Archive for July, 2018

My Storee

By Paul Russell

Illustrated by Aska

ISBN 9781925335774

EKbooks

Published August 2018

 

The young boy of this new picture book is unnamed and therefore he represents many young boys and girls. He could be anyone. He struggles at school with his spelling. The rules of writing don’t make sense to him and when his teacher crosses out all the mistakes with a red pen making them stand out, it only reminds him that he is wrong. With each mistake and each big red cross his confidence suffers. 

He loves writing stories and they tumble around in his head day and night. He writes stories about dragons, unicorn detectives, robot pirates and even alien volcanoes. He writes his stories on paper which then piles up on his bedroom floor. At school however, the writing rules get in the way and his creativity is squashed. He worries so much about getting things right at school that the dragons disappear from his thoughts. It is not until the new teacher, Mr Watson, comes to his class that things begin to change. Mr Watson clearly understands the boys problems and encourages the boy to forget the rules and just write, write and write.

Most of us had that one teacher we remember fondly. The one who made a difference, who believed in us before we believed in ourselves. Mr Watson in this book, is that one special teacher. 

This is one of those picture books that is needed in every school. Children need to be encouraged to write; to be creative without the roadblocks placed in front of them. Many children are poor spellers, many are dyslexic, making it even harder to work through their school days. At the heart of the problem, there needs to be someone on their side. A teacher, a parent, someone special who will support their creativity. Spelling can be fixed up later. There are many tools children can use these days to help but we can’t let rules and regulations get in the way of a child’s imagination. To do so would be detrimental to their learning.

The illustrations are bright, colourful and full of fun. The spelling in the book is just as the little boy would spell things; Incorrect but still understandable. The last page where the words have the correct spelling suggests a hopeful, and happy outcome. The boy knows that after the story comes the editing and with support, he will only get better. It takes effort but we are left knowing he will be okay. This is a wonderful picture book for young and not-so-young readers about self-acceptance, creativity and hope. Yes, it is also about dyslexia but the overall message is learning to believe in yourself and not giving up.

 

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The Thunderbolt Pony

By Stacy Gregg

ISBN 9780008257019

HarperCollins

 


 

One of the things I love best about Stacy Gregg and her novels is the strength of her characterisation. It doesn’t take long before I am connected to her characters and right inside the story. Her latest novel is currently a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and well deserves to be there.

When a devastating earthquake hits Evie’s hometown of Parnassus on New Zealand’s South Island, she and the rest of the town are forced to evacuate. Evie’s injured mum is one of the first to be rescued by helicopter and Evie will be next. But when realises that she will be forced to leave her beloved pony, Gus, her dog, Jock, and her cat Moxy behind, she is determined to find another way. Before the rescue helicopter returns, Evie flees with Gus, Jock and Moxy in a race against time across difficult terrain to reach the port of Kaikoura, where she has heard that people will be evacuated by ship in three days’ time. Surely there will be space for her, Gus, Jock and Moxy there?

Evie suffers from OCD which at times almost cripples her with fear. It began when her father died of cancer and for reasons which become clear later, Evie blames herself and is suddenly caught up with constant daily rituals which threaten to takeover her life.

Evie is on her own with her animals crossing dangerous and broken bridges, swollen rivers and rugged land. It is her attempt to keep them all together and make it to safety and eventual evacuation by ship out of the earthquake zone and its devastation. The story and action are well-paced and the rollercoaster ride of emotions and fear is authentic.  I love how even Evie’s beloved animals have personalities of their own. As animals and her pets, they are very loyal to Evie and even to each other. Evie is determined and strong for her twelve years, but with her OCD her vulnerability shows through so it is nice to see how she manages being on her own in such dangerous and frightening times.

The story switches back and forward in time, much like the earthquakes with their tossing and turning of the ground. As the story is for younger readers, the publishers have used different fonts to show this break in time, a great device to use, making it easier to keep up with the story.

One thing I really loved was how the author used mythology to make connections. When being chased and physically challenged by a bull, Evie sees a Minotaur. Very cool indeed.

Another great read from author Stacy Gregg.

 

Sports are fantastic fun

By Ole Konnecke

ISBN 9781776572014

Gecko Press

August 2018

The first thing you notice about this new picture book by Ole Konnecke is the bright red cover with its bold title and hippo racing across the front. It is a book which already appeals before you even look inside. Sports are fantastic fun is a tribute to the different sports we can do.

The second thing you can’t help but notice is that it is funny. It has quirky illustrations showcasing the fun of cricket, horse riding, wrestling and so much more. There is even a section on caber tossing. Each sport comes with captions which are informative but many also make you laugh out loud. The sports activities are carried out by all sorts of animals which adds another aspect to this picture book.

 

This is a wonderfully funny crossover book; both fiction and non fiction with lots to learn and lots to laugh at on each page. This is fun to read alone, but much more fun reading together with someone special.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

Written by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twiss

Illustrated by E. G. Keller

ISBN 9781452173801

Chronicle Books

 

What a wonderful picture book.

Marlon Bundo is a rabbit who meets and falls in love with Wesley, “a big, fluffy bunny with the floppiest floppy ears and the bushiest bushy tail” Marlon has ever seen. They love hopping everywhere together and most of all they love each other. All their friends are keen to see them marry but the Stink Bug is in charge and says that boy rabbits can not marry boy rabbits. The Stink Bug (with more than a passing resemblance to President Trump) is a nasty bully who makes all the decisions for the people.

However, one friend decides to change things. Friendships and loyalty are strong themes in the book too.

Yes this book has a political point but it is so funny.  It is also about diversity, it’s about being able to love whomever you want to love and that no one can tell you how to live. It is delightfully funny, has absolutely the cutest illustrations ever and it is a very important picture book for children, and many adults too. Love it. Love the trailer here too.

Super excited to interview Bren MacDibble today. Even more excited to know that Bren is currently working on a new novel. Can’t wait.

Q1.How to Bee is a refreshingly unique story. Sadly it is possible that bees could become extinct. Have you always been interested in environmental issues and what was it that inspired you to write Peony’s story?

I’d been thinking about writing a farm kid story for a long time. Everyone always tells you to write what you know, and I knew about being a farm kid, but I want to write stories set in the future, and when I saw an article in the Huffington Post with big bright pictures of pear farmers in the Sichuan climbing their trees to hand-pollinate the flowers, I knew all the things I’d wanted to write, had come together. I’ve always been interested in the future and environmental issues are a huge part of that.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a free camp in Northern Territory surrounded by buzzing bees. A few were harrassing our white bus so I fed them water and sugar, because it’s very dry here, and then they told one million of their best friends and it seems we may never be able to step foot outside again!

Q2. Peony is loyal and at times feisty. Were you feisty at that age or how would you describe yourself at that age?

I think I was a feisty handful of terror until I hit around 9, and realised I wasn’t as brilliant as I imagined I was, so it was pretty easy for me to channel Peony’s single-minded determination to get things going her own way.

Q3. I cried several times while reading this book and that to me is the power of a good book. To connect so much with a character that you can feel their pain is an amazing skill. How hard was it to write the emotional stuff and how did you know it would make an impact with readers.

I cry every time I read it and I’ve read it dozens of times! I’d be feeling pretty foolish if I was the only one so I love to hear stories of people crying. Kids don’t normally cry over it. Just adults.

I never know who it will connect with. I try always to show the emotion. I wanted this book to feel real. I wanted young readers to connect with the physical sensations of emotions as well as understanding what had set Peony off rather than telling them how she felt outright. I had to think very carefully about the physicalities of emotion as well as staying true to Peony and what she holds close to her heart.

Q4. If you could have dinner with any character from any book, who would it be and why?

I’ll have dinner with Aissa from Wendy Orr’s ‘Dragonfly Song.’ That kid needs a good feed and a big hug, doesn’t she?

Q5. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer when I was young but kids like me didn’t become writers and I figured out no one gives you money for sitting around hammering on a keyboard and talking to yourself, so I gave it up and did jobs where people pay you money for sitting around hammering on a keyboard and talking on telephones for a long time, and later I did those jobs and tried to be a writer at the same time. Two jobs, like most writers.

Q6. Do you have a writing routine and a special place to write?

No. I live in a bus. When the bus is not moving, I write on a laptop in a seat… or sometimes sitting on a chilly bin or standing at a bench. There’s no routine, and a big fat zero on glamour in my life.

Q7. Your book How to Bee is shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. This is so exciting. How are you feeling about this?

I’m so excited. I thought you’d all forgotten about How to Bee. I was in NZ travelling around at Easter and I was more excited to see the bookshops and libraries than they were to see me! It means a lot that NZ is falling in love with Peony. I was a NZ farm kid, so this is the book’s home.

Q8. Do you have any advice for young writers?

Write honestly. Some writers do snazzy showy things and that’s kinda cool for a while, but you can touch people’s hearts when you write your story, using your language, and write about the things that matter to you.

Q9. Are you writing another novel at the moment and if so, any hints?

I’m almost finished another children’s book. We’re calling it Dry Running and it will be out early 2019… its Mad Max for kids, and it’s environmental again, dealing with the loss of a food group we all rely so heavily on, especially in NZ: Grass. Grass is grass, wheat, oats, corn, rice, bamboo, sugar cane, dairy, meat… all of it is gone in my book. Hungry yet?

I’m very concerned with food security, and there is a particularly mean fungus that tends to mutate every decade or so and do terrible damage to crops and grass.

So, against the backdrop of this famine, is a tale of two kids escaping the city to get to country relatives, on a dog cart towed by their five big doggos.

I got a grant to research this one from the Neilma Sidney Travel Fund and so I’ve been travelling around all over, visiting mushroom caves and grassland experts and watching dry dog mushing, where people harness scooters, bikes or carts to huskies and tear through forest trails. Such a great sport. Such happy doggos.

 

Thank you so much Bren for taking the time to answer my questions. Best of luck with the awards ceremony in August. Exciting times ahead.

How to bee

By Bren MacDibble

ISBN 9781760294335

Allen & Unwin

This book is an absolute wee treasure.

Peony or P as she is sometimes called, lives on a fruit farm with her beloved Gramps and her sister Mags. Bees are extinct so it is up to children to climb trees and pollinate the flowers. It is all Peony wants to do but she is too young and once again misses out on the chance to be a bee. Peony is determined that next time it will be her time, so she works hard and does what is needed to prove she has the skills to become a bee. Her mother Rosie who doesn’t live them, turns up one day and takes her away from everything she has ever known and everyone she has ever loved. Peony plans her escape with the help of a new friend.

Her life is not an easy one but I love her determination and her gutsy little ways. I love her strength and the loyalty she shows to those she cares about. For someone so young; nine years old, Peony is full of hopes and dreams and belief that you don’t need things and big houses, you just need family. Peony is vulnerable, yet feisty. Peony is real!

The strength of a good story is whether we connect with the characters and here, I fell in love with Peony and was with her all the way.

I was moved many times and yes, tissues were needed, but I was also left with a strong sense of hope that no matter what Peony might face next, she will cope. She has so much determination and kindness and it comes naturally. I found Peony so real as a character I just wanted to reach into the pages of this delightful book and give her a hug.

A well-written, moving story that so deserves its place as a finalist in the 2018 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Perfect for readers in the 8-12 year old group but ideal for anyone who wants good writing, good characters and a good book.

Lyla

Through my eyes. Natural Disaster Zones

By Fleur Beale

ISBN 9781760113780

Allen & Unwin

Shortlisted for the junior fiction awards in the 2018 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

On the 22nd of February 2011 thirteen year old Lyla is in the centre of town when an earthquake devastates the city of Christchurch. In town because of a teacher union meeting where secondary schools are closed, Lyla and her friends are faced with absolute terror as a massive earthquake thunders beneath their feet. The ground shakes so violently that buildings all around them tumble and fall with the frenzied force of the shaking. They separate in an effort to go home but Lyla gets caught up helping injured people and this is where we see how strong Lyla is as a character.

The novel focuses on the next few months and the impact of the continued aftershocks, damaged houses and day-to-day life living in a munted city.

It was a terrible time for the people of Christchurch and Canterbury and Fleur Beale has captured many of the issues people had to deal with or learn to overcome. Lyla is mature beyond her years and it is her family, friends and neighbours that become more important than things. Supporting each other, even the unlikable bully Matt is what matters most and it is these relationships which are the strength of the novel.

Lyla remains calm in the face of it all but eventually, she needs to confront the reality of everything she has been through and everything she has witnessed.

Having lived through every one of these earthquakes myself, this novel brought back a lot of memories and not all of them pleasant ones. A reminder that disasters often bring us closer together.

Where’s Kiwi Now?

Illustrated by Myles Lawford

ISBN 9781775435266

Scholastic NZ


This new search-and-find book is great for all ages. A hardback, portrait size picture book full to the brim, cover to cover, with bold, bright illustrations of the different places Kiwi has visited. Kiwi has gone everywhere; from ice age, to pirates and even outer space.

Each brightly illustrated double page spread has a theme and readers are encouraged to search for his friends. There’s Sporty Sheep, Gumboot Guy, Wacky Wizard, Tricky Tuatara and even Mystery Moa. And of course, readers need to find Kiwi but he is very good at hiding as I’m struggling to find him. The last two pages give you lists of other hidden items or creatures to find. This is perfect for travelling or for friends to share together, or just any child who loves a challenge.

Great for the holidays too and with some winter days ahead of us, a perfect time to find a copy now. With over 800 things to find, this will certainly be a book to pick up again and again until every single item is found.

Selma

By Jutta Bauer

ISBN 978177652120

Gecko Press

 

Julia Marshall publisher at Gecko Press says Selma “is a small book about a big question! A mini hardback for all ages that celebrates a good life”. And indeed it is wee celebration of the good things in life, which sadly, we often take for granted.

 

A wise ram is asked the question, “What is happiness”. and his answer is to tell the story of Selma, a sheep who is happy and content with her life. 

Selma loves the day to day things: eating, sleeping, spending time with her children, talking to the neighbours and getting a little exercise as well. Selma is asked if she would do anything different if she had a million dollars. I’m not going to tell you what she decides but I will say, it is a timely message for us all. Life is too short and sometimes we need to forget about the busyness of the day and just take the time to relax and be with friends and family.

This is lovely new edition gift book, full of happiness to share, is available now.

Finding Granny

By Kate Simpson

Illustrated by Gwynneth Jones

ISBN 9781925335699

EKBooks

Edie loves her grandmother. They have so much fun together but then one day Granny has a stroke and suddenly everything changes. As with many stroke victims, Granny has many problems to overcome. Her words are mixed up and her face is now lopsided. Edie waits in the hospital corridors when she and her mum go to visit as she doesn’t want to see her Granny the way she looks now. Edie struggles to cope with how much Granny has changed. No longer the strong, independent, funny Granny but a frail dependent woman lying in a hospital bed.

This picture book takes a gentle look at strokes and how they affect the sufferer and those around them. Bold and bright illustrations help give the story a strong sense of hope, making it a good choice for adults to share with children who may have to confront the reality of someone in their lives who may have had a stroke. A challenging story but one that is both sweet and hopeful at the same time.

 

 

Pieces of you

by Eileen Merriman

ISBN 9780143770473

Penguin NZ

 

Rebecca McQuilten is 15 and has just moved to a new city where she is the newcomer in a school where everyone knows each other already. Wanting to fit in she accepts party invitations and goes places when asked. It is at one of these parties that something happens, something she keeps to herself and struggles to deal with. Her way of coping creates a whole new set of problems.

Becs meets Cory, the boy next door, and soon finds herself in an on-again off-again sort of relationship. He is just the person she needs to help her build up her confidence and believe in herself but he has demons of his own.

It is good to read a book about real issues, real relationships and struggles that teens do deal with everyday. The characters are flawed but real. Their problems and insecurities remind us of what it is to be a teenager again. The writing is just the right pace. No rushing or skipping over things but takes issues without glorifying them or making them more than they are. At the heart of the novel, for me, is the relationships and learning to read other people and understand that everyone has demons and we all need support at sometime in our lives. This book does deal with issues of self-harm but it is handled well and certainly not the focus of the novel. Relationships are the real focus and that is a good reminder to us all; that people matter.

Currently short-listed for the Best First Book Awards in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Find out more here.