Archive for the ‘Intermediate’ Category

 

Abel Tasman; Mapping the Southern Lands

By Maria Gill

Illustrated by Marco Ivancic

ISBN 9781775435099

Scholastic NZ

More than 300 years ago, a young Dutch sailor named Abel Tasman stood on the prow of a ship he and his crew had sailed across wild, uncharted waters. In the distance, through a shroud of mist, the rugged outline of steep hills rose from the ocean waves. Could this be Terra Australis – the great southern land? 

Having read a number of Maria’s books over the years the one thing that stands out is the depth and standard of her research. The information in her books is always well planned, informative, yet easy to read.

Maria maintains this standard in her latest picture book about Abel Tasman. It is a biography in story book format which will appeal to younger audiences.

We begin with Abel as a young boy listening to tales of the sea and his desire to be a sailor. We follow him on his journeys as he later sails the seas and into a world of adventure and exploration.

We are with Abel in stormy seas, when under attack, and even with an earthquake. The scary thing is I have just been re-reading this book, and was on the page about an earthquake they had felt when really freakishly, we have just had our own 4.1 quake here in Christchurch as I write. That is just a bit too scary and too freakish for my liking. I don’t think I will re-read the page about a volcano erupting, but it is there in the book if you want to know more about Tasman’s adventures.

Maria has collaborated once again with illustrator Marco Ivancic to produce another quality book. His illustrations have that  photo-realism quality making everything believable. The maps on the end pages are a perfect backdrop to the history of the world when Abel Tasman was exploring. The pages towards the end of the book provide extra details and facts to give more understanding to Abel’s story. Abel Tasman: mapping the Southern lands is another winning collaboration between author, illustrator and publisher.

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How NOT to stop a kidnap plot

By Suzanne Main

ISBN 9781775434801

Scholastic NZ

 

Michael is on a mission. It is one he is unprepared for and actually doesn’t want, especially as the mission is to save his sworn enemy, Angus, from being kidnapped. In his attempt to avert the kidnapping, Michael and his best friend Elvis follow whatever leads they can find. Some of the leads get them in to trouble and involve breaking a few laws. While not exactly wanting to end up as criminals, they do have to decide how far they will go in order to keep Angus safe from the kidnappers. They do of course have to work out who the kidnappers are and that could be almost anyone. 

This is a great read with lots of action, a little bit of revenge that doesn’t quite happen the way Michael wants it to happen, humour and most importantly, likable and believable characters. Michael is not perfect, but he is genuine and a good friend to have. Despite some initial bullying and a definite dislike of Angus, Michael realizes that sometimes the best thing to do is the right thing. A good read for ages 8 plus. Thoroughly enjoyed the journey and meeting Michael and his friends.

Michael and Elvis have had other adventures in Suzanne’s previous novel How I alienated my Grandma. I confess it is a book I haven’t read yet but after enjoying this novel, I will definitely be looking to read their other adventures.

Wishtree

By Katherine Applegate

ISBN 9781250043221

Feiwel & Friends

Macmillan Publishers

Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

This is a gentle, sweet and heart-warming book and I fell in love with Red and all the creatures and birds that inhabit Red’s branches and hollows. Red is old, more than two hundred rings old and very wise. Red has seen so many things happen over the years but none have tempted Red to break the forbidden rule more than what is happening now. I loved the language and the subtle messages. The book may be just over 200 pages long but the chapters are very brief, sometimes only a page long and there are some lovely illustrations but it really is a quick read with a powerful message.

There is an old Irish custom where people can leave wishes on a tree and for Red that has been happening in May for many, many years. Most wishes are superficial but others are heart-achingly honest like Samar’s, the young Muslim girl in this story. We are witness to racism, ignorance, wanting to belong, loneliness but most importantly, hope.

I wanted to hug Samar and tell her everything was going to be okay. I wanted to sit beneath Red’s big branches and watch the animals and birds coming and going. I wanted Red to be in my backyard.

This is one of those rare books that needs to be in every school and read to every child. Learning to accept each other and our differences is at the core of this book. A book that deserves reading over and over. I bought this book for my school library but will be buying my own copy as well. I may also have to buy multiple copies for our book club as there is so much to think about  and so much to love. It is a wee gem that warms the heart.

 

The trailer to this book is just beautiful.

 

The Wizards of Once

By Cressida Cowell

ISBN 9781444939576

 

This is the story of a young boy Wizard and a young girl Warrior who have been taught since birth to hate each other like poison; and the thrilling tale of what happens when their two worlds collide.

The cover alone of this magical book just beg you to pick it up and turn it over and hold it close. Purple, blues, blacks and white and the rustic and fiery title stand out and immediately you just know this is going to be a good book. And it is good book. A very good book.

Cressida Cowell long known for her wonderful How to train your dragon series has come up with another wonderful series. Her illustrations are both comical and dark. Some make you smile, others have a haunting quality to them making you just a little afraid (or a lot!).

The story grabs your right from the prologue.

Once there was Magic. It was a long, long time ago, in a British Isles so old it did not know it was the British Isles yet, and the Magic lived in the dark forests.

So the setting is already becoming pictures in our head. We know we are going into a dark and scary place where anything is possible.

When Xar and Wish meet they immediately hate each other and very much distrust each other but suddenly they are forced to work together for there is evil happening. Witches have returned and witches are bad, dangerous and to be feared. This book has it all. Magic, fantasy, pace, danger, adventure and humour to remind the reader they are actually safe even though the world they are reading about seems so real and scary.

Xar is arrogant, a little selfish but also a little sad and flawed which is why we can’t help but like him. His father shows only disappointment towards him as his magic has not started as is expected of a boy his age. Wish is a warrior but lacks any warrior-like standard her mother Queen Sychorax demands so is also a disappointment. It is a shared sadness at not being quite good enough that Xar and Wish have in common. Both have something to prove and it is this connection that draws them together despite their hate for each other and the different worlds they come from.

There are many other characters involved as both Xar and Wish each have their own companions. I do particularly love Squeezjoos a little hairy fairy belonging to Xar. He is funny and brave and in danger mostly, which is part of the whole adventure, trying to save Squeezjoos life.

This is a really good read which has been beautifully produced. Large text size, lots of illustrations to break up the text and lots of little bits in between like the Spelling book pages. The map of the Warrior Empire and Wizard Wildwoods is also a wonderful treat. I do love a book with maps as they add so much and help me build pictures in my mind as I travel with the characters.

Great fantasy novel for readers aged nine up. Can’t wait for the next book – really can’t wait!

The Spectacular Spencer Gray 

by Deb Fitzpatrick

ISBN 9781925164671

Fremantle Press

 

Spencer Gray is just an ordinary kid, but he manages to get into some pretty extraordinary situations. When Spencer stumbles on a sinister operation in the bush, his life goes into overdrive – midnight rescue missions, super-endangered animals, hair-raising adventures. To survive, Spencer will need to pull off something spectacular.

 

If you want a sneak peek you can read a sample chapter here.

The trouble with a good adventure story is that reading a sample chapter isn’t enough. It just makes you want to read the whole book and this sampler does exactly that. I now want to find out what happens to the characters throughout the rest of the book.

Teaching notes for extended exploration of this novel can be found here.

You can also check out the trailer for The Amazing Spencer Gray which is the first book about Spencer. A series worth checking out for adventure, danger and a bit of fun along the way.

Virginia Wolf

By Kyo Maclear

Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

ISBN 9781911496038

Book Island

 

What an absolutely charming and thought-provoking picture book. Gorgeously illustrated with careful consideration given to the choice of colours to help show the different moods and feelings of young Virginia. 

Some days Virginia feels wolfish and growls at her sister to stop making noise as everything is just too much for her. The sound of teeth being brushed is too much and even the birds chirping is too noisy and distracting. Such sadness is difficult for Virginia to live with and all she wants is to curl up in her bed and be left alone. For Vanessa it is painful to watch as her sister crawls slowly into a world of her own. But sisterly love is strong and Vanessa tries everything to help her. Beautifully written but just as important, it is great to see the topic of depression being discussed. More important than anything is the lasting impression of hope. Hope that things will get better and they do. Perfect ending. 

 

Meet Virginia, who is feeling particularly wolfish today. Somehow, her sister Vanessa must help her feel better. But how can one girl save another from turning into a grumpy, gobbling wolf? The only way to find out is to pick up a paintbrush and see where your imagination takes you.

 

Loosely inspired by sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, this stunning picture book is a testament to the power of creativity to inspire and heal, and to the loving bond between siblings.

1917 Machines of War

Kiwis at War series

By Brian Falkner

ISBN 9781775432807

Scholastic NZ

It is 1917 and the Great war is a jagged scar across the face of Europe. Soldiers cower in mud-filled trenches, hurling bullets across the war-torn landscape. Above them flies 17-year-old New Zealander Bob Sunday, of the Royal Flying Corps. Before long, Bob finds himself flying against the great German air aces, including the infamous Red Baron, as their warplanes whirl above the battlefields of Arras, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

Over the years, I have read many children’s and young adult war war books but none have focused on war from a pilot’s point of view. It is illuminating to see how World War 1 played out in the skies above the battlefields, from the eyes of pilot Bob Sunday. There were so many things I didn’t really know about. I was surprised by the debate over parachutes which becomes part of Bob’s many conversations. The descriptions of the different planes and the people involved provides a well-researched account of the events at the time.

It is great how we get to see the impact of war from pilots from different sides of the war. Enemies at times, showing a sense of respect for each other as they battle for the skies.  Bob Sunday arrived fresh from New Zealand with revenge in his heart but over the year you can see his growing maturity and change of ideals.  Author Brian Falkner tells it straight but I did find myself smiling a few times over clever and witty dialogue. We know from our history books that war was brutal and a tragic waste but through Bob Sunday’s eyes we see it first-hand.

A smell began to assail my nostrils. An unbreathable stench of death and decay. I held my breath as long as I could, trying not to gag, but eventually I had to breathe in and waves of nausea and dizziness almost overwhelmed me. I don’t know what I was crawling through …

Bob is a believable and likable protagonist facing up to his fears and living in incredible times.

I think this would make a great read for a novel study for older students or a book club choice. Do make use of the teacher notes here.

This is the fourth title in the Kiwis at War series with a final book to be published in 1918. Each book looks at a different year of the First World War.

The ANZAC tree

Written and illustrated by Christina Booth

ISBN 978160154226

Omnibus Books an imprint of Scholastic Australia

In 1916 two brothers planted two trees on their farm. They then headed far away to France to fight in the Great War. The ANZAC Tree tells the story of a century of Australian generations who went to war, and the story of those who were left behind.

Beautifully illustrated, this new picture book, based on a real family, starts with the planting of two trees by two brothers on the farm just before they depart to fight in the First World War. The story moves through the generations and different wars. The sepia tones and old photographs at the beginning of the book create an historical look at the time when war broke out.

The illustrations take on a brighter feel as we move through the generations and changing times.

I love how generations of children introduce themselves in a journal format with photos and handwritten notes. They each tell their stories and how the different wars have impacted on them and their families, descendants of the two brothers at the beginning of the story.

Though times have changed, two things remain.

Firstly, and sadly, war continues in many parts of the world.

Secondly but wonderfully, the ANZAC tree still stands, proud and symbolic.

Christina Booth has provided us with a great book to not just read about wars but to show the impact on families and those left behind. Great book to use in class and open up discussion on many levels.

This is so cool. Fans of Captain Underpants will love this.

Hugely popular series by Dav Pilkey and Scholastic Publishers. Do read the books first though.  This really is a funny series that will encourage children to keep reading and wanting the next book in the series.

Torty and the soldier : a story of a true WW1 survivor

By Jennifer Beck

Illustrated by Fifi Colston

ISBN 9781775434849

Scholastic

 

 

 

Meet Torty! Shes one tough little tortoise with a beat-up shell and some missing toes. Torty survived a great war that raged in Europe 100 years ago. Torty was rescued back then by a young Kiwi soldier. She is a World War One survivor.

This is a beautiful and impressive picture book but it goes beyond a simple read. Jennifer Beck tells us the story of an injured and very lucky-to-be-alive tortoise rescued during World War 1. The fact that this tortoise is still alive today, over 100 years later is remarkable, especially as she endured many more brushes with death over the years.

This is a story of longevity and how something good came from such a terrible time. New Zealand Soldier Stewart Little first met the tortoise when he watched in horror as she was being run over by a French gun wagon. His rescue of the tortoise, which he later named Torty, began a relationship which would last decades. As somewhat of a stowaway, Torty arrived in New Zealand where she had even more dangerous and almost deadly adventures.

This is also a story of hope and how one little act of kindness can change lives.

The illustrations are simply beautiful. The cover impacts on the reader immediately with nurturing hands reaching out and cradling Torty so we know she is the focus of the story. The cover layout is reminiscent of a headline from a newspaper declaring something important, something we all need to know. The end pages hold maps showing us the voyage from Salonika to New Zealand shores, adding a touch of sophistication to the picture book. I love the mix of full-page illustrations and those with lots of white space. This creates a mixture of illustrations capturing certain moments throughout Torty and the soldier’s lives. The sepia tones at the beginning with more colour added as the story moves through the years is a great way to show children and students how time moves on, emphasizing the remarkable fact that Torty is still alive today.

This really is a stunning book and even though young readers can read and enjoy this story on their own, I feel it will reach a much wider audience as it will open up discussion on so many levels.

Check out there teacher notes here. Well worth a look. I will be using this book and the teacher notes with my year six book club later this term.

Love it.  A must-have for any school library.

Bastion Point: 507 Days on Takaparawha

My New Zealand Story

By Tania Roxborogh

ISBN  9781775434795

Scholastic NZ

 

bastion

 

This is a moving account of the realities of life during the 1977 – 1978 occupation of Bastion Point. Erica Tito tells us just what it was like when her father uprooted the family and joined  protestors in Auckland. A protest that was only supposed to be a few days or weeks at most, turned in to 507 difficult and challenging days for everyone involved. The luxuries of normal life, like running water and electricity have been left behind and Erica even enrolls in the local school which brings a new set of problems.

As Erica realises their stay could go on for some time she becomes increasingly desperate to return home to her horse Silver. A horse she is working hard to pay off and make her own.

From the start there are clashes between the protesters, Nga¯ti Wha¯tua elders, police and politicians and we begin to see things from Erica’s point of view, which is both child and Maori. It is Erica’s voice we are hearing and through her eyes we see history happening.

I love how we see Erica’s growing understanding of the situation and the realisation that all of us are guilty of believing in stereotypes. I confess that there were things I just never knew or perhaps ignored, about the days of the Bastion Point occupation and through this novel I am forced to confront the truth and that is not always easy for anyone.

Author Tania Roxborogh provides us with a well thought-out and well researched novel aimed at year five and up. This is the latest in Scholastic’s My New Zealand series which highlights history through diary entries of young children.

I was so lucky to go to Tania’s book launch a few weeks ago. It was great to see her planning and her research and to know how hard she worked to get this right. And she did!

Teacher notes can be found here.

The some from somewhere else

By A F Harrold

Illustrated by Levi Pinfold

ISBN 9781408853368

Bloomsbury 2016

 

9781408853368

What an absolutely perfect collaboration of author and illustrator. A.F. Harrold weaves the most moving story about Frank, a young girl who is tormented by bullies. On one occasion, trapped by the bullies,  she is rescued by Nick, the class weirdo. At first Frank is reluctant to have anything to do with Nick, the big, smelly strange boy but she is also intrigued by the most beautiful strange music coming from somewhere in his house. Frank is determined to find out what secrets are held in Nick’s house and just where the music comes from.

Frank is also scared of what people will think of her if they knew she had even been inside Nick’s house. It is after all full of fleas, or so everyone tells her.

So begins a story of friendships, betrayal, bullying, fear and a need to right wrongs. The need to fit in and find a sense of belonging is strong at any age. Heck, we struggle with this as adults but here, the author has portrayed the realities of this struggle thoughtfully while bringing us hope at the same time.

I was totally drawn in by the characters and their vulnerabilities. Even though the story has dark undertones at times, there is a gentleness that makes the story real and easy to connect with.

The illustrations are simply beautiful. They are haunting and dark and perfectly match the mood of this novel. The cover is just stunning. A beautifully produced book.

This is ideal as a read aloud for years 5 up but also great for students who just want a good story to read on their own.

For those who might use this book as part of a book club, it is good to see teacher notes here to extend the depth and understanding of this wonderful story.

The impossible boy

By Leonie Agnew

ISBN 9780143309062

Penguin Random House, New Zealand

 

boy

 

This is one of those books that draws you in, keeps you going and makes you believe in the impossible.

                          Vincent Gum finds six-year-old Benjamin moments after an explosion and leads him through wrecked city streets to the children’s shelter. Vincent isn’t interested in hanging around to babysit, but by the time they arrive he knows that Ben, with his crazy ideas and weird imaginary games, won’t survive ten minutes there without someone to look out for him. For one thing, something sinister lurks in the dormitory cupboard, waiting to get out.

Vincent’s tough and smart. He can walk through walls and make a dead tree flower. But to the rest of the world he’s invisible — non-existent. That’s because, in his moment of need, Ben invented him.

At the children’s shelter Ben is mixed in with other children and orphans. Some accept him straight away but a few suspect he may be a little crazy, especially when he keeps talking to his invisible friend Vincent. While the children struggle with Ben and Vincent’s antics,  I found myself totally believing in him. In fact, by the time I had finished this delightful, creative and imaginative book, I was feeling very motherly and proud of young Vincent and what he had to overcome in order to protect Ben and his companions.

I think we all need a Vincent in our lives.

I do suspect this will find itself on award lists. This is a top-notch book, wonderfully written, with intriguing, believable and lovable characters. With war always in the background of everything the children see and do, this work of fiction offers much more to think about than just an imaginary friend.

I do think this would be an ideal read-aloud and perfect for book clubs.

Bruce wants to go faster

By Dreydon Sobanja

Illustrated by Murray Dewhurst

Foreword by Sir Colin Giltrap

ISBN 9780473360627

Inspired kids

 

 

bruce

 

I confess I do not know one end of a car from the other – well maybe I do, but that is about all I know of cars so when I began reading this book I was totally surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I was taken along for the ride with Bruce and loved every minute of it and even learned a few things about cars too.

Bruce McLaren was no different to most 11 year old boys. He had dreams just like everyone else and for Bruce he wanted to go fast and not just fast, but faster than anyone else. His dreams hit a massive hurdle in the name of Perthes Syndrome which left him spending two years with his legs in plaster and confined to a special Bradshaw Frame bed. He spent those two years in the Wilson Home for Crippled Children but he never gave up. He would spend time racing around the wards at night in his gurney when the nurses had gone home. His legs were in plaster but also held in place at the ankles so that he basically had no movement at all, as his legs were kept in one position all that time.

I couldn’t imagine being confined to bed for two years and then even after his release from the home  he was confined to bed. He even had to learn to walk all over again. However, he didn’t let it get him down. Instead he made plans for racing and for his future.

He later went on to become one of the world’s best drivers and car designers and winning races as he sped around the tracks.

One of the highlights for me with this book, is that Bruce overcame so many hurdles, and never gave up. Instead he kept striving to be better and faster. And he succeeded. He still remains today as one of New Zealand’s most famous names in the Motorsports industry.

There are so many highlights for Bruce that to name them all here would spoil the reading of this wonderful biography.

This really is a very special book about overcoming obstacles, daring to dream when the world seems against you, being resilient and believing in yourself.  I do think this is one for teachers to take notice of specially with the excellent glossary at the back. It is a glossary with a difference. Rather than explaining terms in the book, it explains concepts about what it takes to become whatever it is you want to be. Being brave, being ready to start again, change your dreams and mostly never giving up.

Perfect for every school library, but also a great gift to give to someone special. An inspiring book encouraging children to believe in themselves.

Small things

By Mel Tregonning

ISBN 9781742379791

Allen&Unwin

9781742379791-2

 

I have had this book at home for some time now but I have struggled to write this review. I struggled to find words  that would adequately do justice to this book’s beauty. It is one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time. It is a wordless graphic novel for older readers and throws such a punch that I was left breathless. This book hits us with everything it has. Quality, beauty, sadness, hope all woven together with the most stunning illustrations.

Mel Tregonning’s illustrations capture feelings with such honesty that it is at times confronting. A young boy  is obviously so overwhelmed by his feelings of inadequacy and isolation that his world begins to fall apart. Indeed, it is the young boy himself who begins, bit by bit to crumble. His growing sense of sadness and loneliness is so raw and real it begins to eat away at him. At times when he is desperately trying to fit in, he fumbles, feeling others laughing at him and starts blushing. Despite the illustrations being black and white, Mel Tregonning captures his embarrassment through clever shading and we can feel his pain acutely. 

I so wanted to grab this boy, pull him out of the dark pages and his dark world, hold him close and hug him forever. He situation is so real and sadly all too common. However, there is also hope and the lovely sense of a friendship just starting to bud. 

I strongly believe this book is bound for all sorts of awards and deservedly so. It is with such sadness that the illustrator who died in 2014 will not be around to see the impact her beautiful book has had.

Much has been made of the fact that Mel Tregonning took her own life but rather than focus on this I want to point out that the author and illustrator Shaun Tan illustrated the last three illustrations to complete this book. For me, this highlights the fact that at times we all need help and is one of the most powerful messages in this book. 

Yes, this book moved me to tears but it is a book and story we need to read. We need to talk about depression, loneliness, sadness and how to deal with these issues. It is not for young readers. I will restrict this book to year six only (10 years up). There is so much to unpack and discuss with this book. For teachers and parents it is a great book to use to begin those awkward conversations that if left unspoken, could become worse. Sometimes, all we need to know is that we are not alone and that others feel the same way we do.

I love this book for so many reasons but mostly for its gutsy honesty and the message that we need to reach out, either for help, or to help.

Teacher notes available here for both primary and secondary schools.