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Book Review: The Mapmakers’ Race, by Eirlys Hunter

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_mapmakers_RaceThe Santander siblings – Sal, Joe, Francie and little Humphrey – have twenty-eight days to reach the finish line of the Great Mapmakers’ Race. With their father missing and their mother stranded, they have no choice but to carry on alone. Their task: find a route for a railway line between Grand Prospect and New Coalhaven. If they win, they will receive a large prize that will allow them to fund a search party for their father. If they lose, they will never be a proper family again.

Launching the adventure with a thrilling train ride, the four children and their talking parrot, Carrot, speed past ‘tunnels and bridges, fields, farms and forests’ to arrive at Grand Prospect. With fourteen-year-old Sal guiding her younger siblings through the bustling town, they join the Mapmakers’ Race with the help of their new-found friend, a fifteen-year-old boy named Beckett.

Against the ever-ticking clock, the Santander team contend with dangerous river crossings, bears, a kidnapping, illness, loneliness, wet clothes, dark caves, family squabbles, cliff falls and terrible weather – not to mention a dwindling food supply. Racing against five teams of adults who refuse to play by the rules, the Santanders find out what it means to survive against all odds.

A fast-paced adventure story, The Mapmakers’ Race is propelled along by an urgent deadline. With regular reminders of how many days remain, each chapter pushes the tension to new heights as the children fight to survive. A gripping tale with beautifully drawn characters, children and adults alike will empathise with at least one of the four Santanders. There’s Sal, the mathematician of the family, the one using trigonometry and her trusty altimeter to ensure their route is safe for a railway. There’s the eleven-year-old twins: courageous Joe and silent Francie. Joe speaks for the both of them, but it is Francie who has the secret talent – she has a special power of ‘flight’ that enables her to look at the world from above, her beautiful maps reflecting her visions. Joe is the brave (and reckless) route finder, and four-year-old Humphrey provides the comic relief with his made-up words (‘Busticated’ he exclaims at one point) and strange observations.

An adventure story with dashes of fantasy and a taste of steampunk, The Mapmakers’ Race is Eirlys Hunter’s seventh book for children. A London-born writer who now lives in Wellington, Hunter teaches children’s writing at the IIML at Victoria University. Complementing the beautiful prose are the stunning illustrations of Kirsten Slade, a Liverpool-born illustrator and comic artist who also lives in Wellington. Each chapter begins with a map illustration detailing the Santanders’ journey.

Unlike most modern-day children’s adventure stories, which tend to focus on internal conflict or traumatic events, Hunter’s novel harks back to children’s adventure books of the past. No adults feature in this story: instead, the children are solely responsible for their own survival. They make the decisions, and they alone suffer the consequences – but also the victories.

A heartwarming tale about the bonds between siblings and friends, The Mapmakers’ Race is a compelling read. When the reader is able to pull themselves away from the plot, they will also realise the delicate beauty of the prose – ‘The full moon hung so big and bright that he could barely make out any stars until he turned his back to the moon and looked towards the dark horizon where there were tens, then hundreds, then thousands of stars pulsing silently – chips of ice in an infinite, frozen world.’

A story full of laughter, thrills, storytelling and danger, The Mapmakers’ Race is destined to become a Kiwi classic.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

The Mapmakers’ Race
by Eirlys Hunter
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572038

Book Review: Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag, by Sherryl Jordan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_rafferty_ferret_ratbag.jpg‘Rafferty was starving. He was also homeless, motherless, fatherless, penniless, and (if he wasn’t very careful) on his way to being lifeless as well.’

So begins Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag, a rollicking tale of a courageous orphan boy. Homeless and hungry, Rafferty Ferret is desperately looking for a way to earn a living.

Set in medieval times, Rafferty has been living rough ever since his forced removal from the monastery he called home. The story begins with Rafferty in a pickle: he is stuck in a hazardous Leper Hole. Soon rescued by a kind baker and his (rather unkind) wife, Rafferty stumbles upon the unlikely occupation of bakery ‘rat catcher’. Before long, his rat-catching fame spreads throughout the village of Spickernell and his skills are in demand. Often meeting unsavoury characters involved in the business, Rafferty is pleasantly surprised to make friends with a young boy named Wyll. The rat-catching pair use their crafty natures to save themselves from the perils of homelessness.

Rafferty is a strong, clever and cunning protagonist who looks out for everyone (and every rat) around him. With few adults willing to help him, his adventures are brought about by his own determination to survive. Hearts will ache for Wyll, who, falling seriously ill, has only one hope – that Rafferty will be able to find him help in time.

Renowned award-winning New Zealand author and illustrator Sherryl Jordan has published extensively since the 1990s. Now published by independent children’s publisher OneTree House, her latest novel Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag will appeal to all children who love historical adventure – or simply a good story.

An effortless read, this book will quickly charm readers. A well-researched story which draws the reader into a medieval world of danger, illness, hunger and corruption, Jordan brings the setting and characters to life with vivid and lively prose.

Her beautiful writing reflects her artistic talent: ‘Thunder rolled and lightning sizzled across the moor making trees stand out stark and black in the lurid glare, and lighting the distant house with its streaming thatch and stone walls. When there was no lightning the darkness was complete, and there was only the fury of the wind and the tumultuous lashing of the rain.’

The seamlessly introduced historical language and delicate illustrations heighten the powerful emotional atmosphere of this adventure story.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag
by Sherryl Jordan
Published by OneTree House Ltd
ISBN 9780995106437

Book Review: Maya & Cat, by Caroline Magrel

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_maya_and_cat.jpgCat does not want feather boas, nor pink shoelaces or a pompom on a stick and although she ate every oily silver morsel of fish, Cat is searching for something much more precious. So Maya sets out with Cat in tow to knock on doors to see if one holds what Cat is seeking.

Maya & Cat is a heart-warming story that follows a little girl and a cat as they seek out the thing that Cat is missing most and the thing that Maya discovers she is missing too; companionship. A perfect story to read together; young children will enjoy the gentle, poetic language. Caroline Magrel’s adorably quirky watercolour illustrations take us through the wet and gloomy, lamp-lit streets of a seaside town. They leave you with that sense of peace and tranquility you feel when you’re warm and cosy indoors while a storm rages outside your windows.

This unique feel-good picture book written and illustrated by Caroline Magrel would make a wonderful addition to any young child’s bookshelf. Maya & Cat makes for a pleasant and comforting read – the perfect bedtime story!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Maya & Cat
by Caroline Magrel
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781921977282

 

Book Review: Worlds Strangest Ocean Beasts, by Lonely Planet Kids

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_worlds_strangest_ocean_beasts.jpgHave you ever wondered about the bizarre creatures that live in our oceans? From the well known seahorse to the rare goblin shark, World’s Strangest Ocean Beasts shines a light on the unique and unusual biology and behaviours of 40 weird and wonderful creatures from the deep.

Lonely Planet Kids has compiled their own list about the extraordinary creatures who call the ocean their home. But these creatures aren’t just any sea creatures: according to Lonely Planet’s animal experts, these creatures are the 40 strangest creatures that roam the deep sea. Each animal is displayed on its own page boarded by facts about what makes these creatures so weird. A “strangeometer” accompanies each creature that gives a ranking of its appearance, weird abilities, rarity, strangeness and overall strangeometer score.

Saturated with colour the bright photos illuminate the strange and sometimes scary appearances of these creatures of the deep. With so little known about the earth’s vast oceans, this book is a great opportunity for children to explore the multitude and variety of animal species that live below the waves. As an avid watcher of wildlife documentaries some of these facts even surprised me!

Children will enjoy poring over the images and hearing the weird and interesting facts about each creature. A perfect book for any child with a love of animals and an excellent resource for parents and teachers.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Worlds Strangest Ocean Beasts
by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781787013018

 

Book Review: Where’s Kiwi NOW? Illustrated by Myles Lawford

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_wheres_kiwi_now.jpgWith more than 800 things to spot this will keep the younger ones in your family occupied for an hour or two.

Kiwi is in his flying egg time-travel machine. Can you spot him?  Where is he?  Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus and Who-saurus? An you spot some of his mates; Sporty Sheep, Gumboot Guy, Wacky Wizard, Tricky Tuatara or Mystery Moa? They are all there. Are they visiting the Ice Age Rage or are they in the time of the taniwha and mystery moa or are they in the battle of the beasts – a riot in Rome where swords clash and chariots race? They have to be there somewhere.  What about the medieval upheaval in the dawn of dungeons and, dragons. Exploring across the high seas with cannons on pirate ships, plundering jewels and gold and so much more??

A book designed to keep the reader on their toes, seeing which character they can find out of Kiwi and his mates.

The attention to detail in the illustrations is staggering and having a Kiwi version of Where’s Wally is an added bonus for fans.  Suitable for all ages big and small, this is a great book to engage with the younger members of your family.

My granddaughters Quinn (4 years old) and Abby (7 years old) were both leaning in to me to see who could spot one of the characters the fastest. Great entertainment.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Where’s Kiwi NOW? 
Illustrated by Myles Lawford
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435266

Book Review: The Short but Brilliant Career of Lucas Weed, by Chrissie Walker

cv_the_short_but_brilliant_career_of_lucas_weed.pngAvailable in bookshops nationwide. 

The Short but Brilliant Career of Lucas Weed is the latest (2017) winner of the Tom Fitzgibbon award, awarded to a manuscript from a previously-unpublished author. And I can see the appeal. It is a lot of fun, with Lucas Weed being a fairly ordinary school boy, someone easy for the audience to relate to. The new kid in school, he is neither popular nor unpopular, which is – he thinks – the way he likes it. But is it?

One day, he stumbles upon some other boys in the midst of plotting a prank. His curiosity leads him to be noticed, and he is inadvertently drawn into the scheme. It involves a frog, a backpack, and a teacher, and thus begins Lucas Weed’s short, but brilliant, career as a prankster.

Weed’s pranks are never cruel (except perhaps to the poor frog), mostly harmless, and never bullying. The main target is generally himself, and Lucas is not afraid to make a spectacle. Thus I feel this was more a “class clown” situation than a pranking one. His plotting to make himself look the fool leads to the next stage: becoming a YouTube sensation. A fairly low-key, and short-lived one, but I suspect for a 10-year old, even a few hundred hits is something to be proud of.

After a while, the continued deception (after all, the teachers are not fools) and stress of devising more creative pranks begins to be exhausting, and thus Lucas plans one final prank – which culminates far more spectacularly than he and his new ‘friends’ could ever conceive.

Intended for a 7-10 age group, this extremely readable and very relatable book comes stocked with a healthy dash of humour, including the expected quota of fart jokes. Fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid, and other school-based middle grade fiction should readily devour it.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Short but Brilliant Career of Lucas Weed
by Chrissie Walker
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435082

Book Review: That F Word, by Lizzie Marvelly

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Icv_that_f_wordt seems like Lizzie Marvelly is someone everyone has an opinion on – a tall poppy who is poking sticks at a vast range of societal issues which are pertinent not just to the sexual and emotional health of women young and old, but also to those in the LGBTQIA community, as well as to men young and old who she sees need to be re-educated on how to treat women and girls in our society.

I also suspect that there is a feeling there too, of how dare she – a talented, privileged middle class girl who has been wildly successful as an international recording artist and who has performed at the Royal Albert Hall, suddenly turning her nose up at all those who put her there, supported her, bought her music, watched with tears in their eyes as she proudly sang the national anthem. A slip of a girl suddenly coming out with all this feminist zealot stuff, ranting, exclaiming and sweeping the curtains open, on all issues relating to being female in the 21st century. And that of course is her very point – her branding has needed re-branding to expose some much needed truths about the type of society we are currently living in, and whether this is what we really want for our children. Whether people like it or not, this young woman is challenging us to take a closer look at the community we live, work, socialise and raise our children in.

I knew I had to read this book with a very open mind. I am not the target demographic that she has written for, but I have grown up in and lived in NZ for most of my life, so understand the culture she is talking about and can identify, some of it from personal experience, with much of what she has to say. I also have two daughters in their early 20s, navigating the society that Lizzie is writing about, in fact her whole section on rape culture is something that a young woman we know is currently having to deal with. So extremely topical. How does she do?

Overall I think she has done very well. She is an excellent writer, does a superb job at getting her point and argument across with many illustrations and examples to support what she is saying. For someone so articulate though, with a great command of the language, I was annoyed at the overuse of the F-bomb especially in the first few chapters, and that word is not ‘feminist’ or ‘female’! I see her point – she is very angry. By crikey she is angry, angry at the sexist treatment she has received from boys at school, young men, people of power in the recording industry. And above all the insidious damaging power and reach of the internet.

It has to be said that her path to adulthood has not been the norm, and as interesting as it is, I do wonder how relevant or topical it will be to the majority of young women who may start to read this book. I doubt very much the average 29-year-old has accumulated such a range of life experience. I gave the book to a 16-year-old girl to read; she has read the first couple of chapters and is already bored with reading about Lizzie’s life to date, none of it really relevant to her. I am telling her to keep going, it gets better!

However her story does the set the scene, it being her own personal experience of much of what she writes about in the rest of the book. Once I had got through the first third to half of the book, she really pulled the guns out focusing on how girls and young women in NZ are portrayed in the media, advertising, social media, broadcasting, the perils of having the courage to have an opinion, the access of impressionable young teens to on-line porn (and we aren’t talking Playboy or dirty videos), the rape culture so deeply embedded in our society, abortion, the patriarchy. Not much of it is good I am afraid, it’s a scary world out there for young women.

And this is why I think it is an important book for the young women in our families and friends to read. Young women need to know that what they are seeing, reading, listening to, having to deal with in their social/sexual/work lives, is not uncommon, that many others are having similar experiences and reactions to it. This book will normalise the experiences that many, many women in New Zealand have experienced. There is power and reassurance in the sharing of information. There is no big call for unity or protest marches or petitions to Parliament. But there is power in knowing that you aren’t alone when unpleasant or bad stuff happens.

My one criticism – the title puts people off. I work in a bookshop and we haven’t sold a single copy, even though the book is right at the counter. There is no way people are not seeing it – based on the comments people make about Lizzie, her newspaper column, her persona. My theory is that it is actually that word ‘feminist’ putting people off, and my 21-year-old daughter concurred.

But don’t let this ‘judging a book by its cover’ put off the young women in your life or yourself for that matter, from reading this. In light of the #metoo movement, the ongoing drive for pay equality, the anxiety and self esteem issues many women have about their image, the savagery and trolling on social media/internet to anything related to female empowerment, I think this book is compulsory reading. Go Lizzie!

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

That F Word
by Lizzie Marvelly
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775541127