Archive for the ‘Secondary’ Category

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.

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Pieces of you

by Eileen Merriman

ISBN 9780143770473

Penguin NZ

 

Rebecca McQuilten is 15 and has just moved to a new city where she is the newcomer in a school where everyone knows each other already. Wanting to fit in she accepts party invitations and goes places when asked. It is at one of these parties that something happens, something she keeps to herself and struggles to deal with. Her way of coping creates a whole new set of problems.

Becs meets Cory, the boy next door, and soon finds herself in an on-again off-again sort of relationship. He is just the person she needs to help her build up her confidence and believe in herself but he has demons of his own.

It is good to read a book about real issues, real relationships and struggles that teens do deal with everyday. The characters are flawed but real. Their problems and insecurities remind us of what it is to be a teenager again. The writing is just the right pace. No rushing or skipping over things but takes issues without glorifying them or making them more than they are. At the heart of the novel, for me, is the relationships and learning to read other people and understand that everyone has demons and we all need support at sometime in our lives. This book does deal with issues of self-harm but it is handled well and certainly not the focus of the novel. Relationships are the real focus and that is a good reminder to us all; that people matter.

Currently short-listed for the Best First Book Awards in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Find out more here.

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.

 

 

Long way down

By Jason Reynolds

Illustrated by Chris Priestley

ISBN 9780571335114

Those who follow this blog probably know how much I love verse novels. I love everything about them, especailly the language and how it can pack a punch.  Long way down  knocked me sideways. William Holloman’s brother has just been murdered. He wishes he had laughed more at his brother’s dumb jokes because he won’t ever get the chance again. His brother is dead. Tragedy seeps through every page of this book. The language is real and gritty. It is powerful, beautiful and haunting.

After his brother’s death Will knows one thing for sure. He must follow the rules.

  1. Don’t cry
  2. Don’t snitch
  3.  Get revenge

It is raw and dark and I will think about Will for a long, long time. After reading this book I had to just sit awhile and reflect on the lives of the characters. The reality is that there are many William Hollomans in this world and we need to change this. How? I don’t know the answer but something has to change for people like William. They get caught up in the world of poverty, gangs, hardship and anger. This book takes us in to Will’s world, and his thoughts. It is a dark and scary world and as tough as he is trying to be, we see his vulnerability. We hear his thoughts and we find ourselves caring for him in a way only good writing can make us. An amazing insight into the sad and desparate life of a young man looking for revenge. Loved it so much. Need to read again.

Listen to the first few pages being read by the author. 

Flamingo Boy

By Michael Morpurgo

ISBN 9780008134648

HarperCollinsPublishers

I am always in awe of Michael Morpurgo’s ability to weave stories that take you back in time and leave you in a world where you experience everything as if you are right there with the characters.  In his latest book Flamingo Boy, I found myself so involved with the characters and what was happening to them, that I held my breath at times and needed tissues to continue.  We begin with a boy named Vincent who likes to draw and suddenly we are in France and the middle of WW2.

Renzo is Flamingo Boy, a young autistic boy who has the gentleness to heal injured birds and animals but also the anger and rage of someone unable to cope with change. He sees the best in people but fears the world he doesn’t understand. 

The story is set in the unique landscape of the Camargue in the South of France during WW2. Renzo lives with his parents on their farm among the salt flats surrounded by flamingos. His life is simple and very much routine, as any change at all can unsettle him for weeks on end. One special treat is going to the market to ride the carousel and his favourite animal on the ride is the horse. The carousel becomes pivotal to the story and symbolically it represents so much more, but mostly it offers hope. His family befriends the Roma family and their daughter Kezia who run the carousel. Roma people are hated as much as the Jews during war time so when the Germans take over the town, Renzo and his parents hide Kezia’s family. 

This is a powerful book in many ways. We see destruction as a result of war and how it affects everyone on both sides. We see what it like to be different from others and how hard it is to fit in, whether being Roma or being autistic. We do however, see the value of friendships and trust. We see so much love and hope in this book that I think it should be in schools everywhere. A very moving story that will stay with me for a very long time.

 

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.

 

Truly Devious

By Maureen Johnson

ISBN 9780062338051

HarperCollins

 

I never think twice about picking up a novel by Maureen Johnson. Loved her Shades of London books and having just read this first book in her new series, I am already waiting for book two.

A thoroughly good murder-mystery for young adults.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Not long after the school’s opening, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and the only clue was a note signed by someone called Truly Devious. His wife’s body was found, but the daughter was never seen again. It has remained an unsolved mystery for many decades but now Stevie Bell is attending the school and her plan is to solve the mystery. However, there is something sinister happening and Stevie and her new friends find themselves in trouble when the past and present seem to collide with more murderous adventure. And there is always the issue of whom to trust! Well written, good pace and a very cool setting.

Stevie is a like-able, believable character and a very keen detective-in-the-making. Her determination to work through research and the new puzzles makes this another good read from Maureen Johnson.

My dilemma is that I now have to wait until next year to read what happens next. Grrrrr!

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.

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.

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.

Sage Alexander and the Hall of Nightmares

By Steve Copling

 

 

 

Cool cover and so good to see such a lengthy book trailer to entice us readers into the world of Sage Alexander

It is always a good sign when the bulk of reviews are positive as it all adds to the desire to read new books. My current TBR pile is enormous and there are not enough hours in the day to read, but I do want to read this one. There are more books in the series being written and planned for publication which is also another good sign. So, do enjoy the trailer and see what you think.

After the Seven Princes of Hell escaped the underworld, becoming gods became their obsession. Spawned from the angels banished from Heaven, the Seven have lured the soul of man into their influence since the beginning of time. Supernaturally gifted angelic-human warriors – the Angelic Response Council – have been disappearing over the past thousand years, and their ranks grow thin.

Prophecy holds that in the Council’s darkest hours a boy will emerge, Sage the Warrior, divined to possess all twenty-two angelic gifts and become the Council’s ultimate warrior. He will seek out and destroy the Seven Princes of Hell one by one, and lead humanity away from the brink of their own annihilation.

 

 

 

 

I have been pondering writing this post for a few weeks now as I consider my blog to be mostly about books, book trailers and reviews and I tend to shy away from anything else. However as reluctant as I was to share this post I now feel compelled to.  So, for what it is worth, these are my thoughts on the current discussions surrounding the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and the lack of the Children’s Choice category this year.

Along with many librarians up and down the country we received the official statement regarding the reasoning for not having the Children’s Choice category. And I get it. I totally get where the committee are coming from and appreciate their reasoning but there is one side of the argument I want to share as I do feel the need to stand up for schools and librarians.

One of their reasons was that they “have witnessed a marked decline in the number of schools participating in the past few years”. I don’t dispute this at all but here is something to consider. 

These are my own thoughts based on being a school librarian, a writer and someone who has worked in a children’s bookshop for ten years.

Sadly, schools are not obliged to provide a library or a librarian, qualified or not. At secondary level the majority by far employ a full time librarian and can get behind events such as the book awards. I am in the minority as a primary school librarian who very fortunately gets to work full time. Many work less than 25 hours per week, and there are those where a librarian is employed for only an hour a day and that is to cover the lunch break only. How on earth are they going to try to organise voting for children’s book awards with so little time. It is completely out of the question. Emails from places like the book awards people don’t always make it to the librarian if they are only there 2-3 days a week with limited hours so they miss out on information. Working such limited hours also means they are reluctant to attend network meetings with other librarians so again miss out on information. We also know there are schools without a librarian at all and those without even a library. This breaks my heart but that’s another post!

Surely if our education system wants us to focus on literacy, then a well-staffed, well-stocked library is a must. It should be funded by government and not one of those things that gets left behind when schools try to juggle budgets. 

As a librarian with a limited budget I do not, nor ever have, just gone and bought all the books on the finalists lists. I buy the ones that I believe children will enjoy and the ones I can afford. In the past I encouraged children to vote. I had big displays and discussed the books with my students. We posted off the postcards and in later years the library computers had the voting pages bookmarked for easy access. What the children loved about the awards was their chance to vote, to have a voice. Their voting they knew, could make a difference.

In the bookshop where I worked, again we had displays, voting forms.  We always had a night put aside and held a public panel discussion on the award books and picking our own winners. I was also a committee member for the Christchurch area in the days of NZ Post Book awards and we organised many events, one time even making it on to the national television news with an event.

As a writer with a novel in the Children’s Choice category a few years ago, I can tell you, that the fact that children had chosen my book themselves meant more than anything in the world. It didn’t win but it didn’t need to, because in my heart, the fact that children had chosen my book as a finalist and put me in the finals, was more than enough, more than a dream come true.

So I do feel for the current situation and understand why the choice may have been made, but I think it isn’t always clear cut why schools might not participate and that does matter. It matters because children’s voices determines what actually gets read and at the end of the day, isn’t that what is most important, our readers.

 

 

Pieces of you

By Eileen Merriman

ISBN 9780143770473

Penguin Random House

Lots of favorable reviews for this young adult book. Faces lots of different issues too which add to its appeal. I love how you can even try before you buy with a link to reading the first chapter.  Themes of mental health and self-harm are part of this novel so be warned that because of these themes this is for readers aged 16 and up. That said, I am keen to read this book very soon. Gritty, real and current.

Fifteen-year-old Rebecca McQuilten moves with her parents to a new city. Lonely but trying to fit in, she goes to a party,              but that’s when things really fall apart.

             I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. Especially since I was the new girl in town. Who would want to believe me?

Things look up when she meets gregarious sixteen-year-old Cory Marshall.

              ‘You’re funny, Becs,’ Cory said.
              ‘You have no idea,’ I said, and clearly he didn’t, but I was smiling anyway.
               And after that, he was all I could think about.

Cory helps Rebecca believe in herself and piece her life back together; but that’s before he shatters it all over again . . .

 

I do love books that tackle difficult subjects as this one does. Check out the trailer and perhaps go and read the first chapter in the link above.

Never say die

By Anthony Horowitz

ISBN 9781406377040

Walker Books

Loved this series. Can’t wait to get a copy now that it is out. At the school I work I have had to replace this series many times as the books get read over and over and never go out of popularity. I think what I especially love is that the mix of adventure and being a teenager make Alex a very realistic character. The right mix also means that this series is appropriate for a younger audience as well as teens. Some content in similar type series limits their reading audience because of content but this series is perfect so that ten year old students and up can enjoy.

In this brand new, explosive adventure in the number one bestselling series, Alex Rider is trying to get his life back on track after the traumatic events of his last mission. But even Alex can’t fight the past … especially when it holds a deadly secret.

If we go back to the very first book book in the series Stormbreaker you have what I think is one of the best opening sentences ever. I know that is all I need to read to my students and they are hooked.

When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.

 

Check out the very cool trailer from Walker Books for Never Say Die