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: 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

Book Review: From Moa to Dinosaurs, by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

From Moa to Dinosaurs is a finalist in the Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction, part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_from_moa_to_dinosaurs.jpgPotton and Burton have really taken on the task of ensuring quality nature texts are available in New Zealand for adult and child alike. This book is another in the explore and discover series.

Here we travel back in time to view the beginnings of life in New Zealand. The first section explains the formation of New Zealand from Gondwana. Clear diagrams and text lead us to the following chapters where we look at different habitats and their inhabitants.

Each section includes delightful illustrations that are bright and simple. I liked the separation of facts into boxes with easy bullet points. Likewise, there were boxes called How do we Know? These gave the scientific basis for the information presented. This is a successful format used in the previous titles and ensures that fact and fiction are distinguished.

The language is easy to follow but a useful glossary is included at the back for the more difficult ideas. An index also allows easy retrieval of information. Quality texts like this are essential in the classroom and allow research away from the Internet in manageable chunks. The format means the text is useful right across the primary levels. It provides a starting point for more detailed study but a good overview for a lesson.

This book would be an essential for a school library, but I think the whole series provides a great wealth of information for a family. Sometimes it is as easy as buying the set to start a love of the natural world in your kids. After reading From Moa to Dinosaurs I went and found my geologist’s hammer, grabbed a grandchild and headed off on a fossil hunt in the foothills.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

From Moa to Dinosaurs: Explore and Discover ancient New Zealand
by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503109

Book Review: Gwendolyn!, by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_gwendolynHow many penguins do you think there are in the jungle? You’d probably say none, because we all know penguins live in cold climates, but you haven’t met Gwendolyn! She is the only penguin in the jungle and she’s there because she loves the heat, the gorgeous flowers and the other jungle animals.

We get to meet a jaguar, monkeys and a parrot, and she points out all the good things about the jungle. Gwendolyn is always upbeat and she makes all her jungle friends realise how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place.

But then her friend Parrot asks a simple question – has Gwendolyn ever been to Antarctica, where all the other penguins live?

A tear rolls down Gwendolyn’s cheek and she admits she hasn’t, and that starts to make her pine for the place she really belongs, where she can be a real penguin. Nothing her friends say can cheer her up, and she sets off on a really long journey to Antarctica.
She meets other penguins there and has the time of her life, but after a while she starts to notice the cold, and the fact she’s very hungry… and decides there is no reason why a penguin can’t live in Antarctica AND the jungle!

This book made me smile, as the illustrations are simply beautiful. There is so much to look at on every page that younger children will enjoy this book even if they can’t read the words. I think it will delight children and adults alike and become a treasured favourite. It’s a great tale about friendship and how we don’t have to be the same to get along.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Gwendolyn
by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton
Published by ABC Books (HarperCollins NZ)
ISBN 9780733335174

 

Book Review: Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo, by Brian Falkner

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_battlesaurus_rampage_at_waterlooBattlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo, won the YA category of the 2016 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

NZ author Brian Falkner’s novel introduces a thrilling concept to readers – what if the French emperor Napoleon had had a secret weapon, and what if that weapon was an army of the most dangerous and vicious creatures in history? Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo combines the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and a world plagued by dinosaurs to create a suspenseful story with a riveting conclusion.

In this alternate universe where small dinosaurs run wild, and are farmed and kept as pets, war is swiftly approaching. When fifteen-year-old Willem, son of a famous magician, learns that a girl from his Belgian village has been killed by something in the forest, he knows that the culprit is a far greater danger than the smaller ‘saurs’ that inhabit the land. It’s clear that this is connected to Napoleon’s plans to invade Europe. Willem is the only one who can interfere with Napoleon’s plans and save the world from a terrible fate.

While I was skeptical at first about the book, the pairing of the unique idea and the very high quality of the writing made it an incredible read. With remarkably well-written, historically accurate battle scenes, terrifying dinosaurs and a set of strong characters that readers will find themselves rooting for, Rampage at Waterloo will leave you eagerly anticipating the sequel.*

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo
by Brian Falkner
Published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux Inc
ISBN:  9780374300753

NB: The sequel is Battlesaurus: Clash of Empires (FSG) and it was released in hardback last month. ISBN 9780374300777

Book Review: That’s Not a Hippopotamus!, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Available soon at bookshops nationwide.

cv_thats_not_a_hippopotamusJuliette MacIver and Sarah Davis are in top form in That’s NOT a Hippopotamus! All the characters from every preeschool or junior school class are there: the know-it-all, the slightly crazed, the over-eager, and of course the boy who says very little, but notices a lot.

The book starts as the kids arrive at ‘Don’s Safari,’ and our know-it-all notices that there doesn’t seem to be a ‘Hippopotamus’ sign on the wall with all the other animals. Don takes them to where the hippo usually hangs out – but oh no! The hippo has gone missing! Then begins our romp around the wildlife park to find the hiding hippo; via the giraffes, elephants, a snake, a skunk and more – each child certain they’ve got him this time. Meanwhile our hero, Liam, tries to quietly draw attention to the hippo, with no luck, as this harried teacher is on the run.

MacIver’s rhyme in Hippopotamus is, as always, impeccable. She never plays a rhyme straight, but bounces around and has fun with the words:

Golly, Miss! A lot amiss.
A missing hippopotamus!
Good thing we’re here. The best, hands-down,
of hippo-hunters in the town.

Sarah Davis’ oblivious teacher manages to be all business and overwhelmed at the same time. The children are varied and wild, with every hairstyle under the sun represented, and every fashion as well. She always matches text with illustrations well, but this story is told as much in the illustration as in the text, and it’s fantastic to see such a seamless interaction between illustrator and writer. There is much more showing than telling: always the mark of an excellent picture book.

MacIver’s books are a firm favourite with both of my boys. 5-year-old Dan was an immediate fan of this book, and was incredulous as he realised, gradually, that the Hippopotamus was on every spread. As his Dad came in he was like ‘And there’s this Hippo, and he’s on every page, and nobody even notices…’ He’s a book kid, but the bubbling is always fantastic to see.

Take this book home for your own little hippo-hunter, or buy it in for your school library or class. It would make a perfect introduction to a study of wildlife (the notion of big, small, colourful are all explored), or a book to hype the class up for an outing to the zoo. I’m sure this will remain a favourite in this household for years to come.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

That’s NOT a Hippopotamus
by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271964

Note: For another great hippo book, check out Margaret Mahy’s The Boy Who Was Followed Home (Puffin) 9780143504375

Book Review: Fuzzy Doodle, by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fuzzy_doodleThis book is one to treasure. From the first squiggle to the final page, Fuzzy the doodle leads you on a playful word adventure as he grows…and grows…and grows.

This is The Hungry Little Caterpillar redux, but instead of fruit & picnic treats, Fuzzy craves writing, ink and colour. And as fuzzy eats, he is redefined. The fonts change, the words shine glossily from the page, and eventually the metallics see a royal tinge added to Fuzzy’s fur.

As well as the growth of Fuzzy the caterpillar, this flawlessly rhyming story tells us about the growth of a book, the growth of a writer and artist, and the growth of a reader. The story grows in confidence as Fuzzy ‘hoovers’ up words, sentences and paragraphs. It took me a few reads to understand the brilliance of this book, and I was grateful for this. I do like a good book about books and booklovers, but that story is being worn out: telling it in this way was fresh for me, with a familiar transformation story for the kids to hang on to.

The style of the illustrations is walking a fine line between brilliance and chaos, but of course, Donovan Bixley is one of our most adaptable illustrators – and with him designing the book as well, every splash, whoosh and nibble has been carefully designed to sit on the page just so. Fuzzy Doodle displays flawless interaction between an author and illustrator, and good on Scholastic for putting the money into the printing to make this book shine.

Parent, buy this book and read it to your kids as they learn to read, write and squiggle.
Just remember:

‘Fuzzy started as a scribble,
just a scrawly little doodle,
a smudgey sort of ‘something’
at the bottom of the page.’

He’s been through a lot since, and now he is splendid.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Fuzzy Doodle
by Melinda Szymanik & Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432500 HB / 9781775434061 PB