Book Review: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods, by Craig Phillips

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_giants_trolls_witches_beasts.jpgWhat a great book this is.  It blew my socks off with its originality and uniqueness.

If you love stories about giants, trolls, witches and beasts who are up to no good you will love this. It includes stories from all around the world, some of them traditional oral tales.  Craig Philips uses his own words to tell these stories, and brings them to life using his stunning illustrations. Some seem familiar while others are not. Vasilsa the Brave, from Russia is a great story that bought to mind the story of Cinderella. A wicked stepmother and horrid stepsisters – and of course a happy ending.

One of my favourite stories was Thor and the Frost Giants, a story from Scandinavia. A story that starts with “once upon a time”. Thor was bored but being only ten years old he had to do as he was told by his parent. A birthday lunch for Aegir the Sea King’s and his annoying daughters. The only pot large enough to brew mead for all the gods of Asgard is owned by the frost giant Hymir, but no one was brave enough to venture to Hymir’s castle to borrow it – except Thor and his friend Tyr,  Hymir’s son. Thor’s father forbids it as he feels his son at ten years old is far too young.  Thor decides to ignore his father’s wishes, wanting to prove to him that he was more then old enough to accomplish the task.

This book bought to mind my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from when I was a child and now being enjoyed by my grandchildren. Giants, Troll’s Witches, Beasts is a much more exciting book with fabulous graphics which I can see becoming a classic.

I read some of these stories to my seven-year-old granddaughter Abby.  She loved these stories and asked if she could take it home so Mummy could read it to her again.  Of course, I relented.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts:  Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods
by Craig Phillips
Published by Allen & Unwin Children’s
ISBN 9781760113261



Book Review: The Kitchen Science Cookbook, by Nanogirl Dr Michelle Dickinson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_kitchen_science_cookbook.jpgI was absolutely delighted to receive a copy of this beautifully designed book by Dr Michelle Dickinson. As soon as I tweeted about it though, I had a school librarian wondering if it was designed for kids – understandable, as it is Nanogirl herself on the cover, with no sign of kids.

The contents of the book itself though, are superb. There are 49 experiments, utilising science concepts from transpiration, to capillary action; thrust, to solar energy, to chemical reaction. Each experiment is laid out with a cute title, a list of equipment and ingredients, detailed instructions, then ‘the science behind’, then an explore further segment. There is a brief explanation of which principle it is proving at the top right corner, and at the bottom left there are icons giving you more information on what type of experiment you are undertaking.

The initial information is very thorough and provides a good grounding for what is to come, though the audience for this section a bit muddy – I think it is assumed that an adult will be involved for this part of the reading. That is fair!

I did a few of the experiments with my kids, and the Static Powered Dancing Ghost worked beautifully. One thing I felt was missing was – and perhaps this could be in a link to online – tricks for fixing experiments that haven’t quite worked. While there are leading questions about them on each segment, I would have liked to know what the most likely causes of failure were. My 7yo was put off the book entirely by the semi-failure of two experiments. (TBH with his current feeling towards failure, he’s probably not going to be a scientist!)

I would very much like to have seen a larger font size used throughout, and less emphasis on the big photos used throughout the book. It’s very beautiful, but the font size and light grey colour is not friendly for either kids who are only just learning to read well or parents with poor eyesight.

The photos are great though, with lots of kids from all types of cultural backgrounds having fun with experiments with their parents. I look forward to trying some more of these experiments as my kids get less afraid of failure.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Kitchen Science Cookbook
by Dr Michelle Dickinson
nanogirl labs
ISBN 978473425975



Book Review: Kakapo Dance, by Helen Taylor

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kakapo_danceI read this book to my 3 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn. The illustrations are captivating and marry in beautifully with this rather delightful story.

Kakapo is a rather large clumsy bird. The forest is alive with all the birds singing and dancing, all except Kakapo.

‘Because Kakapo DON’T sing or dance,
We’re just not made that way!’

The Bellbird has a melodious song, but all Kakapo can do is Thud! Thud! Thud! We then have the Keruru who loves to coo and glide and the Bellbird loves to hop and chime. Whio likes to whistle and waddle. Pukeko like to strut and shriek, Fantail likes to chirp and twirl but all Kakapo can do is Boom! Boom! Boom! They also Ching! And they can Tuuuumble! Shuffle! Shuffle! Shuffle!

This is quite a funny book as it highlights how even a clumsy bird has its attributes.

Quinn had a faraway look on her face at one stage – her own singing and dancing is a bit like Kakapo’s. Perhaps she was imagining herself in Kakapo’s shoes and wondering how she could improve her own singing and dancing.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Kakapo Dance
by Helen Taylor
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143506010

Book review: A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns, by Kate Hursthouse

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_kaleidoscope_of_butterflies.jpgHave you ever heard of a conspiracy of lemurs or a tower of giraffes? In her amazing work of art, Kate Hursthouse introduces us to the weird and wonderful collective nouns for 25 animals. Some are more familiar, like a herd of llamas and some are a little bit odd, like a circus of puffins.

A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns is a beautifully illustrated picture book that will enrich young readers and adults alike with new language to describe the wonders of nature. Her amazing ability to turn words into art make each page a masterpiece. Young children will love discovering the many patterns that make up the different creatures adorning each page of this book.

My early childhood class and I loved reading A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns. Children are fascinated by animals and we found this lovely book both insightful and humorous. Whoever heard of an army of caterpillars? This particular collective noun had us examining our monarch caterpillars for any sign of helmets.

A kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns can be enjoyed for its brilliantly bold artwork as well as its informative language. It would be a treasured addition to any child’s bookshelf.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

A Kaleidoscope of butterflies & other such collective nouns
by Kate Hursthouse
Published by Little Love
ISBN 9780473422356

Book Review: Dawn Raid, by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith

Dawn Raid is a finalist in The Wright Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction, in the NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. 

cv_dawn_raidAnother in the very good Scholastic series – My New Zealand Story, Dawn Raid is told from the perspective of 13 year old Sofia Savea, who lives in Cannon’s Creek, Porirua. Her story starts with the opening of the first McDonald’s in New Zealand. Sofia is typical of a lot of Kiwi children at that age – concerned with friendships and having enough money to buy her dream pair of white boots. She gets a milk run to help with buying clothes.

The book seeks to explain ‘Dawn Raids’ through the eyes of a typical Samoan family. At school Sofia uses school speeches to explain about her culture, then the impact of raids on the community. Mirroring this, Sofia’s family are personally touched by a raid, and experience great upset and confusion as a result. Multiple voices and perspectives are acknowledged. The support from the community after the raid – legal advice and the role of the Polynesian Panthers was interesting to learn about. The book further references Dame Whina Cooper’s long march to parliament, and David Lange’s legal help (this is of course prior to him entering politics).

I really liked how Sofia’s character developed over the course of the book, from a somewhat reserved person, to a student who confidently delivers a powerful speech on an issue close to her family.

This book is suitable for ages 10-15, and is a fictionalised account of an era in New Zealand characterised by a lot of political protest. As a resource to learn about racism, politics and how media bias can direct the wider conversation, it is very powerful book.

I’m so glad that this series is so wide ranging and has such a great range of writers behind it. Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith is an Invercargill-based writer, and this is her first book.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Dawn Raid
by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434757


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: 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