timeless classic is still going strong. This new illustrated edition from Chris Riddell is a stunner and for me, this surpasses all other editions. I have long admired Riddell’s work, and this is no exception. I love it.

Gone are Alice’s long blonde locks of previous illustrators, now replaced with short, dark hair bringing a freshness and a new personality. The mad-hatter too, is different. The story however, is the same tale of a young girl who follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole into an amazing new world. It’s a world where everything is different, strange and quite bizarre. Talking animals, parties and misadventure where Alice gets into trouble.

This edition is just beautiful. I excitedly picked a copy up at my local library from the “new books” stand but I will have to get my own copy to keep. It’s not exactly a cheap purchase but it will be one well worth buying in this new hardback, illustrated collectors edition. It is one to treasure. I really don’t want to return my library book!

In this youtube clip, Chris Riddell reads the first chapter. As you listen, you can take a look at the illustrations, both colour, and black and white. The end papers show different characters and if you take the cover off the book you reveal another beautiful cover.

House of Hollow

By Krystal Sutherland

ISBN 9780143796992

Penguin Books

This book trailer has me very intrigued. Check out the storyline.

This has mystery, suspense and a fairytale quality to it for young adult readers. The story is about three sisters who go missing from the streets of Scotland but come back a month later with no memory of where they have been or what happened to them. Strange things start to happen including their hair turning white and their eyes turning black. The girls are both beautiful and dangerous and as the years pass, one of them goes missing yet again.

There is a competition if you live in Australia for a chance to win a copy of this new thriller. Follow penguinteenaus on Instagram to find out the details, but be quick as it ends on the 15th April. While I don’t live in Australia and can’t enter the competition, I will be looking out for this book as it sounds so exciting.

The last bear

By Hannah Gold

Illustrated by Levi Pinfold

ISBN 9780008411282

Harpercollins

Oh my goodness, what a wonderful story. Beautifully written and with a gentle tone that adds to the warmth of the narrative.

April is eleven years old. Her mother died when she was small and her memories are limited, but she does remember her mother’s love. Her scientist father is caught up in his grief and ignores April so she feels she is loosing him too. In an effort to change things her father wants to spend time together, just the two of them, so he accepts a six-moth job on Bear Island, a remote outpost in the Arctic, though there are no actual polar bears on the island anymore. There is only the cold, icy landscape and each other. But the job takes more and more of his time and April is even more alone than when they lived in the city. April spends her time exploring the icy cold vastness of Bear Island and it is not long before she discovers there is in fact one last polar bear on the island, but he is hurt and afraid.

April is brave and caring. It is her determination and courage that enables her to interact with the bear and beyond all possibilities, form a relationship with this wild animal. Their relationship is amazing. They learn to understand each other and their different needs. I adore April. I want to hug her, hold her tight. I want to climb on the bear’s back and ride with them through the Arctic seasons. I believe in both April and the bear.

There is a message here about the damage we are doing to this planet and it is an important message but when you read about April and the bear, you can’t help but want to make a difference and help. We do need to worry about the melting ice caps, polluted seas and the plastic waste and this story will make you stop and think but it is also full of hope, all because of the bravery of one young girl.

The story is also about grief and how all-consuming it can be. Sometimes, we can get caught up in grief and forget there are other people around us that still need to be loved. April and her father are struggling through this difficult journey, but again, there is hope.

There are many beautiful illustrations that add to the impact of the story. Their haunting quality shows the beauty of the relationship between the bear and April.

I was moved to tears but I won’t tell you when; I’m sure you’ll work that out for yourself. The last bear, is an absolutely beautiful, heart-warming story that will stay with me. I loved it. Totally loved it. Perfect for 9 years and up. This may be the author’s debut novel, but I am sure there will be many more and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

I believe this would be a wonderful read-aloud for classes year 5 and up but also I think it would make an ideal novel for a student book club in schools. Trying to stop a group of readers in a book club from reading on ahead and finishing the book would be bit of a problem though as it is a book you don’t want to put down.

The King’s Nightingale

By Sherryl Jordan

ISBN 9781775436560

Scholastic NZ

I loved this from the start and right up until the very last page. It is epic and powerful.

Elowen and her family live on the Penhallow Isles. Life is simple and she is happy, especially with her blossoming relationship with Heath. Then pirates arrive, burning houses, capturing many people, including Elowen, her father, brother Fisher and Heath. They are stripped naked and kept below deck, overcrowded, hungry and enslaved. After a harrowing journey where not everyone survives, they finally dock and are immediately sold as slaves. Elowen is separated from her brother but makes a promise to him that one day she will find him and they will return home together, safe and free.

Eleowen’s journey as a slave is difficult but she has a gift. Her ability to sing like a nightingale makes her a favourite with the King but that brings many other problems. Sherryl Jordan’s writing keeps you wanting to read the next chapter and the next to see what fate awaits Eleowen. The story involves slavery, betrayal, oppression, inequality of gender, survival, and even forgiveness.

Eleowen dreams of freedom but just what is freedom and what is the cost of that freedom? Elowen is strong, but her mistakes and risks have severe consequences. Her desire for freedom is so strong but at what cost?

At the beginning of this YA novel there is a list of main characters which is very useful. There is also a glossary of the Rabakeshi words Eleowen learns in her country. And a map. Who doesn’t love a map in books! This is a book I believe will make headlines. Gritty, strong characters, quality writing and an excellent story.

My name is Henry Fanshaw : The true story of New Zealand’s bomber squadron

By Gillian Torckler

Illustrated by Adele Jackson

ISBN 9781988538631

Bateman Books

Henry Fanshaw is a teddy bear but one with an extraordinary tale to tell. Henry was the mascot for the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No 75 Squadron flying in the dangerous times of World War Two.

Henry tells us of the people he met, the dangers they faced, and tragedies they saw. He tells it through his eyes. He was there after all, throughout those harrowing times. I enjoyed learning about the planes and the men flying them. I especially liked reading about one particular very brave soldier; Sergeant James Ward but I won’t tell you what he did as you can read that yourself, but I will say, he was incredibly brave and well deserved the Victoria Cross medal he received.

I love that I live just 5 minutes away from the museum where Henry Fanshaw now spends his time looking at visitors who stand and wonder why he is so important. This book will tell you just how important Henry was and still is today. A reminder of the brave soldiers who fought to keep us all safe, all those years ago.

This is informative and an enjoyable read. The illustrations have a retro feel to them with muted colours and images reflecting the 1940’s. I love the end papers with the fields at the front with the shadow of the plane flying overhead, and the clouds at the back. Also at the back are facts about the different planes and some of the important people at the time.

Certainly a book to recommend to students wanting to know about World War Two and one of New Zealand’s most famous squadrons.

Snapper : the real story

By Annemarie Florian

Illustrations by Alistair Hughes

ISBN 9781760793340

New Holland Publishing

Snapper: the real story is about the life cycle of snapper. It is told through clear but simple text and brightly coloured illustrations. It is an informative look at how and where snapper live and the dangers that surround them.

The language is lyrical with lots of alliteration which makes it fun to read as well as being a useful resource when studying the ocean.

Sauntering through sponge garden sculptures.

At the back of the book there is more detail about the problems of over-fishing, plastic and pollutions and includes many useful links to other resources for ocean studies.

This is where I stand

By Philippa Werry

Illustrated by Kieran Rynhart

ISBN9781775433842

Scholastic NZ

The subject matter of This is where I stand is the statue of a World War One soldier who stands tall and proud as he looks out over the town. He tells of all he has seen over the many years since he was put on the plinth. He shares his memories of the war, gunfire and poppies in fields. He shares tales of families walking through the park where he stands. All that he remembers is shared, the good and the bad.

There is so much to love about this book. The language is poetical and just beautiful.

I am in the wind and the rain and the sun.

I am in the birdsong and green leaves and the moonlight.

The illustrations are stunning. The soft tones have a haunting quality. Together, the language and art work make this a beautiful book. Perfect not just for ANZAC Day but any day. This should be in every school library. To make the most of this sophisticated picture book do check out the teacher notes here.

There’s a bear in the window (English and Maori)

by June Pitman-Hayes

Illustrated by Minky Stapleton

ISBN 9781775437154

Scholastic NZ

Covid-19 and the first lockdown saw many thousands of bears in windows all over New Zealand. It began as something fun to do and challenged families to go for walks and look at everyone’s windows to see if a bear or two appeared. I had bears in my own front window and I smiled on my walks as I checked out other homes. Big bears, little, single bears and windows with a house load of bears. Author June Pitman-Hayes has created a story around the idea of bears in windows but is asking us as readers to think about what the bears might see as they look out of their windows. We see New Zealand wildlife and people going about their day. There is a focus on colour so this would be very useful in schools and pre-schools when looking at colours. At the end of the story there is the opportunity to read it over again in Te Reo Māori. You can also download or stream the story as a song version. The picture book has brightly-coloured glossy pages and with a bear as the main character, young ones will be sure to enjoy this new story.

Duggie the buggy

By Sam Wallace

Illustrated by Shaun Yeo

ISBN 9781775436300

Duggie the Buggy is feeling a little down. Things are not as they used to be. He has flat tyres and his paint is all faded. Newer cars are cleaner, faster and more appealing than he is, so he ends up feeling unwanted. Duggie is even left outside to rust away. Thank goodness for true friends because Ronnie the Rocket comes to the rescue and shows Duggie that things can change and things do get better. Together they come up with a plan. If you want to know what Ronnie does to help his friend, you will have to find a copy of this book which is out now from Scholastic. This is a sweet, hopeful picture book about not giving up. It encourages us to remember to aim high and shoot for the stars.

Tomorrow Girl : A tale of Mindfulness

By Vikki Conley

Illustrated by Penelope Pratley

ISBN 9781925820362

EK Books

Tomorrow just can’t help herself. She is so busy rushing through each day that she forgets that sometimes it is better to slow down and enjoy the day.

Yesterday is so worried about things that happened or went wrong in the past, that she is afraid to do anything or try new things.

Tomorrow meets a boy called Today and it is through this new friendship that she realises there is a better way to view the world. Taking time to watch the clouds and discover dragons hiding in the sky is far better than rushing around and missing things.

Tomorrow girl is a sweet book of mindfulness. A reminder to us all to enjoy life, worry less and not always be in too much of a hurry.

Moon and Sun by Melinda Szymanik

Illustrated by Malene Laugesen

ISBN 9781988516806

Upstart Press

Moon knows she can never be as bright and warm and beloved as her sister, Sun.

She hides away, shy and sad, only coming out at night. But maybe Moon is more important than she realises…

Moon and Sun is a special picture book. It deals with one of the most common issues children have, that being, insecurity and lack of confidence, lack of self belief and often feeling less important that their older siblings.

Moon is insecure and she thinks her sister, Sun is more beautiful, more popular and generally, better than herself. It really is a common tale, but here Melinda Szymanik shows us that we are all special. We all have much to give and sometimes, doing things together is even better than being on our own.

It is beautifully illustrated with full pages of gorgeous colours. The pictures have a myth-like quality to them which adds an extra dimension to the story.

This is a beautiful book to share with young children. It’s also a good one for teachers in pre-schools and primary schools to use to encourage gentle discussions about how we are all unique. Our differences are our strengths and understanding that, can help children learn to believe in themselves.

Just lovely.