Archive for April, 2021

The Rock from the Sky

By Jon Klassen

ISBN 9781406395570

Walker Books

If you have read any books by author and illustrator Jon Klassen, you will automatically recognise his quirky style, simplistic illustrations and familiar choice of colours and shades. That alone should tell you the book is going to be a winner.

The Rock from the Sky is his latest and like so many of his books there is the funny twist at the end. This is longer than your normal 32 page picture book, and it is broken up into five chapters, but every page is necessary to tell the story.

Turtle and Armadillo are friends and are busy working out the best spot to sit. Armadillo has a bad feeling about one spot so he moves away. A massive rock suddenly falls from the sky and after much humour, they sit on the top of this rock from nowhere, and imagine the future. As they imagine different things happening, the reader can see the potential danger coming their way. Turtle wanders off after a wee tiff and goes to another spot, but by now Snake has arrived and shares the rock with Armadillo. Turtle feels sad, even a little jealous, as is what happens to all friends from time to time. The ending is funny with the well-known wit and style we have come to expect from Klassen’s books.

The book deals with friendships, and imagination, and also fate, in his typical witty, dry sense of humour.

It is no wonder he is an award winning writer and illustrator. I love this.

Becoming Muhammad Ali

By James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

ISBN 9780316498166

Houghton Mifflin

I’m writing this review on a warm autumn afternoon in Christchurch, New Zealand and enjoying memories of the time I met Muhammad Ali and our short but amazing conversation. It was many years ago and I was living in London, doing my big OE; working in hotels for cheap accommodation and experiencing life on the other side of the world.

I was cleaning hotel rooms and working in the Forum Hotel, one of the biggest hotels in London at the time. Ali was no longer boxing but he was still doing the rounds working for charities and trying to make the world a better place. I was lucky enough to clean his room and when I was in the hall he came out and told me he had had an accident. Before I could say much, he stuck his hand out and showed me his finger, cut off and sitting in the palm of his hand. I looked up at him (I’m barely 5 foot) and back at his hand and I screamed. Not the best response, I admit and it wasn’t really that loud but he gently placed his hand on my shoulder and told me it was a fake finger, which you really could tell straight away. We both laughed after that. I think, his fame, his height and the suggestion that he had cut off one of his famous boxing fingers was just a bit much for this young girl from down under. It was and always will be one of my most treasured experiences. Despite his size and fame, there was a gentleness to him that I found quite humbling. So to read this book has been a total delight.

Getting to know the young Cassius Clay before he became famous, before he changed his name is kind of magical. It’s like watching a movie and knowing the ending, but having no idea how it started because you had missed the beginning. Patterson and Alexander have created a beginning that is easy to read. It is a mix of poetry and prose. Kwame does verse novels with impact and perfection and the poems here are beautifully written. Patterson’s writing shows the love and respect of a best friend and we feel it. Ali tells his side of growing up, knowing he wanted to be a champion boxer and just how he set out to achieve that. One of his best friends Lucius, aka Lucky, tells his version of events. His obvious sense of pride in his friend as he watched it all play out is evident as he shares his insights to the young Cassis Clay.

I love the illustrations throughout the book; graphic novel type that suit the tone of the book. I think one of the strengths of this book is that you can feel the love Ali has for his family, particularly his younger brother Rudy, and his friends. His determination and confidence is inspiring. This is not just a book about boxing, or a biographical account of his life; it’s about friendships, belief, faith and courage at a time when black people still had to sit at the back of the bus. I felt many emotions reading this book. Anger; for racism he had to endure in a time when segregation was everywhere. Hope; for his dreams to come through, and relief that he made it. Happiness; that I had the fortune to have been pranked by this amazing man.

I am so glad this book has been published and is out there for everyone to read, enjoy and get to know the young, Muhammad Ali. I don’t want to return the book to the library but I will (reluctantly) as I want others to enjoy it too.

Many different kinds of love : A story of life, death and the NHS

By Michael Rosen

ISBN 9781529109450

Penguin Random House UK

This is not a book for children, but it is about one of my favourite children’s writers so I am sharing my thoughts here. I want to start off first by thanking author Michael Rosen for sharing this incredibly personal account of his experience suffering from Covid-19. I use the word suffer because he certainly suffered.

His experience is told and shared with honesty, and a rawness that is palpable. At times I smiled when reading this book, but many other times I cried. His pain is real. So too, is his anger. For 47 days and nights Michael was in an induced coma. While he was still able to answer doctors but his condition worsening, they told him they wanted to put him in an induced coma. He asks…

‘Will I wake up?’

‘There’s a 50:50 chance.’

‘If I say no?’ I say.

‘Zero.’

And I sign.

He has no recollection of those days. The world, his world, according to Michael didn’t exist with him in it. You can tell how hard it has been for him to lose those days and everything they mean.

While he was out of this world, sleeping, attached to tubes, and machines doing all the work for him of staying alive, nurses at the hospital he was staying in recorded messages for him. They wrote notes, hello messages and recorded his state of being. Many of these messages are in this book. It not only shows just how much Michael means to so many people, but also, the caring and kindness of nurses in these terrible times we are living.

The writer follows these messages up with his own thoughts, poems and updates. He takes us on a journey through his hospital stay, rehabilitation, and continued recovery. The virus is real. In Michael’s case, he lost nearly two months of his life where he hovered between dying and living. He lost sight and hearing on his left side. He had to learn to walk all over again. His struggle is still going on but what we see in this book, is his determination to keep trying, and his courage, to not give up. It is obvious that his family are his strength and his wife, Emma, must be amazing.

This book is an eye-opener for an insight to people suffering from severe cases of Covid-19. It is profound in its honesty and his book serves to remind us all, that nothing is certain. This moment in time is what we have now. Nothing else is guaranteed.

I am incredibly grateful during this terrible pandemic, that I live in New Zealand. We have not suffered as those in so many other countries, including the UK, have suffered. We have mostly been able to go about our days normally. We have had lockdowns, and losses, but by world comparisons we are so fortunate.

Best wishes Michael on your continued recovery. Stay safe everyone, wherever you are.

White Rose

By Kip Wilson

ISBN 9780358376699

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Sophie Scholl is anti-Nazi political activist. The more she learns about Hitler and his regime, the more she is determined to make others aware of how dangerous he is but the risk is huge and the cost, if caught, unthinkable.

Based on the real life of Sophie, her family and friends, we read back and forth between the the time when Sophie first realised what was really happening to her neighbours, Jews and other innocent people, and the time when she is imprisoned for her own actions.

We learn of her strengths, fears, and those she loves. We learn about the atrocities and brutalities on Jews and anyone who disagrees with Hitler. We learn about the growing group of activists known as White Rose; a group of people who secretly print out information about the atrocities of Hitler’s regime. They are consequently considered as traitors of Hitler and are wanted. The story is well-researched, well written and has impact. I won’t forget about Sophie Scholl.

Sophie’s bravery to go against everything Germans are taught is inspiring and heroic. Along with Hans, one of her brothers, Sophie is eventually caught and imprisoned, yet even then, Sophie remains strong and dedicated to her need to make a difference to try and stop the war. Her belief is that

“…the world will see

and the world will know

and the world

will

make

them

stop.”

This is written in verse form which is the perfect way to tell Sophie’s story. It offers brevity and clarity and with all the white space on the page the poem and language becomes the focus. Powerful, haunting and insightful. This book and Sophie’s life will stay with me a long time.

Ellie Copter: Nee Naw and Friends

By Deano Yipadee

Illustrated by Paul Beavis

ISBN 9781775437048

Nee Naw is a little red fire engine who finds himself caught up in many adventures. There has been a number of picture books written about him and his numerous friends.

In this latest picture book Nee Naw can’t cross a broken bridge to put out a fire so he calls upon his friend Ellie Copter. Of course, like all good friends, Ellie comes to the rescue and saves the day. The book highlights the lesson not to play with fire.

Paul Beavis creates bright, bold and quirky illustrations which are instantly recognisable. There is no white space on the page, just corner to corner, bright illustrations set in the country landscape of hills and farmyards. Love the sheep!

As with previous books in this fun series, you can download or stream the song.

Oh, so many kisses!

By Maura Finn

Illustrated by Jenny Cooper

ISBN 9781775436829

Scholastic NZ

This delightful book first came out as a picture book with a lovely blue cover in 2018. Now it is available as a padded board book with a new cover. The cheeky smile of a baby stares out and we can’t help but smile.

It is a book of kisses. All sorts of kisses from so many faces. Family, friends, and animals all lovingly offer kisses to the new baby.

This is ideal for brand new babies who will no doubt squirm delightfully as readers plant kisses on them as they read the story.

Jenny Cooper’s illustrations are warm with just the right amount of cuteness. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, this is the perfect gift for a new mum too.

The Grinny Granny Donkey

By Craig Smith

Illustrated by Katz Cowley

ISBN 9781775436874

Also in time for Mother’s Day is the board book of The Grinny Granny Donkey. There is probably a copy of the original story of the Wonky Donkey in almost every home in New Zealand. The story continues now with Granny Donkey. The same sweet but funny illustrations, quirky sense of humour and repeated lines make this a story which will quickly become a familiar favourite with young children.

Even more so if read by a real granny or nana.

Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories

By Jeff Kinney

ISBN 9781761043956

Penguin Books

Jeff Kinney has written yet another book and his popularity keeps growing. He has a generation of children who read his books over and over again. This latest one has over a dozen short stories full of spookiness for those readers who enjoy a good scare. Be careful though, there just may be things that will haunt you.

Definitely one to grab hold of if you enjoy comedy, scary stories and comic illustrations. Check out the story about Rusty and Gabe the ghost. As Rusty finds out – ghosts never sleep!

I love the purple cover.

Katipo Joe: Spycraft Book 2

By Brian Falkner

ISBN 9781775436607

Scholastic NZ

Grrrrr!

So I have just finished the second exciting book in the Katipo Joe series about Joseph St George, a Kiwi teen working for the British Intelligence during World War Two and now I am desperate for the next book. Brian Falkner I hope you are frantically writing the next book because I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Joe is the son of diplomats and spent much of his youth living in Germany where he speaks perfect German and English making him a good choice for spy. His father is taken prisoner by the Gestapo in the first book and he soon realises his mother is a British spy and she goes missing. Joe does everything he can to find her and his strength and abilities capture the interest of the British where is recruited as a spy himself. His spy abilities and powers of deception see him eventually recruited into the Hitler Youth movement where he becomes one of 12 teens being prepared to work for Hitler.

We follow the daily routines, tests and dangers of the 12 teens who work diligently towards an end goal with the support of Eva Braun, companion to Adolf Hitler.

The book has everything. Action, death, survival, betrayal, all neatly packaged in a tense, thrilling fast-paced adventure that will keep you turning the pages. In order to infiltrate the cause, Joe must become someone else. Doing so is dangerous and one slip-up could result in capture and probable execution. The trouble with being a spy, is knowing who to trust, if anyone.

The places and background happenings are based on facts. Some of those facts are quite harrowing but Joe has to convince others he has the stomach to deal with them. Some scenes left me feeling quite yuck but the reality is, those things really did happen. Joe is believable. He is flawed, at times doubting his own ability, over thinking things and he makes mistakes. Costly mistakes which he struggles with.

This is a solid read, gritty and gory in places but definitely one to read and remember. Joe as a character continues to grow but so too, does his willingness to step over that line. Death is simply part of how life is during the war. Falkner is one of those writers who captures the reader and keeps them hooked. This is a definite young adult title and series.

Hurry up, Brian!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Chris Riddell

ISBN 9781529002461

Macmillan Children’s Books

First published in the 1860’s this timeless classic is still going strong. This new illustrated edition from Chris Riddell is a stunner and for me, this surpasses all other editions. I have long admired Riddell’s work, and this is no exception. I love it.

Gone are Alice’s long blonde locks of previous illustrators, now replaced with short, dark hair bringing a freshness and a new personality. The mad-hatter too, is different. The story however, is the same tale of a young girl who follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole into an amazing new world. It’s a world where everything is different, strange and quite bizarre. Talking animals, parties and misadventure where Alice gets into trouble.

This edition is just beautiful. I excitedly picked a copy up at my local library from the “new books” stand but I will have to get my own copy to keep. It’s not exactly a cheap purchase but it will be one well worth buying in this new hardback, illustrated collectors edition. It is one to treasure. I really don’t want to return my library book!

In this youtube clip, Chris Riddell reads the first chapter. As you listen, you can take a look at the illustrations, both colour, and black and white. The end papers show different characters and if you take the cover off the book you reveal another beautiful cover.

House of Hollow

By Krystal Sutherland

ISBN 9780143796992

Penguin Books

This book trailer has me very intrigued. Check out the storyline.

This has mystery, suspense and a fairytale quality to it for young adult readers. The story is about three sisters who go missing from the streets of Scotland but come back a month later with no memory of where they have been or what happened to them. Strange things start to happen including their hair turning white and their eyes turning black. The girls are both beautiful and dangerous and as the years pass, one of them goes missing yet again.

There is a competition if you live in Australia for a chance to win a copy of this new thriller. Follow penguinteenaus on Instagram to find out the details, but be quick as it ends on the 15th April. While I don’t live in Australia and can’t enter the competition, I will be looking out for this book as it sounds so exciting.