Archive for the ‘Intermediate’ Category

Endling Book One :  The Last

By Katherine Applegate

HarperCollins

It is holiday time so I am doing a few extra posts as I catch up on some books I want to share but this one is top of the list.

So exciting. I love Katherine Applegate’s writing. Her books are always award winners and wonderful stories. The one and only Ivan, Wishtree, Crenshaw, are among my favourites, not just for their wonderful stories, but because the language is so beautiful. I find myself often just stopping and reading a sentence over and over as it’s beauty and succinctness takes my breath away. So I am definitely hanging out for this one. 

Byx is the youngest member of her dairne pack. Believed to possess remarkable abilities, her mythical doglike species has been hunted to near extinction in the war-torn kingdom of Nedarra.

After her pack is hunted down and killed, Byx fears she may be the last of her species. The Endling. So Byx sets out to find safe haven, and to see if the legends of other hidden dairnes are true.

Check this out. You can read a little bit here and then not long until May when the book is published and we can read the rest. Can’t wait!

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1918 Broken Poppies

Kiwis at War 

By Des Hunt

ISBN 9781775432821

Kiwis at War 1918 Broken Poppies hr

Based on author Des Hunt’s own uncles who went to war, this novel is a chilling account of what went on in the trenches during World War One. It is at times harrowing and confronting but there is also humour, just as in any difficult situation, which makes it so real. 

Four Christmases have passed since the world went to war in 1914. Struggling to survive in the trenches, close to enemy lines, amid the terror of gunfire and the whine of warplanes, Kiwi soldier Henry Hunt rescues a shaken little dog. He has no idea he’ll soon be facing a disciplinary hearing. To Henry’s relief, the Major allows the little foxie to live this time. Henry finds the dog is not only a comfort to his fellow soldiers on the battlefields of France, but a great ratter, too. Together, can they survive the Great War?

 

Henry Hunt is both believable and likeable. He has panic attacks from a childhood trauma which still haunts him but he soon finds himself having to face these fears head on. They seem insurmountable but will put himself and others in danger if he doesn’t overcome them. Hunt’s ability to put the reader in the character’s footsteps is brilliant. We too, feel the same fear as Henry.  The author doesn’t hide us from the reality of life in the trenches either.  I flinched many times when reading about the rats which seemed to be everywhere. The descriptions of trench foot were also very real.

“…trench foot – a form of gangrene caused when feet were always wet. Raw skin would turn to angry sores which, if left untreated, became purple then black.” pg 64

Amputation would come next. Horrible stuff but sadly, horribly true. 

Henry faces bullying by Sergeant Bell who continually and unjustly calls him a coward. There is injuries, danger, death all around but there is also loyalty and comrades to help him get through the awful times. The rescuing of the wee dog they named Poppy is a wonderful part of the story. I fell in love with Poppy and at times found myself holding my breath when she got in to danger. The courage of these soldiers is amazing. The months and years in the trenches must have been horrific.  Many of the soldiers would be wounded, patched up, and sent back for more which really is beyond our comprehension. Des Hunt’s account of Henry Hunt takes us there as much as it is possible, so that we can see and feel what it might have been like during World War One. A compelling read and superbly done. A great story to end the series Kiwis at War.

Great read for some Year six students (but not all) but certainly Intermediate through Secondary levels.

Teacher Notes will help make the most of this novel.

 

The short but brilliant career of Lucas Weed

By Chrissie Walker

ISBN 9781775435082

Scholastic NZ

 


Author Chrissie Walker has captured the mischievous nature of 10 an 11-year-old boys in her award-winning novel The short but brilliant career of Lucas Weed. Lucas  is still a newcomer at Fernwood School and all he really wants is some friends. Good friends he can hang out with not just at school, but after school too. A conversation one morning with fellow students Thomas, Hunter and Oscar leads to a prank with a frog on the loose and chaos in the classroom. Finding himself suddenly popular with these boys, Lucas plans more pranks.  He plans bigger pranks and that can only mean bigger laughs. This is a fun novel where boys take centre stage and cause a little mayhem but it’s okay because despite everything, Lucas and his new friends are likeable, believable characters. However, just how far are Lucas and his new friends prepared to go for a laugh?

I can see teachers having a lot of fun reading this out to their classes.

Dawn Raid

By Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith

ISBN 9781775434757

Scholastic NZ

 

 

Like many 13-year-old girls, Sofia’s main worries are how she can earn enough pocket money to buy some groovy go-go boots that are all the rage, and if she will die of embarrassment giving a speech she has to do for school. It comes as a surprise to Sofia and her family when her big brother, Lenny, talks about protests, overstayers and injustices against Pacific Islanders.

The beauty of the My New Zealand Story series is that we witness some of New Zealand’s important historical moments through the eyes of children. Much is documented from historical times, but it is in general from adults, journalists, and news media. This series takes us behind the scenes, as children tell us in diary entries, what they saw, felt and experienced. 

Sofia begins her diary on June 1976 and initially she comes across as a little naive, although to be fair, it was a different time to the experience  of 13 year olds of today. What makes this book special is that as the story of the dawn raids unfolds, we begin to see a growing maturity in Sofia. A key feature of any good book, is the growth of a character.

Sofia records daily events with honesty and her family life soon becomes familiar to us. Her family is close and extended family are equally important. Slowly, news filters in of the many dawn raids where police storm houses in the middle of the night and arrest overstayers; people from other countries who have stayed longer than their working permits allow. In particular the raids were aimed at Pacific Island nationalities. Through Lenny and his contacts we learn of the reasons for the raids and the underlying theme of racism and human rights. We also learn about the group called the Polynesian Panthers and how they stood up to people in power.

This is a great book to read as a class and to study themes of racism and media reporting and media bias. One of the biggest issues we face today is that of “fake news” and this would be a perfect book to explore the notion that not everything we see or hear is as it really is.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sofia’s story. Loved the many references to the 1970’s music, fashion and television culture.

ANZAC Animals

By Maria Gill

Illustrated by Marco Ivancic

ISBN 9781775434740

Scholastic NZ & Scholastic AU

 

Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic deservedly won the prestigious Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award in 2016 for their book ANZAC Heroes. They continue to bring quality books and ANZAC Animals is destined to be another hit.

Maria Gill’s research for her non-fiction books is her trademark. She finds the stories, painstakingly does her research for accuracy and then writes her books taking time to polish to perfection. ANZAC Animals delivers another well-formated non-fiction book. All the text features are there; introduction, contents, glossary, charts, photographs, index etc. with the addition of maps and timelines. The layout is well placed and easy to read. 

ANZAC Animals is a collection of true tales of animal heroes and mascots from World War One and World War Two.

The collection is both fascinating and delightful. I love the story of Lulu the chicken mascot who would warn soldiers of approaching enemy aircraft with her noisy shrieking so that they had time to hide safely.

Or the story of Torty the tortoise, who became a listening ear to James Stewart Little as he described the horror of the things he saw during WWI. Believe it or not Torty is still alive today – 100 years later.

This is an extraordinary collection of tales about animals in war.  There are dogs, horses, mules, pigeons, and even a monkey. They all had one thing in common. The animals were the companions of soldiers. They helped soldiers cope and in many cases, helped them survive the atrocities of war.

One of the most famous is of  the story of Murphy the donkey who carried injured soldiers to safety. The stories of soldiers have long been told but sometimes animals are heroes too and this book is all about the animals and what has made them all so special during some of the worst of times.

The illustrations are very impressive and very life-like. The colours and tones are beautiful. Every hair, whisker or feather is so real you wish you could almost leap into the page and pat the animals.

An excellent book and a must-have for any library. 

Check out author Maria Gill’s book trailer and see for yourself just what is so special about this book.

 

The ANZAC Violin: Alexander Aitken’s story

By Jennifer Beck

Illustrated by Robyn Belton

ISBN 9781775433910

Scholastic NZ

 

 

“A true story of a rescued violin and an extraordinary musician, Otago’s Alexander Aiken”

Author Jennifer Beck and illustrator Robyn Belton have previously worked on a number of picture books before. Each book has been first-rate and their latest collaboration is no exception. The story based on the true accounts of New Zealand solider Alexander Aitken, take us through his time in the trenches during World War One. They were harsh and difficult times, full of danger, death and desperation. In 1915 a former schoolmate of Alex’s won a cheap violin in a shipboard raffle. Unable to play music himself, he gave the violin to Alexander who had some musical ability. It didn’t take long before Alexander was playing everyday and getter better and better. Amid the chaos of war Aleaxander Aikten brought music to fellow soldiers and gave them hope for better times ahead. As the story unfolds  we soon learn more about Alexander and his violin. 

 

The violin becomes important to all the soliders, many help to hide it from authorities, protecting it from harm and damage. 


I love this double-page spread. The reflection of the soldiers in the sea has a haunting, almost mourning quality to it . The violin in its black case stands out, reminding us that despite the dark days there is always hope.

“The violin was my companion in this dug-out; I slept with it by my side.”

The end pages with their photos, maps and writing are very much in journal form and it feels familiar, like we are sharing the diary of an old friend. The colours have a warm yet earthy feel with sepia tones reminiscent of the times. The layout with all its details brings us closer to Alexander and supported with photos Alexander becomes very real to the reader.

Having the real life story of people played out in picture book format makes them and their history accessible to a younger reader.  The sophistication of the story, the historical facts and the wonderful illustrations make this a must have for any library or home collection. A truly wonderful, thought-provoking picture book set during World War One where the focus is music and hope and not just the war itself.

Nevermoor: The trials of Morrigan Crow

By Jessica Townsend

ISBN 9780734418074

Hachette Childrens Books

 

Thoroughly enjoyable read. A wonderful mix of fantasy, and mystery. Lots of very likable characters and some not so likable ones too. We meet young Morrigan Crow shortly before she is supposed to die. Morrigan you see, is cursed and blamed for all the bad things that have happened in her town. Her fate is to die at midnight on Eventide. However, in comes a stranger by the name of Jupiter North who rescues her and takes her to Nevermoor. It is a place few have heard of with all sorts of magical creatures and wonderful characters. Jupiter North has plans for Morrigan, plans she doesn’t understand but there is something special about him that makes Morrigan trust him. So begins her new life in the Hotel Deucalion in Nevermoor.

Morrigan is compelled to particpate in a number of trials in order to become part of a very elite group called the Wondrous Society. Each contestant must have a knack, something that makes them special and will help them in the final trial. In the trials she must compete against 500 others for one of only 9 places. Making the group will allow her to stay in Nevermoor where she is finally making friends and beginning to feel happy.

Morrigan is both strong, yet fearful, funny, yet serious. Most of all she is in need of friends and the belief that someone loves her and believes in her.

There are so many wonderful, quirky characters in this book, not least of all is Fenestra the Magnificat, head of housekeeping, who despite her grumpiness is really kind of cool. There’s Frank the vampire dwarf  but whatever you do, don’t call him a dwarf vampire.

Jessica Townsend has created a delightful magical world, with believable fantastical characters and a mystery that needs solving. Just what is Morrigan’s knack? Morrigan herself, doesn’t even know and the only person who seems to know is Jupiter North and he won’t tell her. A great read and hanging out now for book two. I bought the paperback copy as soon as it was out but if you can get your hands on the hardback that would be even more special.

 

If reading this as a class novel you can find teacher notes here. It would certainly make a good story for a read-aloud or a student bookclub. Loved it!

 

 

 

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created ­Frankenstein

Written and illustrated by Lita Judge

ISBN 9781526360410

Wow.  Now this is what I call a cover.  It is dark, broody and mysterious and grabs your attention straight away. Mary’s Monster is a biography of Mary Shelley written in verse form. I have been a huge fan of verse novels for many years so this already has me keen. So keen in fact I have already pre-ordered it from my local library, although as it isn’t published until later this month I may have to wait a bit. However, from all I have seen I know this is one I will also be buying when it comes out. Take a look at the illustrations on her site and on the trailer below. Over 300 pages of verse and illustrations. A tortured soul and her monster, drawn in haunting, Gothic illustrations, this book has got to be at the top of my most eagerly awaited reads for the year.  Each illustration is a work of art on its own and would be fantastic to hang on any wall. I am so excited for this book. Simply cannot wait. Really, just can’t wait. Beautiful.

You can read some of the story on her website and while there do check out the gallery as there are some superb and beautiful illustrations from her picture books.

 

Tintinnabula

By Margo Lanagan

ISBN 9781742975252

Little Hare

 

In wild times and in wartime,

in times of fear and illness, I go

to Tintinnabula, where soft rains fall.

 

Tintinnabula is a story about moving from discomfort to peace,

from violence and uncertainty to a still, sure place.

It reminds us that our best friend in hard times

can often be ourselves.

 

The first thing you notice with this beautiful picture book is the cut out shape in the middle of the cover. It is a portal into another world. Margo Lanagan takes us on a journey through darkness and out the other side. A lone figure stands at the entrance, seemingly hesitant to walk through, but guided by the light in the distance on the other side, we know she will step inside. And we step inside her world too.

 She hears the sound of bells ringing far away and this urges her onward through dark inhospitable landscapes with hidden dangers lurking in the shadows. The language is succinct and sublime, poetical and poignant. What makes this particularly powerful is that as the young woman travels through harsh environments she discovers that the strength she searches for comes from within. Only she can save herself and move from the darkness into the light where she can finally find peace.

The illustrations are beautiful.  Different shades of grey, black, and red merge to create a haunting and moody atmosphere, at times quite chilling. There are dark shadowy creatures chasing the young woman but she keeps going, following the sound of bells. Splashes of white soon begin to appear,  blending and forming into the shape of bells.  Symbolically they lead her to self-acceptance.

As dark as this sophisticated picture book is, it is in the end an uplifting one. It is within ourselves that we find strength to move forward when life becomes too difficult.

A stunning book, dark, broody but also hopeful. This is a wonderful sophisticated picture book that can be read across all levels.

 

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.

.

 

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.