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Book Review: I’m the Biggest, by Stephanie Blake

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i'm_the_biggest.pngSimon is now so big he has his own self-named Netflix series! This little rabbit has taught our household how hilarious the words Poo Bum are, how brave you can be when wearing a cape, and how to negotiate swapsies with friends. He even went to school at around the same time as my youngest son.

So now it’s time for sibling rivalry. Simon has grown – but he hasn’t grown as much as Caspar (alias: Gaspard), and he’s not happy. The catch-phrase in this title is ‘No Way’. He accuses his mum of feeding Caspar more, then gets sent to his room for being cheeky, where he swears revenge.

They go to a park, where Simon is asked to keep an eye on his brother. He spots a big kid from his class trying to bully him, as he scores a goal in soccer.  Will he let it keep on happening? Or is he going to pretend like nothing is happening?

As a self-appointed connoisseur of Simon books, this one fell flat for me. First – modern parenting doesn’t look like this. I don’t send my kids to their room for saying ‘No Way’. If I did, they’d never be in the lounge (they say much worse, at times). And ‘No Way’ just doesn’t have the shoutability the previous catch-phrases have had.

That said, the rivalry between brothers certainly rang true, especially in the area of height. My youngest recently lost his 8th tooth, so they are now even in the number of teeth that have fallen out, to the chagrin of the elder brother! And they have the same size feet. And I could totally see the eldest seriously considering letting his brother be menaced, to get him back.

If you are a collector of Simon books, add it to the collection! But if you haven’t started on them yet, start with Poo Bum, and don’t forget A Deal’s A Deal. And if you want your kids to learn a bit about empathy, try 2017 title, I Can’t Sleep!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I’m the Biggest
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572021

 

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Book Review: Whisper of a Crow’s Wing, by Majella Cullinane

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_whisper_of_a_crows_wing.jpgPoetry collection Whisper of a Crow’s Wing is incredibly in tune with nature. The poem Winter Solstice exemplifies this. Here, Cullinane beautifully describes what the world is like on the shortest day of the year. Cullinane starts by telling us:

In the dark I cannot say what the day begins with. The curtains are closed
and dreams still drowse beneath our blankets.

This beginning perfectly captures the environment that envelops people and places in the middle of winter. The idea of dreams drowsing beneath blankets is a beautiful description of what life is like on these cold, winter days. Like we are all half-sleeping in winter, waiting for the sun to come out again. Even just these two sentences are enough to bring forward the image of slow days filled with grey.

Cullinane’s voice is beautifully lyrical and a perfect fit for the landscapes that she brings to life. The last stanza of the poem Learning to Breathe Again is a wonderful example of this, where she writes:

Better to consider
the small shapes in the gorgeous chaos of the world:
a snowflake flitting through the air,
swathes of blue and orange entangling the sky in their warm shawl,
glances to be tucked away like stones run smooth by rivers,
the shadows of our hands like wings, playing with the light.

Each image by itself is so clear and breathtaking. Placed together into a single verse, each image and sentence builds upon the last to help enrich the setting. By stacking up wonderful pieces of description in this way, Cullinane’s poetry tucks you into a stunning world. It feels like a world that has been touched by something magical, a world with a difference.

This way in which Cullinane lightly touches on the images around her makes her poetry so tender. Her poem Finale to the Season shows the world waking up from the winter landscapes that Cullinane had described in previous poems. Cullinane acknowledges:

We’re not there yet, but there are hints: in the pink-red clasp of sorrel,
the cicada easing a pitch lower, shedding its voice.

The subtle changes that come with the seasons is a wonderful subject that once again allows Cullinane to describe the nature around us so perfectly. She continues:

You are primed towards spring in the north, the light
drifting a little more each day like the black letters on this page
as they move across the white space, which remind me
of crows stalking frozen trees, or your breath hard and quick
as you sleep in the room we shared, each in our own narrow bed.

Cullinane’s reference to the poem on the page itself is excellent. The amount of light in each day grows incrementally with the onset of spring. Like this gradual change, the act of reading and moving across the page brings each word alive and into imagination.

Cullinane’s poetry style carries its own grandeur like the landscapes she describes. Her voice is distinct and clear. And in Whisper of a Crow’s Wing, this voice holds your hand, leads you through terrain, and points out details that you may have once missed.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Whisper of a Crow’s Wing
by Majella Cullinane
Published by OUP
ISBN 9781988531229

Book Review: I have lost my way, by Gayle Forman

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_i_have_lost_my_wayIt shames me to say that this is the first novel by Gayle Forman that I have read. However her reputation preceded her and I was keen to get into this book.

There are three central characters in this book – Freya who has lost her singing mojo, Harun who is planning to run away from home to find the boy he loves, and Nathaniel who has suffered a family tragedy and arrives in New York alone and without really knowing what he is going to do.

The three quite literally collide in Central Park, when Freya in a moment of inattention falls from a bridge on to Nathaniel who is passing below, and whom Harun thinks, for a moment, is his missing man!

The book takes place over the space of one day, during which Forman explores loss in various forms. She does this with real empathy for her characters, whose backgrounds and stories come across very well. Each one has some real issues to confront, and there’s quite a lot of insight into how some parts of the music industry, in particular, can be quite brutal.

The novel also deals sensitively with (in this particular case) gay men coming out to their families – or not – and how despite different ethnicities the issue is still, and only, that of acceptance and love.

Confronting issues of sexuality, depression, suicidal thoughts are all here, but dealt with in a way that I think would encourage readers to think and talk about issues which concern them.

The way these three young people connect, relate and provide support to one another might seem a tad far-fetched to an older, more jaundiced reader, but nonetheless it works. I was gripped from page one, and I recommend it highly to teenage readers. I hope school libraries will pick this one up too.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

I have lost my way  
by Gayle Forman
Published by Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781471173721

 

Book review: A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns, by Kate Hursthouse

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_kaleidoscope_of_butterflies.jpgHave you ever heard of a conspiracy of lemurs or a tower of giraffes? In her amazing work of art, Kate Hursthouse introduces us to the weird and wonderful collective nouns for 25 animals. Some are more familiar, like a herd of llamas and some are a little bit odd, like a circus of puffins.

A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns is a beautifully illustrated picture book that will enrich young readers and adults alike with new language to describe the wonders of nature. Her amazing ability to turn words into art make each page a masterpiece. Young children will love discovering the many patterns that make up the different creatures adorning each page of this book.

My early childhood class and I loved reading A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns. Children are fascinated by animals and we found this lovely book both insightful and humorous. Whoever heard of an army of caterpillars? This particular collective noun had us examining our monarch caterpillars for any sign of helmets.

A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns can be enjoyed for its brilliantly bold artwork as well as its informative language. It would be a treasured addition to any child’s bookshelf.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

A Kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns
by Kate Hursthouse
Published by Little Love
ISBN 9780473422356

Book Review: Scientist, Scientist, Who do you see?, by Chris Ferrie

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_scientist_scientist_who_do_you_see.jpgI’m not sure if there are any other books on the subject matter of this book, but I found this one an intriguing and rather refreshing look at Scientists and their impact on the world. Everyday things we take for granted. The format is such that even fairly young children can get some sort of understanding of the world that is around them – and still evolving.

Einstein,
Einstein,
Who do you see?
I see Marie Curie
In her laboratory.
Curie,
Curie,
Who do you see?

And so on – featured are also Ahmed Zewail, Grace Hopper, James Maxwell, Ada Lovelace, George Washington Carver, Chien-Shiung Wu, Alan Turing, Anna Mani, Charles Darwin, Katherine Johnson, Chris Ferrie (the author and finally YOU! You can change the world.

At the back of the book is a short explanation of what each scientist has achieved.
I think this book has an important part to play. Science is an exciting field – ever-changing with technology.

The author Chris Ferrie is a physicist, mathematician and also very importantly, the father of four, encouraging from an early age an interest in science.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Scientist, Scientist, Who Do You see?
by Chris Ferrie
Published by Sourcebooks / Distributed by New South
ISBN 9781492656180

 

Book Review: Rotoroa, by Amy Head

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_rotoroa.jpgChristchurch author Amy Head’s first novel Rotoroa is a masterclass in the minutely beautiful.

Following characters seeking ‘fresh starts’, Rotoroa weaves together three disparate narratives: naïve young Lorna, who, at 15, finds herself pregnant and turning to religion for comfort; Jim, an alcoholic husband and father who is sent to Rotoroa after failing to keep his drinking in check; and Katherine Morton, known more famously as the novelist and journalist Elsie K. Morton, who is contracted to write about the work of the Salvation Army on Rotoroa Island, the rehabilitation island for alcoholic men. Ensnared within the societal and religious binds that guide 1950s society, Lorna, Jim and Katherine each embark on an emotional (and sometimes physical) journey to define new lives for themselves while struggling within their typecast roles as daughter, alcoholic and ‘Lady Writer’.

Although it is explicitly a story about men, Rotoroa is implicitly a story about the steadfast women working behind the scenes – women who, were it not for pioneering journalists like Katherine Morton – may have been lost to the depths of history.

Spanning the years 1955–1959, the ease with which the social and historical realism bleed into the fictional narrative is a testament to the wealth of research that Head undertook in its writing. The non-fiction details are imparted through the narrative with a subtle and striking intelligence that is compelling in its pervasive emotional power.

The micro-level beauty of the prose is in its discreet attention to detail. In a Mansfield-esque manner, Head is master of the understated emotional epiphany. Interlacing not only three distinct narratives but also a non-linear time structure, each individual chapter reads like a self-contained short story. With sharp and often poignant beginning and end sentences, each chapter builds to the point of a subtle emotional revelation – so subtle, that every sentence demands to be read. Jim’s short, staccato-like chapters (which reach a pinnacle in a beautiful chapter where he goes fishing ‘at the sharp edge of the reef’) are balanced by Katherine’s longer mellow interludes as we journey with her on her final travel lecture throughout the USA and back home again – viewing 1950s New Zealand society from both the outside and in. Lorna’s story flows between and connects the two, at once enthralling and devastating in its unflinching emotional honesty.

Not to be confused with the geothermal city or lake of a similar name, Rotoroa Island lies to the east of Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Opening with the statement ‘[w]here you lived was important’, the people and place of Rotoroa are intrinsically linked. ‘Both idyll and institution, from its clay-baked cliffs to the whitewashed stones’, the island of Rotoroa develops into a tempestuous yet striking character in its own right. Its isolation is reflected by the internal isolation of Lorna, Jim and Katherine, and we view the island variously with each switch of viewpoint – it is both ‘a nobody-cares island’ and a ‘sanctuary from earthly troubles’.

With a pressure that builds not to startle but to illuminate, Rotoroa crescendos to a depth of emotion rather than to a climactic height. It conceals more than it reveals, leaving the reader to unravel the unsaid, but the rewards are huge – the raw emotional power of Rotoroa lingers long after the novel is over. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

Rotoroa
by Amy Head
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561919

Book Review: London – 24 hours and 160 photos in one city

Available in bookshops nationwide.

London_24hours.jpgLonely Planet continue to produce superb guides for travellers. Once the basic stuff has been covered (and I have well-thumbed copies of many places in Europe and Asia ) the challenge is to take the traveller aside and tempt them with something else.

In London, the something else is to revisit old favourites and discover new treasures. Both photos and text capture another view of the city and enable the traveller to stray behind the scenes. While some of the more familiar places are included such as Kew Gardens, Battersea Power Station etc, the text and images give a slightly different perspective. I loved the 8am section on the full English breakfast. Here we see local pensioners catching up at Formica tables while eating the traditional fare. The text is sympathetic and informative. No judgements are passed on the way of life portrayed. Rather, it suggests that this should be part of your visit and allow you to experience a different side of London life.

Another morning activity is swimming in the Serpentine. This is a long held tradition but as the temperature never exceeds 15 degrees, I suspect most visitors might pass on the opportunity. I sent some suggestions to my nieces who live in London. They tracked down the Nomadic Community Gardens and enjoyed meeting a Kiwi who has a regular plot there.

This book could easily be another coffee table treat, but I think it has more to offer the repeat visitor who desires a little more from their visit. The photos and text work well together to suggest an alternative excursion for the curious traveller.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

London: 24 hours and 160 photos in one city
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013438