Book Review: The World of Greek Mythology, by Ben Spies

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_world_of_greek_mythology.jpgThis is an excellent introduction for anyone curious about Greek mythology. Here on the other side of the world, and eons away from their place of origin, many of the legends are still part of our collective cultural narrative. The stories of the Trojan war will be familiar to many in a sketchy, delivered-by-Hollywood way.

The difference between Spies’ book and other recent books on Greek mythology, such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe, is that Spies is writing specifically for children and young adults. This makes his retelling engaging and easy to understand (it’s a very complicated pantheon) without being dumbed-down, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The World of Greek Mythology to adults either.

Spies writes in a lively, fast-paced style, with lots of jokes and asides to his readers. He know his audience well, having written the book aged 11. He covers the Titans, some of the Olympians, the Trojan War, and the Odyssey in 228 action-packed pages. I enjoyed Spies’ frankness – he tells his readers in places how complicated some of the myths are, and that he doesn’t always understand the myths either. I wish I’d had this book as an intro when I studies Classics at high school, I might have found it a bit easier to follow!

There is the promise of another book on the subject to come, covering the other Olympians who couldn’t fit in this first volume. I’m really looking forward to it and am hoping that maybe Spies could put in a pronunciations guide for some of the trickier names and places. A map would also be great for readers who like to visualise where things are happening.

This book will appeal to readers from about 8 years up who enjoy action, fantasy and don’t mind a bit of blood and gore. It would be a great read-to book from about 8, depending on the reader’s own capabilities. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The World of Greek Mythology
by Ben Spies
Published by Spies Publishing
ISBN 9780473455866

Book Review: Pioneer Women, edited by Sarah Ell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pioneer_womenPioneer Women is the first title in The New Zealand Series. These books aim to support Intermediate and Secondary students, following the Social Studies Curriculum. This first book looks at the lives of 18 European women as they lived and travelled in the early days of settlement. The book explains that while there are no Māori women included, they too were pioneers in the settlement and survival in a new land.

The greatest blessing of the book is the light editorial hand of Sarah Ell. She has used letters, journals, sketches and photos from a variety of sources. After a short introduction about each writer, Ell lets the women tell of their experiences first hand with very little editing. The voices are varied and authentic. Each Chapter deals with a different aspect of early life from The Voyage, A New Life, Adventure and Exploration, Disaster and War, to Work. Three or four women are included in each chapter. The very first writer, known only as Maggie, succinctly summarises the sort of people who should or should not take the offer of a new life. This is honest, heartfelt advice and would be a brilliant starter for a classroom discussion on who should go and who should stay.

However, my favourite story comes from Jane Maria Richmond who arrived in Auckland in 1853. It is subtitled, “In my element”. She writes about the joy of hard work, the freedom from social constraints and the delight she feels in coming to New Zealand. In her words, “I can say most emphatically that I am disappointed in no single particular, that as far as I can see we acted most wisely in coming here”. Hers is a story of the success many women made of the terrible conditions through hard work and a dogged persistence.

As a short read, this book is a window into the world of our early New Zealand pioneering women. It shows fortitude in the face of hardship and delight in the comfort and happiness of families. For students it provides material to begin the search into their own journey to New Zealand.

reviewed by Kathy Watson

Pioneer Women
Edited by Sarah Ell
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506599

Book Review: I Love Tomato Sauce, by Nicky Sievert

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_love_tomato_sauceMost children love tomato sauce, and will enjoy this fun story of how this family enjoys their tomato sauce. The boy in the story likes his sauce on most of the food he eats, even on party food. But there are issues in the family as his parents can’t decide which bottle is the best to use, his dad prefers the upside down bottle, while Mum likes the old squeeze bottle shaped like a tomato. The small pots in the fish and chip shop are preferred by big sister Ariana, but Aunty Kirsty makes her own tomato sauce, as does Nan’s neighbour Cyril.

When the family go on a picnic they have to pack everyone’s preferred tomato sauce, but they are so busy organizing the sauce they forget the food to go with it.

The day is not ruined as Nan has brought a loaf of bread to feed the ducks, and the family enjoy their sauce on the bread.

The simple story will appeal to most children, the script has words highlighted in bold which emphasize key points, and there will be lots of talking points in the colourful illustrations.

Supplying Aunt Kirsty’s recipe is a nice addition, which could lead to a fun activity for a family to do if they have surplus tomatoes growing.

A page at the back discussing some of the sign language used in the illustrations is quite unique and should generate discussion with children and adults reading the book. I liked this inclusion as it would enable children with hearing impairments to be more included in the New Zealand classroom.

Nicky Sievert grew up in Hawkes Bay, studied art in Wellington and lives in Lower Hutt. I Love Tomato Sauce is the first book she has written and illustrated, although in 2018 she illustrated Our Dad, written by David Ling.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

I Love Tomato Sauce
by Nicky Sievert
Published by Duck Creek Press
ISBN 9781927305560

Book Review: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_te_tiriti_o_waitangi.jpgToby Morris is a cartoonist and illustrator who will be familiar to many New Zealanders as the creator of The Side Eye on The Spinoff Website. He’s well known for his commentary on social issues, and has also written books including Don’t Puke On Your Dad: A Year in the Life of a New Father and The Day the Costumes Stuck.

The Treaty of Waitangi\Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a flip book – one way the text is in English, turn it upside down and you have a Te Reo Māori version. The English text was originally published in two articles in the School Journal and has been developed into a graphic book by Morris.

The text is straight-forward, as you’d expect for something that was written for young people. It is factual and non-emotive, and lays out the timeline up to the Treaty being signed in 1840, and then what happened afterwards. It’s the same narrative that you’ll find in museums and libraries across the country. It’s Morris’s illustrations that bring the text to life. Starting with the cover, which depicts a wide variety of people from different eras, you know that what you’re about to read is about people, not about legal arguments. This makes the book accessible to anyone, regardless of their prior knowledge or attitude towards Te Tiriti.

This book should be in every home in the country.  It should be in every school and public library and given to every new migrant who arrives to live in New Zealand as part of a welcome package. As Morris’s narrator says at the end of the English version: ‘What happened [after the Treaty was signed] wasn’t always the nicest story, but we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  If we’re honest about our country’s past, we can try to fix some of the damage that still affects us today.  We all want a country that’s fair for everyone.’

It’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Treaty of Waitangi|Te Tiriti o Waitangi
by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby
Published by Lift Education
ISBN 9780473470654

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