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

Book Review: The House on the Hill, by Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Davis

cv_the_house_on_the_hillThis book is a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in three categories: The Russell Clark Illustration Award, the Picture Book Award and the Children’s Choice Picture Book Award. 

When two ghosts are being drawn to a house perched on a hill, you know scary stuff is going to happen and in this fantastically illustrated book, it does.

A children’s version of the spooky, much loved Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven; the text and illustrations perfectly complement each other, drawing an atmospheric cloak around the ghosts as they make their way up to the house on the hill and then…inside.

For the darkness of this book and the scare factor, there is a delightful twist at the end, this book will delight children who enjoy being frightened. The book is probably best suited to the older child who enjoys a more sophisticated picture book.

by Marion Dreadon

The House on the Hill
by Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Davis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775430841

Vote now for the Hell Children’s Choice Award

Book Review: My Grandpa is a Dinosaur, by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

Available now at bookshops nationwide.

cv_my_grandpa_is_a_dinosaurI was delighted to see that Penguin Random House NZ has picked up two of the most talented comic artists in New Zealand, for My Grandpa is a Dinosaur. Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones have published several children’s books over the last few years, through their own publishing imprint, Square Planet Comics. Each of their books can be trusted to have a wry comic undertone running alongside a great imagination-fuelled story that kids really enjoy.

My Grandpa is a Dinosaur has a fairly self-explanatory premise. Our little heroine Wanda seems to be the only person in her family who has noticed though. Well, she and the paleontologists, who are always following him for footprints. She stands up at the front of the class to tell her class about this oddity, and while her classmates are quite happy to cast their own grandpas as highwaymen and robots, they are certainly not letting her get away with that one.

My son Dan keenly followed the story, wondering why it was that nobody seemed to believe Wanda that her grandpa was a dinosaur, when he so self-evidently was. I mean, he had to have a special car seat on top of the car, for crying out loud. And he was green!

She tried to tell her friend
– See, he has a tail!
But her friend didn’t believe her
– Horses have tails, that doesn’t make horses dinosaurs.

The story is told in a one-frame-per-page comic style, with exposition at the bottom of the frames, and speech bubbles telling the story. The illustrations are caricature-like, and grandpa towers over the rest of them in all his dino-glory.

Wanda figures out she should just go to the source, and sure enough, Grandpa has been wondering when somebody would notice.

A brilliant message, and a brilliantly well-executed book. And most importantly, it’s a whole lot of fun. I recommend it for 3 – 8 year olds, as it goes through to the sophisticated picture book audience as well, thanks to the two-track humour. I hope to see Penguin stretching their boundaries even further in the future.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

My Grandpa is a Dinosaur
by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143507192

Book Review: Mōtītī Blue and the oil spill, by Debbie McCauley

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_motiti_blue_and_the_oil_spill

Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill is a beautifully told story which follows the experience of a little blue penguin, called Mōtītī Blue, as he tries to survive the oil spill from the Rena ship grounding in 2011.

The pages are packed with great photos, interesting facts and a wonderful story, written in both English and Māori. There is newfound knowledge on every page, from descriptive fact files to illustrated maps, all providing lots of detail about penguins’ life cycles and habitats, the ship’s grounding, and the rehabilitation of affected wildlife.

The story, in both English and Maori, is well-written and would appeal to children of all ages. This book is ideal for both recreational reading and classroom use. The book is packed with factual background material which would make this book a perfect teaching resource in schools. Although it is a very informative book on its own, it also includes a handy list of sources for further research.

Mōtītī Blue and the oil spill is a very clever book indeed and a worthy finalist in the non-fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults.

Review by Elisabeth Matsis (9), with a little bit of help from Tiffany Matsis

Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill
by Debbie McCauley
Published by Mauao Publishing
ISBN 9780473268695