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

 

Book Review: Hazel and the Snails, by Nan Blanchard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hazel_and_the_snailsHazel and the Snails is an enchanting, thoughtful book, suited to readers about eight years old (give or take). Hazel, an energetic and matter-of-fact young girl probably about six or seven herself, is a super snail sleuth. We follow Hazel from home to school – along with her snails, who live in a cardboard box under her bed and are lovingly transported wherever she goes. Ms Taylor, a teacher a bit like Matilda’s Miss Honey says with a smile that ‘Snails are welcome at school but not on top of desks’.

This short chapter book deals with the serious issues of the illness of a loved one, death and grief from the point of view of a child. As Hazel’s dad progressively worsens, meaning Mum is away more while Hazel and her nose-studded brother Henry are looked after by her grandmother, Hazel remains absorbed in her snails and everyday adventures. Hazel lives in a distinctly contemporary New Zealand (I love the references to WeetBix and to Lilybee Wrap).

Hazel and the Snails shows, in a very everyday way, what it looks and feels like to be Hazel and sensitively introduces the idea of death and dying in a child’s life. I found myself thinking of the adventures of Milly-Molly-Mandy as I thumbed its pages – and was rewarded to see a reference to Milly-Molly-Mandy herself partway through! A lovely, honest and simple story by a first-time children’s author, complemented by pencil drawings by Giselle Clarkson. Grown ups will enjoy the story too – and might indeed benefit from this insight into children’s minds.

I look forward to seeing what else new writer Nan Blanchard has up her sleeve.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

Hazel and the Snails
by Nan Blanchard
Published by Annual Ink
ISBN 9780995113589

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Hedgehog Howdedo, by Lynley Dodd

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_hedgehog_howdedoThis classic by Lynley Dodd is set in the depths of winter as a young girl goes searching for all the hedgehogs hibernating in her garden. We count along with her, ‘two are on a ledge, I even saw three white ones in a hole behind the hedge’Finally the little girl sets down on her back door step and imagines what will happen when spring arrives and the hedgehogs wake up.

This gem of a book has everything we have come to expect from a Lynley Dodd book. It will bring adults back to their childhoods and introduce young readers to the delights of Lynley Dodd’s brilliant story-telling.

The text is sparse and perfectly targeted for the young reader. It contains her playful alliteration and parcels everything up in lilting melody. There is also her whimsical imagination – have you ever heard of a pizza plant before or dreamed about the noise of windywhistle grass?

This book would be wonderful to read on a cold winters night when the pictures mirror the cold view out the window. It carries the promise of warm spring days very soon as colour slowly emerges when the young girl dreams of the hedgehogs waking up.

Lynley Dodd is a national treasure for her contributions to young children’s literature – and rightly so. This book is the perfect bedtime story with her poetic text a joy to read aloud. The illustrations and gentle pace will lull young readers into a peaceful slumber with a smile on their face.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Hedgehog howdedo
written & illustrated by Lynley Dodd
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143773023

 

Book Review: Everyone Walks Away, by Eva Lindström

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_everyone_walks_awayThis is an eloquent picture book for children of all ages that deftly touches upon subjects of loneliness and exclusion.  We meet Frank who is standing alone while three friends are having fun. Frank goes home, cries into the pot and begins to cook. We don’t know what Frank is cooking and it is delicious to see the story emerge.

What is unique is the way the author has not made the hard topics soft and cuddly. Friendships are hard work and children know this. This book honours these emotions and children’s experiences by being honest about the sadness Frank feels. The ending wonderfully suggests the beginning possibilities of belonging, but doesn’t guarantee instant friendships.

The language is emotive; it provokes wonderful imagery and opens up conversations about how we experience emotions. Frank goes home and cries into a pot” is a sad statement to make about a sad event. I wonder how older children might also imagine the sadness our characters are feeling? The words are just enough to tell the story and gives space to talk about the issues the characters face.

Eva Lindströmis a comic artist and the illustrations wonderfully mirror the sparse text. At the beginning, there is only one scooter, one seat, even the leaves seem to be drooping. There is loneliness in the pictures. But, as the friends join Frank, we can find three bowls, three chairs and three pieces of toast. Every detail is thought about, including colour. Frank is seemingly downcast compared to the sunshine and brightness used to portray the three friends. Hope appears in the pictures as the characters begin a new, tentative friendship.

It is a quiet story that will touch the reader.  Everyone walks away is a real portrayal of friendships and belonging that deserves to be read aloud.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Everyone walks away
by Eva Lindström
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571864