Archive for the ‘Intermediate’ Category

A place of Stone and darkness

by Chris Mousdale

ISBN9780143773122

Penguin Random House

 

 

Chris Mousdale’s book A place of Stone and Darkness had me hooked right from the start.

It is a stylishly produced hardback novel which crosses a mix of genres. There is fantasy, adventure and mystery all in a wonderfully imagined, dystopian underground world. Chris Mousdale  also illustrates the book and includes maps of the Striggs world, a glossary of their language, and character portraits, as well as a number of gorgeous earthy illustrations.

Deep, deep down underground is the world of the flightless Striggs.  They have lived there for thousands of years after being forced from the surface by savage humans. The Striggs have adapted to life underground but their world is threatened with pollution to its water and members of the flock are becoming ill and dying. While exploring in one of the tunnels Ellee Meddo, finds a human, a Toppa, as they are known, who has fallen through an old unused well. Toppas are known to be dangerous and feared at all costs but this Toppa is young and hurt and Ellee can’t just leave him. With the help of her brother Sidfred, Ellee hides the boy but eventually he is is discovered by other Striggs and that creates friction and more action. One Strigg in particular, Kass, wants to just kill the boy. The action is fast paced, even nail-bitingly at times, so that it was very hard to put the book down. I just wanted to keep reading.

In order for the community to work and survive, the Striggs believe in the mantra; “Be one, be all, be everything”. When the group decide that they must return the boy, to the surface, this mantra becomes more important, especially when faced with danger from other humans. The world of the humans is violent and one of social decay. If the Striggs are discovered by humans it could mean the end of their world. I can tell you, their worlds do collide and the suspense built so quickly I was almost holding my breath wondering what was going to happen next. 

I loved this novel for so many reasons. The fast-paced action, its total believability, its warmth, the friendships, the loyalties and even the subtle messages. Yes, there are messages about our environment, trust, human kindness and taking risks. This is a wonderful read and one that I predict will go far. Great for older readers and with its buff coloured pages is ideal for children with dyslexia.  Loved it!

This would make a good class read aloud and teacher notes can be found here to explore this novel further.

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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.

 

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

Bess the brave war horse

By Susan Brocker

Illustrated by Raymond McGrath

ISBN 9781775435563

Scholastic NZ

 

Bess is a fine filly of a horse frolicking in grassy fields in New Zealand when she is chosen by Captain Guy Powles to be his horse. He said she was a beautiful horse and strong enough to carry him through battle. We follow Bess’s journey as she spends weeks at sea, cramped and sweaty below deck in a ship heading for Egypt. Bess and the other horses were often frightened , especially when the seas were stormy. When they finally arrived in Egypt life became busy with preparations and training to help the soldiers on the battlefield.  Bess and her master had a wonderful relationship where they cared for each other and more importantly, trusted each other. The book provides us with a different perspective of World War One. The language is descritptive and features some wonderful alliteration.

“fine filly, frolicking in the fields with her friends”

“On shore, strange smells, sights and sounds greeted Bess.”

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book for older readers. I love the end pages with their two-toned illustrations of Bess; first as a young horse and then back home in New Zealand, fully grown and happy. The end pages alone would look good framed on any wall. The colours throughout mirror the dusty fields and dark uniforms worn by the soldiers. The research by both author and illustrator is obvious and makes this book an important one to have in your school libraries.

The sad fact is that out of 10,000 horses that went to war, only four came back to New Zealand. Bess was one of them. Her story is true.

Chinatown Girl: The diary of Silvey Chan, Aukland 1942

My New Zealand Story.

By Eva Wong Ng

ISBN 9781775435778

Scholastic NZ

The first thing you notice in this re-release of Chinatown Girl is its fresh new cover.  It is bright, eye-catching and appeals to the preteen and early teen reader. Twelve year Silvey Chan begins her diary on January 1st 1942. The World is at war and life throws many complications at Silvey and her family, friends and the Chinese community she belongs to.

Like other books in the My New Zealand Story series, which focus on certain events in New Zealand’s history, Chinatown Girl  provides insight into the Chinese community in downtown Auckland. Through Silvey’s diary entries we find out what it is like to be different from others, including racism with Government poll taxes for Chinese people. We read about many Chinese traditions and the constant fear as the war continues overseas, but seems to get closer and closer. At school they children practice air-raid drills just in case. We also read about rationing and the consequences of a world at war.

There is much excitement in town when the American soldiers arrive and new friendships are made. 

Silvey is likeable and inquisitive and her diary makes a good and informative read about life in 1942 New Zealand. Silvey is determined to make something of her life and I bet she does.

You can find teacher notes here if you want to take this beyond a simple read.

Dogman: Brawl of the wild

By Dav Pilkey

ISBN 9781338236576

Scholastic

Dogman is back again for more hilarious adventures. These graphic novel books are always in hot demand. I could buy twenty copies and still have children waiting to read them. They are brightly coloured graphic novels with quirky cartoonish illustrations and heaps of humour. Lots of tongue-in-cheek humour that parents will love too. Will he get a fair go in his latest adventure?

Yes, the same author and illustrator that brought you Captain Underpants brings you funny stories about Dogman, half dog, half human.

The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty, Book 1

By Rhys Darby

ISBN 9781775434979

Scholastic NZ

 Buttons McGinty is sent to boarding school to a place named Ranktwerp Island Education Fortress for Gifted Lame Unruly Minors, a.k.a. R.I.E.F.G.L.U.M. It is however, not quite what he is expecting and is full of surprises; not all of them good ones either. He makes new friends and together they face the bad guys and a whole lot more. Buttons is obsessed with Morse Code which turns out to be a good thing as there are mysteries to be solved. The biggest mystery, of course, is what happened to his parents and where are they now.

Buttons keeps a journal and writes his thoughts and ideas about everything that is happening. In some cases it is a word-by-word account. As you can see from the the page below the font is just as if Buttons was hand-writing in his journal which adds a real sense of authenticity to the novel. He is funny, quirky, adventurous and a thinker. Much of his thinking is outside the box but that is what make him so likable. You can almost hear his brain ticking over as his thoughts spill out rapidly onto the pages of his journal. 

Definitely a book for fans of adventure and humour, with a dose of good old-fashioned friendships. Watch out for a lurking Bigfoot. Great read for 8 – 12 year old readers and really, anyone who enjoys a good laugh.

Check out the back of the book with the Morse Code Key and see if you can solve some of the clues throughout the book. 

Cook’s Cook

The Cook who cooked for Captain Cook

By Gavin Bishop

ISBN 9781776572045

Gecko Press 

 

 

Gavin Bishop as author and illustrator of this new picture book brings us an extraordinary point of view of the 1768 journey of Captain James Cook on board the H.M.S  Endeavour. He shares the voyage through the eyes of John Thompson, the one-handed cook. What an amazing man he must have been to prepare and cook food for 94 people on board a ship that at times ran short of food and essentials and with only one hand.

Gavin shares some of the recipes the cook used and believe me, some of them are what I would consider, disgusting.  For example, Stingray soup and dog and breadfruit stew. Gross. So glad things have changed. 

Gavin has obviously done his research with this creative non-fiction picture book filled with important illustrations reflecting the times as they were. His end pages create a beginning and end of the journey starting with a cross-section of the ship. It is brimming with goods and supplies but still has to fit 94 people so we can only imagine how cramped it must have been.

We also see the trading and bartering of goods, which at times was certainly questionable in its fairness. We follow the lives of many passengers and in many cases, also their deaths. The story of John Thompson is one I had never heard of before which proves the point in history, and in life in general, there is always more than one side to any story. 

As Julia Marshall says, this book has everything: “culture, class, adventure, humour and much more”. And it does. It has something for everyone and will certainly make a perfect resource for school libraries and teachers at many levels.  There are some excellent teaching notes here to make the most of this book and generate further discussions. A great book also to add to any home library and reflect on the history of New Zealand.

Check out the video below with Gavin talking about his latest book. 

 

 

The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic

By Cressida Cowell

ISBN 9781444941425

Hachette Children’s Books

 


I loved the first Wizards of Once book. I’m actually listening to the audio edition for the second time while I wait for the sequel, just released. I love the bright, bold cover which is so appealing. It looks to have the same wonderful features; magic, fantasy, danger, quests, humour and of course, wizards. I just know, this sequel is going to be twice the fun.

As much as Zar and Wish are meant to hate each other, I have a feeling things will change and a growing respect for differences, will be found. 

It is so hard waiting for the next book in a series, sort of like waiting for Christmas. Sometimes I get so excited waiting, that I have to remember that I’m actually an adult and need to be a little patient. Trip to the bookshop very soon.

 

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.

 

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.

Earthquakes! New Zealand

By Maria Gill

ISBN 9781869664862

New Holland Publishers

If you have ever wanted to know anything about earthquakes in New Zealand, then this new book from award-winning author Maria Gill has it all. The production is a perfect example of what a quality non-fiction book should be. It has all the features we expect with contents pages, glossary, bibliography, credits, headings and subheadings, photographs, graphs, symbols and timelines all sandwiched between a shiny, colourful, glossy cover. Maria Gill is well-known for her dedication and determination to research her subjects to provide readers with the best and most accurate information.

Maria Gill explains what earthquakes are, why they happen and the damage they can cause.  The timeline goes way back in time to some of the first earthquakes and marks many of the strongest ones that occurred. She also explains what to do in an earthquake and how to keep yourself safe which is something everyone in New Zealand needs to know. Having lived through the tragic Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes, this book brought back many memories but it is good to see everything explained and know that while we cannot predict or stop earthquakes; we can be prepared and that is most important.

The language is easy and informative without being too formal or wordy, making it a suitable choice for everyone. The book is informative and shares links to videos on the internet for further research or explanation. There is also a friendly helper throughout the pages. Maria introduces us to  Rūaumoko the Maori god of earthquakes and volcanoes who helps explain things as readers move from page to page. A lovely addition to this quality book.

Primary schools through to secondary schools will certainly benefit from having this book in their school libraries.