Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Wolf’s Lair : Katipo Joe Book 3

By Brian Falkner

ISBN 9781775437482

Scholastic NZ

Joseph St George begins his story as a school boy in Berlin before the beginning of World War Two. His ordinary world is turned upside down when his British father is arrested as a spy. Joe and his mother escape Berlin but when they become separated Joe is sent to New Zealand. His return sometime later, sees him caught up in a world at war and his search for his parents sees him infiltrate the Hitler Youth movement. His loyalty is all a lie, of course, as it becomes clear that in order to find his parents he must become a spy. This puts him in constant risk of being found out and life becomes more and more dangerous. Survival becomes everything.

Joe’s orders are to get closer to Hitler and this works well. He begins moving in the same circle as Hitler. Indeed, Hitler sees him as his protégé. Joe then makes connections to the best and worst of the people surrounding and protecting Hitler. Joe’s order is huge, absolutely dangerous and will be life-threatening if caught. There is always the question about who to trust. Who are the good guys, and who are the bad? As he draws closer to Hitler he becomes aware that someone is watching him but he has no idea who. He also finds himself attracted to Sofie, a fellow Hitler Youth member, but their friendship could ruin everything. As his feelings for her grow, it puts them both in danger.

Joe does things that go against his natural kindness and caring. He struggles at times with guilt, and the realisation that some of the things he does, no matter how abhorrent, are actually necessary. War brings out the best and worst of people.

The suspense is palpable. I could almost hear the bombs in the background and feel the fear. This is a solid, gritty read and at times, quite confronting. While Joe’s story may be fiction, many of the events and people are real. This makes the series more realistic, more believable. Joe grows as a character, but he also retains a vulnerability, especially around people he cares about, which makes him more likeable. His flaws and strengths are real.

I loved the first two books and have been hanging out for the third for ages. I was hooked from the moment I sat down to read. I couldn’t put the book down. I sat on my bed reading instead of getting ready for work. I was in danger myself, for being late as I just wanted to know what was going to happen next in Joe’s world.

Like the previous books in this series, there is action, suspense, danger, history, a bit of a romance and a few surprises too. I’ve said it in previous reviews of this series, but this really has everything. Great writing, great story, from a great writer.

There are a number of photos in the back of the book of the real people in this narrative, which provides interesting details.

Totally recommend this YA series. I would love to see these books as a movie or TV series. An audio version would also be great.

Nature’s Wildlife Weapons

By James Ryan

ISBN 9781988538778

Bateman Books

This book has lots of appeal. It is a wonderful collection of facts and snippets of information about animals with numerous photos to support the facts. Bold headings and subheadings and a glossary make this a great addition to any school library.

What makes this book extra special, is that the author is only 12 years old. His interest in science and natural history began early and already, his knowledge and passion are admirable.

The book discusses how animals need to be able to defend themselves in the wild. Many animals use their teeth, horns, antlers and claws to survive and the author provides many examples of how they do this. There are also facts about which animal has the biggest claws. You might be surprised by the answer.

Do you know that the longest fangs on record of a sabre-toothed tiger is over 28 centimetres? That is some fang!

A good book to dip and dive into anytime.

Christmas LEGO. Yay!

There are so many books out in the world about Christmas, and while many are good to read, many don’t necessarily last the distance. They might be funny for awhile and they will no doubt become favourites to new readers, but what some lack, I think, is the beauty and messages of empathy and love. The magic and stories of hope and determination. These ones here, talk to my heart.

These are my favourites, each for a different reason.

Coming home by Micheal Morpurgo, for example, is the beauty of language.

The Little Match Girl because it was one of the first stories that made me feel so sad and concerned for the little girl.

The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, now in very poor condition, because of its wonder, and again for the story. As a young child, I couldn’t understand how a little boy could be in Heaven.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, because it was the book I was given at Sunday School. My very first prize for something I had achieved.

Wherever you may be, I hope that there is somewhere for you to curl up, or sit back, and read a book or two over the festive season. Here is New Zealand, it is summer with longer days, so I will definitely find time to pick a book or two from my TBR pile.

The Danger Gang

By Tom Fletcher

Illustrated by Shane Devries

ISBN  9780241407462

How cool is this? Very keen to get my hands on a copy of Tom Fletcher’s new middle grade novel.

The story sounds very exciting and the trailer is super cool.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tom’s Christmasaurus book (and very excited to see it will be a picture book later this year) so I know, based on his writing, that I will enjoy this new book too.

‘Check out the blurb below.

Franky can’t wait to move to his new town – although he wishes he didn’t have to leave his best friend Dani behind.
But everything changes after the storm, when strange green lightning and powerful thunder crash down on the town. From that night on, the kids who live on Franky’s street start to change. One by one, they become a little odd. A little unusual. A little… magical.

Franky’s always wanted to be part of an amazing gang – just like his hero, super-spy Zack Danger! And soon, he realises that there’s real danger in store for himself and his new friends.

And so the Danger Gang is born…

Everyone needs to belong somewhere, and I think (and hope) Franky has found the people he needs and who need him too. And the trailer is just too good not to share. After lockdown, I will be hunting this book out at my local bookshops. I know I could order it online, but I do like to support local businesses when I can.

World Folk Tales

Retold by Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod

Illustrated by Brent Larsen

ISBN 9781877535666

Giltedge Publishing

World Folk tales is a richly illustrated collection of folk tales from all over the world.

Each tale has its own two-page spread, so the retellings are short and easy to read in just a few minutes. This makes it a delight to open up and dip into whenever you want.

The contents page is handy if you want to know the titles of the tales and which country they come from.

My favourites are; Rata’s Disappearing Waka from New Zealand (of course), Arachne and Athena Compete (Greece) and The Eagle and the Wren (Scotland). There are many more but each and every one is unique and so interesting. The mix of stories offers a variety of myth, legend, folk and fable and each deserves its place in this collection.

There are tales of strength and cunning, tales of kindness and giving thanks. Tales that are at the heart of history.

The illustrations are rich and vibrant and have been well thought out to match the setting of each story. The endpapers have their own tales too. A map of the world and a compass.

I would love to see a second book with even more tales being told.

My Elephant is Blue

By Melinda Szymanik

Illustrated by Vasanti Unka

ISBN 9780143775645

PenguinRandom House NZ

My Elephant is Blue, is a sweet and gentle picture book about dealing with dark days. A child wakes one morning to find an elephant sitting on their chest. The elephant is heavy, suffocating and feeling blue. It follows the child everywhere. Nothing the family does gets the elephant to go away. The elephant is not even tempted by the taste of chocolate.

As adults, we often have days where everything seems a little gloomy, and mostly, we box on knowing it will pass. Children don’t have the same understanding, so blue days might seem overwhelming and difficult to cope with. This book succeeds in showing children that it is ok to have blue days, and that they will pass. There are things we can do to help. The child learns that going for walks is a good way of coping. They also learn that family are there to help too.

I loved that mum visits the library to get a pile of books out on dealing with blue elephants. Reading and discussing the issues together as a family is great advice.

Melinda Szymanik is an award winning author and this beautiful picture book is her latest picture work.

The illustrations by award winning illustrator Vasanti Unka are soft and simply delightful. As things begin to improve for the child, and life seems less blue, more and more colour spreads across the pages.

This is a wonderful book for younger children at home, pre-school and primary school libraries.

In the beginning : I te Tīmatanga

Retold by Peter Gossage

Translated by Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira

ISBN 9781775436850

Scholastic NZ

First published in 2001, this new bilingual 20th anniversary edition of In the beginning is very welcome. This new edition is just as bright and bold, but being bilingual, it offers so much more.

In the beginning
were Ranginui the father
and Papatūānuku the mother.

The children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku were tired of the darkness all around them. At first they considered killing their parents but after much discussion, they decided to separate their parents and bring light to the world. From this opening we are then introduced to the children as the gods and guardians they are.

Every culture has it’s own creation myth and these stories weave their way into the fabric of everyday life. The Maori creation myth is the story of how light came to Aotearoa and it is a story of cultural significance which makes it a must-have in all New Zealand schools. Its larger format makes it ideal for reading aloud and showcasing the wonderful illustrations.

White Rose

By Kip Wilson

ISBN 9780358376699

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

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

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

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

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

“…the world will see

and the world will know

and the world





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

Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories

By Jeff Kinney

ISBN 9781761043956

Penguin Books

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

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

I love the purple cover.

The King’s Nightingale

By Sherryl Jordan

ISBN 9781775436560

Scholastic NZ

I loved this from the start and right up until the very last page. It is epic and powerful.

Elowen and her family live on the Penhallow Isles. Life is simple and she is happy, especially with her blossoming relationship with Heath. Then pirates arrive, burning houses, capturing many people, including Elowen, her father, brother Fisher and Heath. They are stripped naked and kept below deck, overcrowded, hungry and enslaved. After a harrowing journey where not everyone survives, they finally dock and are immediately sold as slaves. Elowen is separated from her brother but makes a promise to him that one day she will find him and they will return home together, safe and free.

Eleowen’s journey as a slave is difficult but she has a gift. Her ability to sing like a nightingale makes her a favourite with the King but that brings many other problems. Sherryl Jordan’s writing keeps you wanting to read the next chapter and the next to see what fate awaits Eleowen. The story involves slavery, betrayal, oppression, inequality of gender, survival, and even forgiveness.

Eleowen dreams of freedom but just what is freedom and what is the cost of that freedom? Elowen is strong, but her mistakes and risks have severe consequences. Her desire for freedom is so strong but at what cost?

At the beginning of this YA novel there is a list of main characters which is very useful. There is also a glossary of the Rabakeshi words Eleowen learns in her country. And a map. Who doesn’t love a map in books! This is a book I believe will make headlines. Gritty, strong characters, quality writing and an excellent story.

Tomorrow Girl : A tale of Mindfulness

By Vikki Conley

Illustrated by Penelope Pratley

ISBN 9781925820362

EK Books

Tomorrow just can’t help herself. She is so busy rushing through each day that she forgets that sometimes it is better to slow down and enjoy the day.

Yesterday is so worried about things that happened or went wrong in the past, that she is afraid to do anything or try new things.

Tomorrow meets a boy called Today and it is through this new friendship that she realises there is a better way to view the world. Taking time to watch the clouds and discover dragons hiding in the sky is far better than rushing around and missing things.

Tomorrow girl is a sweet book of mindfulness. A reminder to us all to enjoy life, worry less and not always be in too much of a hurry.

The Poet Slave of Cuba

A biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

By Margarita Engle

Illustrated by Sean Qualls

ISBN 9780805077063

Henry Holt and Company

A verse novel is the perfect format for telling the story of the famous poet slave Juan Francisco Manzano.

The account of his life is horrendous. His treatment as a slave to the wealthy slave owner is told with deliberate, careful choice of words. The impact on the reader is gut-wrenching. The fact that the young slave survived such a harsh life is amazing and credit is given to his own courage, strength, and determination.

Juan was taken from his family and kept as a slave. His parents were freed but a wealthy slave owner kept him, even demanding that he call her mama. He was treated like a pet animal, worked hard but punished severely, cruelly, and beyond anything we could imagine.

Juan had the special ability to learn poems from other poets, sonnets, verses, all by heart. He could recite so much of what he heard and this gave him hope. It was not until many years later that he learnt to read himself and then write his own poems.

This is a harsh book but beautifully written. My stomach turned many times as I read this. The story is told in alternating voices from Juan and other people in his life, including his mother and father’s point of view, and even the slave owner, La Marquesa de Prado Ameno. What I find very interesting is how the slave owner tries to justify her actions in Juan’s life, making excuses for the treatment he receives at her command. Unbelievable! I wanted to shout at her, “leave him alon”e, wanted to yell at him to “run, escape”.

This is not a new book, but it is new to me and it has left me wanting to read more about the poet, and read more by the author.

One of my favourite extracts is right at the beginning (page3-4).

My mind is a brush made of feathers
painting pictures of words
I remember
all that I see
every syllable
each word a twin of itself
telling two stories
at the same time
one of sorrow
the other hope

I love the words
written with my feathery mind
in the air
and with my sharp fingernails
on leaves in the garden

When my owner catches
a whiff
of the fragrance
of words
engraved in the flesh
of succulent geranium leaves
or the perfumed petals of alelí flowers
then she frowns because she knows
that I dream
with my feathers
my wings

Sleep Little Kiwi, Sleep

Written and illustrated by Deborah Hinde

ISBN 9780473515201

PictureBook Publishing

Kiwi birds are mostly nocturnal, so when Little Kiwi wakes up at night time he is naturally feeling hungry and goes searching for food. Children will enjoy learning a little Te re Māori as other night creatures are introduced to us as he forages among the forest floor in his search for kai.

After a long night Little Kiwi is ready for bed again.  The sun is about to come up and the birds are starting to sing ready for a new day.

This is a fun, informative picture book with gorgeously cute illustrations.

There is a double-page spread at the back of the book with images of the many creatures, birds, insects and animals he meets along the way. They are nicely labelled in both English and Te re Māori.

Great for pre-schoolers and early primary school aged children.

The Skeleton Family

By Ian Chapman

Illustrated by Cheryl Smith

ISBN 9781988538563

Bateman Books


We all have skeletons and we all have skin covering our skeletons but this particular family just happen to be skinless. Even the family pet cat and dog are just bones. They do everything other people do, like baking, going to school and singing. Everyone just accepts them as they are; a family of skeletons. Well, that is until a new family move in next door and they find the whole skinless skeleton family, quite frightening. The skeleton family have to come up with a plan to try and let their new neighbours know that they are just like everyone else and are in fact, just a normal family.

A little bit lesson and a little bit fun. Checkout the downloadable song which goes with this picture book. There is also a page all about skeletons for those eager readers who love learning facts.


Kylo Kitty moves to the city

By Chantal Venter

Illustrated by Katerina Kalinichenko

ISBN 9780473528553

Kylokitty Books

Kylo Kitty goes searching for friends. He meets creatures big and small on his journey. Just when he is about to give up, he meets a special cat who offers him help and friendship. Pre-schoolers will enjoy the cute illustrations.

Sometimes we don’t really need to go looking for friends as they are already there in front of us, or in this case, just behind.

The Great Aotearoa Puzzle Book

By Barbara Telfer

Illustrated by Minky Stapleton

ISBN 9781775436591

Scholastic NZ

This book is jam-packed with activities to keep busy minds entertained. Children aged seven up and right through to adults will enjoy testing their knowledge of all things New Zealand. Heaps of ways to test your te reo Māori; both language and basic knowledge. There is just so much to do and learn.

There are word finds, crossword puzzles, mazes, codes to crack and even some fun te reo Māori maths puzzles.

I can see family members having to get their own copies to fill out their answers on quizzes and try and outwit siblings. How about teams of parents against children. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be sharing my answers.

This is a perfect choice for eager minds wanting something to do during the upcoming holidays.