Archive for April, 2019

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