Book Review: I need a New Bum and other stories, by Dawn McMillan & Ross Kinnaird

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_i_need_a_new_bumI need a New Bum is a much-loved story by New Zealand author Dawn McMillan and illustrated by the great Ross Kinnaird.

I am ashamed to say I haven’t had the pleasure before now of reading this to grandchildren. I was pretty excited to have this recently published book in my hot little hands.

For those of you who don’t know I need a New Bum, what a treat is in store for you. This little boy has discovered he needs a new bum, as he thinks he has damaged his. He’s got a crack in it – he saw it in a mirror. He tries to figure out how he did it, and so the story carries on. It’s a hilarious story that will totally appeal to any small child – up to the age of 5 or even 6 years old, I would think.

I read this to Quinn 3 ½ years old. She loved it but then she is at an age where anything to do with bums and poo and farts is excellent.

The rest of the stories will also enthral small children. Seagull Sid and the naughty things his seagulls did! Incredibly funny story with his mates getting their own back on people so that they could scare them away and get on with eating their chips.

Then there is Doggy Doo on my shoe. We all know what that smell is like and how it’s a case of trying to work out where the awful smell is coming from and who is responsible.

A fabulous book and with Christmas shortly upon us a great book to pop in a small person’s Christmas parcel.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

I need a New Bum and other stories
by Dawn McMillan
Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Published by Oratia Media
ISBN 9780947506322

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Book Review: Risking their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900-1939, by Margaret Sparrow

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_risking_their_livesDame Margaret Sparrow, since qualifying as a doctor in the 1960s, has played a significant role in promoting the availability of reproductive health services in New Zealand. She openly states that it was thanks to her own ability to access contraceptives, and on one occasion a mail-order abortion drug, that she finished medical school at all. A prominent member of groups including Family Planning and the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, she still makes appearances at pro-choice protests. Recently named Public Health Association champion for 2017, Dame Margaret has been speaking at various events recently, continuing to promote her causes and occasionally startling younger women with frank discussions about masturbation.

She has lent her collection of historical contraceptive devices to be exhibited at Te Papa. She displays a golden speculum-shaped trophy in her living room. In short, Dame Margaret Sparrow is a bloody legend.

Risking their Lives is the third in a series recording abortion history in New Zealand. The earlier books covered the periods 1940 to 1980, and the 1800s. Compiled from coroner’s reports, newspaper reports and some biographical information about key figures who instigated change, the book intersperses historical context with the sad stories of many women whose circumstances led to their deaths from abortion-related causes. This book covers the section of time in between the previous two, during which increasing awareness of deaths from septic abortions led to changing political priorities about women’s health. Eventually.

As shown in the book, women who were pregnant and did not want to be were really between a rock and a hard place: strong social disapproval of childbearing out of wedlock led people to desperate remedies that could kill them. Married couples also feature in these stories; some women who died from abortions already had young children and felt they could not afford another.

Unsurprisingly, this is pretty grim reading. Margaret Sparrow acknowledged as much at the book launch, thanking Victoria University Press for committing to publishing her work despite knowing that abortion death is hardly bestseller material. As she read out one of the narratives, in which a woman on her deathbed was being quizzed by police about which drugs she and her friend might have procured, I suddenly remembered the words on a painting about illegal abortion from 1978: This woman died, I care. This, I thought, must be part of the purpose: to tell the stories of these 90-odd women, who didn’t need to die like that. To show, however belatedly, that someone cares.

After a setting out of historical context, the book divides its stories by the themes of medical causes of death, contraception, the law, then the professions of people most commonly caught up in abortion-related trials and scandals (doctors, nurses, chemists and others). I eventually found this layout slightly confusing, as with each new chapter the stories would start back in the early 1900s and progress on to the late 1930s. Given the evolution of social and medical perspectives being shown throughout the book, I might have found it easier to follow a more strictly chronological arrangement.

The chapter on contraception provided a surprise highlight. Following discussions of contraceptives in the media of the day (disapproving editorials on the one hand, euphemistic newspaper advertisements for “remedies” on the other) the chapter goes on to describe and contrast three pioneering women in the field of birth control: Marie Stopes in the UK, Margaret Sanger in the USA and Ettie Rout in New Zealand. They come across as fascinating characters: they knew each other and had at various times collaborated then strongly disagreed. They all seemed, in their own way, to be rather eccentric. But given the strength of conviction needed to keep pushing their work through, against prevailing social norms, a touch of unconventionality might have been helpful.

The most obvious audience for this book might be students of social and medical history. The book is however a stark reminder to any reader about how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. It certainly made me grateful to be living with a female reproductive system now rather than 100 years ago. Abortion back then was dangerous, certainly, but naturally-occurring miscarriages could also kill women, and childbirth carried far more risks before modern medicine cut down the rates of fatal infections.

Reading these women’s stories may be an act of bearing witness: This woman died, I care. But we are also reminded that for any progress to be made, people like Margaret Sparrow needed to care. As she notes in her epilogue, we still have abortion in the crimes act, and while so much has improved for women’s health, there are still barriers. The connections between these kinds of stories and the present day need to be heard, because people need to keep on caring enough to keep pushing for change.

Reviewed by Rebecca Gray

Risking their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900-1939
by Margaret Sparrow
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561636

Book Review: Casting Off – A Memoir, by Elspeth Sandys

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_casting_off_a_memoirCasting Off begins on the eve of Elspeth Sandys’ first marriage in Dunedin in the 1960s where she says, ‘Presbyterianism is in the air you breathe in this town. It is also, and always will be, in my bloodstream’.

This is the second volume of her memoir, the first What Lies Beneath, explained her interesting and challenging background and childhood.

I checked the the difference between an autobiography and memoir before I could write the review, and I learned the autobiography is a chronological recording of the person’s experience while the memoir relies more on the author’s memory, feelings and emotions
Sandys herself says, ‘I will try to stick to the facts, avoiding invention but guided, as I cannot help be, as I have always been, by imagination’.

I have not read the first volume but found this an interesting read and was able to pick up the facts of Sandys early life as the book progressed.

After her marriage the couple left New Zealand to live in England where they enjoy the arts and theatre scene. However, work is intermittent, and by 1968 she is divorced and back in New Zealand with a daughter.

The book is supported with photographs supporting many of the significant events in the author’s life. Many of the earlier photos are black and white but there are also a number of more recent coloured snaps, including The Long House, a home she lived in London during her next marriage.

I enjoyed the inclusion of poems appropriately slotted throughout the book which shows the versatility of Sandys writing.

She has published nine novels, and two collections of short stories as well as numerous original plays and adaptions for the BBC and RNZ, as well as scripts for film and television. She now lives in Wellington, has two children and six grandchildren.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Casting Off – A Memoir
by Elspeth Sandys
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9780947522551

 

 

 

Book Review: All Our Secrets, by Jennifer Lane

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_all_our_secretsI began this novel with no expectations at all beyond the blurb, which made it sound dark and murderous, something along the lines of your usual crime fiction novel. And yes it would suit those who enjoy that type of read: but it is much much more than this. This is your ultimate immersive summer read.

Our 11-year-old narrator Gracie is the eldest in her family, which comprises of her mum, occasionally her promiscuous dad, and her extremely Catholic Grandma Bett; plus Elijah, and the 3-year-old twins Lucky and Grub. She and Elijah have a secret spot that they hide in while their Mum & Dad fight (usually about his indiscretions), but she is quietly proud to be his daughter. He is, to her eyes, the best-looking man in Coongahoola. Unfortunately, many other women agree.

‘At approximately three thirty in the afternoon, while walking on the banks of the Bagooli River, Martha Mills alleges she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary.’

The Bagooli River was not somebody anybody from the town went. ‘Not after the River Picnic. Not after Stu Bailey’s wife drowned in it, and whatever else happened that night.’ But one week after the vision, the Believers arrive. There are 500 of them, to camp beside the river and to worship the Virgin Mary under the tutelage of the self-named Saint Bede.

And then the murders began. ‘From every telegraph on Main Road, Nigel’s face looked down at up. His brown hair was bleached by the November sun and the sticky-taped ‘missing’ posters were crinkled and curling.’ Nigel is the beginning of a spate of murders centred on the River Children – the group of kids born 9 months after the River Picnic, many of whom don’t resemble their purported fathers.

Gracie’s brother Elijah is a River Child.

Author Jennifer Lane has drawn the small town of Coongahoola expertly. Martha Mills (who saw the vision) was there for Gracie’s birth when her mother’s waters broke at the supermarket at which Martha worked. Gracie’s godmother the nosy Mrs Ludlum was also there, and the rest of the characters making up the small town are all brilliantly drawn, with complexity where it is warranted, through a child’s eyes. Grandma Bett is another key character – as the main caregiver when times are tough, she is Gracie’s hero, albeit with a bit more praying than Gracie would like to do.

‘Grandma Bett was always talking to God – how could he hear what Mum was saying at the same time? And what about everyone else in the world? How could he hear them all at once?’

The complexities of religious belief is an ongoing thread in the book, thanks to the Believers and their inevitable ideological clash with every other church group in town. And while Gracie was never too concerned about being unpopular; thanks to her mum’s relationship with the Believer church, she has to endure cruel bullying. But this is no ‘woe is me’ tale – Gracie is emotionally smarter than that.

Lane’s writing is fabulous for that of a first-time author. The book felt well-edited and polished (as you would expectof a book edited by the wonderful Penelope Todd), and the writing is descriptive and immersive. The moments where Gracie retreats into her own thoughts are managed without dropping the pace of the story, and there is not one chapter that you finish thinking ‘that’s enough for now.’

One of the questions I went into this book was whether it had potential to be a cross-over title – from YA to adult and back again. I think it does. The murders are handled in a clean way, no Stephen King gore to be seen (though the way in which the naive narrator is used reminds me a little of a King novel). The voice is authentically young – you never feel as though an adult’s thoughts are going through a child’s head. But it remains interesting and fascinating.

I’d highly recommend this as a summer read for age 13+. It’s a pleasure to be part of Gracie’s world, dysfunctional though it may be.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

All Our Secrets
by Jennifer Lane
Published by Rosa Mira Books
ISBN 9780994132215

 

 

 

Book Review: The Thunderbolt Pony, by Stacy Gregg

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_thunderbolt_ponyIf you are a horse-loving tweenager, Stacy Gregg is a rockstar.  With her crazily popular Pony Club Secrets and Pony Club Rivals series and her more recent stand-alone novels, Stacy is one of New Zealand’s most popular children’s authors; both in New Zealand and overseas. Fans were queuing up to buy her newest release, The Thunderbolt Pony, last month without even needing to know the title or the plot; she is that popular.

Stacy’s newest novel is the first by her to be set in New Zealand. And what a tale it tells. Twelve year old Evie, already battling obsessive compulsive disorder after the recent death of her father, faces a new trauma when the Kaikoura earthquake strikes. Evie’s house in the small town of Parnassus is destroyed and her mother is badly injured, needing medical evacuation. When Evie is told she needs to flee the devastation with her neighbours to get to Kaikoura to meet a navy ship, she refuses to abandon her beloved animals and is determined to find a way to stay together. And thus begins her epic trek with her faithful pony Gus, feisty cat Moxy, and loyal dog Jock.

This is a thrilling read. The description of the physical experience of the big quake and its many aftershocks felt much too familiar. There were also far too many heart-in-throat moments of peril and danger. I found myself reading ‘just one more page’ on several occasions because I couldn’t bear to put the book down until I knew all of our animals were safe.

As well as the overarching plot about animals and earthquakes, there is a sub-story about Evie’s anxiety issues and counselling sessions. Stacey handles the topic of mental health with grace and empathy. Evie’s challenges with OCD and anxiety are not minimised nor used for comedic purposes. Her suffering is real and its treatment is explored gently and kindly, through the metaphor of Greek mythology.

This would be an extremely useful book to use to open a dialogue with children if they are facing any similar mental health challenges of their own, whether or not their anxiety is caused by a bereavement or earthquakes. Our hero is a great role model for anyone battling anxiety; she comes through her ordeal stronger and wiser: ‘… you could waste your life just waiting for the future to happen.  Sometimes we’re so busy anticipating things, we miss out on the moment that we’re living in right now.’

Evie’s story is one of courage, friendship, overcoming obstacles, and learning that there are some things we cannot control. It is an adventure story, an animal story, and a very New Zealand story; a great read for Kiwi kids and overseas friends.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Thunderbolt Pony
by Stacey Gregg
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008257019

 

Book Review: Saving the Snowy Brumbies, by Kelly Wilson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv-saving_the_snowy_brumbiesEvery year, thousands of Australia’s wild brumbies are aerially culled or captured and sold for slaughter to manage the world’s largest population of wild horses.

Saving the Snowy Brumbies highlights the desperate plight of the Snowy Mountain Brumbies, as Kelly, Vicki and Amanda Wilson head over from New Zealand to take part in the 2016 Australian Brumby Challenge and learn more about the plans for these iconic horses.

The sisters rescue horses from the Brumby cull, and patiently tame them sufficiently for them to be brought back to New Zealand.

The book outlines the activities the girls do with the ponies, which have never been handled before, but with perseverance they can become lovely family pets and even perform well as show jumpers.

Based in Northland, Kelly Wilson has written three adult books as well as the children’s picture book Ranger the Kaimanawa Stallion. She and her sisters also starred in a Television series, Keeping up with the Kaimanawas, which followed their work taming New Zealand wild Kaimanawas.  The Wilson sisters are leading figures on the equestrian scene, and as well as their rescue work, they run the hugely popular Showtym Camps for young riders.

She said, ‘It seems fitting that our work with the wild horses first began because of our showjumpers, when, back in 2012, the Kaimanawa ‘Watch Me Move’ won Pony of the year.’

I loved this book from its stunning front cover, interesting chapter titles, and wonderful photographs throughout, as well as the engaging text. The glossary at the end is helpful, especially to anyone who is not so familiar with horse terminology.

It will be enjoyed by anyone who loves animals, and positive stories about hard working young people .

Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh

Saving the Snowy Brumbies
by Kelly Wilson
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9780143770572

 

 

 

Book Review: Summer Days – Stories and Poems celebrating the Kiwi Summer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv-summer_daysSometimes a very special book comes in to my possession. Summer Days is one of these. I love the feel of it, the weight of it, the colour, the size, the blue ribbon bookmark and especially the sun-golden page edges. The inside is just as wonderful. Here is summer packaged for Kiwi kids. There are Pohutukawa trees and buzzing bees, jandals and sandy seashore, Jesus in the cowshed and Grandpa on the beach.

Puffin have published this collection for young Kiwi kids just in time for a family Christmas present. Every poem, story and illustration reminded me of the special nature of summer in New Zealand. This is the very best of the very best. Joy Cowley gives us the Nativity in a cowshed with a collection of animals beloved by New Zealanders. Gwenda Turner was a wonderful artist who captured the reality of beach time. She even included the named creatures found on the rocky shore. Margaret Mahy makes a special Christmas Cake, while Brian Turner watches the bees.

It is not easy to select a collection such as this. Keep it simple, keep it local, keep it varied and keep it manageable. Every page was a delight as I found there was enough variety to enjoy the short poems between the longer picture stories. This is a sturdy publication with an embossed hard cover and just the right size to pack for the holiday. It is the details which so delighted me. There are ice-cream cones on the end papers, a bookmark attached, a stitched spine and the final touch is the sunshine yellow edges to every page. Truly, it is summer in a book.

I see this being the perfect family present. It will become a classic treasure on the bookshelf creating heated debate when it has to be passed on to the next generation. My copy is already wrapped and under the tree for my granddaughter. Maybe I need a copy to keep for myself?

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Summer Days: Stories and Poems celebrating the Kiwi Summer
Puffin
ISBN 9780143771593