City Trails: Barcelona – Secrets, Stories and Other Cool Stuff

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_barcelona_city_Trails.jpgGet ready for a walking tour like no other – all from the comfort of your sofa!  Google is a great way to travel virtually around a city but nothing beats local knowledge. This seriously streetwise guide is packed with themed trails, from food and festivals to music, art and sport, that reveal amazing facts and intriguing tales you won’t find on the tourist routes.

In City Trails: Barcelona, join Lonely Planet explorers Marco and Amelia as they hunt for more secrets, stories and surprises in another of the world’s great cities. You’ll discover human pyramids, dancing eggs, a witch school, and lots more!

This a book designed to inspire young intrepid travelers to explore exotic locations – in this case the ancient and modern city of Barcelona. It’s the kind of book you can browse or deep dive. With quirky, fun illustrations, an imaginary narrator takes the reader on a series of trails through the city.

Themed trails include ‘Legends From Long Ago’ (featuring locations of just a few of the city’s many festivals for saints and historic figures), ‘Animal Land’ (the various zoos and museums of the Barcelona); ‘Delicioso!’ (a quick and slightly unsatisfying survey of street food and tapas); ‘Gaudi Town’ (a compulsory introduction of the famous architect’s iconic buildings including La Sagrada Familia); ‘Musical Marvels’ (music festivals) and my favourite ‘Spooky Stuff’ (which includes the Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres – a museum devoted to local funerary customs, featuring a display of ornate horse-drawn hearses and The Alchemist’s House, and the Executioner’s House).

With bright colours and a scrapbook design, there’s plenty to see. Every page is overloaded with visual information and plenty of snappy facts and ‘teaser’ lines to whet the knowledge of appetite kids and adults alike.

Also available in the series are: City Trails – London, Paris, New York City, Rome, Tokyo, Sydney, Washington DC and Singapore.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

City Trails: Barcelona – Secrets, Stories and Other Cool Stuff
Published by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781787014848

Book Review: A Place of Stone and Darkness, by Chris Mousdale

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_place_of_stone_and_darknessLong ago, meteors crashed into Earth and caused a climatic disaster, with great swathes of land scoured by fire and flood. But somehow, deep underground, a few pockets of Striggs managed to survive…

In Chris Mousdale’s first full-length novel, A Place of Stone and Darkness is a dystopian story which follows two young Striggs: adventurous Ellee and her inventor brother Sidfred. Striggs are bird-like creatures with plumes of downy feathers, but they became flightless when they were forced to seek a new home. On every brow, each Strigg has a diamond-bright lapyriss headlight called a ‘spangle’ which help to guide the Strigg through their labyrinth maze of tunnels. The Striggs live by the harmonious mantra: ‘be one, be all, be everything’. Community is everything in their world.

The Strigg leaders insist upon only one rule: They must never be seen by a Toppa.

The novel opens with Ellee Meddo preparing for her Spangletime, a formal ceremony that ushers a young Strigg into adulthood. But Ellee would much rather go exploring than receive her spangle. On a journey into the unexplored regions, she discovers a young Toppa boy trapped in a well. Enlisting eccentric Sidfred’s help to hide the boy, the pair try to avoid ‘Blue’s’ discovery at all costs. Blue is the first human to have seen a Strigg in centuries.

When Blue’s existence is uncovered by the Strigg leaders, it is decided that he should be returned Uptop in order to protect the community.

While the first half of the novel progresses slowly, the pace picks up with the adventure to the Uptop. The discovery of what lies Uptop is just as much a shock to the reader as it is to Ellee, Sidfred and Strigg leader Kass. Set far in the future, Toppas are almost extinct and the world is vastly different to the one we know today. Mousdale’s artistic eye shows in his descriptions of landscapes: ‘There were broken columns and wide ribbons of concrete, pancaked flat where they had fallen. Once roads had soared up and over, in elaborate suspended superstructures. Now it was all ruins … It was a terrible vision’.

When the mission to return Blue goes terribly wrong, Ellee, Sidfred and Kass find themselves in mortal danger. Their entire community is at risk unless they can pull off a dangerous move that could have disastrous consequences.

A Place of Stone and Darkness is beautifully produced. An award-winning illustrator, Mousdale has crafted several stunning illustrations to accompany the hardbacked novel. The illustrated maps and diagrams of the Striggs’ underground land add an extra layer of realism to the world. Every character has a portrait, and readers will enjoy spotting their favourite characters in the coloured plates dispersed throughout the 400-page book. A helpful glossary of Strigg terms show how much work has gone into building the impressive land of the Striggs.

A Place of Stone and Darkness is an engaging story, has brilliant characters, and shares messages about the environment, human kindness and trusting your friends. With similarities to The Hobbit, this novel is perfect for young readers (10+) who enjoy fantasy and steampunk adventures. The surprise ending takes the tale in an unexpected and exciting direction, and while the formal vocabulary of the Striggs does take some time to get used to, the world-building is incredible. I can guarantee that once you are wrapped up in Ellee and Sidfred’s adventure, you won’t be able to put this book down.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

A Place of Stone and Darkness
By Chris Mousdale
Published by Penguin Random House New Zealand
ISBN 9780143773122

 

Book Review: Flights of Fancy – Stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates, introduced by Michael Morpurgo

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_flights_of_fancyFlights of fancy gathers the first ten British Children’s Laureates together to celebrate their contribution to children’s literature. It shares their wisdom, inspires a new generation of storytellers and is full of imaginative delight.

The Children’s Laureates are all household names and this book is a fascinating insight into their creative process. It contains lots of practical information such as Jacqueline Wilson’s advice for plot development, and Malorie Blackman’s prompts to deepen creative language.

I guarantee that teachers and parents will learn something new in the process too. We loved reading about Quentin Blake’s different writing quills! More importantly, it is full of whimsy and possibilities. There are many ideas for budding authors and illustrators to get started on their own story telling adventures.

Each contributor shares an original example of their work alongside their wisdom and creative prompts. There is something for everyone – doodles, illustrations, writing samples, poetry and even a play to act out. The structure of the book is designed to be ‘dipped into’ when in need of inspiration.

This book is a wonderful compilation of our favourite children’s writers and illustrators and it will be a great boredom-buster for older children who will be inspired to tell their own stories in their own way.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Flights of fancy: Stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates
Introduction by Michael Morpurgo
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406387858

Book Review: Bambi the Blind Alpaca, by Jan Lummis, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Bambi the Blind Alpaca HR.jpgBambi the alpaca loves his brother Charisma and they enjoy each other company as they eat together, play together and sleep together. But Charisma is also Bambi’s support, as Bambi is blind and relies on his brother to guide him around the paddock so he avoids banging into fences and gates.

When Charisma is shifted out of the paddock Bambi finds it difficult to fend for himself, becoming sad and stops eating. Even the sheep which are put in the paddock for company don’t bring Bambi out of his misery. But when Renaldo another alpaca arrives, Bambi is thrilled and before long, ‘Everywhere Renaldo went, Bambi went too.’

This is a heart -warming book all the more so, as it is based on a true story which author Jan Lummis was encouraged to write after the report of the two alpacas on her property made headlines in the media.

The illustrations by Jenny Cooper are an absolute delight, the facial expressions on the animals will be loved by children and adults alike, and each time I have read the book I have chuckled at a different animal’s face.

Having two alpacas in a neighbouring paddock has seen my interest in these animals develop, but I still found the two pages at the rear of the book fascinating, and I am sure the facts about alpacas will provide valuable discussion points for children at school or at home.

This simple tale of friendship and love, as well as supporting someone with a disability, so will be of value to a wide age group, and with the repetition of words throughout, will soon have children repeating, “Munch, Munch, Munch, Cuddle, Cuddle, Cuddle”.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Bambi the Blind Alpaca
by Jan Lummis, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435877

Book Review: Kōwhai Kids, by Marion Day and Anna Evans

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kowhai_kidsThe frosts are over and the warm, spring weather has finally arrived in New Zealand which means the native kōwhai trees are in full bloom. Amongst the branches, the kōwhai kids with their classy costumes sway in the breeze and show off their golden colours. Kōwhai girls love to chat, dance and cuddle while kōwhai boys love to tease, throw and tackle. They care for the birds that help with pollination, show kindness to the animals that seek protection and chase away the pesky critters that strip their branches. After their busy bloom seed pods begin to grow from the branches of the kōwhai and when the time comes the kōwhai kids say goodbye and let the seeds drop to the ground to grow new trees. But that’s not the last you will see of the kōwhai kids, because next spring, new kōwhai kids will bloom and start the cycle all over again.

Kōwhai Kids uses an imaginative world with adorable fairy-like characters to explain the reproductive process and secret life of New Zealand’s own kōwhai tree. Cleverly written, the kōwhai boys and girls represent the dioecious nature of the trees needing both a female and a male tree to reproduce while teaching young children about the important symbiotic relationship between the birds, particularly the tūī, and the kōwhai that are also needed in order for the tree to propagate.

The illustrations flood each page with the rich colours and the vibrant wildlife of spring time in New Zealand and capture the bright golden glow of the kōwhai. Kōwhai Kids is a wonderful introduction to one of the most beautiful trees in the world with factual information about the native beauty included on the first page as well as a ‘How to Grow a Kōwhai Tree’ guide in the back. This book is the perfect tool to start a growing project with your children if you are fortunate enough to have one of these beautiful trees growing near you!

While the kōwhai is spectacular on its own the thought of the tiny kōwhai kids playing amongst its branches makes the magnificent tree a little bit more magical. Giving appreciation to our native flora and fauna, Kōwhai Kids is imaginative and informative, making it a great addition to a child’s home or classroom library.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Kōwhai Kids
by Marion Day, illustrated by Anna Evans
Published by AM Publishing
ISBN 9780473459000

Book Review: Rivers, by Peter Goes

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_riversWow, this is an astonishingly good book. Readers who have enjoyed Timeline won’t be surprised by this revelation, but if you’re new to Peter Goes’ work, you’ve been missing out. Get yourself to your book store, stat.

This is a large format non-fiction picture book. So far, so ordinary, right? Open it up. Goes covers the continents and their major rivers and seas with illustrations and facts (quite literally – the continents are almost covered up!). All sorts of facts and figures are given to the curious reader – all sorts of stuff that I didn’t know, and more that I didn’t know I’d be interested in! There’s also a line of environmentl awareness throughout the book – I’m looking at you in particular, Darling River.

This is the sort of book that a reader will look at over and over. There’s so much information that it’s almost overwhelming, and I certainly couldn’t take it in all in one sitting. It’s like an invitation to come back and play another day after a successful play date – there’s just So. Much. Stuff.

Each double page spread has a really pared-back colour palette – for example, one spread may be just shades of blue, and black and white; the next might be shades of yellow, or purple. This is a really good way of managing the amount of information on the page, as it keeps the page back from the cliff edge of information overload. The illustrations are great, quite often humorous, and easy to understand.

Peter Goes is Belgian, so I was interested to see how he approached the one New Zealand entry in Rivers, the Waikato. It was well-researched and dealt with both Māori and Pakeha experiences and world views.  I came away happy.

You’ll probably find Rivers in the children’s section of your bookstore. I’d definitely recommend it for any child from about 7 upwards. Don’t discount it for teenagers and adults though, especially as a gift for someone who likes graphic novels or is a curious but reluctant reader. Rivers will appeal to a really wide range of people.  And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dip back into it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Rivers
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572168

Book Review: The Fairies of Down Under and other Pākehā Fairy Tales, by Geoff Allen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Have you ever seen a Pooka? Or a Welsh dragon in a taniwha’s cave? Or an enchanted girl made of books? Well, you could. If you look.

In this sizzling and unexpectedly clever collection, Geoff Allen contends that:

When European settlers sailed to the bottom of the world, to Down Under, they took with them: tools, seeds, livestock and their hope.

They did not take monsters.

Those crept aboard… all by themselves.

Welcome to a New Zealand where the fairies and monsters of the Old World meet those of the New… It was not only human settlers who arrived on Aotearoa’s shores with the first ships. To make things even more interesting, a trio of Dutch ghosts have been here since 1642.

Written in short, chapter-sized bites, these fairy tales would be great read aloud to a class of primary school children – or even older. There’s something ageless about fairy tales, and these fit the bill. Teachers whose classes enjoyed the rollicking of the likes of Harry Wakitipu (by Jack Lasenby) should sink their teeth into these. They’d make great bedtime stories for girls and boys alike.

The tales are well-researched, both in the origins of their mythical creatures (goblins, fairies and nymphs) and in how these are interwoven with New Zealand history. With this book comes a chance for kids to learn about the early colonial period and the type of characters who don’t usually appear in our children’s literature – think Dutch sailors, taiha-wielding kaumātua and even a cunning kea who was once a wizard. The lesson of the last is never refuse to marry a patupaiarehe.

We see the reaction of the magical creatures already resident in Aotearoa to their new neighbours. I loved the image of the two sea gods, Tangaroa and Poseidon, playing bowls with the Moeraki Boulders. And how refreshing to discover that ‘Dad Adventures’ are in fact real and you should definitely believe everything your dad has to say. My favourite tale was ‘King of the Fog Lands and the Book Daughter’ for its strong wāhine – the clever Book Daughter and the brave and smart princess Whakapono who successfully argues in court against the confiscation of her family’s land.

Overall? Incredibly funny and wonderfully inventive. Chances are you’ll like some of these tales more than others, but there’s something to appeal to everyone. I can see these becoming classics. Give them a try.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

The Fairies of Down Under and other Pākehā Fairy Tales
by Geoff Allen
Published by Submarine
ISBN 9780995109285