Book Review: Keep an Eye on this Kiwi, by Scott Tulloch

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_keep_an_eye_on_this_kiwiA young kiwi sets out to find his dinner but some clever insects are determined to not be on the menu and trick our kiwi. With each turn of the page, the silliness increases, along with the laughs from young readers!

A series of comical anecdotes are told through interactions between the narrator and the kiwi. While it is set up as a chapter book it is intended to be read as a whole with the story all connecting together. The focus is on toilet humour, taboo words and practical jokes, which young children love.

The illustrations are pencil sketches and become part of the text. There are little speech bubbles and characters which speak directly to the reader. The line drawings are a refreshing change from busy pages. They are full of life, with the kiwi seeming to jump off the page as he attempts to talk to the reader.

Adults might get to the end of the story and wonder about what just happened.  But that seems to be the point. It is a nonsensical story which gets crazier and crazier – until you might just believe that a kiwi can fly.

It is best suited for 4 to 7 year olds – or even those children who are reading independently who will be scaffolded with the pictures. The antics of the kiwi make this story a funny read which will engage the most hesitant of readers.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Keep an Eye on this Kiwi
by Scott Tulloch
Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435310

Book Review: Outside, by Sarah Ann Juckes

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_oustide.jpgHow do you know there’s an Outside if you’ve never seen it?

Sarah Ann Juckes’ haunting debut novel was twelve years in the making and I can see why as you become deeply immersed in this scary world encapsulated within the walls of a well-planned and written novel.

Outside is the story of Ele. We meet Ele inside her tower. Just like Rapunzel, Ele has been trapped and living ‘Inside’ for almost as long as she can remember, only she doesn’t have a window to escape from, even if her handsome prince from the fairytale were to come rescue her. Is there an Outside? From the few books Ele has read, she thinks there is but the ‘Others’ trapped with her don’t agree. Inside Ele shares her world with Cow, Queenie, Bee and through the taps next door from Jack. Ele is determined to find proof that there is an Outside, after all, her brother Zeb used to say that there was one when he was alive. There’s one big problem: Him. To find this Outside, Ele has to get past Him to escape. Zeb was unsuccessful in his own attempt to do so, Ele has the stain of his blood on the floor as proof of that.

To say that this book is hard to review is an understatement. It isn’t because it isn’t any good, quite the opposite, this work is seriously a literary masterpiece. Outside is hard to review because having completed this fast-paced page-turner, I know the ending. I am  scared that I could give too much away and ruin what is an amazing and thought-provoking read.

Imagine being an alien in your own country, to have never seen the outside of the room you live in? How would you imagine the Outside to look like? I can tell that the author has spent many many painstaking hours working through this scenario. What would Outside food taste like? What would grass feel like under your feet?

Outside is the journey of one young girl’s escape from Inside to Outside and all the obstacles she has to overcome along the way. From the very first page you feel as if you are Ele yourself, experiencing the world through her senses. You are engulfed in Ele’s world and it’s language. I haven’t read a book that has engulfed me in an otherworld so much since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood back in the late 1980s. Pretty impressive, considering that for years Ms Atwood’s book itself has been rated in my top ten books of all time. Juckes’ manipulation of language to convey what we consider everyday items through the eyes of a human devoid of human society is an example of this amazing otherworld construction and life-observation: ‘extra-skins’ for ‘clothes’, ‘sun bars’ for lights, etcetera.

This otherworld exploration isn’t pleasant, it isn’t meant to be, but it is so satisfyingly thought-provoking and clever. All I have left to say is ‘reading is believing’. You have to read it, and once you’ve read it, you’ll know exactly what I mean by understatement and clever. I look forward to Sarah Ann Juckes next work!

Review by Penny M Geddis

Outside
by Sarah Ann Juckes
Published by Penguin Random House, UK
ISBN: 9780241330753

Book Review: The Fire Keeper’s Girls, by L P Hansen

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_Fire_keepers_girls.jpgAs a teenager I loved reading and all my pocket money went on books. I had a few favourite authors, and if L P Hansen had been around back then, I’m pretty sure she would have been one of them.

The Fire Keeper’s Girls tells the story of cousins Gemma and Alice who are sent to spend summer with Samantha, an unusual woman that neither of them know very well.

The two girls resent being sent away and at first remain closed to everything Samantha suggests. Like a good role model or mentor, Samantha slowly draws the girls in, treating them as equals, and they reluctantly realise they’re enjoying themselves.

During their stay Samantha sets the girls a series of tasks that form part of something called The Game. Little by little the girls reveal more about what led to them being sent there for the summer, and are taught ways to overcome their rebellious pasts and create brighter futures.

The book features a number of pioneering women, including some New Zealanders. At the back there is a section with more information on these women, some of whom Gemma and Alice were inspired to research as part of The Game. Some I was familiar with, but I very much enjoyed reading about many others and marveling at what they achieved.

This exactly the kind of book I would want a young adult to read. Quite aside from the fact it’s well written and a damned good read (I started it in the morning and only had a few of the profiles at the back to finish off the following day), it’s a New Zealand book and its treatment of girls and women is inspiring and respectful. It illustrates the importance of finding your passion and following the path that is right for you and not necessarily the one others are pushing you towards.

I’m far from being a young adult, but I really enjoyed this book. L P Hansen was the winner of the Jack Lasenby Senior Award for Children’s Writing in 2012, and also wrote Bad Oil and the Animals, and An Unexpected Hero. If The Fire Keeper’s Girl is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she became one of New Zealand’s most popular authors.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The Fire Keeper’s Girls
by L P Hansen
Published by Onepoto
ISBN 9780473444723

Book Review: And the Ocean was our Sky, by Patrick Ness

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_and_the_ocean_was_our_sky.jpgThis beautifully produced book is matched by the beautiful writing, and a concept that absolutely turns Moby Dick upside down. The allegorical nature of the story gives a great messages about tolerance, understanding, the nature of power and much more besides.

Bathsheba is a young whale who is one of three apprenticed to Captain Alexandra. They are hunting Toby Wick – but just what, or who, is Toby Wick? A ship, a whaler, a devil? you’ll have to read it to find out.

However, Patrick Ness has done it again – by which I mean he has created a story which instantly engages the reader: ‘call me Bathsheba. It is not my name, but the name I use for this story. A name, I hoped, that would be free of prophecy, free of the burden of a future placed upon it, free of any destiny that would tear it from my hands and destroy worlds. You think I overstate. You are wrong.’

Quite hard to stop reading after an opening paragraph like that. You’d think it would be hard to write a story from a whale’s perspective, but not to this author apparently. It’s a powerful narrative, occasionally violent – well, it is about whales and whaling! – and frequently extremely moving.

The stunning illustrations by Rovina Cai are a brilliant addition to the book, and visceral in their power. They are mostly black and white, which makes the red of blood leap off the page.

In any hierarchical group, human or animal, there are weaker and stronger characters, and challenging and difficult relationships when power is in play. Ness manages this extremely well, making the whales entirely credible as characters. The interplay of conversation and emotions between the captured sailor and Bathsheba is clever; the power of Captain Alexandra is well-conceived and well-described, and the whole book carries you along – the questions of morality which, to me, under-pin the whole story, are poignantly written, particularly at the closing of the story.

I think this would work well as a read-aloud to older kids, but I also think there’s much for the able reader of any age in this excellent book.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

And the ocean was our sky
by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9780062877444

Book Review: Up the Mountain, by Marianne Dubuc

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_up_the_mountain.jpgMrs Badger lives at the foot of a small mountain, and though she is very old she walks all the way up to the top of that mountain every Sunday. The story begins with Mrs Badger setting out on her walk just like any other Sunday but today she gets the feeling she is being watched… Leo, a little cat, would like to climb the mountain too but he is full of self-doubt and announces that he is “too little”. Curiosity eventually gets the better of Leo and he follows Mrs Badger, who is more than happy to introduce her young friend to the many wonders of the mountain. Along the way, Mrs Badger generously shares her wealth of knowledge about the animals and plants that live on the mountain. When Mrs Badger becomes too old and tired to explore the mountain with Leo, Leo begins to adventure up on his own but he never forgets his friend Mrs Badger. He returns at the end of each trip to share his discoveries and bring her gifts from the mountain. In the end we see that Leo (older and stronger now) makes a new friend; a younger friend much like himself in the beginning of the story for whom he can share his now bountiful fund of knowledge about the mountain with.

Being curious is a wonderful thing that should be encouraged in children and Up the Mountain does just that. It is a beautiful and heartwarming story about trying new things, seeking adventure and enjoying nature. Lovely messages of kindness, caring and friendship are woven through this story as it explores the importance of helping others, sharing the beauty of nature with a friend and stopping to take in the world around us. As the main characters make their way up the mountain we also learn interesting facts like, what mushrooms are delicious in a stew, the perfect walking stick and what we can make with sumac leaves!

The vibrant watercolour illustrations are just as sweet as the story and emphasise all the different aspects of nature from tiny insects flitting about the trees to long grasses and peaceful bodies of water. Children will enjoy searching the pages to unearth all the different animals and plants.

Passing knowledge on to our younger generations – especially about the natural world – is so important and Marianne Dubuc illustrates just that in this touching story with along with its charming artwork. Up the Mountain encourages curiousity and kindness and promotes the message that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to if you’re willing to work for it!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Up the Mountain
by Marianne Dubuc
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9781911496090

Book Review: A Kiwi Day Before Christmas, by Yvonne Morrison & Deborah Hinde

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_kiwi_day_before_christmasWe all know the classic story about Santa Claus living at the North Pole along with Mrs Claus and of course not forgetting those wonderful reindeer, but now we have our very own Kiwi version.

Santa was down at the bach fishing when Mrs Claus comes along and reminds him that he needs to get cracking as the big day isn’t far away. He then remembered that it was Christmas tonight so he had better get himself organised. He packs up his gear and heads up the hill at full speed on his quad bike after a quick brekkie of toast and yeast spread (maybe marmite??). Santa’s helpers were having lots of fun and all the gift wrapping was almost completed.

All the finished pressies were stuffed in a sack and he got out his tractor. It needed a spruce up first, so Santa took it to the petrol station taking it through the car wash. With everything organised it was now time to get the team together. Where were the sheep? The last time he’d seen them was on Main Street at the Christmas parade. They’d all gone off to have a break before the big day. Santa was starting to feel a bit concerned. Shaun had gone diving and swimming with the seals while Buffy had gone shopping to find the best deals. Jason and Flossy had gone wine tasting while Bossy went zorbing and onto a zip line.

This is one heck of a story and one that will be received with a bit of trepidation by young ones, as they know that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and it’s reindeer, rather than sheep, involved in getting the sleigh through the night, delivering presents all around the world.

I read this story to 4-year-old Quinn. A look of disbelief on her face with lots of questions forthcoming. Where are the elves in this story Grandma? ‘I don’t believe this one’ – clapping a hand over her face very dramatically. ‘Are you telling porkies Grandma?’ Who knows, I might be, but then I may well not be!

A fabulous story and one that I think will be a hit this year with young ones. The illustrations are just great, capturing just the right tone, and bringing the story together.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Kiwi Day Before Christmas
By Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434108

Book Review: World’s Strangest Predators – Lonely Planet Kids

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_worlds_strangest_predators.jpgThis new book by the team at Lonely Planet Kids is a Top 40 of the world’s strangest predators, ranked in order and scored on a scale of strangeness, danger, cunning, and ferocity.

From Arctic foxes to Venus flytraps, this collection includes plants, insects, and larger creatures, all weird and wonderful in their own way. Full colour photographs, fact boxes, a decent glossary, and clear text make this an easy and informative reference book for primary school-aged children. The maps on each page showing the homes of all of these weird and, in some cases, frankly terrifying creatures are a handy inclusion – and a great reassurance that New Zealand is blessedly free of most of these beasts. (There are a couple of critters that you can find in Aotearoa; see if you can spot them.)

This backpack-sized paperback will be a fun boredom buster on any long car trips over the school holidays. But be prepared to have to listen to all sorts of facts that you may not want to know about. I bet you don’t know how long an anaconda can hold its breath underwater for… This is a handy resource for animal-loving readers.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

Lonely Planet Kids: World’s Strangest Predators
Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013032