Book Review: Marmaduke Duck and the Christmas Calamity, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_marmaduke_duck_and_the_christmas_calamityAnother adventure in the series featuring the much loved Marmaduke Duck, this book continues in the same delightfully humorous vein as it’s predecessors and like it’s predecessors this book will make a terrific shared reading experience.

With Christmas in the title along with the word Calamity, one can guess that something unwanted may be about to happen and that the day of the year loved by children may be threatened… and when Santa and his Reindeer find themselves buried in the snow, a hero is needed. Who else but Marmaduke Duck could save the day?

With it’s cast of characters, delightful illustrations, rhyming words, exclamation marks and  neat little story, this book has it all: Adults and children alike, will love it!

A wonderful edition to the growing catalogue of New Zealand-written Christmas stories, Author and Illustrator have worked together to produce a book that will be welcomed everywhere, especially on every child’s bookshelf.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Marmaduke Duck and the Christmas Calamity
by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433903

Book Review: Did You Hear a Monster?, by Raymond McGrath

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_did_you_hear_a_monsterWhat do you do when you hear a thing go ‘bump’ in the night? A very good question, especially if you are Clarice Caroline who is afraid of EVERYTHING. No kidding, this dear wee girl is scared of a mighty list of things ranging from the usual spiders, wasps, loud noises, heights and snakes to the not so usual broccoli, balls, carrots, and bicycles.

That Clarice Caroline is a ‘shy and timid little girl who is neither courageous nor adventurous’, is nicely built up with examples of her reactions to scary things and serves to draw us into questioning just why she is up in the middle of the night. In the dark. This tension is further drawn out with spooky illustrations and word imagery: floorboards c-r-e-a-k-i-n-g and tall, whispery walls and echoey halls. The scenes and book design add to the building drama – she’s going down the dark hall… she’s opening the door… she’s peeking into a dark, dark room… you get the idea.
She reaches for the light…

And here we see just why this scared, timid girl has braved the night. To say more would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say it turns out that Clarice Caroline can indeed be brave when she needs to.

This is a great story to read aloud together; lots of opportunities for shrieking, squealing and screaming along with Clarice Caroline (apologies if it gets too loud!) as well as pauses for dramatic effect. I also enjoyed the vocabulary introduced here, words young readers wouldn’t often see these days: woozy, nor, mettle, pluck (as in courage), bottle (as in brave), and chutzpah.

Most kids enjoy a bit of a scare and Did You Hear a Monster? delivers them a monster story with just the right amount of drama and spookiness, well balanced with comic relief in the form of funny facial expressions in the illustrations and the surprise ending. This edition comes with a CD which includes a read-along version of the story, as well as two songs from the author. Pitched at littlies, they are cheery and catchy ditties that tie in with the story.

A lot of young readers may relate to Clarice Caroline and her numerous fears. How reassuring for them to know that others are also scared of things which may seem silly to our friends. And how reassuring to see that even though we might be scared of things, we can still be brave when it really counts.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Did you Hear a Monster? 
by Raymond McGrath
Penguin Random House 2016
ISBN: 9780143309130

Book Review: If I Was a Banana, by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart

Available now (and on NZ Bookshop Day) in bookshops nationwide.

GIVEAWAY: Comment below or on this post on Facebook telling us what type of banana, mountain, bird or cow you would be…if you were one. Closes 12 noon 26/10/2016.

cv_if_i_was_a_bananaAs a child, I used to imagine tiny worlds in the cereal bowl; that with every spoonful I might be separating families of rice bubbles. I also thought that musicians on the radio were performing live in the studio. I wondered, if you stepped on an ant, would its friends be sad? If I Was a Banana was written for children like me.

Whimsically written and gorgeously illustrated, If I Was a Banana will appeal to anyone with a modicum of imagination. What if you were a banana, or an elephant, or a spoon? If you were a ladybird or a mountain, what might the ramifications be?

I read my review copy to a class of five-year-olds, and it took much longer than a “regular book”, because the children were so engaged and so keen to talk about each idea and share their responses. As a teacher, anything that gets children talking and thinking is alright by me. They particularly loved the illustration on the last page, and the book was in hot demand after I’d shared it, so that they could explore the cloud drawings in more depth.

Gecko Press continue to produce high quality books that deserve to be on the bookshelves of all children, teachers and in libraries. I’ve written many reviews of Gecko Press for this blog, and read many more of their books than I’ve written about, and I am aware that I probably sound like a total Gecko fan girl by now. But it’s not my fault. Julia Marshall and her team are doing extremely good, and important work. Long may they reign.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

If I was a Banana
by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570331


The Topp Twins Treasury of Sing-Along Stories, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

cv_the_topp_twins_treasuryAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

The Topp Twins are just FUN. This book celebrates their total devotion to bringing pleasure to your family.

This is a collection of their published titles, and Jenny Cooper has brought the songs to life with bright humourous illustrations. These illustrations enhance the text, but in no way take over from the story being told. The selection of songs includes old time favourites like Do You Ears Hang Low, The Farmer in the Dell and She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

The CD comes with the book and I suspect there were quite a few laughs among the performers. There is a real country swing to the songs and an appropriate American twang to some. Coupled with the illustrations, a banjo playing hound dog in one, they really communicate a love of traditional songs for children.

I think every family needs a bookshelf of favourite books. These will be shared and enjoyed by each new member, and cause huge disputes when the grown up children divide up their childhood books. I had to buy replica copies of their favourite books, to gift to my kids.

The Topp Twins Treasury deserves a place in your family bookshelf. I even noticed my husband foot tapping to the music.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Topp Twins Treasury of Sing-Along Stories
Music from The Topp Twins, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434306

Book Review: Super Rabbit, by Stephanie Blake

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_super_rabbitI am always impressed by books published for children by Gecko Press and this latest offering does not disappoint.

Super Rabbit is a hero – well in the world of make believe, he is. His mother keeps calling him her little rabbit which really upset our super hero. He is capable of great things but jumping out of bed and landing on the cat isn’t one of them. In fact the cat is most unimpressed. Chasing down villains is his next task, but again this didn’t meet with much success. He jumped into the hollow of a tree which was very cold and dark. This super hero is scared and wants his mummy. Being scared and in pain is not a nice feeling but with his Mummy right there to make everything right for our little super hero, he is soon off on another adventure.

This is such a gorgeous book with wonderful illustrations with bright colours, simply constructed giving the little person being read to no doubt as to what the story is about. Quinn (2) was totally absorbed in the story, giggling at Super Rabbit landing on the cat and nodding when Mummy was there to comfort him in his hour of need.

The world of pretend, dressing up, fighting villains with swords but having the comfort of loving arms of Mummy when things don’t go according to plan is an excellent way to fire up a child’s imagination.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Super Rabbit
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISB 9781877579578

Book Review: Don’t Cross the Line, by Isabel Minho Martins, and Bernado P. Carvalho

Available in bookshops nationwide (and internationally).

cv_dont_cross_the_lineThis superb picture book encapsulates an entire collection of short stories, spurred on by the actions of one dictatorial General, who believes the book and all its pages belongs to him. The cast of characters is displayed in the front- and end-papers – which also tell the progression of the characters’ stories with their subtle differences.

Our dictator shouts at his guardsman on the title page, ‘This is how it’s going to be. I give the orders around here!’ The first character to enter the narrative is a dog, watched with a simple shift of the guardsman’s eyes. Then Nuno comes strolling along, obliviously heading for the edge of the page – “STOP! I’m very sorry, but no one’s allowed onto the right-hand page.” Nuno questions this, only to be told that the General requests that the page remain blank in case he wants to join the story.

Our cast of characters starts growing exponentially, and as each recognise the state of the story, they react in different ways, each with their own distinct personality – perhaps the best example (short of an entirely wordless book) that I have seen recent of showing, not telling, in a picture book. All we have is shouted, whinged and grimaced words. We have an irate granddad, an ET-esque Alien with a familiar narrative (he needs to make a phone call…), a happily dancing couple, a floating astronaut, a rock band, and a couple of escaped prisoners, among others.

As pages turn, our prisoners move urgently to get away from their guard, pregnant Clara gets irate, grunf grunfs and a ghost gets frustrated by his need to get to his frightening appointment. And our dancing couple carries on, oblivious.

The illustrations are so basic as to be child-like, and the eyes are huge, with irises the size of glasses and tiny pupils. But this adds to the joyful tumult of the page – if each detail was drawn with delicate penstrokes, you would lose the feel of the story, of the imperfect human characters and their reactions to another imperfect human, who just thinks he has to follow orders…until a couple of boys lose their red ball across the line. The entire cast follows the ball with their eyes, including our guard.

As he allows them across, the bank bursts and he allows everybody who has been waiting to go, for whatever reason they give, with a gracious smile on his face, and presumably to the disappointment of the ice cream seller who has only just arrived (but of course follows the crowd.) But of course this is not the end of it… the general returns. And the reactions of those who have been allowed through – even those who are nearly off the page, is genius.

This is a book for now, inspired by then. It is one for those kids that love to tell a piece of the story themselves – it reminded me a little of Mamoko in that sense – and those that just love to pore over a complex world of characters. And of course, it is one for adults who love curiously good picture books. And after a few tricky questions from my school-kid, I can definitely see it coming in useful the next time world events take us over. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Don’t Cross the Line!
by Isabel Minho Martins, illustrated by Bernado P. Carvalho
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570744


Book Review: A Moment’s Silence – Stalking the Stalker, by Christopher Abbey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_moments_silenceI love a good thriller and when this one landed on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

Martyn Percival is a New Zealander on holiday in the UK. He was travelling for 7 days on a British “Sampler Tour”. It is Sunday 7 May 1995 – a long weekend commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of VE day. His marriage of more than 30 years has broken up, he’s recently started up his own accounting practice after being made redundant, and he is now taking a well needed break.

A dusty Vauxhall Cavalier comes into view beneath Martyn’s window. Travelling on a bus has its advantages – you can look down on things and see things that perhaps you wouldn’t notice travelling in a car. The number plate of the Vauxhall J 842 MMP caught Martyn’s eye. As a child plate watching was his family’s travelling game. Families have their own games when travelling with children – it keeps everyone amused and entertained hopefully for hours. In Martyn’s case his fixation with numbers drove him to be an accountant. His coach creeps forward, grinding a few metres further up the hill. The car remains stationary.

Suddenly the Cavalier accelerates into view, squealing across the median line. Martyn cranes his head for a better view. The coach inches forward right alongside the grimy maroon Vaxhall. The car’s rear ledge has been removed and what appears to be a large metal-framed black box fills the boot space. On its top lies a grey flat moulded case, too large for a violin. The lid is sprung partly open, half-covered by a tartan travel rug. Two automatic weapons can now clearly be seen. One is a rifle with a folded metal butt embedded in foam in the case. The other – a smaller machine gun lies loose on the box top. Martyn points them out to a fellow passenger who confirms his suspicions. Definitely not AK-47’s, but some sort of assault weapons. Horrified at what he’s seen Martyn gets his camera out and clicks off a few frames.

After finishing the tour, Martyn hires a car to explore areas he visited on his recent bus trip. Sitting in a pub recommended to him by the B & B where he is staying in the Cotswolds, the television flashes up a bombing of Commando Memorial in Scotland, which he had visited on his bus trip. A memory of that day comes back to Martyn with sudden realisation that the Vauxhall Cavalier was parked in the vicinity – he can’t get the Vauxhall’s number plate out of his head – J 842 MMP. After some deliberation Martyn decides that he must report what he has seen, with the photos he took as further evidence.

What Martyn doesn’t know is a rogue IRA operative is on the loose – one Linus Calleson. Calleson 8 months earlier had put a plan to his superiors to blow up the Commando Memorial in Scotland on 11 November 1994 – Remembrance Day. His superiors put this plan on hold as peace talks had been held. Linus was bitterly disappointed but decided to go ahead without their support. To go against orders would be treason which carries only one penalty – death.

What follows is real a boys own annual story (well perhaps a grown up version) – the IRA, bombings, sex, murder, romance and of course not forgetting the villain Linus, with Martyn being in the thick of being stalked by Linus for being a “nosey bloody tourist”.
The characters and story flowed with actual events being slotted into make this even more believable and very realistic. The characters all have flaws making them even more human.

This was a gritty story that had me struggling between life commitments and finishing the book. This is the author Christopher Abbey’s first book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Moment’s Silence – Stalking the Stalker
by Christopher Abbey
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473361891