Sunday, 25 September 2016

Winner of the David Fickling Books (UK) Master of the Inkpot Competition 2015

NZ Writer  Leonie Agnew  The Impossible Boy  Puffin 2016   $19.99pb 203pp  ISBN 978 0 1433 0906 2  Themes: Children in wartime/ Imaginary friends/ Survival/ War zones

Ben is only six years old, has already survived a train crash, and now is living in an orphanage in the middle of a war zone and has, of necessity had to create an imaginary friend who he calls Vincent just to see him through. It is Vincent who tells the story… Clear precise writing helps the reader enter in to a narrative that is as unusual as it is addictive – a story you really cannot help thinking about. Although it is basically upsetting, traces of the well-known ‘Agnew humour’ do break through and at times I almost expected Conrad from Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand to come through the orphanage door.

The book was officially launched yesterday afternoon at St. Heliers Community Library Auckland  - I wish I could have been there!

Year 6/ Age 10 up    

Leonie reads from her new book at the launch yesterday afternoon. Image acknowledgements to Clare Scott

Red in tooth and claw in ancient New Zealand

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Gillian Candler illustrated by Ned Barraud
From moa to dinosaurs – explore and discover ancient New Zealand
Explore and discover series No 5
Potton & Burton 2016   $19.99pb 36pp
ISBN 978 0 9475 0309 3                                                  
Themes: Ancient times/ Extinct creatures – New Zealand/ Series
A very cleverly constructed and researched production that takes us back in time to visit New Zealand (Gondwana/ Zealandia) of 80 million years ago and earlier. Realistic images show what it might have been like (and to feel grateful we were not there to witness it all!). The text is full but simple enough to be understood by younger readers and all statements are supported by HOW DO WE KNOW? boxes.
This is Number Five in the series and Gillian is currently working on Numbers Six and Seven. Titles? At this stage that is definitely still under wraps but if they are anything like the earlier five they will be indeed be worth waiting for.
Year 2 up/ Age 6 up (- even younger children will enjoy this (and those no longer children) )
A signing session at the Children's  Bookshop Kilbirnie for an earlier title in the series

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The vanishing Huia bird

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Julian Stokoe. illustrated by Stacy Eyles
12 Huia Birds
Oratia Books 2016   $24.99hb 32pp
ISBN  978 0 9475 0612 4                                                 
Themes: Extinct birds/ Huia/Stories in rhyme/
This could so well be a lament for the passing and hunting of such a beautiful creature but instead it turns into a positive celebration of times past. It begins in the ancient forests of New Zealand and really seems to end with the sight of the first canoe paddling up the creek. Rats, dogs, powerful chiefs, scientists and ladies of fashion with big hats all have a hand in the final demise and we are left with memories in the form of paintings, displays and songs. Good illustrations appear on a forest coloured background of green and brown, blues (not too much – this is the forest floor) and oranges. The text is a bit clunky and obvious in places and not easy to read aloud. But, it is a great book to share with a group and, so long as it is not too big, to encourage finding the birds as their numbers get smaller.  An app is also available.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Silhouette and Paper Cutting

USA Writer & Illustrator
Clay Rice
Ants ‘N’ Uncles
Gecko Press 2016  $24.99hb 32pp
ISBN 978 1 9429 3468 4                                                 
Themes: Paper cutting/ Silhouettes/Stories in rhyme/ World Tours
Stepping on an ant’s nest precipitates us and the storyteller into a world tour of quite crazy proportions.  Silhouette paper cutter and storyteller Clay Rice is a master at his crafts and while this may not be a book at buzzes at you to pick it up immediately I was delighted at the reaction to the story when I read it aloud and at the quite impressive ‘paper cutting’ that followed.

Preschool up (and for much older students who will get lots of ideas from this)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Prescription drugs for teenagers

UK Writer  William Sutcliffe  Concentr8 Bloomsbury 2016 $18.99pb 237pp ISBN 978 1 4088 6624 5 Themes: Futuristic London/ Gangs/ Hostages/ Prescription drugs

This is London in the not too distant future and all the ‘troubled’ kids are on a new drug – Concentr8. This is the story of what happens when five of these young people no longer have access to the drug- they didn’t mean to get into this sort of trouble but now the whole world is watching them. A fairly quick read of a tense and totally frightening look at what could happen in London – or anywhere.

Year 10 up/ Age 14 up - mature readers

Monday, 12 September 2016

An idyllic famiy holiday

NZ Writer and Illustrator
Sally Sutton, illustrated by Cat Chapman
When We Go Camping
Walker Books 2016 $28.00hb 28pp
ISBN 978 1 92197778 7
Themes: Camping holidays/ Family togetherness/ Stories in rhyme
There are 28 pages here describing the sort of camping holiday it would be wonderful to think children still experience - making new friends/ cooking on the BBQ/ swimming in the sea/ boiling the billy/ peeing in the long-drop/ singing round the campfire – and not a tablet or mobile in sight.  Text that cries out to be read aloud and generous illustrations in water-colour and ink spread over every double page,
Preschool up/ Age 3 up

The Chinese Cultural Revolution

Australian Writer
Wai Chim
Freedom Swimmer
Allen & Unwin 2016 $18.99pb 347pp
ISBN 978 1 76011 1341 4
Themsdes: Chinese Cultural Revolution/ First person narrative/ Friendship/ Swimming
Ming has always led a hard life as an orphan and as a labourer working in the fields. When a group of city boys come to his village as part of a Communist Party re-education programme Ming makes friends with one of them – a boy called Li and together, over evening swims and discussions they start to talk of something neither have ever known – freedom.  This is not a very easy book to read but for those who stick at it it will be an experience.  
Year 10 up/ Age 14 up

A new series begins

Australian Writer
Mardi McConnochie
Escape To The Moon Islands
Quest of the Sunfish Book One
Allen & Unwin 2016 $16.99pb 345pp
ISBN 978 1 7602 9091 7
Themes: Adventure stories/ Corruption/ Fathers/ Good read alouds/ Pirates/ Sea stories/ Series/
Annalie’s and Will’s father disappears and the adventure begins when they set off for the Moon Islands in the sailing ship, Sunfish, to find him. Readers who enjoy real adventure will be drawn in at once by the enticing jacket which puts them in the centre of the action and will not be disappointed by what is contained within… For me it was unputdownable.
Year 6 up/ Age 10 up

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Kiwis Awarded the Victoria Cross

NZ Writers

Glynn Harper and Colin Richardson  Best and Bravest  HarperCollins 2016 (2006)  $19.99pb 196pp  ISBN 978 1 7755 4086 1  Themes: Victoria Cross/War in Afghanistan/ ‘Willie’ Apiata/ World Wars I and II

Here are the war stories of deeds and actions so outstanding they were felt worthy  to be selected for the highest military honour for bravery in the British Commonwealth – the Victoria Cross.  This is a reprint of the 2006 edition and has been brought up to date to include Willie Apiata the recipient of the first New Zealand Victoria Cross. I know cost is an enormous factor in publishing these days but this would have been such an inspirational book to turn on reluctant readers (yes, especially boys) and it is not so likely with such a low impact production and printed on paper that brings back the smell of visits to the local stationery shops of my childhood. (Of course I hope to be proven wrong)

Year 6 up/ Age 10 up

From Chow Chow to English Cocker Spaniel

Available October 2016
French Writer and Illustrator
Dorothee de Monfreid
A Day with Dogs
Gecko Press 2016  $34.99hb 64pp
ISBN 978 1 7765 7098 0
Themes: Dogs/ Everyday life/ Seasons/
Nine very unique and appealing dogs take us through a ‘typical’ day in their lives (as though they were human) from getting up in the morning/ showering and bathing/ eating/ going to school/ exploring colours, the alphabet, feelings… All the dogs are (well to me, a passionate dog lover) totally irresistible and it is possible to follow your favourite dog through his day.  Printed on thickened paper this is one of those magic books it is possible to put down in the midst of a small group of three, four and five-year-olds and without any adult intervention (until it is asked for or they want to share something with you) know they will be totally hooked for the next half hour at the very least.   
Preschool up/ Age 4 up 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Winner Joy Cowley Award 2015

NZ Writer and Illustrator

Joy H. Davidson, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson

Witch’s Cat Wanted Apply Within

Scholastic Books 2016  $19.00pb 32pp

ISBN 978 1 7754 3372 9

Themes: Cats/ Job interviews/ SPCA/ Witches

This young witch has everything (well almost) – the cauldron, the tall black hat, the spell book, the broomstick, the recipes and to say nothing of a spectacularly slim figure. There is just one thing missing – the perfect witch’s cat. In spite of the job interviews she holds not one seems right until the cauldron spits out the letters  - SPCA and there in a dark corner…. A perfect picture book that tells the story as much by the illustrations as by the words – and is great to read aloud as I have just found out.   

Preschool up/ Age 4 up  

(Note: The Joy Cowley Award is announced the year before the book is published)

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

NZ and Australian Writers' Lives

NZ & Australian Writers  Judith Ridge - editor  The Book that Made Me  Walker Books 2016  $22.99pb 253pp  ISBN 978 1 9222 4488 8  Themes: Writing lives

32 New Zealand and Australia writers including Mandy Hager, Bernard Beckett, Ted Dawe, Shaun Tan, Cath Crowley and Catherine Mayo give insights into the books that hooked them as children and young adults as well as sharing parts of their writing lives. This is totally engaging and fascinating material and has been meticulously collated with supporting lists of the books mentioned and writers’ backgrounds. I think this may have been available for a couple of months but I have only just received it. Once read it is a bedside table book (well for me anyway)

Secondary students to adults  

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Grandson and grandmother collaborate on book

NZ Writer and Illustrator
Cassidy Abbot, illustrated by Dinah Priestley
The Wicked Plum Tree
Anchorage Press, 31b Patanga Crescent, Thorndon, Wellington (04 4727257) 2016  $20.00pb 24pp
ISBN 978 0 4733 5821 1
Themes: Determination/ Environment/ Plum Trees  
The poor plum tree - in the twelve years it had been in the garden, it had only borne 12 plums. Colonel Frogmorton had had enough and was about to take an axe to it. However, along came Fox, a young gardener with one blue and one green eye who suspected the tree was suffering from depression and who was certain he could save it. The story is written by 12-year-old Cassidy Abbot and illustrated by his 77-year-old-grandmother. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next.
Preschool up/ Age 4 up 
Dinah and Cassidy -  Acknowledgements to Kapi Mana News


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Talking to Katie Haworth - Writer and Editor

This is one of my favourite images of Katie  - I am not sure who took it 
And here some very recent pictures of her, taken in Rome a couple of weeks ago. The photographer is Angus Ramsay 


         I first met Katie when she and I were on the Wellington Storylines Committee now several years ago. One of my most colourful memories of her is just before one of the Storylines Family Days here in Wellington and we had enthusiastically but possibly rather over ambitiously decided to fill the quite large venue with balloons – I know that it did take a very long time to prepare them – surely we had a mechanical aid for this?

I will see if I can find the photo of Katie surrounded by balloons  - she was such an enthusiast she probably would have blown them up herself if need be.  Later: Sadly this now seems to have vanished from the files. (I found many fascinating photos from the past while I was looking for it though)

          Katie herself seemed to vanish from my life as people do sometimes but I heard she had gone to Auckland to work as the Commissioning Editor for the Penguin Group.  Then, about six weeks ago, to my great delight, I had an email from Susie Kennewell, the publicist at The Five Mile Press in Australia asking if I would like to see one of their new books Petunia Paris’s Parrot written by a New Zealander but now living in the UK and working as the Senior Commissioning Editor at Templar Publishing in Chelsea, London – Katie Haworth. So. That is how this ‘Talking To’ interview has come about …

Hello Katie
I feel there is some catching up to do here! Would you like to share a potted version of what has happened in your working life since you left New Zealand two years ago?

Well, I left Penguin New Zealand in February 2014 and travelled to London – via a few other countries as well. There were a few reasons for this. I loved Penguin and NZ, but I wanted to work in a country where the publishing industry was big enough to specialise more – it would be very difficult to just be a picture book editor in NZ, like I am now. When I got to London I spent maybe six weeks madly interviewing for publishing jobs at different companies – actually it was wonderful way to learn about the industry over here – and I started working at Templar in May 2014. Seems an age ago now. I’ve now been at Templar more than two years and I’ve been lucky enough to work on some fabulous books. This includes picture books and non-fiction such as Historium and Botanicum in the Welcome to the Museum series. I’ve also been doing a lot of spoken word poetry around London. I was actually inspired to do this by Dr Selena Tusitala Marsh who I saw performing at the Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and the Arts in London last year. I loved what she did and thought – I want to give that a go.

I only started trying to write picture books when I came to London. I think part of the reason for that was an excited, energised reaction to a new place, but also the sense that London is so big no-one cares what you do, which can be very liberating creatively.

Petunia Paris’s Parrot is such a thoughtful story as well as being very funny. It arrived just as the children were about to break up for the holidays so I haven’t had a chance to share it with a group – yet.  Is there a back-story here?  How did Petunia come about?  (*Later – I have  now had a chance to share the books with children As I thought it went down wonderfully well and they especially liked the last colourful pages).

I’m often frustrated by consumer society’s tendency to throw stuff at a problem in the hope it will fix it. I’ve been guilty of attempted shopping therapy myself. The basis of many advertising campaigns is that having a new thing will make us happy. When I first moved to London I also had a flatmate who was a teacher at a very wealthy London private school and some of her work stories – we’re talking children coming home from school holidays with stories of amphibious launches and private islands – were horrifyingly fascinating to me. I also like big characters and improbable worlds – so setting something with a sort of New York Park Road mansion backdrop was very fun. It means I can create mothers with ridiculous feather hats and invent characters that are long-suffering butlers.

By browsing your Facebook Pages I find that Petunia was not your first book. Terrible Tim (sadly not available here in New Zealand) looks amazingly energetic and there may be others? Yes?

So far Terrible Tim and Petunia are the first picture books, but also look out for Emma Jane’s Aeroplane due January 2017 . . .

Do you have ‘access’ to a large (or even small) group of children on whom to try out your ideas and to whom to read your work?

Not really. I maybe should – I did have a lot of fun reading Petunia to a friend’s Brownie pack when it was at proof stage. I got them to be the parrot (squaark). When I was at Mallinson Rendel I spent a lot of time touring with Lynley Dodd and I think watching her and other authors interact with young audiences has given me an insight into how children will interact with a book.

Have you always been involved with books and stories? Were you a ‘Book Child’? Did you use the public library much when you were a little girl growing up in Auckland?  Did you have access to a good school/ college library?  Do you remember any books you loved to pieces when you were small?

My Mum is an obsessive book buyer and our house was always bursting with books. We used libraries too, but I have much fonder memories of the books that I owned and sometimes ate (literally. When I was reading Maurice Gee’s Halfmen of O series I got so involved I’d rip corners off the book and chew them. Forgive me, ladies and gentlemen of the book-loving jury, I was eight and hungry for literature . . .). I have fond memories of the North Shore Library and I still remember my Ancient Egyptian phase (I learned from a North Shore library book that Egyptian Pharaohs married their siblings – Blurgh!) and my Judy Blume phase, all library fuelled. We used to have a lot of good NZ and Australian fiction at home and I grew up with Gee, Mahy, Cowley, William Taylor, Mary Grant Bruce, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Peter Gossage, the Armitage’s Lighthouse keeper books and too many more to name.

What support is there for new and emerging young writers, particularly of children’s books, in London?

Is there a similar event to our Book Awards for Children and Young Adults held in the UK?  

There is, of course, a much large population density in the UK, so there are lots of regional events. Edinburgh Festival, from which I’ve just returned , has a great children’s programme, as does Hay Festival, Imagine Children’s Festival in Southbank London, the Bristol Festival and many others. There are a number of children’s book awards such as the Waterstones Awards, the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. For new writers I think groups like SCBWI British Isles ( are very helpful because they help writers network and it’s a lonely profession.

 The bookshops here (and my own bookshelves) are full of stories for children and young adults by writers from the UK (and the USA and Australia.) How much New Zealand material do you find in bookshops (and libraries) in London?

There isn’t much – I tend to see Lynley Dodd; Ronda and David Armitage; some of Gavin Bishop’s Gecko Press titles; Kate de Goldi . . . actually when you consider that we’re a country with half the population of just London that’s not bad. Oh! And Templar did publish Vasanti Unka’s Stripes! No! Spots! in the UK.
There are a lot of children’s books from overseas here though – so it’s not all British by any stretch. We get a lot of good European books translated into English like Maps by the Polish illustrator/writer couple Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski.

Where would you like to see yourself in the world of books in 10 years time in 2026? Do you think there will be big changes in the ways children and young people access not so much non-fiction but stories by then?

I hope I will still be there! I’d still like to be publishing and writing.  Something! Anything! I just want to be playing some part in telling stories.

 I honestly don’t know the answer to the second question. Non-fiction publishing for children has, for example, recently become focussed on beautiful illustrated books and high quality formats and very much tied to the physical book.

That wasn’t expected even in 2013 when I went to the Click on Kids conference in Sydney, which was a seminar exploring digital publishing for children. We were saying things at that time about non-fiction publishing being very, very difficult. In the UK now it’s a massively successful and innovative area. Titles like Animalium illustrated by Katie Scott or Shakleton’s Journey by Will Grills have gone gangbusters in the UK.

I honestly think children will still enjoy and respond to words and pictures on a page. In 2026 there may be different ways of doing this, but I think the core heart of what storytelling is won’t have changed that much.

At the moment it’s still actually very hard to get interactive book apps to work commercially. They are hugely expensive to make but the price consumers are prepared to pay is often much lower than for a book – digital is perceived as more ephemeral.

There are interesting possibilities for things like augmented reality. How do we take a format like Pokemon Go and use that in narrative?

 Thanks so much Katie and I look forward to seeing and talking about Emma Jane’s Aeroplane early next year.