Ursa

By Tina Shaw

ISBN 9781760651244

Walker Books

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Ursa is the latest book out by New Zealand author Tina Shaw. It is a Young adult book set in a disturbing time of tension and oppression.

The city of Ursa is inhabited by two races of people. The Cerels and the Travesters; the have and the have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressors. The Travesters have everything, they live in good housing, have food and clothes while the Cerels live in abject poverty, unhealthy, overcrowded housing. Leho is fifteen and lives with his blind mother, grandmother, sisters and brother crammed in a tiny space accessed through a manhole. They are almost always hungry. His father has been taken away, deemed a threat to society. Men keep disappearing. Rules are everywhere. The Cerels are said to be inferior so are not allowed to breed. No more babies. The end of their race is inevitable. It is a hostile world and dangerous. Leho has had enough. He wants changes, he wants freedom for his family and friends. He is prepared to risk everything.

Ursa is very much an allegory for what happened in World War Two inside Nazi Germany and the more I read, the more familiar the story became and the more sick I felt that this kind of hatred was actually once real. I connected with Leho and his family. They are strong characters in a world they did not choose but must do everything they can to survive. The repercussions for trying to make changes can be fatal but Leho is determined. Revolution is in the air. Shaw gives us believable characters, in a bleak and desperate setting. Day-to-day life is hard but Leho’s, older brother Jorzy entertains the family at night with stories. These stories weave themselves into the novel, story within a story, offering further understanding to the plight of these people.  Jorzy too, wants change but he is more patient than Leho, plans more but Leho can’t wait. The tension between the brothers builds as does the overall suspense. One wrong move and it could all end in disaster. It is certainly a book that will leave you thinking. Can this happen again? How can we make changes for a better world. This is a solid read which keeps you going, and keeps you thinking.  A well-deserved winner of the Storylines Tessa Duder Award.

 

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Little Frida : A story of Frida Kahlo

By Anthony Browne

ISBN 9781406381221

Walker Books

Anthony Browne has brought us another stunner of a picture book. His artwork is wonderfully distinctive and his fans are many, including myself. I have admired his work for years and was lucky enough to meet him a number of years ago. I stood in line awestruck as I waited to get my copy of Voices in the Park signed. Even though the queue was long he took the time to draw a quick picture and I still treasure this book very much. So I am delighted to be reading his latest picture book. It has a more creative non-fiction feel to it as the story he tells is based on the real life of artist Frida Kahlo. 

Browne beautifully illustrates Frida’s life as a young girl. He brings the pain of struggling through polio and the consequences of her illness that left her with a limping, thin leg and the cruelty of children who called her “Peg-Leg”. Frida was different, an outsider, often lonely, but her imagination created a new friend. Her new friend and the imaginary world they live in is portrayed beautifully and wistfully by Browne. It is a world of hope and beauty, friendship and dancing. In this new world Frida is finding her strengths and that is painting. Frida is becoming an artist. 

I love how one artist can take the life of another artist and create a beauty on its own. There is at times a sense of surrealism and sophistication about the illustrations, which is Browne’s own trademark but he also incorporates Frida’s own style. Browne uses rich, bold colours and there are, as always, little hidden images, including an old friend from his other books but I will leave that for you to find. I will say though, it made me smile.

The biographical notes about Frida are framed like a work of art itself on the final end page.  Out of pain comes beauty and Browne shows this in his stunning new picture book. It is an essential book for school libraries but also a book that will be special in any home. I love too, the way the book feels, with its embossed frame of little Frida on the cover.  Frida was famous for her self-portraits often adding bits of fantasy to her paintings.  Browne honours Frida with his own sense of fantasy, so do look closely at the cover before you open the pages and enter the world of Frida Kahlo as a young girl.

On the brink : New Zealand’s most endangered species

By Maria Gill

Illustrations by Terry Fitzgibbon

ISBN 9781869665180

New Holland Publishers

On the brink is a well-researched non fiction children’s book about the dangers of extinction for many different New Zealand species. It includes among others,  reptiles, frogs, fish, insects, birds and marine animals. It is well-formatted, realistically illustrated and informative without being too wordy. The book details the top five most endangered in each category. It is incredibly sad to realise just how many species are actually threatened with extinction. Perhaps the saddest is the Maui dolphin with less than 55 left in the world. Certainly makes you stop and think. It is also very sad to see how few Hamilton’s frogs there are left. I love frogs and actually have my own pet ones who are about 12 years old. They are little brown whistling tree frogs and they make me smile so much. I would hate to see the loss of Hamilton’s frogs.

As a buyer of children’s books for a school library, I do like non-fiction books which include a good glossary, index and contents page and this book provides all that and more. There are many useful websites to check out for further research. There is also a double page spread with ideas of what readers can do to try and help make a difference.

This is an excellent book trailer to use in class with the book. Definitely a must-have for school libraries.

A sad reminder of what we could all lose if we do nothing. We all need to do our own little bit to help.

 

The Good Egg

By Jory John

Illustrated by Pete Oswald

ISBN9780062866004

Harpercollins

The Good Egg is very busy running around after everyone. He is always helping them do things, like carrying groceries, painting houses, almost anything you can think of, the Good Egg is in there trying to help. His eleven companions are not so helpful. In fact they are often naughty and lazy. Poor Good Egg has had enough and he begins to feel sad and unwell.

It’s not always easy being good. Sometimes it actually becomes too much and the Good Egg finds out the hard way; that sometimes you have to stop and just look after yourself and let others be responsible for themselves. Being kind is always the right thing to do, but you also have to be kind to yourself. An eggcellent idea and example in a wonderful companion picture book to The bad seed by the same author and illustrator. I hope there is more to come from these two. Great picture books with humour and worthwhile messages. Great for school libraries and teacher read-aloud. There is always a good egg and a bad egg in every class.

Two new picture books from Scholastic aimed at younger readers. One young girl deals with fear of the unknown, and a young boy deals with an unwanted distraction but both have elements of humour which is always good. Both have lovely endings.

 

There’s a hedgehog in my pants

By Amy Harrop

Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

ISBN 9781775435655

 

A little bit of lighthearted fun about an unwelcome hedgehog who takes up residence inside a young boy’s pants. The trouble is the boy is wearing his pants. The prickly creature will just not leave. No matter what the boy does, the hedgehog is firmly tucked up inside his pants. He tries dancing  and shaking his bottom, even tries yelling at the hedgehog hoping to scare it away but no luck. He is running out of options.

A funny, rhyming picture book with brightly coloured and comical illustrations which will delight those readers with a more wicked sense of humour.

 

Things in the sea are touching me!

By Linda Jane Keegan

Illustrated by Minky Stapleton

ISBN 9781775435709

 

“Look in the water, Ma!

Golly, oh, gee!

Some thing in the sea 

is touching me!”

A young girl goes to the beach with her two mothers hoping to have a wonderful day playing in the sand, swimming in the sea and just spending time together. However, it turns out that every time the young girl steps in the water, she feels things touching her. It’s great to see how once she discovers whatever is touching her is safe, her fears slip away. A good book to read to young children who might be afraid of the sea, or perhaps might just be a bit more anxious than other children. It’s good to see diversity in picture books too. There will surely be children who recognise themselves in this picture book. Her fears show up in the darker illustrations while the safety, joy and love of family show up in illustrations with more bold and bright colours.

Bullseye Bella

By James T. Guthrie

ISBN 9781775435730

Scholastic NZ

Bella Kerr is 12 years old, lives with her mother and younger brother, Blackbeard. They are a close-knit family.  Mum is a busy, hard-working single parent and reluctantly leaves Bella at home and in charge of her younger brother while she works late at night. Bella is mature and sensible and her mother trusts her to do the right thing. However, one day Bella overhears her mother on the phone and learns that there is not enough money to pay her brother’s school fees. Blackbeard needs a special school because he is autistic so she comes up with a plan to try to make some money. Bella is an unusually gifted darts player and enters a competition hoping to win some money.  It doesn’t go well and ends in tears.

I love seeing Bella and how determined she is, but also so vulnerable. As she progresses through the games Bella has to compete against men who have been playing darts for years, and one man in particular is rather nasty and incredibly arrogant. He brings trouble and difficulties for Bella and her family. Bella may be a very good dart-player but her difficulty is not just nerves, but her maths as well. That makes quite a challenge to try to win the prize money to help out her mother. There is also the fact that the competitions are at night and in a pub when she is supposed to be home looking after Blackbeard.

Bella’s love for her little brother is precious. She understands him so well and he adores her, following her everywhere and defending her with pirate talk and bravery. All he wants is a parrot, as do all pirates. A feel-good story with humour, love, family and a good dose of competition for those who like a challenge.

This is a well deserved winner of the Tom Fitzgibbon Award

The remember balloons

by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte

ISBN 9781481489157

SimonandSchuster

I love this very special and very moving picture book about a young boy, James, who witnesses the declining memory of his much-loved grandfather. The impact of his grandfather’s condition affects everyone. Memories are what hold us together and when those memories fade, the loss can be tragic. James is struggling to understand how this is happening. The boy and his grandfather have a special relationship. They spend many hours together, camping and fishing, and always grandfather shares stories about his life. Each memory is stored in a bright coloured balloon but as his memory fades, balloons slowly float off, taking the memory with them. There is a double paged spread where James is chasing the balloons, reaching high but the balloons are just out of reach. To use one of my dearest friends phrases, I had “leaky eyes”. A big leak! This is powerful and poignant and such a beautiful way to help young people understand conditions such as Alzheimer’s. As moving as this book is, it is also gentle, kind and just a little hopeful.  I have bought this for the school library but this is one to add to my own collection as well.

The beautiful illustrations limit colour to the balloons and their memories, which helps focus the story and its theme on memory loss, its impact and love. Just beautiful.

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

SImonandSchuster

Where Dani goes, happy follows

My happy life series

By Rose Lagercrantz

Illustrated by Eva Eriksson

ISBN 9781776572267

Gecko Press

I absolutely adore Dani. She is strong and determined yet vulnerable too. Her outlook on life is wonderful despite all the things that happen to get in her way. At the heart of every book is her relationships. The one with her father is a loving one but fraught with difficulties as he has his own issues to deal with. Ella is her best friend who moved away and whom Dani misses terribly.  Author Rose Lagercrantz pulls at the heartstrings in every book about Dani. While they are all stand-alone books, read together they build a bigger picture of Dani and her life. I find myself so proud of Dani and her achievements; big and small. I also want to just give her a big hug. The power of good writing is making believable characters and Lagercrantz continues to do that. Dani is very real and so adorable with just the right amount of sweetness.

This time, Dani decides to give her faraway friend Ella, the best birthday present; herself. Dani attempts to visit Ella far away which puts her in danger and sets up a whole new adventure for Dani.

Eva Eriksson amazes me that Dani is the same in all the books. Dani has the same beautiful smile and the same inquisitive eyes. The line drawings are simple yet show depth and emotion; humour and sadness, with real feeling.

A lovely feel-good chapter book for newly independent readers.

Another beautiful book in the My happy life series to treasure.

Bess the brave war horse

By Susan Brocker

Illustrated by Raymond McGrath

ISBN 9781775435563

Scholastic NZ

 

Bess is a fine filly of a horse frolicking in grassy fields in New Zealand when she is chosen by Captain Guy Powles to be his horse. He said she was a beautiful horse and strong enough to carry him through battle. We follow Bess’s journey as she spends weeks at sea, cramped and sweaty below deck in a ship heading for Egypt. Bess and the other horses were often frightened , especially when the seas were stormy. When they finally arrived in Egypt life became busy with preparations and training to help the soldiers on the battlefield.  Bess and her master had a wonderful relationship where they cared for each other and more importantly, trusted each other. The book provides us with a different perspective of World War One. The language is descritptive and features some wonderful alliteration.

“fine filly, frolicking in the fields with her friends”

“On shore, strange smells, sights and sounds greeted Bess.”

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book for older readers. I love the end pages with their two-toned illustrations of Bess; first as a young horse and then back home in New Zealand, fully grown and happy. The end pages alone would look good framed on any wall. The colours throughout mirror the dusty fields and dark uniforms worn by the soldiers. The research by both author and illustrator is obvious and makes this book an important one to have in your school libraries.

The sad fact is that out of 10,000 horses that went to war, only four came back to New Zealand. Bess was one of them. Her story is true.

Chinatown Girl: The diary of Silvey Chan, Aukland 1942

My New Zealand Story.

By Eva Wong Ng

ISBN 9781775435778

Scholastic NZ

The first thing you notice in this re-release of Chinatown Girl is its fresh new cover.  It is bright, eye-catching and appeals to the preteen and early teen reader. Twelve year Silvey Chan begins her diary on January 1st 1942. The World is at war and life throws many complications at Silvey and her family, friends and the Chinese community she belongs to.

Like other books in the My New Zealand Story series, which focus on certain events in New Zealand’s history, Chinatown Girl  provides insight into the Chinese community in downtown Auckland. Through Silvey’s diary entries we find out what it is like to be different from others, including racism with Government poll taxes for Chinese people. We read about many Chinese traditions and the constant fear as the war continues overseas, but seems to get closer and closer. At school they children practice air-raid drills just in case. We also read about rationing and the consequences of a world at war.

There is much excitement in town when the American soldiers arrive and new friendships are made. 

Silvey is likeable and inquisitive and her diary makes a good and informative read about life in 1942 New Zealand. Silvey is determined to make something of her life and I bet she does.

You can find teacher notes here if you want to take this beyond a simple read.

Blackbird

By N. D Gomes

ISBN 9780008184896

Harpercollins NZ


I have just listened to the audio edition of this new Young Adult novel by N. D. Gomes. I generally listen to books while  driving to and from work. With Blackbird I found myself making excuses to go out driving just so I could hear the rest of the story. There was certainly a few extra trips to the supermarket.

Olivia disappeared the night the blackbird died.

It was New Years Eve the night that dead blackbirds descended, hours before fourteen year old Alex McCarthy’s sister Olivia went missing from a party.

Committed to finding out what happened to her sister, within the previously safe walls of their subarctic Orkney village, Alex knows that dishevelled, sometimes intoxicated Detective Inspector Birkens is her best shot.

 

This story jumps right in at the beginning and before you know it you are totally involved with Alex and her family. As things progress, sadly,  the story becomes a murder mystery. I love Alex and her sense of the world around her. Her pain and grief is raw and so real. She is so determined to find out what happened that she unwittingly puts herself in danger. We see a family grieving, each in their own way and this only makes it all so much more believable. The landscape too has its own place in the novel where island living has its own set of rules and where everyone knows each other.

I believe she will be just fine. I love the relationship Alex has with Detective Inspector Birkens, a rather flawed but real character, who is equally determined to find out what happened. And as with all good novels, there are secrets to be discovered. I kind of see Alex as one of those characters that I will stop and think about from time to time and hope that she is doing okay. I believe she will be just fine.

A top murder mystery for young adults.

 

Saying goodbye to Barkley

By Devon Sillett

Illustrated by Nicky Johnston

ISBN 9781925335965

EKbooks

 

As every parent knows, the loss of a pet can be traumatic for the whole family. Pets are very much part of family life and the death of such a beloved animal affects children in different ways. Saying goodbye to Barkley is a sweet and gentle picture book where Olivia deals with the loss of Barkley, her wonderful crime-fighter sidekick. Olivia and Barkley did everything together. Their friendship is real and her grief after his passing is also real. There is a happy ending which is great.

A good way to deal with death of a pet and open up discussions in a gentle way.

 

 

Dogman: Brawl of the wild

By Dav Pilkey

ISBN 9781338236576

Scholastic

Dogman is back again for more hilarious adventures. These graphic novel books are always in hot demand. I could buy twenty copies and still have children waiting to read them. They are brightly coloured graphic novels with quirky cartoonish illustrations and heaps of humour. Lots of tongue-in-cheek humour that parents will love too. Will he get a fair go in his latest adventure?

Yes, the same author and illustrator that brought you Captain Underpants brings you funny stories about Dogman, half dog, half human.

I am so clever

By Mario Ramos

ISBN 9781776572496

 


Everyone’s favourite wolf is back. The strong and handsome, if somewhat egotistical wolf, returns for another adventure. We first met him in I am so strong and I am so handsome. This time wolf wanders through the forest and is eager to eat Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother. Nothing seems to go in his favour and every time he does get close, someone or something from the fairy tale world gets in his way. Between the pages of this picture book we meet the likes of the three little pigs, the seven dwarfs and a few more characters that children will recognise. Great for a fun read.

Many teachers do lessons on fractured fairy tales and the delightful twist here with our humorous and familiar wolf, makes this a perfect choice to use in such lessons.

 

 Everyone walks away

By Eva Lindstrom

ISBN 978177651864

Frank is lonely. He doesn’t fit in or feel any sense of belonging. Everywhere he goes Milan, Tilly and Paul exclude him. You can see how much he wants to be part of their group and you can see their sideways glances at him but he always ends up walking away. There is certainly a sadness to this picture book and the illustrations highlight the feelings of isolation as Frank looks small compared to the landscape and his surroundings. The eyes reveal so much about the different character’s feelings which is not always easy to achieve in children’s book illustrations.

Frank goes home alone and makes special jam from his own tears. What happens next is also kind of special too. This book deals with issues of loneliness, exclusion and cliques and we can see the impact it has on Frank. It is an important book to share. 

One careless night

By Christina Booth

ISBN: 9781925381856

Walker Books Australia

 

Coming soon.    Coming soon.    Coming soon.

Really looking forward to this new picture book when it comes out in March.

I remember when it was announced last year that the last white male rhino had died. I actually cried knowing that we had watched this happen. No matter how hard we as a society tried to stop this happening, it was too little, too late and the consequences of our actions led to the death of the white rhino. This new picture book looks at the journey of the last thylacine in captivity. Sadly, there are no more of these animals either. The art work as shown in the trailer below, already looks stunning. The language is beautiful. I have a strong feeling that this book is going to haunt many a reader. Can’t wait!

“Where the mist swallows mountains and winds whisper through ancient trees, a mother and her pup run wild and free. They hunt, but they are also hunted. Carted away. Sold for bounty. And then, one careless night … The last thylacine is gone.”