Counting creatures

By Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

ISBN 9781529040517


What can I say? This is yet another beautiful book by a perfect collaboration of author, artist and publisher.

It is a beautifully packaged counting book for children. We are asked on alternate pages “Who has more babies than that?” Each spread shows different creatures answering the question, with the increasing numbers of babies they have. Beginning with a bat and just one baby, heading on through the pages to creatures that have multiple babies. Julia Donaldson brings us her skills with rhyme and language as is her forte. Simple but informative.

Stunningly illustrated by Sharon King-Chai (one of my favourite illustrators) with exquisite lift-the-flaps and cut-outs, this is not just gorgeous but also educational. This is one of those special books that will be read again and again. Love it!

I haven’t read a lot of graphic novels although I do appreciate their impact on readers and reading material these days as a growing and very popular trend. So over the Christmas break I decided it was time to read a few to see just why they hold such favour with readers. I chose a variety from younger readers through to Secondary school students at the older age group. I read five and honestly enjoyed every book. They were a real mix. Funny, mysterious, sad and serious. Will I read more graphic novels? Definitely.

In no particular order.

Speak : the graphic novel

By Laurie Halse Anderson

ISBN 9780374300289

Farrar Straus Giroux NY

This was the most powerful of the graphic novel books I read. It deals with the horrible issue of rape. Melinda attends a party where she is raped and we follow her downhill-slide as she struggles to deal with it all. Melinda tells no one about what happened and sinks deeper and deeper into a depression, her grades failing and friendships falling apart. The illustrations are dark, broody and powerful. We see her internal thoughts and her growing sense of anger as realises that she had said no. It is the claiming back of her voice that has the most impact in this top read for young adults. No means NO!

The Inkberg Enigma

By Jonathan King

ISBN 9781776572663

Gecko Press

This book is pretty special. It has a real retro feel to it like the old mysteries we used to watch on TV or read in old comics of my youth. I loved the setting with its small coastal fishing town, people who know each other and long hot summer holidays.

Miro and Sia live in Aurora, a fishing town nestled in the shadow of an ancient castle. Miro lives in his books; Sia is never without her camera. The day they meet, they uncover a secret.

A good old-fashioned mystery to solve. When a man is pulled out from the sea in front of Miro and Sia, there is some wild creature clinging to his legs so Sia takes a photo but unwittingly captures something else in the photo. Sia decides it is a clue and that they must investigate. Miro would rather read his books than follow danger, but Sia is persistent. He follows grudgingly at first but the more clues they find, the more he is keen to solve the mystery of just what is living in the sea below the harbour and what is the importance of a particular, very old book. The story suits the format with its colourful illustrations. There is a second story within its pages and these are told in black and white illustrations, adding to the overall retro feel.

Thoroughly good read. It would be nice to see Sia and Miro solve more mysteries.

The Witches

Based on the novel by Roald Dahl

Adapted and illustrated by Penelope Bagieu

ISBN 978176097830


Roald Dahl’s book The Witches takes on a new look in the graphic novel adapted by Penelope Bagieu. The illustrations are bright and visually appealing. The cover screams out just wanting to be picked up. Quick, easy to read and even at almost 300 pages long, younger readers will love this and I think it will be a top read and in high demand with my students.

What particularly appeals to me is that the text is in lower cases. I know it’s a thing with graphic novels to have the text in capitals but I find personally find it off-putting. Kind of like text messages use uppercase to shout out their messages. Three of the five books in this list used uppercase throughout and while you adapt to reading this way, I’d much prefer it the way it is here in The Witches.

The Invasion

Animorphs the Graphic novel

Based on the novel by K. A. Applegate & Michael Grant

Adapted by Chris Grine

Animorphs has been a hugely popular series for years and with the popularity in graphic novels, I think this format is going to be just as successful. The colourful illustrations and brief but pertinent text makes it easy to follow storylines.

A group of five friends find themselves face to face with an alien who has crashed to earth. He warns them of a bigger, deadlier threat to all mankind. Right before his death he gives them all special powers to morph into any animal by using their DNA if they can touch the animals first. Some are keen, others not so much but soon they find themselves running from danger and realise they need to use their gifts if they are to stay alive. They soon realise, the planet is under attack and they will need to do whatever they can to save lives. They need courage, teamwork and their new abilities to make this happen.

A good read, lots of action and I will be looking for more in the series as they are published.


By Raina Telgemeier

ISBN 9781743832684


Raina Telgemeier’s books are so popular that they are always on reserve, and sadly, they are also among the top titles of books that go “missing” and need replacing.

Based on her own life dealing with anxiety and stomach troubles, Guts is a story that needs to be told. Raina struggles with stomach pains, constant fear of vomiting, anxiety and just everyday life in general. Some days are worse than others and on these bad days she cannot attend school.

I love the ending where she realises she is not alone. Other people have similar issues or fears and it is just how people learn to deal with them that makes them strong enough to cope.

It’s realistic with a good message. I’m now going to have to read more of her work.

I think I might have my work cut out trying to read all the other books by these authors and graphic illustrators.

The Poet Slave of Cuba

A biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

By Margarita Engle

Illustrated by Sean Qualls

ISBN 9780805077063

Henry Holt and Company

A verse novel is the perfect format for telling the story of the famous poet slave Juan Francisco Manzano.

The account of his life is horrendous. His treatment as a slave to the wealthy slave owner is told with deliberate, careful choice of words. The impact on the reader is gut-wrenching. The fact that the young slave survived such a harsh life is amazing and credit is given to his own courage, strength, and determination.

Juan was taken from his family and kept as a slave. His parents were freed but a wealthy slave owner kept him, even demanding that he call her mama. He was treated like a pet animal, worked hard but punished severely, cruelly, and beyond anything we could imagine.

Juan had the special ability to learn poems from other poets, sonnets, verses, all by heart. He could recite so much of what he heard and this gave him hope. It was not until many years later that he learnt to read himself and then write his own poems.

This is a harsh book but beautifully written. My stomach turned many times as I read this. The story is told in alternating voices from Juan and other people in his life, including his mother and father’s point of view, and even the slave owner, La Marquesa de Prado Ameno. What I find very interesting is how the slave owner tries to justify her actions in Juan’s life, making excuses for the treatment he receives at her command. Unbelievable! I wanted to shout at her, “leave him alon”e, wanted to yell at him to “run, escape”.

This is not a new book, but it is new to me and it has left me wanting to read more about the poet, and read more by the author.

One of my favourite extracts is right at the beginning (page3-4).

My mind is a brush made of feathers
painting pictures of words
I remember
all that I see
every syllable
each word a twin of itself
telling two stories
at the same time
one of sorrow
the other hope

I love the words
written with my feathery mind
in the air
and with my sharp fingernails
on leaves in the garden

When my owner catches
a whiff
of the fragrance
of words
engraved in the flesh
of succulent geranium leaves
or the perfumed petals of alelí flowers
then she frowns because she knows
that I dream
with my feathers
my wings

Marvellous Marvin

Inspired by a true story

By Nadia Lim

Illustrated by Fifi Colston

ISBN 9781775437246

Scholastic NZ

Oh my goodness, this is just delightful. Such a wonderful feel-good story and illustrated with just the cutest pictures.

Marvellous Marvin is the story of a very real chicken raised by cook and TV personality Nadia Lim and her family. He was rescued from the cold, harsh winters as an egg and raised inside the warmth of the house. Marvin seems to be one cheeky, well-loved chicken. He gets up to a bit of mischief; pinching food from his human brother’s plates, or eating up vegetables from the garden.

Illustrator Fifi Colston captures all his cuteness and personality perfectly. There is a lovely softness to the pictures. Marvin has a special friend who is with him throughout the pages, a delightful bumble bee who adds his own cuteness.

There is so much more to this book than Marvin’s story though. There is a double-page spread all about chickens. Then the double-page spread with Nadia’s pancake recipe and pages of photos of the real Marvin. There is a bit of a trend in publishing these days where many famous people are writing children’s books. Personally, it doesn’t always work but here, Nadia Lim’s debut book is an exception. It works well with its blend of facts, reality, family and story. Would be good to see more picture books about country life from Nadia and Fifi. A great combination.

Marvellous Marvin is out now and would make a wonderful Christmas gift. This is also a great choice for schools and pre-schools showing country life at its best. Marvin is so cute I want to reach out and pick him up for a cuddle.


By Sally Stone

ISBN 9781775436010

Scholastic NZ

Author Sally Stone’s book Pandemic: The Spanish Flu, 1918 was first published by Scholastic in 2012 but it has been reprinted 2020 with an eye-catching new cover and a preface discussing the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically impacted the world. Reading the diary of Freda Rose, the parallels between the 1918 pandemic and the one we are facing now are quite eerie.

In 1918 the First World War was nearing the end. Soldiers were coming home and with them, they were bringing the Spanish Flu. While the War took 16 million lives, the Spanish Flu took almost 50 million lives. The pandemic was devastating world-wide.

Eleven-year-old Freda Rose misses her soldier brother and waits for him to return from the war. She deals with everyday life; friends, family and even a lost chicken, but nothing can prepare her for the pandemic which hits the country and her small Canterbury town. Everything changes. Trying to contain the influenza pandemic was difficult. Just like the current pandemic, shops closed, people got sick, needed help and many died. Chemists wore gauze across their faces, hotels were turned into hospitals and people were scared.

We find out how they coped through the pages of Freda Rose’s diary. She writes in her dairy to Lucy Locket telling her of her joys, her fears, her sadness at the impact of the plague, as it was called. Some days were better than others.

There are moments of humour to help break up the tension and to show that no matter what happens, life goes on. Freda Rose, her friends and family are likeable and believable characters. This is a very good read in the wonderful My New Zealand Story series looking at historical accounts of our past through the diaries of young New Zealanders.

This book is a very useful resource to compare the two pandemics and see if modern medicine and technology has helped or hindered the current situation. For example, international flights all over the world have stopped as countries have closed their borders. In 1918 people travelled for weeks on ships and news and information took a lot longer to reach people. There are historic photos to support the factual aspects of this novel for middle-grade readers.

Sally Stone provides a very good insight to living through a pandemic. What stands out is the knowledge that though the 1918 pandemic seemed to last forever, it did pass. Things got better. Hope prevailed and that is important for readers today, to know that the current pandemic will one day end and the world will recover.

24 Hours on the Kiwi Seashosre

Gillian and Darryl Torckler

ISBN 9781988538389

Bateman Books

For many years, Gillian and Darryl Torckler have collaborated on numerous books for children. Their focus is non-fiction books. Their latest venture is two books looking at life in the New Zealand bush and seashore.

Each book is filled with fun facts about what happens over a 24 hour period. We visit the nightlife and day time activities of our wildlife. In 24 Hours on the Kiwi Seashore we look at tides, birds, anemones, dolphins, seals and so much more. The photos are stunning in both books. Each book has an excellent glossary and index page.

The information is perfect for readers aged 8 through 13. Each subject has a heading and there are lots of bite-sized boxes with interesting facts. One thing I found very interesting was that the tui bird has two voice boxes. Or if you look at 24 Hours on the Kiwi Seashore, gannets can reach speeds of 145 kms an hour when diving. That is incredibly fast.

Photos cover the entire pages creating a visual feast of New Zealand’s wildlife. Each animal, bird or creature is labelled with both its English and Te Reo Māori name. These books offer a wonderful introduction to our native bush and seashore and are ideal for all school library collections.

24 Hours in the Kiwi Bush

ISBN 9781988538372

What we’ll build

By Oliver Jeffers

ISBN 978000832209


Oliver Jeffers has the ability to create wonderful picture books with simple messages that hit home. He has covered many different issues; loneliness, grief, environment, to name a few. His latest book is all about building a place to feel safe and loved. Importantly, it shows us, it takes work and love to create a home that keeps us safe.

A father and his daughter work together. They plan and work as a team to protect each other, now and always. Its a beautiful book of hope. Our world can seem scary for young children, especially with everything that is going on right now, and this book is a perfect one to share and bring a little calm into our lives.

I love the idea of building a table so that father and daughter can sit around it and talk. Gorgeous!

This advert from Puffin Books is just adorable. I love it.

How many of the books do you recognise? How many have your read?

How many will you put on your Christmas list?

As the advert says. Pass on a dream.

The Fowl Twins

By Eoin Colfer

ISBN 9780008324827

HarperCollins Children’s Books

For many years author Eoin Colfer brought us the weird, wonderful and magical world of Artemis Fowl. Artemis was a mastermind, although his intentions were not always honest. Now it is his younger brothers time to have their own adventures.

Myles and Beckett are eleven year old twins, but they are completely different. Myles is fastidious and bright, Beckett is messy and undisciplined. Just like their older brother, the twins find themselves caught up in danger. There is humour, which is always good to break the tension when things are tough.

We meet evil Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye who is after the fountain of youth and will do whatever it takes to get it, even killing the Fowl twins, if he has to. There is a troll they befriend. There is even a nun, Sister Jeronima who specialises in torture and interrogation. In similar fashion to the Artemis stories, there is help from the magic realm. Lazuli Heitz is an elf and pixie hybrid called a pixel and she comes to help rescue the boys when they are in danger.

For fans of Artemis Fowl this new series is a must-read. For those who love a good fast-paced thriller, then this is one to add to your list.

Check out the author reading his introductory descriptions of Miles and Beckett.

Christmas in Summer

By Suzy Cato and Itty Bitty Beats

Illustrated by Carla Martell

ISBN 9781775436638

Scholastic NZ

Christmas in summer is full of warm days, long nights, beaches, picnics and laughter. Children are on holiday from school and enjoy the lazy days of summer. Santa loves these things too. He loves the beach and surfing. He loves playing guitar but only after he has delivered all his presents. Of course, he also loves pavlova. Christmas books often highlight the winter season of snow in the Northern Hemisphere, so it is always good to see Christmas books set in New Zealand where sunshine and barbecues are the order of the day, instead of roasts on cold, snowy days.

This a fun, brightly illustrated Christmas book for young children. You can download or stream the song and listen along as you enjoy the pictures.

This weekend is the perfect time to purchase a copy of Suzy Cato’s new picture book, especially if you are in either Auckland or Christchurch. Both cities will be having a book launch which is your chance to meet the authors and perhaps get your copy signed by them for that someone special for Christmas.

Friday, 6 November 20203:30pm – Highbury Shopping Centre, Birkenhead, Auckland

Saturday, 7 November 202010am – The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop

Sunday, 8 November 2020 11am – Turanga Library, Christchurch City Libraries

1pm – Scorpio Books, Christchurch

Monday, 9 November12:30pm – Switch New Brighton, Christchurch

How to make a bird

By Meg McKinlay

Illustrated by Matt Ottley

ISBN 9781925381894

A girl sets out to make a bird. First she plans it, works out what she needs and begins her creation. We see her creative process working through language that is rich, poetical and thoughtful. Her thought process is almost a lesson for life itself.

Breathe deeply

and take your time.

The making of a bird

is not a thing

to be hurried.

The illustrations are stunning with a subtle sophistication that adds even more to the story.

I think this is one of those special sophisticated picture books that gives more and more on each re-reading. I read it to a group of 10 and 11 year old students today and it was wonderful to see their reactions when they realised that the book had many meanings. They all began to discuss their own creativity and what they felt they were good at and how some liked to draw and some liked to write poems and stories. A lovely discussion born out of reading this book.

The students are part of a year six book club and most of them are keen writers so when they discovered this book could be a metaphor for their own writing, they were delighted.

I love this. I confess readily, that reading a good sophisticated picture book or a good verse novel leaves me very contented, no matter the state of the world.

How to make a bird is an excellent book to unpack and think about. It’s not just about making a bird, but making a difference and not being afraid to try new things. It’s about bravery too, to let go and be proud, no matter what our creations.

Highly recommend at any level at school, including secondary.

The Little Yellow Digger Saves Christmas

By Peter Gilderdale

Based on the characters by Betty and Alan Gilderdale

Illustrated by Fifi Colston

ISBN 9781775436232

Scholastic NZ

The Little Yellow Digger is a New Zealand favourite. He has been around for many years and experienced many adventures. He’s saved a whale, been to school, and even visited a zoo. This time his job is to help Santa.

Santa is busy on his way to watch a school performance but oh dear, things go wrong. The reindeer are sick and tucked up in bed so he uses a truck to get to the school but that gets stuck on the way. Who will help Santa? Will the Little Yellow Digger help save the day so Santa can see the play and hand out presents to the children. Little Yellow Digger, as always, is ready and willing to help.

Another fun adventure for our favourite Little Digger.

Fifi Colston has done a wonderful job illustrating this latest adventure. I love the cheeky kea who seems to have befriended Santa. I feel pretty sure that children reading this book will love the page where Rudolf the Reindeer has a gooey, green nose rather than a traditional red one.

A lovely Christmas story to share all around.

Which? What? Why? New Zealand Seashore Wildlife

By Dave Gunson

ISBN 9781988538310

Bateman Books

Which? What? Why?

New Zealand Garden Wildlife

ISBN 978198538303

These books are not just full of facts, but full of fun facts. They are books to dip into again and again and come out knowing something more about our wildlife here in New Zealand.

The books are great for sharing with family and students in classrooms. Children love sharing strange and weird facts with their friends and these books certainly provide lots of strange information. For example, did you know that sharks can go through over 50,000 teeth in their life time? I certainly didn’t know that.

I didn’t know that some large starfish can live over 40 years. That’s amazing.

If we look at the garden book we see amazing facts like the fastest flying insect is the dragonfly and it can reach speeds of 60 kilometres an hour. That is incredibly fast.

The information is in bite sized bits within coloured blocks. The bright illustrations surround the blocks of information making the pages colourful, informative and easy to read. There is also lots of humour which makes learning fun.

Great for children who love their non-fiction books.

Will you be my friend?

By Sam McBratney

Illustrated by Anita Jeram

ISBN 9781406351606

Walker Books

Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare are back. Reading this beautiful picture book is just like reconnecting with old friends. You know that feeling you get when you haven’t seen old friends in awhile but the minute you do, you just carry on as if no time has passed at all. That’s the feeling I got when I read this book. And like true friends, they haven’t changed at all. Both are the same wonderful hares that they were then, and are now.

With a bit of growing independence Little Nutbrown Hare goes off for a wander and exploration by himself. He discovers his own reflection and his shadow, but also something else, something very special. Little Nutbrown Hare discovers another Hare. A new friend to play with.

This is just as sweet and beautiful as when we first met the Nutbrown Hares and no doubt at all, this book will also become a classic. A perfect book to give to families with toddlers.

Anita Jeram’s illustrations are delightful, warm and just adorable.

Check out the trailer and then go get yourself a copy of this gorgeous book.

Ballet Bunnies

By Swapna Reddy

Illustrated by Binny Talib

Oxford University Press

Millie loves dancing and is so excited to begin ballet classes. Unfortunately things don’t go quite as smoothly as she hopes and one girl in the class makes it difficult for her. Her confidence plummets and before the end of the day Millie wants to give up.

It is then that she meets four little ballet bunnies who make all the difference. Her new bunny friends are a secret but they offer her the best advice and that is just what Millie needs.

Throughout the series Millie confronts her fears and lack of confidence with the help of her bunny friends; Dolly, Fifi, Pod and Trixie. They encourage Millie to dance, try new things, even learning how to take deep breaths to help her keep calm, especially when there is a bit of bullying going on. They happily and willingly offer their helping paws.

Short chapters, decent sized font and gorgeous illustrations make this series ideal for newly independent readers. As first chapter books go, this is going to be a hit with many girls I know in my school library. Lots of pinks and purples, and bright glittery covers make this a series that will be read again and again.

A sweet feel-good series in time for Christmas and all that holiday reading, especially for those that like dancing, just like Millie and the bunnies.

Check out the ballet step illustrations at the back of the book. In Millie’s Birthday, there are instructions to make your own bunny ears.

Swapna Reddy also writes under the name Swapna Haddow and writes the wonderful Dave the Pigeon series.

My personal thanks to Swapna.