Saturday, 23 November 2013

Picture Books

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Patrick McDonald
A Perfect Chirpy Christmas
Random House 2013  $19.99pb 32pp
ISBN 978 1 7755 3495 2

Themes:  Northern Hemisphere Christmas/ Wishes

Flit is a small, oval shaped bird that longs for a White Christmas with all the trimmings. He sets off from his warm nest in the South to see life in the Northern Hemisphere. And what does he find?  A white Christmas was wonderful. But there was no Christmas more perfect than a Christmas with family and friends.  A gentle and subtly told story with meticulous images by a newcomer to this genre, Patrick McDonald, who was the winner of the 2013 Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Picture Book Illustration.

Preschool up/ Age 4 up

I took this picture of Kyle and Patrick at the launch at the Children’s Bookshop at Kilbirnie last night.  Kyle told us that Flit’s wishes have a parallel in real life. Some time ago he and his wife wanted to experience the magic of a White Christmas so they left their warm home in Millers Flat and travelled to the Northern Hemisphere. However what met them was not sparkling snow – just cold and damp. This year they will celebrate in the (hopefully) broiling hot sun in Millers Flat, Central Otago.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Change of Address

Next week, on Thursday November 28th I will, for a few hours become a person without a landline or a box number. Then, hopefully, the cogs will click into the right places and from then on I will be able to be contacted at:

Phone:             04 293 1247

Box Number:    PO Box 113 Waikanae

and, unchanged:


Mobile:             021 2173217

(It’s moving day that day and the forecast is for – wet and windy both where I am leaving from (Wellington) and where I am headed (Waikanae).

Fiction - Age 9 up

UK Writer & Illustrator
Cressida Cowell
How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero
Hodder Children’s Books 2013  $19.99pb 398pp
How to Train Your Dragon series
Penultimate title in the series
ISBN 978 1 4449 1398 9
Themes: Dragons/ Funny stories/ Series/ Vikings

This title is number 11 in the series about Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third who grew to be a fierce and strong Viking warrior but in the books he is still quite a young man and has much to learn – often at his peril. In this, the second to last story in the series, although Hiccup with his companions, is hiding high up in the mists of the Murderous Mountains and the fates seem to be gathering against him, he is determined to reach his dream and become King of the Wilderwest. This is a series that has kept its impetus, humour and appeal since the first book, How to train your Dragon was published ten years ago in 2003. There have been spin-offs in the form of a movie, a TV series and short stories but I think you get the very best of Horrendous from the real thing - the book. This would be a great book to share with a group but it would need to be told by a really skilled reader-aloud because of the tongue-twisting names of the characters and the pace of the plot.

Year 5 up/ Age 9 up

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Picture Book

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Vasanti Unka
The Boring Book
Puffin 2013  $25.00hb 32pp
ISBN 978 0 1435 0575 4
Themes: Words and their use
The words in the book are sooooo boring. So boring in fact that sharp eyes will be able to see it has already been withdrawn by Whakatane Public Library and cancelled by several others Then one day the words in the boring book rebel and decide to have some fun…This is a book which will enjoyed at several different levels  - older students may like to read the words in the two replicas of the boring book – that if they can stay awake to read them and younger people will love the way the book bursts into glorious colour once the words realize just how important they are.    
Year 1 up/ Age 5 up

Picture Books

NZ Writers & Illustrator
Scholastic NZ (text), illustrated by Miles Lawford
Maori lyrics by Kotuku and Te Okahurangi Tibble
CD song in Maori and English sung by Pio Terei
The Twelve Days of Kiwi Christmas
Scholastic NZ, 2013  $19.99pb  32pp
ISBN 978 1 7754 3167 1
Themes: Children’s songs/ Christmas music

In an exuberant ‘retelling’ of the familiar The Twelve Days of Christmas the reader is given a three-way treat. White sheep, Boogie boards, jandals, Hobbit extras, jars of marmite and meat pies from the local dairy (and more) nestle together in English, the second section of the book is in Maori and there is a bonus CD with the whole song sung in Maori and English. The illustrations, which take up three quarters of each full-page spread, are equally exuberant.

Preschool up/ Age 4 up

Friday, 15 November 2013

Meet Maia Book Tour

Belgium Writer & Illustrator
Tine Mortier, illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire
Maia and What Matters
Book Island 2013  $29.99hb         28pp
ISBN 978 0 9876 6966 7
Themes:         Friendship/ Grandparents/ Lies/ Perseverance/ Strokes
I am posting this review on the last day of the week long Meet Maia Book Tour and what a hard thing that is to do. So many of the good things about the book have already been said so I will have to hope that there are some people reading this who have not been following the tour as I set the scene. Maia had always been impatient right from the moment she was born, there in a wicker chair under a cherry tree.  Her first word was a demand -  ‘cake’. We don’t hear all that much about Maia’s mother but as she was too engrossed in her book to move from her seat in the cherry orchard just as Maia was being born, it is not all that surprising. Maia’s best friend, companion and partner in ‘crime’ is her grandmother who also loves cake, exploring the wonderful garden and swinging up to the sky. They are best friends. Then one day Grandma has a stroke and shortly after this Grandpa dies. Although she no longer can communicate with the adults, Grandma makes it known to Maia she wants to see Grandpa and to touch his hair once more. Impossible say the adults but never underestimate the power of a determined and impatient little girl. We see they have made it to Grandpa’s side as shown in perhaps one of the most poignant illustrations in the whole book.
I can’t say enough good things about this production from the brave and non-sentimental story it tells to the amazing images covering each generous page which not only reflect what is happening but takes the reader beyond the story to explore more ideas. This is a story about the lies adults tell children probably hoping to protect them from hurt and about the resilience of children and the ways they cope and find the truth. There will be adults who feel this is not a topic for a children’s picture book but hopefully they will be few.  I shared the story and the pictures with a six-year-old last weekend and the experience was all positive!
In my opinion this is a truly beautiful book.
Year 1/ Age 5 up

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Picture Books

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Tania Atkinson, illustrated by Viv Walker
Over the Hill to Greytown
Wai Art Press, 2013  $20.00pb 28pp
ISBN 978 0 4732 5252 6

Themes:         Greytown, New Zealand/ New Zealand history/ Repetitive stories/ Rimutaka Hill Road/ Stories in rhyme/ True stories

Around 1850, three seedling gum trees were stolen from outside the Rising Sun Hotel in Greytown.  They had been left there by a recently arrived English migrant, Samuel Oates and his companion, Fairweather, who had walked all the way from Wellington pushing a barrow over the rudimentary Rimutaka Hill  track with the trees and other goods. They had dropped in to the pub to quench their thirst. The trees were planted out in Greytown by the thieves and one can still be seen today in the St Luke’s Anglican churchyard. .

Tania Atkinson and illustrator Viv Walker have taken this great story and turned it into a nursery rhyme picture book for younger New Zealanders although older children will enjoy it as well.  On the way over the hill, Samuel Oates who for the sake of story is now travelling alone, gives rides in the barrow to a host of animals, birds and at one stop, two small children and all the time the barrow gets bigger and bigger to accommodate them. This is a wonderfully repetitive story to read aloud with much opportunity to join in. I read it to four-year-old twins last weekend who, if they don’t like what I am sharing with them simply join hands, get up and walk away. This time they sat entranced and shouted out the words as the pattern became clear to them. The charming illustrations have been meticulously matched to the story and the end pages show Samuel, his wife and children growing older as the tree and their house grows much, much bigger.

There is a great air of cheerfulness about this whole publication and the added bonus of a possible trip to see the tree in Greytown all add to its charm.

Preschool up/ Age 4 up

I was privileged to be asked to launch this book last night in Wellington (it had already been launched (twice) in the Wairarapa) and about 40 people piled into the ever-hospitable Children’s Bookshop out at Kilbirnie.

Tania and Viv are in the middle of the image. I can’t imagine what I was saying but it seems to be making them laugh and, in the case of John McIntyre, smile.

Lynne Jackett took the photo.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Picture Book (for all ages)

NZ Writer & Illustrator

Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

A Book is a Book

Gecko Press,  2013  $24.99hb 40pp

ISBN 978 1 8775 7992 9

Themes:         Love of books

This is a many layered celebration of a love of books that could be enjoyed across a wide range of ages. Every statement in the book can be read many times over with a new thought occurring each time. The project was first thought of to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Whitireia Publishing and many publishers, editors and writers were consulted.  I was at a function at Millwood Gallery, Wellington last week where we met the four children who acted as advisers during the making and creating and crafting of the book which explains why it works so well. The really charming illustrations sit comfortably on the pages and I am going to keep my copy permanently on my bedside table. On one of the pages it tells us A book smells kind of dry, like cauliflower and you know, this one really does!

When you remove the paper cover on the hard back edition – surprise – there is another, quite different but equally delightful image underneath.

Year 2 up/ Age 6 up     

Julia Marshall, Director Gecko Press, looks on as one of the advisers re investigates the book at Millwood Gallery

Monday, 11 November 2013

Moving House and Home

I am moving house in 17 short day's time so between today and around 8th December there may be a little disruption to the frequency with which I enter on this blog. But I will do my best to keep going because great new books seem to be piling up on the floor (no desk left to put them on!).  Every room has three boxes which keep being replaced as they fill up  - one for the rubbish/ one for the Salvation Army/ one for material (including books and more books) to move with me. The cat is beginning to look deeply suspicious.

I have told all my assessment 'clients' that I am not accepting any new manuscripts to look at until after 8th December when I will be sitting at my desk in my new office in my new house.  Fortunately my email ( will remain the same – if you want any more details just contact me on that address.

Maia Blog tour

The innovative Maia Blog Tour is taking place all this week.  See Friday's entry for my review of this new book from Book Island and visit the blogs on the poster above between now and November 15th. 


Saturday, 9 November 2013

An over active imagination!

Hero of the Hill by Joy Cowley

I have been doing a little research this morning on the Rimutaka Hill and also on the fell engines.  I remembered writing something about them in a footnote back in September when I reviewed Joy Cowley’s new book Hero of the Hill. I had a nasty feeling something didn’t quite equate with what I had written when I said I remembered travelling in a little fell engine to Cross Creek from Wellington.  What nonsense! The fell engines pulled the trains up the incline from the other side of the hill and I must have travelled in a railcar.  It also reads as though I was in the engine itself. It was a scary journey, it did feel very steep and I did take books to Cross Creek School but it can’t have been a little wooden train as I write. Put it down to an over active imagination and a thwarted desire to write children’s stories only vaguely based on truth!
Look at the interesting pages at the back of Hero of the Hill for the real facts (and share the story preceding them with a child).


Friday, 8 November 2013

2014 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship

It was a great evening for the whole genre of 
Children’s Literature in New Zealand.
 I was so privileged to be there last night when it was announced that Mandy Hager, Young Adult writer and tutor extraordinaire, has been honoured with the 2014 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship. This means she will be spending a big part of next year writing from the villa Isola Bella where Katherine Mansfield lived and worked toward the end of her life. Mandy told us she plans to spend much of her time researching for a novel about the French nun, scholar and writer Heloise d'Argenteuil, who had a sad love affair with the 12th Century religious philosopher Pierre Abelard. As well as looking mind- boggling gorgeous in a green silk dress, Mandy made a generous speech in which she said how inspiring it was going to be to be able to walk in the footsteps of the greatest New Zealand writers who have been there before her and to have the time and the freedom to work away from her usual commitments. She ended by saying how wonderful it had been to be able to say to her husband, Brian, ‘Darling – come with me to the French Riviera!’

I took this photo of Mandy in The Children’s Bookshop Kilbirnie last year. She is talking to Ruth MacIntyre and in the background are David Hair (back only!) Geoff Palmer and Fleur Beale. 


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Fiction - 10 and up

NZ Writer
Philippa Werry
Lighthouse Family – Coastal New Zealand 1941-42
My New Zealand Story series
Scholastic 2013  $18.99pb         240pp
ISBN 978 1 7754 3147 3
Themes:         Deafness in children/ Lighthouse life/ World War Two

Living in New Zealand in the early 1940s was a scary business for children and even more so for the adults who tried to keep the worry of the of threat of a Japanese invasion away from us. However for Frances, who lives in a lighthouse on an island where she is the only girl, has much more to worry about – including her young brother Stephen who is deaf and it seems she is the only person who can make him laugh. Writing a book far into a series that already has at least 26 titles is not easy but there is a freshness and interest about Lighthouse Family that I found particularly addictive and the attitudes and the prejudices of the time blend neatly into the story. Frances can be added to the writer’s growing list of appealing and likeable heroines. The extra fact pages, photos and timelines make it a useful resource for any study on Living in a Lighthouse.
Year 6 up/ Age 10 up