A monster calls

By Patrick Ness

Walker Books

ISBN 9781406311525

A monster calls remains one of my all time favourite books. It is a stunningly illustrated and beautifully written tale of the fragility of humans.

Connor knows the monster is out there and that it is coming for him. Coming for the truth!

I cried buckets when I read this book and no doubt I will take tissues with me to see the movie. I am lucky to have a hardback copy of this beautiful book and it sits on my “favourites and beautiful books” shelf.  You know, the ones you grab first if ever you had to evacuate your home. Living with earthquakes and having half our city destroyed in 2011 by a very devastating quake which took the lives of 185 people, you learn to keep things where you can reach them quickly. That’s the shelf for this book.


I hope that all involved wont mind me sharing the trailer as it needs to be spread far and wide. It really will be one movie not to be missed. (And the fact that Liam Neeson and that wonderful accent of his is involved is just another reason to see the movie when it comes out).


And I do believe in reading books first before seeing the movies so here is a trailer to the book for those who haven’t yet read it.

This is gorgeous. Mog the cat has been around for years, sharing lots of adventures with children as parents read the famous and much-loved books to children everywhere.

This advert features a new and specially written story about Mog and the lesson is all about sharing. It works beautifully. The campaign includes Sainsbury’s selling a special edition of Mog’s Christmas Calamity book and also a Mog plush toy, with all profits going to Save the Children fund. A great cause especially at Christmas time.

This is when I wished I was living in England again just so I could buy the Christmas book. Christmas in England is such a wonderful time and has a wonderful atmosphere. But never mind! I will console myself by watching this delightful advert over and over again.

The looks on Mog’s face are priceless. I love that the writer Judith Kerr makes a special appearance in this wonderful Christmas advert. Well done to all involved. A brilliant advert and a lovely message.

Who can forget Mog the forgetful cat?


Have you seen Elephant?

By David Barrow

ISBN 9781776570096

Gecko Press


Have You Seen Elephant_front cover 300dpi_gecko

“Elephant wants to play hide and seek. You can play too, but you’ll have to try your best – he’s VERY good!”

I love this. Absolutely love the humour and the illustrations are just so delightful. Elephant is certainly very good at hiding. Hiding in plain sight that is, and he does it so innocently that it just makes you smile.

I mean how can you resist this picture? Elephant is just gorgeous and they play so well together. I also love the tortoise, ironically named Zoom.

Young children will get right in to this and laugh out loud when they find elephant in his hiding places. Simply delightful. I certainly hope there will be more from David Barrow.

One of the things that make Gecko Press so special is providing teaching notes for many of their books which encourages a deeper look at the stories. The notes for Have you seen Elephant can be found here.

Scrap City

By D. S. Thornton

ISBN 978-1-62370-297-7 

Capstone Books

“Would you believe that under the ground, right beneath your city, was another city? Would you believe it was populated with Scrappers, people built of metal and glass and stone? Jerome has no choice but to believe it after he meets Arkie. Arkie is a Scrapper, and he and Jerome quickly become friends—maybe even brothers. So when Arkie’s city is in danger, Jerome knows he must help. But helping Arkie means hurting Jerome’s dad, the only real family Jerome still has . . .”

I love the idea of building people or robots and an underground city full of them sounds very cool indeed.  This could certainly work in well with the inventor, creator side of Maker Spaces. Perhaps after reading the book to a class children could create their own robots out of things lying around the house. I will definitely be looking forward to this book.

Shhh! I’m sleeping

By Dorothee de Monfried

ISBN 9781927271957

Gecko PressShhh! I'm Sleeping_cover


How many of you had to share a room when you were little? Well this delightful board book is bound to bring back memories of those shared spaces. In this case there are eight dogs who were all sleeping soundly until Popov starts snoring. One by one they wake up and begin wanting other things to do. Drinks of water, stories and even a change of bed or two keep the young dogs up, well except of course Popov who has no idea his snoring is causing so much trouble.  I love how the illustrations start with just the dark shadows but as each lamp is turned on the characters begin to shine. The dogs are delightful and so familiar. Reminiscent of sleepovers where no one would get much sleep at all.

I don’t think it matters what age of child you read this book to, as the story is a familiar one and has such a lovely warm feeling to it that it will bring out a smile from anyone. I think the illustrations capture the experience perfectly.  Gorgeous!




bookshopdayWith the first ever New Zealand Bookshop day fast approaching, I thought I would take this opportunity to ask the new owner of my favourite bookshop, The Original Children’s bookshop, a few questions about books and bookselling.

Owner Mary Sangster

Please tell us about how you recently bought the shop but have been involved with it for many years.

I have not long bought The Children’s Bookshop – now The Original Children’s Bookshop.  I have worked here for 30 years and thought that it was time to give owning it a go and to try some of my ideas.

What is your favourite thing about the shop?

The books!  I love seeing all the new titles arrive and sharing my favourites with other people is just such a buzz.  Hearing about what customers have been reading and are getting enthusiastic about is great.

What does your shop do that makes it so special?

The range of stock that we have and the knowledge we have about it is pretty special.  We try to read as many of the new titles as we can so that we can personally recommend them to people.  We never forget about the old favourites either.  To us bookselling is not just a means of making a living, it’s more about introducing new generations to the delights of some of the old favourite stories and discovering new stories and authors.

Why specialise in children’s books?   

Maybe I’ve never really grown up.  I probably enjoy a lot of children’s books more than “adult” literature.  More though, I think it’s because I really value reading and the knowledge and experience it can bring to the reader, and this is my way of helping nurture new generations of readers.

What books do you enjoy reading yourself? 

Well, it depends on my mood.  I like science fiction, but I love a good adventure story, especially with a touch of magic – like The History Keepers series by D. Dibben or The Billionaire’s Curse series by R. Newsome.  Some of the teenage books are superb, especially the ones the deal with “issues” but are not all lovey-dovey.  When I’m pretending to be an adult, you can usually find me with my nose in a crime novel or thriller, but I also like Dickens and Jane Austen.  I could keep going, but that would be plain boring.

Where can we find you? 

The shop is in Blenheim Square, 227 Blenheim Rd, Christchurch.  That’s the block of shops with the massive carpark and The Mad Butcher, United Video and Couplands.  We are tucked in the corner beside The Warehouse Stationery.

This is the first NZ bookshop day – why get involved?

  One.  Because it will be fun.  Two.  Because bookshops in New Zealand need your support.  We know that there are lots of places out there where you can buy your books, but many of them don’t support the local community by giving discounts to schools and preschools, or prizes for raffles etc. as we do. We want to celebrate you, our customers, and we want you to celebrate us as members of your community.  And, most of all, we want to keep sharing our favourite books with you.   Oh, I nearly forgot.  Three.  There are some neat prizes to win.

Thank you, Mary for sharing your thoughts.


I have been involved with the bookshop myself for about 8 years and it was incredibly heart-breaking to see it so damaged after the February 2011 earthquakes that it had to be demolished. It really is wonderful to see it back on its feet and thriving. I know they have special plans for Saturday 31 October and I will be there to have some of that fun. Do come along and spend time with local children’s book illustrators Jenny Cooper and Helen Taylor. They will do book signings, they may read and will probably draw. Jenny will be here from 11-2 and Helen 12-3.  Zac McCallum from the City Libraries is coming in at 2.30 and doing a storytime.

Check out the photos below. They have a New Zealand author section, which is incidentally, where I had my own book launch and they were wonderful hosts and made my night so special.  There are some great books to choose from on NZ Bookshop day supporting NZ authors and illustrators.

There is a cool photo of author Derek Landy of Skullduggery fame here signing books during a visit to the bookshop. Also take a look at the queue of people waiting just a few weeks ago  to get their books signed by author Andy Griffiths. It really is a special place to visit but if you can’t make it in you can always visit the shop online here.

NZ section





By Leo Timmers

ISBN 9781927271940

Gecko Press

Translated by Bill Nagelkerke

Franky cover

Leo Timmers is an award winning writer and illustrator and with his latest book Franky it is not hard to see why. This will surely be another winner.

“Sam loves robots. He is certain they live in outer space among the stars. Everyone laughs at him. No one understands him. No one except for Franky, that is…”

Timmers illustrations are quite detailed with heaps to ponder over but not too busy as to be a distraction. The colours are bright and bold and just perfect for young readers.  Franky and Sam have the most delightful facial expressions where their personalities shine through. Not always easy to do in children’s picture books but here Timmers does it brilliantly. This is a fun read about robots, imagination and creativity and holding on to your beliefs even when no one believes you.

A great wee read for pre-school children  but I can also see this picture book being used in schools, particularly in junior classes,  as part of the new makerspace programs.  Makerspace activities have much to do with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and this delightful book has Sam doing all that.

Sam thinks about what he wants, uses items around the house, and then with determination, creates his robot. What happens to the robot – well – you just need to get hold of the book. It is bound to become a firm favourite with young ones.



Franky p4


Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone

By J. K. Rowling

Illustrated by Jim Kay





First thing this morning I picked up my copy of this book and I have done nothing else but paw over the pages. Wow! Double wow! It is simply awesome. This is the same wonderful, magical story we know and love but vividly illustrated in how I can only describe, as stunning. It is beautifully packaged in hardback and the end pages alone are so hauntingly beautiful that it took me ages to turn to the next page, as I was totally mesmerized by the art work.

The pages depicting Diagon Alley are just perfect with their crooked and disheveled  shops. I so want to go shopping there and walk the same streets.

Harry’s loneliness is captured so vividly that you can’t help but be moved by his total vulnerability. Love it. Draws you right in to Harry’s world.

It is a beautiful spring day here in Christchurch, New Zealand with temperatures heading towards 27 degrees C. I need to get in to my garden but I really can not move. I just want to sit here and read this over and over. It really is a stunning book and one that I am sure will not only fly off shop shelves but it will become a firm favourite and a treasured and much-loved book for so many readers.

For those who already love Harry, Hermione and Ron, this is gorgeous. For those who have yet to meet Harry, this is the way to do it. Hop on board the Hogwarts train to a magical world of make-believe.

Jim Kay discusses his pictures here.

Azizi and the little blue bird

By Laila Koubaa

Illustrated by Mattias De Leeuw

ISBN 9780994109866

Book Island

Translated by David Colmer


This book ticks lots of boxes and is ideal for parents and teachers to share with children. It is a large, portrait sized hardback picture book which tells the story of a land where greedy rulers have caused havoc and forced their people to hide in fear, shrunken away almost into oblivion. Even all the blue birds are caught and kept in cages because the rulers demand their capture and imprisonment. Life is harsh under the rulers might.  The land is hot and dry and the illustrator’s choice of burnt orange and yellows reflects this perfectly.

BI_AziziLittleBlueBird_first spread

I also love the pictures with the jasmine and in this large format, it seems as if the jasmine is indeed climbing the walls and blooming everywhere.

                       Azizi lives in a country governed by greedy rulers, who capture all blue birds and lock them up in a big cage in the courtyard of their palace. The people suffer and live in fear,    until one day a little blue bird escapes from the cage.  Together with Azizi it sets out on a long journey to free the people of their cruel and relentless rulers.

The story unfolds in a fable-like way so that readers can see the consequences of greed but also when one little bird escapes, they also see how one thing, or one person can make a difference. It only takes one person or in this case, one bird to stand up and say enough! One person can take the first step to make change happen.

Greed, arrogance and even bullying all play a part in this story but it is also simply a story to enjoy especially when  Azizi finds friendship and then hope with a little blue bird.

It is also great to see a story set in another time and place and bringing in cultrually diverse characters, which is so important for young readers today, given how connected we all are now.

For teachers there are some great notes here to make the most of this story. Definitely one to add to your school library collection.

Rabbit in red

By Joe Chianakas

Distinguished Press


Definitely one for young adult audiences/readers. If you are after a good scary story with heaps of blood and gore then this might just be the one for you. Not for the faint-hearted, I imagine. Well the end of the trailer certainly scared me!  And don’t read it at night just before you turn off the light unless you want nightmares.

Bill Wise has blood in his past, so he turns to horror films to wipe it clean. Jaime Stein has felt the betrayal of death, so she too takes refuge in the on-screen deaths of others. Now Bill, Jaime, and seventeen other horror-loving teens have gathered at Rabbit in Red Studios, the brainchild of eccentric horror producer Jay “JB” Bell, for the terror-filled, blood-drenched contest of their lives.
JB has presented this competition as a race between the best of the best that will reward the winners with cash, internships, and a career making the movies they love. But things aren’t always as they seem at Rabbit in Red, and soon life starts to imitate art. Will Bill and Jaime be strong enough to confront real horror to save their friends, or will they all fall victim to JB’s twisted plans?


An eagle in the snow

By Micheal Morpurgo

ISBN 9780008134167



I am sure there are many readers who claim to be number one fans of author Michael Morpurgo but I assure you – I am number one or least somewhere near that title. I do after all own no less than 62 of his books. (Actually I just counted them and that even surprises me – no wonder I’m broke!) The latest addition is An eagle in the snow  which is another fantastic read.

Michael has the uncanny ability to take his readers and transport them across time and place and his latest book is no exception. I’m sitting up in bed reading this morning and suddenly I am on a train trapped in a tunnel in the dark while a stranger relays the story of Billy Byron, a soldier in the trenches of World War 1.

I believe strongly that stories about the war enable us to connect to our past.  Following Barney’s story and feeling his fear trapped in the dark yet trying to be brave. And of course Billy Byron’s story  allows us to participate and gain knowledge about the wars, but from the warmth and safety of our homes. With World War commemorations it is a timely reminder of what has happened in the past, the consequences of war and how we need to encourage all we can to make a difference in our world so that this never happens again.

It as it always is with Michael’s books, beautifully written, emotive and powerful. Aimed at readers from perhaps nine up this book hits the mark. I can see this being read by many students but for teachers taking a book club or using it as a set text there is so much to unpack. Questions arise as to what is the right thing to do and how do we know, how do we make some of our choices and what ethics or beliefs do we base our thoughts on. We can only do what we can with the knowledge we have at the time but what if …?

I loved this book but that is no surprise. It is so easy to enjoy and be moved by his books. His writing flows even between the past and the present and I thoroughly enjoyed being taken on this journey. A great read. A great read-aloud too for senior primary students.

“1940. Barney and his mother, their home destroyed by bombing, are travelling to the country when their train is forced to shelter in a tunnel from attacking German planes. There, in the darkness, a stranger on the train begins to tell them a story. A story about Bobby Byron, the most decorated soldier of WW1, who once had the chance to end the war before it even began, and how he tried to fix his mistake. But sometimes the right thing is hard to see – and even harder to live with …”

Don’t forget to read the Afterword at the back of the book. A very handy chapter of facts.

I really like slop

By Mo Willems

ISBN 9781484722626


Oh my goodness –  this is just delightful. Mo Willems himself in a book trailer cooking slop – really yucky slop. The kind of slop that would make you gag!

I love Piggie and Elephant books and adore their unique and quirky relationship which is full of humour and kindess.

There really isn’t much I can say as I think Mo himself does it so well but will Gerald be tempted to eat Piggie’s cooking? I guess I will have to wait like everyone else until the end of October.

Do check out Mo Willems website. It has heaps to look at and heaps of fun to do  especially the GoMo page.

Check out .

The lion and the bird

By Marianne Dubuc

Translated by Sarah Ardizzone

ISBN 9780994109873

Book Island


While out gardening one day Lion comes across an injured bird and so takes it home and nurses it back to health. Lion and Bird are completely different but their friendship blossoms and they do everything together. They spend time sharing stories and enjoying time outdoors but soon bird has to return to his flock. Throughout the story we move through the seasons exploring the heights of friendship and the pangs of loneliness.

It is a sparsely written book allowing the illustrations to do the talking. It allows us to see the characters and feel the depths of their friendship. By the same token it also lets us see Lion at his most vulnerable and loneliest of times. This is an honest and very special beautifully packaged hardback picture book.

This is not just for young children but a reminder to us all of how special friendships are and how much loyalty matters. This gentle story pulls at the heart strings but friendship and loyalty are strong bonds that wont be broken.

Teacher notes to help make the most of this very special book can be found here.


By Katherine Applegate

ISBN 9781250043238




One of my all time favourite books is The one and only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and I am so excited she has a new book coming soon. Katherine’s writing is always absolute quality and so deserving of her awards, particularly the Newberry Medal. I am so looking forward to Crenshaw.

Based on the blurb and reviews I just know that this book will move me just as Ivan did. Cannot wait for it to hit New Zealand shores.

           “Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may   have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?”





In the previous post you can see my review of the new YA novel Hucking Cody which I thoroughly enjoyed so I am delighted to have the author Aaron Topp as a guest on my blog today.

I asked just a few questions so we can get to know the author a little better. Enjoy!

The novel carries a sense of authority on the subject of biking. How much research did you do or does it come from your own experiences?

I subscribe to the rule of ‘write what you know’ so I guess I’ve been ‘researching’ the book for the last 35 years! I received my first BMX when I was 6 and have never stopped riding a bike on dirt since. Even now at 40 years old I reckon I’m still getting faster (although my 12 year old son disagrees!) I love the whole experience of riding a bike down challenging terrain, so much like Robert Frost once said ‘no tears in the author, no tears in the reader’, when you’re passionate about something as a writer, that passion translates pretty easy to the page.

Betrayal is a strong theme throughout your novel. Was this something you planned at the start or was it something that just evolved with your characters?

I wanted to explore the themes of unconditional love (most often) found between brothers, and even amongst best mates. I liked the universal idea of the older brother, Zane, pioneering new ground at the expense of the younger brother, Cody, because it produced this interesting juxtaposition of ‘awe versus contempt’ within him. Does Cody accept the huckster tag his brother gave him, or has Cody got it within himself to overcome it without losing a brother along the way? What about when a mate’s involved? And the new girl Cody seems to have a special connection with – is that the same or just a reality of life? This is the journey I wanted to take the reader on.

Were you keen on writing as a teenager?

Yes, but the urge to write was suppressed by me, which was really silly looking back now. The few times I’d let the urge win, I’d write in secret and away from the dangerous eyes of my fellow boarding school mates. The next day pieces of writing were discreetly handed to English teachers for them to give feedback on. These days one of the first thing I tell students is ‘embrace the natural desire to write, celebrate it. It’s who you are.’

What is the strangest job you have ever had?

Does writing count?

I think this novel will appeal to both male and female readers and not just those into mountain biking. Did you have a reader in mind when you wrote this?

While I’m stoked when any teen reads my books, just like my first book, Single Fin, I wanted to write a book that teenage males would want to read, about something they were doing in their own spare time anyway. That’s always been an objective of mine. Reading is still so important for a young man’s development, but the competition for a teenager’s attention is far greater than it ever has been. And from their feedback, I knew they didn’t always want another book about vampires, boy wizards or any of the multitude of dystopian books taking up shelf space. Real life fiction is relevant, always will be to them, although finding the right vessel of interest to carry the story is still important. What better way to do it than on a bike!

How long did it take you to write – from idea to publication?

I take small bites of writing due to having a day job and a young family. Having a routine is great for this and mine is a strong coffee at 7:30pm and then write at least 500 words before 10:30pm. Not exactly rock and roll, but it works for me. Over a few years Hucking Cody saw the light of day in various different forms before it finally settled on what Barbara Else calls ‘a very handsome production’.

And for all those keen writers out there, what advice would you give.

Read, find a routine, write when inspired, and above all else, follow your bliss.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Aaron.  And if you want to read even more about Aaron check out the New Zealand Book Council site