Book Review: A Southern Tale, by Joanne McDougall

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_southern_taleSammy is a Sea Lion, a very rare and endangered species. He lives on an island deep in the Southern Ocean.

As light filled the sky bringing warmth with the dawn,
Sammy woke up with a stretch and a yawn.  
Her tummy then rumbled, expressing a wish
that she leaps into the sea and go and find a fish.
Into the waves, she dove as they crashed against rocks,
causing foam and spray to be splashed.

Sammy swam far in search of food, arriving at her favourite place teeming with fish. Fish eating the plankton, penguins and dolphins and sea birds galore gather for dinner, trying to ignore the sea leopards lurking, waiting for their chance to grab a quick bite. Meanwhile, the sharks with glistening white teeth, sharp as a razor lie in wait, fancying a meal of sea lion.

I read this book to 2 ½ year old Quinn. She’s been to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea World so knows all about seals and penguins – telling me in no uncertain terms just what she thinks about the seals in this story being chased and perhaps eaten. It can be quite hard explaining to a small child about the food chain in the animal kingdom – suburban Auckland doesn’t quite cut it.

This is a great story with wonderful illustrations, to introduce children to endangered species and to try and make them a little more aware of what goes on in the great ocean surrounding our country.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Southern Tale
by Joanne McDougall
Published by Pegasus Art
9780473373696

Frankie Potts #3 and #4, by Juliet Jacka, illustrated by Phoebe Morris

If you haven’t read the Frankie Potts series yet, then you’re definitely missing out. 7-10 year olds I’m talking to you. Funny, awkward, sometimes challenging and always a bit batty. Wellington writer Juliet Jacka knows how to engage her audience – and more importantly, she does it with a local flavour.

Frankie Potts & the Postcard Puzzle 
cv_frankie_potts_and_the_postcard_puzzleThis is part three in this mystery and detective series. Frankie Potts has red hair, a super dog called Sparkplug and a mate called Mac. They love mysteries. And with a family like Frankie has there is always a mystery.

The family has hidden secrets. So, when Frankie finds a postcard sent to her mother saying “dearest Tania I do think we should give it another try, don’t you? Gideon xxx” Frankie’s methodical brain goes into over drive. What could all this be? A long lost lover? Does Father know? To solve the mystery Frankie and her gang jump on the bus to Giggleswick to search for Gideon.

What they find is going to unleash a horde of family secrets. All is revealed at a family dinner with the Marvellous M, Frankie’s Grandma and her menagerie of animals which includes a parrot called Firefly who says “Potamus-otamus-hippo-whatamus”.

Frankie Potts & The Wicked Wolves
cv_frankie_potts_and_the_wicked_wolvesThis is part 4 of the series. Frankie has found her long-lost grandad, Sparkplug’s girlfriend Tinkerbell has just had 7 puppies, her grandmother the wonderful The Marvellous M has entered a competition with her dogs, and Frankie’s mother is expecting twins. On top of that, blue-faced dancers the Wicked Wolves have come to the village of Tring.

Initially, it’s all very exciting but Frankie can smell a rat. Something’s not right. There’s a mystery afoot. Who are these Wicked Wolves? How come Marvellous knows them? Why does she want to fight them?

In the meanwhile, there’s puppy chaos at Frankie’s house and Grandma M is planning to give half of them away. Frankie must make sure that they go to good homes. She’s not happy about this at all.

To add to this, Ralph Peter-McGee, Frankie’s arch-enemy, has his eye on her favourite pup Kettle Thomson. Can Frankie stop Ralph getting the pup? And why are those Wicked Wolves sniffing around the puppies? Set against all this is the inaugural Tring Talent Contest. The show is rapidly approaching, and Frankie has some serious detecting to do. But maybe not all the clues are quite as they seem …


My own 8-year-old loves these gentle mysteries. She found the writing easy and simple to follow and the story engaging enough to stay up and read the whole thing in a single Friday night. Mixed with Phoebe Morris’ clever and quirky black and white drawings, some including paws across empty pages, she was quietly giggling away to herself at times.

Moreover, the story was memorable. There are hints of the old-fashioned English children’s books like Famous Five here. Children have some freedom to roam and think for themselves. There are no mobile phones or iPads or any other modern trappings, unless they are essential for the plot.

But to my daughter, the gentle uncluttered plots and strong, likable characters were the real appeal. Frankie has flaming red hair and an insatiable appetite for solving mysteries. Plot-wise they are bizarre enough to intrigue and simple enough to remember. My daughter had no trouble reciting the whole thing back to me on the walk to school. A winner, at least in our household.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Frankie Potts & the Postcard Puzzle
by Juliet Jacka and Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770206

Frankie Potts & The Wicked Wolves
by Juliet Jacka and Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770459

Book Reviews: Triangle, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and Rock Pool Secrets, by Narelle Oliver

Triangle, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

cv_triangleTriangle lives in his triangle house amongst triangle mountains. Square lives in a square house amongst square mountains. One day Triangle goes on a mission to play a trick on his friend Square. But then Square gets his revenge.

I love Jon Klassen books and this partnering with Mac Barnett is spot on. Giving personalities to shapes is genius and its executed flawlessly. The illustrations are classic Klassen and fit in with the story seamlessly. The book brings up questions about trust, and just what it is to play a trick on someone. It’s got humour and quirkiness while still being simple and clever. AND it’s the first of a (shape) trilogy!

Rock Pool Secrets, by Narelle Oliver

cv_rock_pool_secrets‘At first glance there’s nothing much to see. But the rock pools are full of secrets.’

Some of my best memories are of windy, salty Wellington days spent exploring the rock pools around Lyall Bay. There is always something interesting to find and this book is the same. Each page is full of detail and hiding creatures. Almost every page has a large flap for extra exploring – my daughter especially loved opening the flaps to see what was hiding underneath.

The text is informative yet softly flowing over the pages, fitting in well with the watercolour linocut artwork. This is a good introduction for young kids to a non-fiction style of book as it feels like you’re learning something along your journey through the rockpools.

Reviewed by Nyssa Brown

Triangle
by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406376678

Rock Pool Secrets
by Narelle Oliver
published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922179357

Books about Books: Lucy’s Book and Maisy goes to the Bookstore

Both books reviewed are available at bookshops nationwide.

If you’ve been watching the picture book – or, indeed the adult book world for the past few years, you will have noticed that there is a trend quietly growing. That is: books about books. A recent favourite for many was A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. New Zealand examples include The Boring Book, by Vasanti Unka; A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt and Sarah Wilkins; and more creatively, Fuzzy Doodle, by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley.

Though many are favourites, the overall effect that all these books about books has ultimately had on me, is fatigue with the tropes about physical books: the well-meaning urges from the writer to love reading because it’s good. Which means I approached these two books about books – or bookstores (but books really) – with a wary, difficult-to-impress eye.

Lucy’s Book, by Natalie Jane Pryor, illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

cv_lucys_bookLucy’s Book, is about that special book that any reader will understand. That book, that takes hold of you, and won’t let go. Lucy’s book happens to be a library book – and she’s told all of her friends about it, so when she takes it back, they race each other to get it out again. So the story is shared – with their friends, with her neighbours, her dance class, and her neighbourhood.

‘Li-ya, Lucy’s friend from the park, flew with it to China…and Lucy took it with her when Aunt Sophie married the dentist.’

All we know about the book is that it has a red cover, with pictures of adventures on it. That frustrated 6-year-old Dan – he wanted to know what the book was. But I think he will understand, once he’s met that book, that it is different for everybody.

The emotions of reading, and the rich language used in the book are a wonderful window into the world of the book-lover. And I think this is where this book improves on others: it is about the joys that the book-lovers feel when reading, rather than concentrating on just what a book can do independently of its reader. It involves its audience, rather than commanding them to love books.

The illustrator Cheryl Orsini has done a fabulous job. She pushes the emotion of each page into the illustrations in an extraordinary way. No detail is spared. Look at the cover of the books when Lucy gets her book out for the first time – an ice cream, a plate with cake, a whole fish… Then look at the covers of the books when Lucy finds out her book has worn out, and is no longer able to be rented. A boy with bandages, fish bones, an empty plate, spilt milk.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop, by Lucy Cousins

cv_maisy-goes-to-the-bookshopI’m pleased to say that Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is similar. While there is a more basic tone and language set, Maisy goes to the bookshop and revels in the choice she has of reading materials. She is the reader, and we are finding out why she reads. And all her friends happen to be there!

My 4-year-old loves Maisy – he learned to count and recognise numbers before he was 2, thanks to Maisy Counts the Chicks – but his relationship with books more generally is a little harder to pick. He’s read this with one of his parents every night since I brought it home.

You know from the title what happens. Maisy goes to the bookshop – where Ostrich helps her find a beautiful book about birds to share with Tallulah: then her friend Charlie comes out from behind the shelves. ‘”Ahoy, Maisy!” he says. I’m reading a book about pirates. I can imagine US as pirates!”’ As we find more friends we learn what they can imagine themselves as, until the reader is fully engaged with Eddie, who shows us in thought bubbles, what he is imagining himself as. Alex loves to match the thought bubbles with a book, and tell us what he thinks they are about.

I’ve seen Lucy Cousins reviewed negatively for her drawings, and yes they are simple, but they are bright and engaging for young eyes. She packs the detail in – and you always know what she has drawn. Another favourite page for Alex was the cafe page, where they all ate biscuits, muffins, cherries and strawberries.

More of these please, publishers! I love books about readers, not books that are only about books – because reading is magical in and of itself. Don’t over-analyse it!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster, editor of The Sapling.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop
by Lucy Cousins
published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406369847

Lucy’s Book
by Natalie Jane Prior, and Cheryl Orsini
Published by Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN 9780734416605

Funny note: In the USA, Maisy Goes to the Local Bookstore (rather than the Bookshop) – and where do you think the first link came up to for this? That’s right – starts with A and ends with N.

Book Review: Bathtime for Little Rabbit, by Jorg Muhle

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bathtime_for_little_RabbitPublished by Gecko Press, this is a board book suitable for 0 – 3 years.

This is an interactive book with a simple story. Little Rabbit’s bath is ready. Can you call him? Hoppity-hop. He’s in! We’re washing his ears today too. Can you put some shampoo on him? Wonderful. You made a lot of bubbles. Say swooshswoooshhhh.

I read this book to 2-year-old Quinn after she’d had her bath and was all ready for bed. She loved interacting with the story trying to help Little Rabbit shampoo his hair, wipe his nose when he got water up his nose and was keen to blow him dry at the end. A kiss good-night, tucked down in her bed with Sheepy, Quinn was happy to snuggle down and go to sleep.

What a lovely story – simple but very effective. A great story to read during bedtime routines.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Bathtime for Little Rabbit
by Jorg Muhle
Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571376

Book Review: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, written by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_good_night_stories_for_rebel_girls“Again, again!” demanded the six year old.

“Again, again!” agreed the ten year old.

On a particularly fractious evening we sat down to dinner and to redirect the overtired children I decided to start ‘Stories with dinner.’ Stories with dinner (much like ‘Stories at bath time’) has become an instant hit. This is was rather helped by the book that I read: the stories of 100 extraordinary women through history and across cultures in fairy tale form. The stories are accompanied by a quote and a modern comic-graphic images, with dozens of woman artists across the world contributing images.

The authors conceived the idea for the book and it was supported by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The aim was to present a book that inspires girls to dream big.

There is a real range of women through time and across cultures. I was taken aback at how unfamiliar I was with nearly two thirds of the people featured – sobering when you read their contributions to society. How have I not heard of them? Including young girls I think is particularly clever – my girls were very, very interested in the achievements of children. There is some competition between them to add their own story in the allocated ‘my story’ section at the back!

The stories are a brief overview of these women’s stories – as such they tend to skim over some details – however, they provide an introduction and opportunity to learn more. The fairy tale structure makes it very readable – but the pictures and content are interesting to a wide age range. As the book is so beautifully presented, it is an ideal gift. This is already treasured in my household and I’m looking to learn more about the women profiled.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Written by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli
Published by Particular Books / Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780141986005

Book Review: Middle School – Dog’s Best Friend, by James Patterson

Available on 6 April in bookshops nationwide.

cv_middle_school_dogs_best_friendI enjoyed this book. I think that I may have read one or two of James Patterson’s books in the past, but this is my first from this series. I really enjoyed the cartoon strips that the author and illustrator incorporated into this chapter book for preteens.

Middle School: Dog’s Best Friend is about boy named Rafe Khatchadorian who is just trying to survive middle school. In this novel he starts his own dog walking business to buy a WormHole Premium Multi-Platform Game Box (and also help out his family). But as most stories go this all turns to custard as some new kids turn up, whom he just can’t seem to get out of his mind. Along with this, he faces his sister being moved up into all his classes.

I really enjoyed the nail-biting suspense at the end of each chapter. I would recommend this book for anyone over 9 or someone trying to get out of reading so many comics.

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston (14)

Middle School – Dog’s Best Friend
by James Patterson
Published by Arrow
ISBN 9781784753900