Thursday, 28 March 2013

Picture Book - The Silly Goat Gruff

NZ Writer and Illustrator
Scott Tulloch
The Silly Goat Gruff
Scholastic 2013       $19.50pb         32 pages
ISBN 978 1 7754 3105 3
Themes: Adaptations of fairy tales/ Funny stories/ Goats/ Stories in rhyme

A new fresh look at an old story but cleverly constructed so the bones are still there and recognisable. Willy and Billy and Silly Goat Gruff of course want to cross the bridge to where the grass is greener but are hampered by the presence of the fearsome Troll. Silly, who is not so silly, is the biggest goat, with the letters of his name standing for Super, Invincible, Lion Like and Yodelling. A bright story and bold illustrations typical of this illustrator/writer just make the original seem a tad pallid.  Even the Troll, who is fearsome enough, has a certain appeal and (almost) charm about him, making us feel rather sad when he meets his comeuppance.  Great to read out loud to a group (especially for a reader who likes to put a bit of drama into their story telling)  
Preschool up

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Non-Fiction Anzac Day – The New Zealand Story

NZ Writer 
Photos from various sources
Philippa Werry
Anzac Day – The New Zealand Story
New Holland Publishers 2013        $24.99pb   64 pages
ISBN 978 1 8696 6380 3

Themes:  ANZAC Day/ Gallipoli Campaign
In plenty of time for ANZAC Day 2013 the author has produced a carefully structured account of nearly all the details about ANZAC Day young readers (and their teachers) will want.  Interspersed with the ‘fact boxes’ are many examples of poems from well-known writers of the time – Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Binyon and Thomas Bracken. Unlike so many books of this sort which are illustrated with sometimes rather dreary black and white photos, this is bright with well sourced colour images which must have taken many months of research to find. A full index is included and I was touched by two of the entries that just say Bess (horse) p 32 and Freda (dog) p 42.
I can see this becoming a much-thumbed resource and fortunately it is well bound. A book to either read right through at a sitting or, to enjoy dipping into its many enticing headings. Whichever way, it will be used.   
Year 5 up/ Age 9 up (and adults will find this a wonderful read as well)

Photo of the author thanks to Philippa Werry 



NZ Writer and Photographer
Jill MacGregor
Tareima’s String
Puriri Paddocks (33 Puriri Road Waikanae) 2013        $29.99pb   28 pages
ISBN 978 0 4732 1918 5
Themes:  Kiribati, Pacific Ocean/  Pacific Islands -Life and culture

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is a large area of low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean north west of New Guinea. On the Tarawa Atoll in the village of Abatao 
lives Tareima who, from the photos, looks around 7 or 8 years old.  She has been given a certificate showing her good work at school and needs some string to hang it on the classroom wall so she goes to Kabuatekai, the string maker. In what is almost a photo essay we see the whole process of string making from the gathering of the green coconuts, the removal of the husks and the soaking in the salty waters of the lagoon. Tareima then begins the long and painstaking job of rubbing the fibres into strands. This is one of those great books where the photos don’t just accompany the text, they tell the story as well. One of an on-going collection of titles in the Children of the Pacific series produced by an author who believes in documenting the life and culture of the Pacific Islands in a time of great change. (Soon Tareima will just go into the supermarket and buy a ball of string or even just stick it up with cellotape.) 

Other titles in the series to date are:
Wrapping it up – Samoa
Kelea’s clothes – Tonga
A nest of pigs – Cook Islands
They are all available from the author at the address given above.
I am sure teachers (and individuals too) will fall gratefully upon these books as a much needed part of the Pacific Islands collection.
Year 2 up/ Age 6 up


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Wellington Writers Walk

Tomorrow will see the unveiling of the four new benchmarks on the Wellington Writers Walk - to be launched  by His Excellency, Lt Gen, the Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae and Lady Janine  Mateparae down on the wharves around 6-30pm. I am a member of the committee that has been working toward this moment for the past 6 months and on Friday morning, when it is all over, we will all get our lives back (they've been bound by emails recently) and I will be able to start blogging with a vengeance! The new writers to be honoured are Jack Lasenby, Joy Cowley, Sir James McNeish and Elizabeth Knox.

Here is the Denis Glover plaque on the Walk- if you could read the words you would realise how appropriate the little red tug boat actually is!
Photo: Barbara Murison

Fiction Queenie

UK Writer and Illustrator
Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
Doubleday 2013 $34.99pb   410 pages
ISBN 978 0 8575 3112 4

Themes: Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II 1958/ Grandmothers/ Miltree Orthopaedic Hospital, UK / TB treatments 1958/ Unpasteurised milk

Life in the children’s ward of a big orthopaedic hospital in Miltree in the UK in 1958 is the setting for this story told by 11 year old Elsie who has developed TB of the knee. This was the time when TB was talked about in hushed tones as it was equated with dirt and unmentionable disease and generally unhealthy living. The fact that Elsie’s beloved grandmother has also contracted the illness adds to the problems of keeping it secret.  I often find that Jacqueline Wilson’s female heroines have a certain sameness about them – they are feisty, outspoken and have a habit of getting their own way in the end. However, she is not afraid to explore the big issues of the times – attitudes to single mothers, poverty and the dreaded TB. I am sure the descriptions of life on the children’s ward are absolutely based on fact and I found the whole 410 pages (a good chunky read) really riveting. Sadly I have not had a chance to try it out on children yet.
Year 6 up/ Age 10 up

 Photo of Jacqueline Wilson acknowledgements to the Guardian Newspaper UK

A couple of weeks ago I went on a tour of the old fever hospital up in Newtown here in Wellington that is about to be converted into a permanent home for the SPCA. It certainly gave us a feeling of what it must have been like to be isolated in such a place and being wheeled out onto the long verandas (often in very cold weather we were told) to breathe in the healthy fresh air.  And, there was no TV around in the early 1950s.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Please look upon this Blog as a Work In Progress.  I am very aware there are many strange things about it at present (the layout for one) but with a little help (well much help actually) from my friends we are getting there. I am hopeful it will all be up and running very smoothly by the end of the month and that it will be really easy to find your way around.

In the meantime do please enjoy all the wonderful books I am writing about and which are now coming through my mail box in a totally satisfying manner.
Look out for Tareima's String by Jill MacGregor which I will try to put up before the weekend is over. This is part of what I think will be a really helpful series -Children of the Pacific.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Picture Books The Three Bears (Sort Of)

NZ Writer and Illustrator
Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
The Three Bears (Sort Of)
Scholastic NZ 2013        $19.50pb   32pages
ISBN 978 1 7754 3068 1

Themes: Fairy tales (adapted) Funny stories

The narrator is telling the story of the three bears absolutely straight but is constantly interrupted by the listener who must be a bright, cynical and rather tiresome child.
 Why is the Mummy Bear cooking it? (The porridge). Wouldn’t bears just eat the oats raw? Are you saying this (broken) chair could support the weight of a baby grizzly bear – probably about 60 kilos – but not the weight of a 30-kilogramn girl? Come on! This is lots of fun especially for children who really know the old fairy tales. Sadly, of course, many arrive at school nowadays without having heard any of them! I can see this going down well with many secondary school age students.
Preschool up/ Age 4 up


Adele Jackson has created the wonderful paper cut banner heading for this blog that you will see above and which  Fifi Colston has just kindly installed for me.  If you like it I hope you will say so!!


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Fiction A Winter’s Day in 1939


NZ Writer
Melinda Szymanik
A Winter’s Day in 1939
 Themes:  Children in wartime/ Family life/ Polish refugees/ Survival/ 
World War 1939-1945 Poland/ World War 1939-1945 Russia

Scholastic 2013        $18.50pb  285 pages 
ISBN 978 1 7754 3030 8

Note: review contains spoiler
 Adam  lives on a comfortable farm in a small village in eastern Poland and his life is sweet.  Then, when he is 12 years old, the area is invaded by the Soviet Red Army and  his whole life and that of his family changes forever. Shuttled off on a nightmare cattle train, they end up in a labour camp in Russia were they are starved of nourishing food and where their father is forced to work in the forests to earn money in order to feed them at all. In so many stories like this, the reader is aware of the writer telling the story. Here we hear only Adam’s voice as we agonise with him through his terror that this may be all that life is going to offer him and as he endures the death of his two sisters and then his mother. This book, which is based on the experiences of Melinda's father and his family, is hard to put down and even harder to forget. 

Year 7 up/ Age 11 up 


 Google Melinda's name for much information about this prolific and successful writer or explore her blog at

Photo acknowledgments to Melinda Szymanik


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Picture Books

Swedish Writer and illustrator
Ole Konnecke
Anton And The Battle
Gecko Press 2013        $34.99hb   32pages
ISBN 978 1 8775 7926 4
Themes:  Sequels/ Strength/ Verbal battles

Anything Luke can do Anton can do better. And louder. And with much more strength. Their claims of bravado become more and more over the top until  - along comes a small brown puppy and both boys end up in a tree. I found this a really perceptive and realistic story as the little boys’ claims are acted out in most preschools and primary playgrounds every day. I loved Anton Can Do Magic  (Gecko Press 2011) but I think I loved this present title even more. Great for sharing and for starting some ‘battles’ about what we feel we can do better than anyone else. 
Preschool up/ Age 3 up

I was talking to (well, emailing) Elena de Roo yesterday (The Rain Train/ Ophelia Wild, Secret Spy) and she told me her first novel for upper primary, early secondary readers has been accepted by Walkers, Australia. Tentatively called The Winning Name, it is due for publication early next year. I was privileged to be able to read it in manuscript form and I am convinced this will be a popular read for Year 7 up


 Elena in the Te Papa flax garden September 2012

Monday, 4 March 2013


UK Writer
Simon Mayo
Corgi Books  2013         $19.99pb         422p
ISBN 978 0 5525 6550 9
Themes:  Chemistry/ Funny stories/ Series/ Periodic table/ Secondary School life

Long-listed for The Carnegie Medal 2013

Fourteen-year-old Itch (short for Itchingham) is a bit of an outsider; loves chemistry and has decided to collect all the elements in the periodic table.  Then, one day he discovers a new element, never seen before and he finds he is being hunted by some sinister heavies.  This is a fast moving story, hard to stop reading and should be popular, particularly with boys from around 10 up.  This is the writer’s first book and he tells the story with a light touch.
Year 6 up/ Age 10 up

Simon Mayo lives in London where he works as a radio presenter of book and film reviews.
Watch out for Itch Rocks coming soon.
My copy fell to pieces after two enthusiastic and not particularly gentle 10 year olds had read it. It looks like that old, was it called, Skira binding where the pages are just glued to the spine? You might want to see if you can reinforce it in some way because it WILL get heavy use,