I heard the news today and like so many other people was saddened to read that Babette Cole had passed away. Only 67 and still so young with many books no doubt, still to come.

I was so fortunate to see and listen to Babette when she was here in Christchurch not so many years ago. Babette was quirky, funny, talented and just adorable. I even forgive her for spelling my name wrong when she signed my copy of Two of everything.

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It is wonderful to have something so special from someone so special. Babette knew how to reach readers. She knew what made them laugh even when talking about important things like making babies, or divorce. She did it with style and humour.

I recall some years back that a parent came to see me in my school asking me to remove Two of Everything from our library. I was dumbfounded. It was a simple but much-needed picture book on divorce. The parent complained that it made divorce normal and said it shouldn’t be allowed. Okay, he was very religious and that is totally fine. I pointed out that some children needed to know that even though they had to go to two different homes, they had parents who loved them and that was so important. Anyway, we agreed to differ and as he handed me back the library book, I pointed out that it was actually wet. Soggy wet! And so I asked him to pay for the damage – which he reluctantly but thankfully did. So he actually paid $20 for a book he wanted removed.   A little ironic and a little funny and I am sure Babette would have laughed at the irony.

News of Babette Cole’s passing can be found here.

The some from somewhere else

By A F Harrold

Illustrated by Levi Pinfold

ISBN 9781408853368

Bloomsbury 2016

 

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What an absolutely perfect collaboration of author and illustrator. A.F. Harrold weaves the most moving story about Frank, a young girl who is tormented by bullies. On one occasion, trapped by the bullies,  she is rescued by Nick, the class weirdo. At first Frank is reluctant to have anything to do with Nick, the big, smelly strange boy but she is also intrigued by the most beautiful strange music coming from somewhere in his house. Frank is determined to find out what secrets are held in Nick’s house and just where the music comes from.

Frank is also scared of what people will think of her if they knew she had even been inside Nick’s house. It is after all full of fleas, or so everyone tells her.

So begins a story of friendships, betrayal, bullying, fear and a need to right wrongs. The need to fit in and find a sense of belonging is strong at any age. Heck, we struggle with this as adults but here, the author has portrayed the realities of this struggle thoughtfully while bringing us hope at the same time.

I was totally drawn in by the characters and their vulnerabilities. Even though the story has dark undertones at times, there is a gentleness that makes the story real and easy to connect with.

The illustrations are simply beautiful. They are haunting and dark and perfectly match the mood of this novel. The cover is just stunning. A beautifully produced book.

This is ideal as a read aloud for years 5 up but also great for students who just want a good story to read on their own.

For those who might use this book as part of a book club, it is good to see teacher notes here to extend the depth and understanding of this wonderful story.

The impossible boy

By Leonie Agnew

ISBN 9780143309062

Penguin Random House, New Zealand

 

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This is one of those books that draws you in, keeps you going and makes you believe in the impossible.

                          Vincent Gum finds six-year-old Benjamin moments after an explosion and leads him through wrecked city streets to the children’s shelter. Vincent isn’t interested in hanging around to babysit, but by the time they arrive he knows that Ben, with his crazy ideas and weird imaginary games, won’t survive ten minutes there without someone to look out for him. For one thing, something sinister lurks in the dormitory cupboard, waiting to get out.

Vincent’s tough and smart. He can walk through walls and make a dead tree flower. But to the rest of the world he’s invisible — non-existent. That’s because, in his moment of need, Ben invented him.

At the children’s shelter Ben is mixed in with other children and orphans. Some accept him straight away but a few suspect he may be a little crazy, especially when he keeps talking to his invisible friend Vincent. While the children struggle with Ben and Vincent’s antics,  I found myself totally believing in him. In fact, by the time I had finished this delightful, creative and imaginative book, I was feeling very motherly and proud of young Vincent and what he had to overcome in order to protect Ben and his companions.

I think we all need a Vincent in our lives.

I do suspect this will find itself on award lists. This is a top-notch book, wonderfully written, with intriguing, believable and lovable characters. With war always in the background of everything the children see and do, this work of fiction offers much more to think about than just an imaginary friend.

I do think this would be an ideal read-aloud and perfect for book clubs.

Saving Red

By Sonya Sones

ISBN 9780062370280

Epic Reads

 

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I love how verse novels have the ability to pack a punch using few words. Saving Red, Sonya Sones latest verse novel packs many punches. The old saying that less is more is never more true than in Sone’s novels.

Molly is almost 15 years old and filled with guilt as she begins suffocating in a family on a down-hill slide to nowhere. Molly’s guilt eats away at her and it is this guilt that compels her to help Red, a teenage runaway with problems of her own. The unlikely pair form a strong friendship.

Red is quirky yet delightful, brave yet fearful, alone, yet not alone, as she has the Duke and Lana for company. Molly soon realises the truth about Duke and Lana and so begins a gutsy, determined effort to help Red and return her home to her family for Christmas. And of course there is a boy in there too, for good measure. I must confess, if I was quite a bit younger, I too would be very keen on the cute Cristo.

The characters are real, their dilemmas are real, creating an honest and thought-provoking novel which I couldn’t put down. So caught up in their world, I just wanted to hug them both and make sure they were okay. 

 

Carve the mark 

By Veronica Roth

ISBN: 9780008157821

HarperCollins 

This is one I am looking forward to when it is published next month. A well-produced and atmospheric book trailer has me already intrigued.

Surely just reading the publisher’s blurb below and knowing how successful the author’s Divergent, Insurgent and Allegent books have been, then it is safe to bet this will be fantastic too.

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favoured by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not – their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power – something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive – no matter what the cost.When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive – or to destroy one another.

The night before Christmas

By Rose Collins

NurseryBox Books

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This age old story by Clement Moore has been a favourite for many generations of children.

This latest version by Rose Collins is very much aimed at younger children with a cutesy almost Disney-like quality to it’s illustrations. Bright, bold and very cheerful.

As the creative director of NurseryBoxBooks says,

We wanted to tell a familiar tale in a new way, the reading of this picture book can be a great family tradition, read and passed down over the years. Young kids will love the pictures and –of course– the bears, while their parents will enjoy reading a poem that was read to them in childhood.

So if you want a version with animals rather than children then this could be the one you are after.

Coming home

By Michael Morpurgo

Available at Waitrose

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A plucky little robin sets out on an epic journey. Through dark forests, driving rain, clapping thunder and flashing lights.

I am a huge fan of Michael Morpurgo and buy his books all the time. I love how his new book also helps Crisis a UK charity for homeless people. This is so needed, especially at Christmas time.

I have already ordered my copy and can’t wait until it arrives in the post all the way over here in New Zealand.

Do sit back and enjoy Michael reading his new book. Copyright of course to  Waitrose.

 

Last night was a disastrous night here in New Zealand with multiple earthquakes and aftershocks. Sadly two fatalities and lots of damage. We are strong, having been through these before but it is still horrible to endure. SO I want to bring some cheer to those who are feeling shattered and on edge (like me).

I am sharing a video for Christmas. Copyright of course belongs to John Lewis.

Enjoy and for those in affected areas, please stay safe. Kia Kaha.

This is a difficult post to write but one I must. 

This is not about the history of the shop, or the owner’s experiences or even the fate of the shop (although I am ever hopeful a buyer will be found). None of that is my story to write. This is about my ten years experience working in one of the most wonderful bookshops ever.

I worked every Saturday and many of the school holidays for the last ten years. The best holiday to work was the build up to Christmas where everyone was full of excitement and book chat.  We had the perfect location, right in the heart of Victoria Street in a quirky building with lots of nooks and crannies. The big earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 changed all that but we dusted ourselves off and started again in a different part of town.

What I gained from my years of working as a retail assistant was a growing confidence in myself. I had to approach customers and begin conversations, something I was always intimidated by before. Over the years, these customers have become friends. I know their children, I know their likes and dislikes. I have hugged customers as they cried when telling me why they are buying a special book for a wee child. Stories about a young dad dying or siblings who have died. I remember helping a young mother with book choices for her children and wrapping them for Christmas presents, knowing she had cancer. Sadly she died a few weeks later.

Then there are the grandparents who religiously come in every birthday, Easter and Christmas. They are all like family. We don’t just sell books and gifts, we listen. We listen and even on occasions look at their family photos.

I have attended many publishers Road Shows which I will miss. I loved finding out what new books were coming out and felt I was privy to special secrets. I have had the privilege of meeting so many fantastic authors and illustrators from New Zealand and internationally. I’ve had wonderful conversations with Margaret Mahy, Andy Griffiths, Derek Landy and so many more. I have chatted with Michael Morpurgo (my absolute hero) and even been kissed on the cheek by him. Years later, my right cheek is still unwashed.

I was so fortunate to have my own book launch at the shop. A wonderful setting, a fantastic night with wine and nibbles, and an amazing cake. I felt like royalty, thoroughly spoiled by so many friends all thanks to the support of staff at the shop.

What saddens me about the closing of this wonderful shop, is not just a personal loss of a job I have loved, but what it means to the city of Christchurch and children’s literature in general.  We were specialists and while other bookshops sold much the same as we did, we also sold those books that were unique, beautiful and sophisticated. We were not afraid to come out from behind the counter and talk with our customers.

I will miss my wonderful colleagues, Jane, Louise, Pru and Mary, my boss, and Jamie who had recently moved on to another job. I will miss having somewhere special to go every Saturday. I will miss our wonderful customers. I miss my old friend, The Original Children’s Bookshop more than I thought I ever could. I feel like I have lost an old friend and am grieving for that friend. 

A few Saturdays ago when news became public about our liquidation, the shop was so full with customers coming in. Many of them cried, sad we were closing.  Customers just hugged us openly and in shock. Emotionally it was an incredibly tough day but I feel so proud to have been part of this very special place and to have travelled with them for as long as I have.

Is it the end? I hope not. Will it be bought? I hope so. Will I stop crying? One day!

As they say, never say never. I live in hope. And please, please, shop local. Keep our bookshops alive.

A great selection of new picture books from Scholastic NZ . Great for toddlers through to about six years old but really, you are never too old for picture books.

 

Parakeet in boots

By Chris Gurney

Illustrated by Myles Lawford

ISBN 9781775434382

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The latest in the Kiwi Corkers series is just as funny and quirky as others in this popular series. The traditional stories take a journey through New Zealand shores. Here we have a new take on the familiar Puss in Boots with a parakeet collecting paua in his kete. Bright, colourful illustrations add to the humour of this story. He really is a very confident and somewhat manipulative Parakeet but he does what he does for all the right reasons and we share delight in the happy ending.

 

 

Dinosaur hunting

By Lucy Davey

Illustrated by Kirsten Richards

ISBN 9781775433958

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Dinosaurs are hiding everywhere, behind trees, and even in the clouds if you look closely. A fun story of a little boy going for a walk with his dad and enjoying the world of imagination. A sweet circular story where the ordinary becomes a little more interesting thanks to a vivid imagination. Dad offers fun and support, especially when it seems the dinosaurs might be getting just a little too close for comfort.

 

Hush : a kiwi lullaby

By Joy Cowley

Illustrations by Andrew Burdan

Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts

Sung by June Pitman-Hayes

ISBN 9781775433125

Includes bonus CD in English and Maori

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This is an old traditional song but with a very kiwi feel. The illustrations are soft and warm creating a very gentle mood and feel to the book. It is matched beautifully with the sweet tones of the singer on the bonus CD. It is nice to see a glossary of Maori terms at the back of the book to encourage listeners and readers to take pride in our Maori language.

As baby is lulled to sleep we are introduced to kunekune pigs, paua, tui, silver ferns and much more. This is a perfect book for new parents who want to spend some gentle time with their precious  wee ones

 

 

The Kiwi Hokey Tokey

Illustrated by Stevie Mahardhika

Sung by Pio Terei

Maori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts

ISBN 9781775434115

Includes Bonus CD in English and Maori

 

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The Kiwi Hokey Tokey is a very catchy song which children will love dancing to and performing the different actions. Lots of fun and of course introduction to Maori words make this a good one to add to any junior library or home collection. My favourites are the farmyard flash mob, the dancing kunekune pigs and the cheeky fantails.  The illustrations are full of character and humour. Another very Kiwi book to delight young children or to send to friends overseas.

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Bruce wants to go faster

By Dreydon Sobanja

Illustrated by Murray Dewhurst

Foreword by Sir Colin Giltrap

ISBN 9780473360627

Inspired kids

 

 

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I confess I do not know one end of a car from the other – well maybe I do, but that is about all I know of cars so when I began reading this book I was totally surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I was taken along for the ride with Bruce and loved every minute of it and even learned a few things about cars too.

Bruce McLaren was no different to most 11 year old boys. He had dreams just like everyone else and for Bruce he wanted to go fast and not just fast, but faster than anyone else. His dreams hit a massive hurdle in the name of Perthes Syndrome which left him spending two years with his legs in plaster and confined to a special Bradshaw Frame bed. He spent those two years in the Wilson Home for Crippled Children but he never gave up. He would spend time racing around the wards at night in his gurney when the nurses had gone home. His legs were in plaster but also held in place at the ankles so that he basically had no movement at all, as his legs were kept in one position all that time.

I couldn’t imagine being confined to bed for two years and then even after his release from the home  he was confined to bed. He even had to learn to walk all over again. However, he didn’t let it get him down. Instead he made plans for racing and for his future.

He later went on to become one of the world’s best drivers and car designers and winning races as he sped around the tracks.

One of the highlights for me with this book, is that Bruce overcame so many hurdles, and never gave up. Instead he kept striving to be better and faster. And he succeeded. He still remains today as one of New Zealand’s most famous names in the Motorsports industry.

There are so many highlights for Bruce that to name them all here would spoil the reading of this wonderful biography.

This really is a very special book about overcoming obstacles, daring to dream when the world seems against you, being resilient and believing in yourself.  I do think this is one for teachers to take notice of specially with the excellent glossary at the back. It is a glossary with a difference. Rather than explaining terms in the book, it explains concepts about what it takes to become whatever it is you want to be. Being brave, being ready to start again, change your dreams and mostly never giving up.

Perfect for every school library, but also a great gift to give to someone special. An inspiring book encouraging children to believe in themselves.

Marmaduke Duck and the Christmas Calamity

By Juliette MacIver

Illustrated by Sarah Davis

ISBN 9781775433903

Scholastic 2016
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Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis are a much-loved team, with Juliette’s funny, quirky tales and Sarah’s delightful illustrations. The tales of Marmaduke Duck are found in every school library and read by hundreds of children and teachers who laugh over the antics of Marmaduke and his companions. The latest adventure is just as funny. Here we meet cheeky wee elves, reindeer and of course Santa himself. I can’t help but smile when I look at Polar Bear. He does seem a bit of a drama queen and more of a worrier than the other animals.

It is a a bit of a calamity when Santa and the reindeer tumble over a cliff and become stuck  in the snow below.  The presents need to be delivered  but Santa is stuck so fast he just won’t be able to make it in time. So ever the helpful duck, Marmaduke and his friends come to the rescue of Christmas.

A funny, feel-good story to share every Christmas.

 

 

A kiwi night before Christmas (Limited edition)

By Yvonne Morrison

Illustrated by Deborah Hinde

ISBN 9781775434276

Scholastic

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The traditional christmas story by Clement C. Moore takes a very Kiwi turn in this reprint of the kiwi classic.

How much more Kiwi can you get with a Christmas that has a bach, sheep and a black t-shirt, gumboot-wearing Santa on a tractor.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all round the bach,

Not a possum was stirring; not one we could catch.

Great to share with young ones and great for teachers to read-aloud for fun. Would also be good to make comparisons with Moore’s original text and compare Christmas in the different hemispheres. Good also to look at kiwiana but just as good to read for fun.

 

Jingle Bells, Rudolph smells (with bonus CD)

By Deano Yipadee

Illustrated by Paul Beavis

ISBN 9781775433859

Scholastic

This is one of those books that children will laugh at over and over again. The familar tune of the chorus makes it easy for children to remember the words to sing along to, with the accompanying CD.

What happens when Santa’s sleigh gets stuck on a roof? Who will help Santa and save Christmas? And what does a smelly reindeer have to do with this? You will just have to read the book to find out but be assured young ones will love it.

Paul Beavis’s illustrations are bright, comical and full of personality.

 

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I have always loved books and reading. Always!  I do also love special gift packages of books. So today I am highlighting a few special ones which will make ideal gifts for Christmas.

 

The Topp Twins Treasury of Sing-along stories

Illustrated by Jenny Cooper

ISBN 9781775434306

Scholastic

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Do your ears hang low?

There’s a whole in my bucket  (My favourite)

The Farmer in the Dell

She’ll be coming round the mountain

Dingle-dangle scarecrow

 

I remember singing these songs as a young child and they had been around for donkeys years before me so it is wonderful to see them beautifully illustrated in picture book format. You can read the stories, laugh out loud at the flying pigs or the goat and chicken as they lament over a hole in their bucket. Or you can just sing along with or without the book in front of you. Available previously as single titles, it is nice to see this compilation. This would make a lovely gift for someone special.

Jenny Cooper’s illustrations seem to be everywhere or perhaps it is because I love her work so much that I search for it them in every bookshop. Just another reason to love this compilation.

Listen along to the CD with brilliant singing from the Topp Twins. Great for a car ride or to sing along with on the drive to school or just sitting in a corner, listening and reading along to the CD on a lazy Sunday.

 

 

The little yellow digger (Book and jigsaw puzzle box set)

Betty and Alan Gilderdale

ISBN 9781775434313

Scholastic

5

When digging out a drain, the little yellow digger gets stuck in the mud. So they bring in a bigger digger …

and guess what happens to the bigger digger?

This classic story about a little yellow digger getting stuck in the mud is back in a gorgeous sturdy box set with a 48 piece jigsaw. The pieces are large and perfect for young hands. Great for extending the value of this classic rhyming book and the whole reading experience.  Perfect present for pre-schoolers.

 

Kiwi Corkers

Great New Zealand yarns : small gift bag

ISBN 9781775434269

Scholastic

6

A small gift tote filled with five Kiwi Corker tales.

The frog footy player by Chris Gurney

The tuatara and the skink by Yvonne Morrison

The ugly hatching by Yvonne Morrison

The little blue duck by Chris Gurney

The three cattle dogs gruff by Chris Gurney

 

The Kiwi Corker series is very popular in schools and particularly with teachers who use them when looking at traditional stories and  fractured fairy tales. Working in school I know how important it is that children get to know fairy tales. They offer so much and even when reading Young Adult books, there are often references to fairy tales that will be missed if children do not know the basic tales.

Reading these retellings is a fun way to enjoy the stories and reflect on the differences, mostly with the addition of heaps of humour. A very kiwi feel to each story with tuataras, kiwis, and pukeko too. A nice gift to send to family and friends overseas.

I am reminded of  Albert Einstein’s quote about fairy tales.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Traditional fairy tales or retellings, either way, reading these will be pure fun.

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Fox and Goldfish

By Nils Pieters

ISBN 9780994128218

Book Island

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This beautiful book is wordless, apart from the first and second-to-last pages. Fox’s friend Goldfish is dying and he wants to make the most of Goldfish’s last days.  So Fox takes Goldfish on a trip – very much a bucket-list trip before his impending death. They swim in the ocean, visit mountains, dance in the rain and enjoy quality time making wonderful memories together.  It is a wonderful book on the value of true friendship and loyalty. Gloriously bright, bold illustrations create a sense of warmth and wonder as the two friends journey together towards Goldfish’s final sunset. Heart-warming.

While it is one of those books for special occasions, it is also just a lovely story to enjoy.

Teacher notes can be found here.

 

 

Here comes Mr Postmouse

By Marianne Dubuc

Translated by Greet Pauwelijn

ISBN 9780994128201

Book Island

 

 

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Mr Postmouse visits many different animal houses on his daily rounds as he delivers their letters. Very much like a cross-section we take a look inside the homes of the animal houses. We look at underground homes, homes in trees, and even homes in the sea. There is lots to look at and lots to find. Even Red-Riding Hood makes a specail guest appearance behind one of the trees. Snake rather cutely slithers over several pages. This is defiitely a book to read over and over and little readers will no doubt find something different each time they read it. I know there were things I missed the first time I read this book.

Here comes Mr Postmouse is in a hardback, portrait-size format making it ideal to sit and share with someone special.

Brobot

By James Foley

ISBN 9781925163919

Fremantle Press

 

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“Sally is the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve, and she just knows she can build a better brother than the messy, smelly version she has. Sally’s invention – Brobot – is fantastic, that is until the remote gets broken and Brobot careens out of control. Sally realises that maybe there’s more to a brother than just his inconveniences”

 

What a brilliant cover. The blue is beautiful and bright and just calls for the book to be picked up. This is a great introduction the the graphic novel format for young readers. The very funny illustrations are broken up with just the right amount of text for newly independent readers. I love the very comical expressive eyes particular when Sally gets mad. They really are a window to the soul and in this case, Sally’s honest big-sister frustrations are quite obvious. This is very funny, especially for those readers with younger siblings. I mean who hasn’t thought of ways to dispense with, or swap a younger brother or sister – momentarily of course! Sally does find that her creation isn’t quite what she hoped for but her little brother seems to be totally oblivious to her plans and sits their looking perfectly cute. I do think this would make an ideal little series so I hope there are more adventures with Sally.

An ideal book to encourage creative  and makerspace thinking.

 

Teaching notes found here.