Book Review: Go Girl – A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women, by Barbara Else

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_go_girl.jpgIn the vein of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls comes Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women. It is written by well-regarded New Zealand author Barbara Else and illustrations are provided by nine New Zealand artists. This hardback edition is boldly coloured and the contemporary illustrations further enhance this attractive book. In what I hope becomes standard practice in kiwi publishing, macrons are correctly used for words written in Māori.

My daughters (aged seven and eleven) jumped on this book. They then searched the book to see if their favourite high profile women were included. Having completed that, they then searched out stories of women they were unfamiliar with.

Beatrice Tinsley was a profile that particularly resonated with the girls, I had not heard of her astrophysics achievements prior to reading this book. Hūria Mātenga, the famous rescuer of the shipwrecked boat Delaware was an amazing story of strength and bravery.

Barbara Else provides tips at the end of the book for further research on the women covered and we had a fascinating time looking up the Te Ara website for further biographical information. There is a timeline at the back of the book with each woman plotted to show when she was born. This provides a great way of ‘re-ordering’ the stories, which are provided in alphabetical order in the text.

This is a wonderful book. The writing style is clear, and reads like a bedtime story, so is very appealing. Often, the writing style will further reflect the woman portrayed – I particularly enjoyed Margaret Mahy’s profile! I loved the wide range of subjects. With nearly 50 stories, and a range of historic and contemporary women across a variety of disciplines, this is a great book for New Zealand children.

I’m sure that this book will appeal widely in New Zealand homes and schools, quickly becoming a standard resource. It makes a fantastic gift.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Go Girl – A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women
by Barbara Else
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780143771609


Book Review: The Holidays, by Blexbolex

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_the_holidaysThe Holidays written and illustrated by Blexbolex is published by Gecko Press, who publish and translate children’s books from around the world. Blexbolex is a French comics artist and illustrator, living in Berlin.

This is a very unusual children’s book for one used to books with words! The story is set out and told entirely by illustrations.

The Summer holidays are nearly over and our protagonist had the whole place to themselves to explore until Grandpa came home with an elephant.  That event in itself changed the rest of the Summer holidays – making life a lot more interesting. But where could Grandpa possibly have gotten an elephant?  And where did it go at the end of the holidays? We have no idea.

This book encourages a child and perhaps a grown up to concoct a story to fit the pictures. This is a great way to encourage a child to use their imagination.

A charming book with beautifully crafted illustrations.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Holidays
by Blexbolex
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571932

Book Review: Finding, by David Hill

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_findingDavid Hill has a remarkable output of fiction for young readers. This latest novel traces the history of several generations of two New Zealand families, one tangata whenua, the other Scottish immigrants.

There are eight sections to the novel, each written from the perspective of a family member of each generation. I found this a really interesting way to bring the history of this place and these people to life.

Hill builds an interesting, well-balanced and credible picture of life in New Zealand, in a country area, and is particularly effective in drawing the relationships between the families. There are shared stories which are retold and sometimes recreated in each succeeding generation.

The importance of the land on which the families live, and the river which runs through it, comes through strongly; the shared experiences – happy, sad, dangerous, amusing – help in developing a real sense of knowing the families and understanding the need for and importance of trusted friends and neighbours.

The voices in each section are authentic and the stories are full of interest, danger, excitement and a great understanding of how New Zealand has been shaped by our inhabitants.

There are things which I am sure readers will identify with – for example the axe which almost did for Duncan becomes a kind of taonga and helps to save Alan’s life; the reaction of Hahona’s family when they first hear the bagpipes, and how that reaction becomes part of the shared family histories; the interconnections of the families through marriage – all these and much more are woven into a lovely generational story.

I can see this being a great book to use as a teaching resource, but as well I think it will appeal to a wide readership.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

by David Hill
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143772392
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Book Review: Myths and legends of Aotearoa, retold By Annie Rae Te Ake Ake

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_myths_and_lengeds_of_aotearoa.jpgNew Zealand school children for many generations have read and studied the many myths and legends of our land which form part of our history and knowledge. Fifteen Māori myths and legends are presented in this newly reissued book, alongside stunning artworks by senior students from throughout the country.

Annie Rae Te Ake Ake is a writer and storyteller with tribal affiliations to Ngāti Tūwhareto, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Maru, and recorded 29 legends as audio readings in 1993. Myths and Legends of Aotearoa was first published in 1999 when it was a finalist in the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards.

Author Annie Rae Te Ake Ake says in her introduction, ‘Legend has it that the Māori  made an epic journey from their ancient homeland of Hawaiki on seven sea-faring waka, in search of new land. This long and arduous journey tested their faith, courage and endurance.’

It is appropriate that she began the collection with the creation story of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother and how their son Tane Mahuta  pushed them apart. I enjoyed reading the Pania of the Reef story again, and there are a number of stories about Maui, who has always featured strongly in the myths and legends of New Zealand.

Although recommended for age ten plus I read the stories to my younger grandchildren and they loved them – there is plenty of interaction and discussion with the illustrations. My four-year-old grandson who lives near Totara was especially interested in the Rata and the Totara Tree story and he was fascinated with the acrylic and ink illustrations by Nick Sydney, lots of birds to count and he even found the toadstools.

The inclusion of a map of New Zealand with places marked where the legends originate adds to the learning experience, as does the glossary at the back of the book which includes Māori words and phrases with their English translation.

This well- written hard cover book with its eye catching illustrations deserves a place in public libraries, school libraries as well as New Zealand homes. The stories are short, most only two pages long, making it an ideal book for bedtime reading or classroom activities. I have enjoyed reading again the Myths and Legends I read at primary school, and believe this would be an excellent resource for new immigrants coming to New Zealand to give them an insight into our background history.

Reviewed By Lesley McIntosh

Myths and Legends of Aotearoa
retold By Annie Rae Te Ake Ake
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435235

Book Review: Do you want to gallop with me? by Sophie Siers, with illustrations by Judith Trevelyan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_do_you_want_to_gallop_with_me.jpgBeing horse-mad as a child, I would have loved this book. Beautifully illustrated by Judith Trevelyan, Do you want to gallop with me? features horses every time you turn the page, along with tui, rabbits, and hedgehogs.

The story is about Nibbles the pony, who loves to gallop but on this day he has trouble finding anyone to play with him. The tui, hare, hedgehog and fellow horses all say no, and he’s thinking he’s going to be all alone in his prancing…

But then across the paddock comes a friend who is certainly keen to go galloping with Nibbles. They gallop and trot and splash and prance – past Tui, past Hare and past Hedgehog.

This book has plenty to keep a child enthralled as the pages turn, and the delightful illustrations are colourful and full of detail.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Do You Want to Gallop With Me?
by Sophie Siers, with illustrations by Judith Trevelyan
Published by Millwood Press
ISBN 9780473408541

Book Review: 1918 Broken Poppies, by Des Hunt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_1918.jpg1918: Broken Poppies is the latest (and final) book in the Kiwis at War series, where well-known New Zealand authors write fictionalised accounts of the war for the YA market. It marks a departure from Des Hunt’s other books, which are usually modern-day, dealing with topical issues (such as bullying etc), and with a strong ecological or scientific bent to them. However, all of the trademark characteristics are there: short chapters, lots of action, and a wry sense of humour, designed to appeal to boys. It is based on the experiences of two of his uncles.

Henry Hunt starts life as a farmer’s son, working the land in the North Island of New Zealand. He’s hard-working, diligent and has a penchant for exploring. One day, he and his cousin George are exploring a cave on their property, when the roof collapses. Henry is buried, and almost dies, and only his cousin’s quick actions save his life. The fear of being buried alive, however, never quite leaves him. Then World War I happens, and George enlists. Henry follows him a year later, determined to fight by his side, but finds himself assigned, not to the Wellington group, but to the Otago. Here he makes friends, and catches the eye, and ire, of a superior officer, who seems determined to prove him a coward.

Whilst passing a group of refugees in France, Henry’s regiment pass a cart bearing a young girl and a small terrier. With little warning, bombs start raining down, and the child and dog become separated. After the shelling has stopped, Henry finds the dog – but is unable to return her to her owner. Poppy soon becomes a mascot for his squad, and her ratting skills earn her infamy. She provides comfort to the soldiers, keeps their tents free of vermin and delivers fresh meat to the cook (in the form of rabbits). Despite tragedy, the hardships of war, and suffering several life-changing injuries, Henry never forgets the promise he made to Poppy and her girl: that he would see them reunited.

The First World War was an horrific affair, and 1918: Broken Poppies spares few details on the unpleasantness of the terrain, pitted with crater holes, corpses and mud – a lot of mud – as well as the rats, the lice and many other obstacles the young soldiers had to endure even before facing off against the enemy. It truly brings the war to life, painting a vivid mental picture in the mind of the reader, without getting bogged down on descriptive prose. Brutally sad and undeniably engrossing, the easy language and fast moving plot should immerse anyone with any interest in military history, and should especially appeal to fans of Michael Morpurgo. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

1918: Broken Poppies
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432821

Previous books in the series:
1917: Machines of War, by Brian Falkner (not on our site)
1916: Dig for Victory , by David Hair
1915: Wounds of War,
by Diana Menefy
1914: Riding into War,
by Susan Brocker

Book Review: The Great Kiwi 1-2-3 Book, by Donovan Bixley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_great_kiwi_123_bookThe book begins with a challenge to count different objects – which is not as straightforward as it sounds!  A little snail tells us that he is hiding on each page – a challenge eagerly accepted by our young readers.

This counting book goes beyond ten and gets all the way to twenty. Each number is written with its numeral, English and te reo Māori name as well as a little description of what is happening. Text is limited, which is fine, because there is so much to talk about as you turn the pages.

Donovan Bixley has infused this counting book with his characteristic illustrations that are cheerful and full of life. Each page has something to make you laugh, for example, the dogs using a digger to find a very big buried bone or the cows in hot air balloons! The illustrations are certainly what makes Bixley’s books special. They encourage the reader to slow down and really look.

The book is modern kiwi in the language, animals and scenery throughout the book. The last page deserves special mention – number twenty is a class photo of a modern NZ classroom with the diversity of our communities represented.

Bixley tells us exactly what this book is in the title: A Great Kiwi 1-2-3 book and it lives up to its name.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

The Great Kiwi 1-2-3 Book
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Hachette NZ
ISBN 9781988516073