Archive for March, 2021

The last bear

By Hannah Gold

Illustrated by Levi Pinfold

ISBN 9780008411282

Harpercollins

Oh my goodness, what a wonderful story. Beautifully written and with a gentle tone that adds to the warmth of the narrative.

April is eleven years old. Her mother died when she was small and her memories are limited, but she does remember her mother’s love. Her scientist father is caught up in his grief and ignores April so she feels she is loosing him too. In an effort to change things her father wants to spend time together, just the two of them, so he accepts a six-moth job on Bear Island, a remote outpost in the Arctic, though there are no actual polar bears on the island anymore. There is only the cold, icy landscape and each other. But the job takes more and more of his time and April is even more alone than when they lived in the city. April spends her time exploring the icy cold vastness of Bear Island and it is not long before she discovers there is in fact one last polar bear on the island, but he is hurt and afraid.

April is brave and caring. It is her determination and courage that enables her to interact with the bear and beyond all possibilities, form a relationship with this wild animal. Their relationship is amazing. They learn to understand each other and their different needs. I adore April. I want to hug her, hold her tight. I want to climb on the bear’s back and ride with them through the Arctic seasons. I believe in both April and the bear.

There is a message here about the damage we are doing to this planet and it is an important message but when you read about April and the bear, you can’t help but want to make a difference and help. We do need to worry about the melting ice caps, polluted seas and the plastic waste and this story will make you stop and think but it is also full of hope, all because of the bravery of one young girl.

The story is also about grief and how all-consuming it can be. Sometimes, we can get caught up in grief and forget there are other people around us that still need to be loved. April and her father are struggling through this difficult journey, but again, there is hope.

There are many beautiful illustrations that add to the impact of the story. Their haunting quality shows the beauty of the relationship between the bear and April.

I was moved to tears but I won’t tell you when; I’m sure you’ll work that out for yourself. The last bear, is an absolutely beautiful, heart-warming story that will stay with me. I loved it. Totally loved it. Perfect for 9 years and up. This may be the author’s debut novel, but I am sure there will be many more and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

I believe this would be a wonderful read-aloud for classes year 5 and up but also I think it would make an ideal novel for a student book club in schools. Trying to stop a group of readers in a book club from reading on ahead and finishing the book would be bit of a problem though as it is a book you don’t want to put down.

The King’s Nightingale

By Sherryl Jordan

ISBN 9781775436560

Scholastic NZ

I loved this from the start and right up until the very last page. It is epic and powerful.

Elowen and her family live on the Penhallow Isles. Life is simple and she is happy, especially with her blossoming relationship with Heath. Then pirates arrive, burning houses, capturing many people, including Elowen, her father, brother Fisher and Heath. They are stripped naked and kept below deck, overcrowded, hungry and enslaved. After a harrowing journey where not everyone survives, they finally dock and are immediately sold as slaves. Elowen is separated from her brother but makes a promise to him that one day she will find him and they will return home together, safe and free.

Eleowen’s journey as a slave is difficult but she has a gift. Her ability to sing like a nightingale makes her a favourite with the King but that brings many other problems. Sherryl Jordan’s writing keeps you wanting to read the next chapter and the next to see what fate awaits Eleowen. The story involves slavery, betrayal, oppression, inequality of gender, survival, and even forgiveness.

Eleowen dreams of freedom but just what is freedom and what is the cost of that freedom? Elowen is strong, but her mistakes and risks have severe consequences. Her desire for freedom is so strong but at what cost?

At the beginning of this YA novel there is a list of main characters which is very useful. There is also a glossary of the Rabakeshi words Eleowen learns in her country. And a map. Who doesn’t love a map in books! This is a book I believe will make headlines. Gritty, strong characters, quality writing and an excellent story.

My name is Henry Fanshaw : The true story of New Zealand’s bomber squadron

By Gillian Torckler

Illustrated by Adele Jackson

ISBN 9781988538631

Bateman Books

Henry Fanshaw is a teddy bear but one with an extraordinary tale to tell. Henry was the mascot for the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No 75 Squadron flying in the dangerous times of World War Two.

Henry tells us of the people he met, the dangers they faced, and tragedies they saw. He tells it through his eyes. He was there after all, throughout those harrowing times. I enjoyed learning about the planes and the men flying them. I especially liked reading about one particular very brave soldier; Sergeant James Ward but I won’t tell you what he did as you can read that yourself, but I will say, he was incredibly brave and well deserved the Victoria Cross medal he received.

I love that I live just 5 minutes away from the museum where Henry Fanshaw now spends his time looking at visitors who stand and wonder why he is so important. This book will tell you just how important Henry was and still is today. A reminder of the brave soldiers who fought to keep us all safe, all those years ago.

This is informative and an enjoyable read. The illustrations have a retro feel to them with muted colours and images reflecting the 1940’s. I love the end papers with the fields at the front with the shadow of the plane flying overhead, and the clouds at the back. Also at the back are facts about the different planes and some of the important people at the time.

Certainly a book to recommend to students wanting to know about World War Two and one of New Zealand’s most famous squadrons.

Snapper : the real story

By Annemarie Florian

Illustrations by Alistair Hughes

ISBN 9781760793340

New Holland Publishing

Snapper: the real story is about the life cycle of snapper. It is told through clear but simple text and brightly coloured illustrations. It is an informative look at how and where snapper live and the dangers that surround them.

The language is lyrical with lots of alliteration which makes it fun to read as well as being a useful resource when studying the ocean.

Sauntering through sponge garden sculptures.

At the back of the book there is more detail about the problems of over-fishing, plastic and pollutions and includes many useful links to other resources for ocean studies.

This is where I stand

By Philippa Werry

Illustrated by Kieran Rynhart

ISBN9781775433842

Scholastic NZ

The subject matter of This is where I stand is the statue of a World War One soldier who stands tall and proud as he looks out over the town. He tells of all he has seen over the many years since he was put on the plinth. He shares his memories of the war, gunfire and poppies in fields. He shares tales of families walking through the park where he stands. All that he remembers is shared, the good and the bad.

There is so much to love about this book. The language is poetical and just beautiful.

I am in the wind and the rain and the sun.

I am in the birdsong and green leaves and the moonlight.

The illustrations are stunning. The soft tones have a haunting quality. Together, the language and art work make this a beautiful book. Perfect not just for ANZAC Day but any day. This should be in every school library. To make the most of this sophisticated picture book do check out the teacher notes here.

There’s a bear in the window (English and Maori)

by June Pitman-Hayes

Illustrated by Minky Stapleton

ISBN 9781775437154

Scholastic NZ

Covid-19 and the first lockdown saw many thousands of bears in windows all over New Zealand. It began as something fun to do and challenged families to go for walks and look at everyone’s windows to see if a bear or two appeared. I had bears in my own front window and I smiled on my walks as I checked out other homes. Big bears, little, single bears and windows with a house load of bears. Author June Pitman-Hayes has created a story around the idea of bears in windows but is asking us as readers to think about what the bears might see as they look out of their windows. We see New Zealand wildlife and people going about their day. There is a focus on colour so this would be very useful in schools and pre-schools when looking at colours. At the end of the story there is the opportunity to read it over again in Te Reo Māori. You can also download or stream the story as a song version. The picture book has brightly-coloured glossy pages and with a bear as the main character, young ones will be sure to enjoy this new story.

Duggie the buggy

By Sam Wallace

Illustrated by Shaun Yeo

ISBN 9781775436300

Duggie the Buggy is feeling a little down. Things are not as they used to be. He has flat tyres and his paint is all faded. Newer cars are cleaner, faster and more appealing than he is, so he ends up feeling unwanted. Duggie is even left outside to rust away. Thank goodness for true friends because Ronnie the Rocket comes to the rescue and shows Duggie that things can change and things do get better. Together they come up with a plan. If you want to know what Ronnie does to help his friend, you will have to find a copy of this book which is out now from Scholastic. This is a sweet, hopeful picture book about not giving up. It encourages us to remember to aim high and shoot for the stars.