Book Review: Bruce Finds a Home, by Katherine van Beek

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_bruce_finds_a_home.jpgThe tiny grey kitten on the front of this colourfully illustrated book elicited an immediate cooing “awwww” from my school-age children. I thought they would be much too old for picture books by now but Bruce Finds A Home was snatched up immediately upon sight, the combination of cute cat plus delicate artwork proving a winning combination.

Bruce the Cat was found as a day-old kitten, lying helpless by the side of a road in central Auckland. Now two years old and living in Dunedin, he is an internet star with thousands of followers worldwide. This is his first foray into books, with the help of writer Kathryn van Beek.

This beautiful hardcover book was the result of a Kickstarter campaign backed by over 300 keen Bruce fans, eager to see his story in print. The result is a lovely rhyming tale about how a tiny newborn found his forever home – and his name. This would make a great read-aloud for kindergarten-aged children and a handy conversation starter for a gentle discussion about caring for animals.

I am sure this won’t be the last we see of the gorgeous Bruce or his clever “mum” Kathryn.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

Bruce Finds A Home
by Katherine van Beek
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473391737


Book Review: The Whale and the Snapper, by Jo Van Dam, illustrated by Richart Holt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_whale_and_the_snapperThe Whale and the Snapper is part of the Kiwi Corkers collection published by Scholastic NZ. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing previous titles Parakeet in Boots and Wacko Kakapo, and each of these books have been received well by my grandchildren. Three-year-old Quinn had me read this title to her over and over.

‘Once upon a time, in the deep blue and dark blue sea, lived a tiny shiny snapper, and her sisters thirty-three.’

Quinn stopped me at this point, asking ‘has she got thirty-three sisters, Grandma’ – I had to explain that snappers lay a lot of eggs and, yes, they were all her sisters. Only having one sister, Quinn thought about that for a minute and said – “I don’t think I’d like to have thirty-three sisters”.  I  think she is right, one sister is plenty.

The tiny snappers had all been nagged by their mother to ‘stay hidden in the weed, as whales and people fishing reckon you’re a tasty feed.’  Generally, they obeyed her but of course being young they were curious and ventured beyond where they should go.

Of course, a good story has to have a villain and in this case, it was a whale. The tiny snapper appealed to the whale to not eat him up but to let him go. If he did, he would sometime in the future repay the kindness. So, the villain turns out to be a good guy and let the snapper go. The snapper never forgot that kindness and was able to return the favour.

The moral of the story is if you do a good deed you will be repaid sometime in the future – well you hope so!

After reading each page I stopped and asked Quinn what she could see in the illustrations. The language alongside each one just made me laugh with the amount of Kiwi slang – ‘sweet as! Fresh kai for me,’ being just one example.  A truly delightful book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Whale and the Snapper
by Jo Van Dam, illustrated by Richard Holt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434948


Book Review: A Lion is a Lion, by Polly Dunbar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_lion_is_a_lionI wish this book was written when I was a child. I never understood what my mother meant when she said, ‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’. It’s not a saying that resonates with a five-year-old. After all, sheep don’t wear clothes, and even if they did, how would a wolf wear them?

Polly Dunbar’s cautionary tale, A Lion is a Lion, would probably have cleared things up for me. Is a lion still a lion if it dresses up, has nice manners and can sing and dance? Are you any less likely to be dessert if he has observed the niceties?

A Lion is a Lion can be read as an allegory for sticking up for yourself, being cautious about the people your parents warned you about, and even for the concept of consent.

I guarantee the vast majority of five-year-olds won’t see it this way, but they will agree that the children in the story should definitely call the lion out on his behaviour and send him on his way. A caring, supportive adult could steer the conversation towards meanness and bullying: if someone starts off by being nice but turns out to be unkind, what should you do?

With fast-paced action and illustrations full of whimsy and a hat tip to previous literary cats that cause problems (particularly Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat), A Lion is a Lion will delight young readers from about 3 – 7 years.

Any serious conversations you may have afterwards will just be an added bonus.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

A Lion is a Lion
by Polly Dunbar
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406371536

Book Review: Hugo Makes a Change, by Mauro Gatti and Scott Emmons

cv_hugo_makes_a_change.jpgAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

In this brightly illustrated book we are introduced to Hugo the Vampire. Hugo, just like any vampire, wakes at night and is feeling hungry. We find out that Hugo’s favourite food is “red, juicy, MEAT!” and it’s all he craves for every meal. As Hugo eats his way through hot dogs, turkey, roast, jerky, steak and salami each night he soon discovers his diet is making him feel sluggish and he grows tired of eating meat every night. Seeking variety her ventures out into the garden; but Hugo doesn’t like the look of the fruits and vegetables at all and decides he will never eat them.

However, a round, red apple catches his eye and after the first bite he decides that he will give fruits and vegetables a try. Now Hugo thinks fruits and vegetables are delicious and he eats them for every meal (along with his favourite meats of course). Nuts and raisins become Hugo’s favourite snacks and as he finds himself growing stronger and having more energy he is pleased he added fruits and vegetables to his diet.

This is an excellent book for promoting healthy eating in young children. Hugo the Vampire is easy for children to relate to if they find trying new food a bit daunting as he is hesitant to try fruits and veggies at first too! This book came at the perfect time as our preschool is currently exploring healthy eating and how to build strong muscles. The children responded positively to Hugo’s choice to try new foods and were quick to share that they were going to eat more fruits and vegetables to “get strong” like Hugo. I’m sure the very last page will leave children wondering about the little holes they might find in their fruit.

I also appreciated that Hugo didn’t entirely give up his favourite foods and decided that he could still eat meat as part of a balanced diet. The descriptive language paired with great rhyming made the book informative and fun to read. Emmons does a brilliant job of making different cuts and styles of meats into rhythmical rhymes while Gatti’s bold and colourful illustrations let us see how Hugo was feeling about his all-meat diet and his adventures in trying new foods.

It can be tricky to explain to young children why it’s important we eat a balanced diet with a variety of different foods but I think Hugo Makes a Change does this wonderfully. This book would make great tool for any teacher or parent who is trying to help their child make healthy eating choices.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Hugo Makes a Change
by Mauro Gatti and Scott Emmons
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171218

Book Review: The Kiwi Go Marching One by One, by Peter Millett, illustrated by Deborah Hinde

Available in bookshops nationwide.

The Kiwi Go Marching One by One is a Kiwi take on the nursery rhyme “The Ants Go Marching”. It follows five kiwis pals as they embark on a camping trip and partake in the many exciting adventures New Zealand has to offer; from building bivouacs in the forest and sea fishing to sledding down snowy mountains and bungee jumping from trees. It begins with five excited kiwis marching off to set up camp and ends with five very tired kiwis marching home to a well deserved rest.

Hinde’s illustrations are lovely and manage to capture the tranquility of the New Zealand’s outdoors. Each time I read through the book I noticed more and more little details and each kiwi appears to have their own personality. Children will love scouring the pages to find familiar creatures and plants that are unique to Aotearoa.

The lyrics fit seamlessly into the tune and my preschool students and I enjoyed singing along with Jay Laga’aia. Singing is very important towards language learning and I always love finding new sing-a-long books to share with children. The te reo Māori translation is brilliant and books that promote the use and learning of te reo Māori for young children and adults alike are a great resource to have.

I would recommend this book to any child that loves a sing-a-long! It is thoughtfully illustrated and wonderfully written and children can enjoy singing along with an adult or the CD or just explore New Zealand nature and wildlife through the illustrations.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Kiwi Go Marching One by One
by Peter Millett, illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435129

Book Review: Around the world in 50 ways: A Choose-your-own Travel Adventure, by Dan Smith, illustrated by Frances Castle

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_around_the_world_in_50_ways.pngWe made it! And it was SOOO satisfying!

My 7-year-old son and I absolutely loved this book, which combines the fantastic kids travel writing that LP Kids has become known for, with an Amazing Race / pick-a-path format that is a total winner. I got to walk down memory lane and reminisce about my OE, while Dan enjoyed learning about new places, and figure out where he wants to go the most in the world. (Barcelona, apparently – I think it was the football, rather than Gaudi).

We start in London, then we are given three options – train, coach or boat – and land in different parts of the world accordingly. Each set of options is different, and you can choose by length of journey in hours and minutes, type of transport as with the first one or going East or West. Sometimes with a bit of knowledge the adult helping can hazard a guess at where you may end up, but most of the time it’s a complete surprise and all the better for it.

Each city we land in has several text boxes. The first is a brief introduction, and others are either a unique form of transport (one of the themes of the book) or a place you must visit while there. There are frequently short fact-boxes as well, though they could be better defined. It is written as though the boy leading the trip has organised a top-attraction visit of famous attractions, which is friendly and appealing.

As far as the pick-a-path aspect goes, occasionally you will hit a dead end and have to start again, but they aren’t too frequent, and when they happen it is never a ‘terrible death’ – an aspect of the more traditional pick-a-paths that upset my sensitive boy – more of an unfortunate circumstance, like your huskies coming un-hitched in Lapland.

The colours and illustrations are wonderful, but the formatting could occasionally be a bit more defined with lines and boxes. That said, it really doesn’t detract from the riot of colour and fun feel of the book.

As a first introduction to what world travel has to offer, along with a satisfying activity, I’d recommend this one for ages 6+. My son was just right for it, and was very happy to let me practise my tourism agent promotional patois.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Around the World in 50 Ways
by Dan Smith and Frances Castle
Published by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781786577559

Book Review: Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend

cv_nevermoorAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

This captivating tale introduces us to a rather fascinating new character in the Junior Fiction genre.

Morrigan Crow has had a rather ill-starred life and finds herself staring fate right in the eye. She was blamed, due to a long-held superstition, for all sorts of mishaps that have occurred in her hometown, and needs rescuing. Enter the brilliantly named Jupiter North, who might not at first appear particularly heroic – but as they say, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

It soon becomes clear that Jupiter sees Morrigan as more capable than anybody in her family ever recognised, and has chosen her to contend for a place in a prestigious organisation. But there is a rather tricky path to navigate and particular trials to achieve, to ensure that Morrigan  can stay in the safety of Nevermoor.

This is a very well written book, peppered with all types of quirky, colourful characters. There are twists and turns aplenty, and magic abounds.

This is a debut for Jessica Townsend and she has done a wonderful job, you are engaged immediately with the story, the language is descriptive and vibrant. Children of all ages will enjoy this book and I suspect that many will read it more than once as they await further the  adventures of the redoubtable Morrigan Crow.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow 
by Jessica Townsend
Published by Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN 9780734418074