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Book Review: The Mouse and the Octopus, Retold and illustrated by Lisala Halapua

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_Mouse_and_the_octopus.jpgThe oral stories of our Pacific neighbours are rarely seen in print. This book is the first in a series that intends to remedy that.

Here we see a tale found in many cultures, but this one is based on an old Tongan fable. The hungry little mouse goes searching for food. After looking in the traditional places, Mouse ventures out across the reef. The advancing sea threatens to drown Mouse. Octopus intervenes and saves the life of Mouse, but there is a twist to the story, which leads to the design of a fishing lure: the culmination of the story.

The tale is simply retold, and the illustrations are easy to follow. At times, the language was a little wordy for a children’s book, but as a retelling, this is perhaps hard to remedy.

The information about the origin of this Tongan story, is given on the back cover. I found this a little confusing as I read the book from the front, and only made the links at the end. I think a simple map of the Pacific with Tonga clearly marked, as well as the information about it being a traditional tale would be best at the start of the story. As this is to be a series of books it would be of benefit for each title to clearly show the location on a map of the South Pacific.

I was delighted to read this first story in the Island Fables series and look forward to many more tales.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Mouse and the Octopus
Retold and illustrated by Lisala Halapua
Published by Talanoa Books Ltd
ISBN 9780473380168

Book Review: The Great New Zealand Robbery, by Scott Bainbridge

Available nationwide from Wednesday 26 July.

cv_the_great_New-Zealand_robbery.jpgWho knew this robbery even happened? Certainly not me, true crime reader that I am. In this page turner Bainbridge unfolds the story of the so-called Waterfront Payroll Robbery which took place in downtown Auckland in 1956. A well executed robbery for that time: other than a smoke filled office and an empty safe, there was no indication whatsoever  who the robber/robbers were.

A cast of characters straight from the pages of a crime novel are brought to life here in a realistic and believable way, back stories are fleshed out, questions are asked and the reality of the criminal element that populated Auckland at that time is unraveled. Then there is the Police Force, who wished nothing more than to be rid of this element and have them all locked behind very strong bars, methods and modus operandi be damned: the procedures book made reasonable reading but did anyone really expect they would follow it? In the Auckland of the 1950s, crime was very much under the radar, in fact generally Auckland was pretty crime free and most of it featured the activities of the “Underworld” of whom Joe Average would have no knowledge.

In this book Bainbridge excels at digging, chipping away and unearthing a story that is little known. He paints a vivid and gritty picture of 1950s Auckland, the story flows, there are twists and turns in the tale, and each character – good, bad or indifferent – gets his moment in the sun. By the end of the book, we know that a certain gentlemen served time for the crime – but we don’t know if it was a solo or group effort, and we don’t know where the money ended up, here or over the ditch. This, however, does not detract in any way from the books effectiveness or the readers enjoyment of it.

I have read earlier work by Scott Bainbridge and have always enjoyed it. This book simply adds to his reputation as a very good writer of non-fiction crime and those who pick it up, will enjoy it.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Great New Zealand Robbery
by Scott Bainbridge
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781877505768

 

Review: Tāwhirimātea: A Song for Matariki, by June Pitman-Hayes, illustrations Kat Merewether

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_TawhirimateaMatariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades, and for many Māori it heralds the start of a new year. This title has been released just in time for 2017’s Matariki celebrations.

Māori mythology and Matariki are woven together to tell a story of the seasons. Each page is dedicated to celebrating our Earth, sky, seasons and whanau. The text flows and rhymes its way across each page, moulding with the illustrations effortlessly. It’s a beautiful waiata and June Pitman-Hayes has been perfectly matched up with Kat Merewether to illustrate. Kat’s drawings are vibrant and full of meaning.

‘Tawhirimatea, blow winds blow. Ra, warm us up with your sunshine glow’.

Having Maori words integrated with English in the first half, and then the whole story retold in te reo in the second half is a great way to encourage young readers to explore both languages.

This book doesn’t disappoint and there is lots to look at on every page. My daughter and I spent ages pouring over each page, exploring them. It was fun to read aloud – or sing aloud rather – and a bonus that you can listen to the CD too, which is a beautiful addition to the book.

Reviewed by Nyssa Walsh

Tawhirimatea: A Song for Matariki
by June Pitman-Hayes, illustrations by Kat Merewether
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434139

Book Review: Waiting for Goliath, by Antje Damm

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_waiting_for_goliath.jpgIn this sweet but not saccharine story about true friendship, Bear is waiting patiently for his best friend Goliath. The seasons slowly change and still Goliath doesn’t come, but Bear keeps his faith, and is rewarded at last.

A gentle but not simple story, Waiting for Goliath celebrates the virtues of patience and loyalty, and the extraordinary illustrations will delight readers both young and old.

Gecko Press describe Antje Damm’s method as creating dioramas out of cardboard then photographing them, giving them ‘a special lumosity and depth’. I can’t think of a better way to describe the illustrations; they’re captivating, and have little details that will entrance younger readers. I feel rather like I could get sucked into the pictures, and keep returning to the book time and again to look at them.

I read Waiting for Goliath to my class of 5 and 6 year olds, who enjoyed the illustrations as much as I did. They loved that genuine surprise when Goliath was revealed, and it lead to conversations about friendships, and being a good friend.

Highly recommended for children from 3 upwards.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Waiting for Goliath
by Antje Damm
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571413

Book Review: Twice Upon a Time, by James Norcliffe

cv_twice_upon_a_time.jpgAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

When Ginny meets a gnome named Digger Dagger in her garden, neither of them are sure where in the world he has come from. There isn’t much time for wondering, however – Ginny’s beloved Pop has gone missing, and not even the police can seem to find him! Luckily for Ginny, Digger Dagger seems to know what they need to do. Together, they must solve three riddles for the Very Bad Very Good Storyteller to figure out where Pop has gone.

In the strange world that Ginny and Digger Dagger journey through to find Pop, everything seems to be back to front. The Fish N Chip shop has been replaced with the Chip N Fish shop. The fun fair in town has become the Unfairground, and the ghost train now has a terrifying twist. As Ginny and Digger Dagger solve their riddles and search for clues in this topsy-turvy world, they are helped (and hindered) by a cast of quirky characters – the Very Good Very Bad Storyteller, a man in a red top hat, Pop’s dog Badger and a girl in a polka dot sweater.

The way that the story combines such imaginative magical themes with settings that are so uniquely New Zealand is exactly what made The Loblolly Boy such a fabulous read. With imaginative characters, fast-paced dialogue and a great deal of lamingtons, Twice Upon a Time is a wonderfully fresh fantasy novel. I think that this book will be hugely popular with children who have a penchant for magic, quests and puzzles. As with all of James Norcliffe’s work, the writing is juicy with clever wordplay; it isn’t dry for a second, and will hook readers of all kinds.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Twice Upon a Time
by James Norcliffe
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770671

 

 

Book Review: Heloise, by Mandy Hager

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_heloise.jpgThis is a big book. Not big in size at a reasonable 381 pages, but big in scope and ideas. It’s a book that you want to take time and care with, so that you can appreciate it as it deserves.

Lots of people may know the names of Heloise and Abelard, even if like me, they don’t really know the details. Abelard was widely celebrated as one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century; Heloise was among the most lauded of his students, made more notable because of her gender in a time when women were most definitely meant to be barely seen and certainly not heard.

Mandy Hager tells the story from Heloise’s perspective, filling in the historical gaps with seamless narrative. She starts with Heloise’s childhood, about which next to nothing is known, and traces her life through to her teenage years and adulthood, and her fateful meeting with Peter Abelard. The story is well paced and rich, with excerpts from Abelard and Heloise’s own writing, and many references to other great thinkers including Ovid, Seneca, Aristotle and Socrates. With a lot of the story taking place within a religious setting, Sts Augustine and Jerome also get regular look-ins. The content is quite dense – not in a negative way, but in the way that a lets you know you’re reading a book that’s been really well thought-through, researched and edited.

A reader with modern sensibilities will rage against the unfairness with which Heloise is treated, where even Abelard, who professes to love and respect her, treats her as a chattel without feelings and ambition of her own. Abelard eventually comes across as a fairly unsympathetic character, even though Heloise’s love and forgiveness of his behaviour wins out time and again. I found myself snarling at some of the male characters in the story quite regularly … the perils of being a modern reader of historical fiction, I suppose!

Heloise reminds me of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, dealing in depth as it does with a historical figure who has name recognition, even if the reader doesn’t know much more. It’s substantial in the same way, and immerses you in a world that may be 800 years gone, but still echoes now in the 21st century. It’s not a light holiday read, but perfect for when you have time and space to read something substantial. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Heloise
by Mandy Hager
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143770992

Book Review: Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843, by M H McKinley

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

This book is a finalist in the category of Best First Book in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

warsNew Zealand history should be an important part of the education of our children but sometimes it is difficult to package the information in an easily read way. I think this might be the answer. A graphic novel takes the best of illustrations with the bare bones of text. Creatively combined, they tell a story in an engaging and informative way.

The story of the Pakeha Māori conflict at Wairau in 1843, marked the first major conflict between European and Māori. I grew up knowing it as the Wairau massacre, then the Wairau affray. Certainly, it was a sad story of greed, poor communication and mistakes on both sides. This version is based on the experiences of two boys, William and Arana. We hear of the confusion regarding land ownership and the injustice of the European law when a Maori mother and her child are attacked and killed. The devastating effects of English diseases also get a mention, especially on mental ability following syphilis. The narrative follows the events involving settlers, the NZ Company and the local Ngati-Toa.

The style of the illustrations fits the story. The colours are dark and threatening showing the harshness of conflict and the anger of the people. Expressions are vivid, details abound.

The book also includes excellent historical notes. These give an account of the actual events and biographies of each of the main characters. Photographs of the original sites and people add another layer of interest as do the newspaper pages on the back cover.

This book marks a new chapter in history for our children. It presents a clear, balanced version packaged in an easily read, well-illustrated book. I look forward to further titles in this series that will follow other events in the history of New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843
By M H McKinley
Published by Kin Publishing
ISBN 9780473356514