Book Review: Perfect Petunias, by Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_perfect_petuniasThis book successfully weaves a metaphor comparing letting go of perfection to growing petunias. Thanks to well-designed dialogue between the main two characters in the book, it leaves the reader with strategies to be willing to do what is within their capabilities instead.

The main characters are Loppy and Curly. We first meet Loppy just as she is giving up writing, declaring herself hopeless. The dialogue is very real and exactly as children speak, ‘I can’t do anything right!’ she exclaims as she stomps away. Children can easily see themselves as the characters through the realistic representations of language and behaviour throughout the book.

Curly is the voice of reason, patiently inviting Loppy to join her in the garden. She waits a long time (as an adult who has spent time with a child feeling frustrated with their need for perfection will relate to!). Curly is a calming presence for Loppy as she explains the metaphor of growing petunias.

Slowly Loppy takes on the calmness which Curly presents and comes to understand that you can’t control everything. Instead she takes a flower to remind herself to focus on trying to be your best self because if you focus on mistakes that is all you’ll see.

This is a heart-warming and charming story told through simple illustrations and clever use of colour (each character has one colour and Loppy’s red and white stripes loops through the pages as the story is told). It is a must for children who are perfectionists and need encouraging to try their best instead.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Perfect Petunias
by Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan
Published by Exisle Books
ISBN 9781925335583


Book Review: Māori at Home, by Scotty and Stacey Morrison

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_maori_at_home‘Ko te kāinga te Māori o te reo (The home offers the vital essence of language)’. These words from Sir Tīmoti Kāretu articulate the inherent potential of a language that lives through daily life. Everyday communication provides the wellspring of relevance and development that ensures a language’s future.

Yet according to the last census, there is a decline in people who speak Māori on a day-to-day basis across age groups, with the exception of the older generation (those aged 65 or over). It follows that, although there is increasing public awareness of te reo thanks to its presence on RNZ and in our schools, in place names and common words, its use in the home remains fundamental to its well-being and proliferation.

Scotty and Stacey Morrison believe that this is the place to learn a language in the context of busy modern lives. In their new book Māori at Home they encourage the use of te reo through an ‘up-and-go, quick survival guide to help you use te reo Māori with your family’.

Learning any language is a discipline, where at first we are subject to the seemingly dry and dusty tasks of memorisation, repetition, grammar, set discussion pieces and so on, This can feel like learning in a vacuum – or an abstract experience, devoid of texture. But when language rubs up against the everyday, it is brought to life because there is an immediate application for it. That is not to say it is easy to learn this way, but that the learner can start using the language straightaway.

Māori at Home is a guide to the informal language of the household and focuses on the use of functional language – the vocab that is used most often – because the book is fundamentally about ‘using the reo, not just learning it’. Scotty and Stacey have devised this approach as a response to challenges that they’ve identified facing adults who wish to learn te reo in the home: they often don’t have linguistics background from schooling; grammar can be off-putting with its jargon; and we are a time-poor society – people need to be able to fit language acquisition into their lives. The idea is that by using it immediately and learning by example – in some ways similar to how a child would learn – the reo is reinforced through practice and context.

The scope of the book ‘covers the basics of life in and around a typical Kiwi household’. It is divided into eighteen different settings – from ‘Before School’ to the ‘Digital World’ and ‘Gardening’ – where terms and vocabulary that are relevant to that environment are explained. While this book does not have a grammar focus, it does begin with an introduction that provides an overview of basic phrase structures. These are then repeated and built on throughout the book, so the reader has a chance not only to learn the relevant terms, but patterns in how to construct phrases too.

Although the Morrisons hope to cultivate an experience where one learns the way one might have at home as a child – not understanding the ‘why’ but instinctively learning as kids would – there is a key difference. For most there will be no experienced speaker of te reo in their household for guidance, further exposure, pronunciation and the feel of the language.

This is where ample amounts of commitment and energy are needed to learn all the words and phrases included between the covers and to seek out supplementary material – there are a number of online resources for the motivated. Setting goals and planning is suggested in the book as a means of providing structure and incentive to work.

There is much promise in te reo: Māori language and culture are unique to this place; learning another language brings new ways of understanding the world and expands our thinking. Speaking and hearing the reo fosters and strengthens a collective identity as a bicultural nation. And maybe, one day, with enough commitment, we might become a bilingual one.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Māori at Home
by Scotty and Stacey Morrison
Published by Raupo
ISBN 9780143771470

Book Review: Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore, by Sally Carson & Rod Morris

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_collins_field_guide_to_the_nz_seashoreNew Zealand is experiencing a long hot summer with people flocking to the beaches found along the 14,000 kilometres of coastline, to cool off. Children love to potter in rock pools to discover the creatures of the ocean but how many of us can give them a name?

The Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore is designed to be taken to the beach ‘encouraging a closer look at the community living between the tides’.

‘The seashore, or intertidal zone, is the area of the shore covered by seawater at the high tide and exposed air at low tide.’

In the guide Sally Carson and Rod Morris have dedicated a page for each plant or animal with text and excellent photographs to capture the reader’s interest, and assist with the identification of species.

I found the section on seaweeds particularly interesting as I often bring seaweed home for the garden and it will be fun giving some of the plants a name. I remember my mother being very excited if she found Carrageenan seaweed on the beach, gathering it up to take home to make the milk pudding as discussed in the book.

The guide also includes a section on coastal plants which have extended their distribution into the intertidal zone, adapting to cope with the salty environment. These play an important role in stabilising the sand and mud, helping to slow down the erosion of the coastline which is under constant barrage from the weather and the waves.

Rodd Morris is a former zoo-keeper and conservation officer, documentary –maker, author and award winning photographer who has contributed to thirty books over the course of his career.

Sally Carson is the Director for the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre at the University of Otago and an expert in identification guides for the plants and animals found on New Zealand’s seashore.

They have included some pages at the end of the guide on the changing ocean and coastal concerns with climate change, as well as a comprehensive list of books, articles and websites for those who want further information.

This is a great resource for families who enjoy wandering around the coastline, as well being a great tool for teachers when they take their class to visit the rocky shore.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore
by Sally Carson & Rod Morris
Published by HarperCollins NZ

Book Review: What’s your favourite colour? by Eric Carle & friends

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_whats_your_favourite_colour.jpgWhat’s Your Favourite Colour will be a fantastic addition to any art shelf for inspiration and to spark conversation about colours – both at home and in schools. Fifteen children’s book artists answer the simple question posed in the title and all respond through illustrations and text.

This is a visual feast, because each artist has created their own double page spread. As you turn the pages, each page is unique in style and voice. Handdrawn illustrations, computer graphics, collage; sometimes whimsical, sometimes detailed, sometimes bold and bright.

Likewise with the text – each artist explains the ‘why’ behind their colour choice in their unique voice. Some reasons are profound and connect to childhood memories or lived experiences or the emotions which colours provoke. Others are matter of fact – a yellow sun or an orange tiger. Some artists answer through poems, others have written paragraphs and one or two keep their response to one sentence – letting the picture speak for them.

It is a delightful read and very unpredictable as each artist speaks honestly. We see green elephants, we are transported to the beach for mint ice cream and you can imagine the red of birds flying. Grey is mentioned twice by artists and others are very specific in their colour choice (Yuyi Morales chooses Mexican Pink to be exact). Finally, Uri Shulevitz leaves us loving all the colours suggesting they are having a party.

Each picture, text and colour is an opportunity to conjure a vivid image in your mind. The book provides a provocation for the discussion of colours and why we like different colours best of all. I can’t wait to see children’s artistic responses to this book!

Reviewed by Sara Croft

What’s your favourite colour?
by Eric Carle & friends
Published by Walker Books Ltd
ISBN 9781406356526


Book Review: High Country Stations of Lake Tekapo, by Mary Hobbs

Available in bookshops nationwide.
Lake Tekapo, with its dazzling blue glacial water and backdrop of the Southern Alps, is one of the major drawcards of the South Island’s Mackenzie Country. Tourists flock to experience these mountain vistas as well as the clear night sky, water sports, tramping and skiing and skating in winter.

In High Country Stations of Lake Tekapo, Mary Hobbs has captured a community that is the backbone of this part of New Zealand: the high country farmers who farm the sweeping tussock country. Living and working in close proximity to the area has enabled the author to unravel the history of eight stations around Lake Tekapo – the original Lake Tekapo, Mt Hay, Richmond, Mt Gerald, Lilybank, Godley Peaks, Glenmore and Balmoral. She says, ‘it was a long search to find some of the stories, but it was also fun because it was a mystery as to where the clues would lead.’

Hobbs begins her journey with Tekapo Station when Barbara and John Hay took up the lease of the station in the winter of 1858. A number of other owners came and went over the years , some suffering hardship from snowstorms or family tragedies, until the property was divided into neighbouring properties when much of the land was lost through the raising of Lake Tekapo for the hydro-electric scheme in 1948.

As she travels up the gravel road to the other properties the author finds very similar stories of hardship and loss but there are also the positive ones such as how the Roundhill Skifield came to be established on Richmond in 1961. The ski club ran the field until August 1963 when the work became too great for volunteers and it was run as a commercial enterprise.

Run holders have changed their farming practices, introducing deer on to properties as well as increasingly using helicopters to muster the high peaks and gullies. Hobbs has recorded these changes with her methodical research on all the properties in the vicinity of the lake, and produced a valuable resource which will be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

The text is supported by a couple of maps and numerous photographs, many captured by the author, while old black and white photos enhance the earlier stories adding much to the whole visual experience.

Lake Tekapo is an area I visit from time to time and I will be checking out many of the sites mentioned in the book, especially the site of the first homestead on Tekapo station the remains of which can still be seen at the lake edge when the water level is low.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

High Country Stations of Lake Tekapo
by Mary Hobbs
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503475

Book Review: Kiwicorn, by Kat Merewether

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kiwicornThis is such a cute, positive book. It celebrates individuality of all types, with a tiny bit of toilet humour thrown in to stop it from being saccharine.

The Kiwicorn is a unique creature, part Kiwi-part unicorn as the name implies. The illustrations present a cuddly, cheeky little creature that would make a great soft toy. Each double page spread has three descriptions and opposite a summary sentence, kind of like a value statement. For example, the left hand page asks, ‘Who is gentle, gutsy and good-hearted?’ The right hand page answers with, ‘Kiwicorn! I care about others and they care about me.’

Kiwicorn would be a great book for families to share to encourage self-acceptance and to celebrate the personality of their child. A wide range of attributes are included in the story, from politeness to rebelliousness, with a lot in between, so there will be something for everyone. The illustrations are delightful and engaging, with extra little details to spot.

I can imagine this book being a lovely shared book for children as young as two, and I will be using it with my class of 6-year-olds this year to build acceptance of differences and individual strengths. And also, just because it’s rather charming.


Reviewed by Rachel Moore

by Kat Merewether
Published by Illustrated Publishing
ISBN 9780994136428

Book Review: The Death and Life of Australian Soccer, by Joe Gorman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_death_and_life_of_aust_soccer.jpgThis is primarily a book about sport, but it is also so much more than that. It tells us a lot about recent Australian history, especially about post-war migration, and its urban setting. Although it is about football culture, it is also about Australian society, and the cultural place of sporting success; as well as a real insight into its urban history.

Joe Gorman is a journalist, but mostly comes across as an enthusiastic sports fan, and a lover of soccer. Or should that be football. The central part of the book is that the soccer culture of post-war Australia was fundamentally ethnic, founded in the clubs created by mostly continental European migrants. The most successful soccer clubs, prior to the creation of the A- League, were unashamedly ethnic. Indeed, most of the soccer clubs attached ethnicity to their names, especially for the Croatian and Greek teams of migrants, but the Italians and even Jewish clubs were also prominent.

But two basic things went wrong. Firstly, the Australian football federation always had a problem with ethnicity, especially when nationalistic identity led to violence between supporters. The second was that the national competition, the NSL, was never a viable commercial product that could compete with other football codes, especially once television coverage was involved. Moreover, the issue of the role of multiculturalism became a political one, and soccer exemplified the ethnic tensions in urban areas. So, eventually, administrators from other codes came along to solve the old soccer problem, and create a football league, one based on clear commercial lines.

Gorman’s historical account also explains some of the more odd features of the A-League. Some of these aspects had developed over time, such as the idea of playing a winter sport over summer, in the Australian heat. Other aspects were borrowed from other codes, especially rugby league, in having a grand final at the end of the year, rather than the winner being the top team on the points table. But rugby league also has long-standing clubs with histories of participation, whereas the A-League was started from scratch, and would effectively rub out the old club system and rivalries. It turns out that most of the stalwarts of the game see this as a backward step, and, at best, a necessary compromise to increase popularity. Gorman calls it gentrification.

Indeed, Gorman is as good at using metaphors and hyperbole as any sports journalist. He describes the A-League as a ‘membrane’ that seals off the elite game from the grassroots, and the development of individual players and club-based identities. Moreover: ‘the story of soccer in Australia…is a vast mess of shattered dreams, colonised tribes and forgotten heroes, splayed out like a Jackson Pollock painting across the landscape of Australian history.’ (page352)

He, of course, has tried to reinvigorate the memories of the forgotten heroes, both on and off the pitch. He also paints a picture of desolate former club grounds in ruins.

All of which makes one wonder what a New Zealand team is doing in the A-League. Certainly the Wellington Phoenix has been far less successful than the Breakers in basketball, for example. And Australian football is focused on Asia, having left the Oceania federation as losers. But rather than look at the elite level, reading the book makes one think of the New Zealand club system. Where I grew up, in Lower Hutt, the key figures were all migrants; but almost all were Anglo-Saxon, not Slavic. And no one had a problem with a New Zealand team that sounded like an English side.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

The Death and Life of Australian Soccer
by Joe Gorman
Published by University of Queensland Press
ISBN 9780702259685