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: Song of the River, by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_song_of_the_river.jpg‘I wish I could see the sea’, Cam said to his Grandfather, who promptly replies ‘One day we will go there’.

But curiosity gets the better of the young boy and when he sees a trickle of water on the hillside among the trees he sets off to follow it down the mountain to see where it leads.

Cam takes us on a journey through the forest, farms, into towns, and past factories until he reaches the sea which ‘was wild and blue and beautiful.. and it went on forever.’

Song of the River is beautifully illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, who grew up in the mountains of Canada, and this is clearly reflected in the muted colours as well as the details among the pages. We see owls and squirrels hidden in trees, a sleeping bear, as well as beautiful forest flowers.

The story was originally published 25 years ago but this exquisite hard cover edition will bring joy to another generation of children as they learn how a trickle of water becomes a creek, a rushing stream, growing into a river which flows into the sea. Andrews’ art shows the reader where frogs and fish live among the rocks in the water, and the variety of boats included increases the children’s understanding of the importance of water transport.

Kimberley Andrews lives in a converted shipping container tiny house in Wellington. She illustrated Explore Aotearoa, and the first book she wrote and illustrated Puffin the Architect published in 2018, won the inaugural NZ Booklovers Best Children’s Book 2019.

Joy Cowley’s story is a wonderful tale which children can relate, and Andrews’ illustrations have breathed new life into all the pages, and I can imagine children and adults spending time exploring the details. The graphic map showing the river flowing from the mountains to the sea is also a nice inclusion on the inside front and back cover.

My grandchildren and I have loved this book, being drawn into the adventure as the voice of the waterfall sang, ‘Yes, yes. Come with me. I will take you to the sea.’

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Song of the River
by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572533

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: Andrew Down Under – The Story of an Immigrant Dog, by Anne Manchester

Available from selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_andrew_down_underThis is the second book about Andrew, but chronologically the first. It’s the story of Andrew the pampered Pekinese who used to live in Palm Springs. However his human decides to move home to Eastbourne, Wellington, and this is Andrew’s story of how that turned out!

Andrew had a fabulous life in Palm Springs, where it’s warm all year round, and virtually windless if his comments about Eastbourne are anything to go by.

He is reluctant to travel, particularly when he finds out that he has to go it alone. Not a happy camper, he manages to abscond at various points along the way, but ultimately does make it on to the plane and into quarantine in New Zealand.

The story is entirely written from the dog’s point of view, so anthropomorphic might be an understatement! However, I decided to get over that and just enjoy the story. Andrew is an engaging little dog, and Anne Manchester writes the story well. It romps along, with all of Andrew and Poppa’s tough decisions well-told, and with particularly good insight into the mind of a dog. Dog-owners will understand what I mean. Who cares where the food is, as long as it’s available?

Of course, coming to a new country is hard enough, but when you find that there are some members of your new extended family who not only don’t like dogs much, but also have a cat, then it’s a bit much for a small canine to deal with. So Andrew absconds again…

Mercifully all turns out well, and both Poppa and Andrew settle in to their new life.

I think it would be a great read-aloud to younger kids, and it’s a good solo read for independent readers.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Andrew down under: the story of an immigrant dog
by Anne Manchester
illustrated by Fifi Colston
Published by Submarine
ISBN 9780995109278

Book Review: Hotel Flamingo, by Alex Milway

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_hotel_flamingo.jpgHotel Flamingo is a delightful chapter book which follows Anna and her team of animals as she get her run-down hotel back into business!

Anna has inherited Hotel Flamingo from her great-aunt, but when she arrives, she finds it very different from the photo she has. It is very dusty, a little sad, and there are only two staff left!

Anna has to overcome the hurdles of having otters squatting in her pipes, providing food for a turtle, and competing with The Glitz Hotel. But with a lot of hard work from the team, she eventually gets the hotel back up and running.

Hotel Flamingo has beautiful illustrations throughout, while being a small but chunky chapter book which will appeal to keen readers between the ages of 7 and 10 who are beginning to read chapter books on their own.

The characters are fun and flamboyant, and the story is easy to follow and become invested in (even for adults!).

Reviewed by Franscesca Edwards

Hotel Flamingo
by Alex Milway
Published by Templar
ISBN 9781848127753

Book Review: Stardust – We Always Share the Same Sky, by Ivana Mlinac

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_stardustI was drawn to this book because of the children in my class that have had a parent in prison. It is refreshing to see different life experiences honestly portrayed in a children’s book. It gives the words which young children and their carers need to express complicated feelings and the situations that develop from having a parent in prison.

The story focuses on the night sky and the stars that glitter there. No matter where we are, we all share the night sky and the stars which hold our hopes, dreams and a sprinkling of magic. The watercolour illustrations are emotive and beautifully accompany the text. The dark sky reappears on each page and the contrasting white details make the drawings come alive.

The poignant message within this book will touch every reader, however it is especially ideal for those children who have a parent in prison. The author wants to counter negative statistics and work to give young children hope. The text builds on the metaphor of stars throughout the story and the uniqueness of every one of us. Carers and families will find the supporting activities at the end of the book useful too.

This is a heart-warming book with an uplifting message that builds children’s confidence and aspirations. I hope that all children who have a parent in prison have an opportunity to benefit from this resource, but this book will positively reach every young reader.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Stardust: We always share the same sky
by Ivana Mlinac, illustrated by Porsche Tiavale
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473469979

Book Review: There’s a Hedgehog in my Pants!, by Amy Harrop and Ross Kinnaird

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_theres_a_hedgehog_in_my_pantsAlways remember to keep an eye on your pants the next time you’re on a hike and desperately need the loo. In this crack-up tale a young boy finds out the hard way that he should never have left his pants unattended when an unfortunately prickly pal moves in. His poor bottom gets a particularly raw deal and no amount of jumping, dancing or shaking to and fro can extract the little fella. It seems only taking his pants back off will relieve his burning botty but leaves both him and the hedgehog shivering in the breeze. Luckily, the boy thinks of a solution that will suit the two of them just right.

The warning given on the front cover definitely fulfilled its promise as this story certainly contains multiple words for ‘bottom’ and we all know how much young children enjoy saying that! There’s a HEDGEHOG in my PANTS! had my preschool class giggling away and feeling highly entertained at all the different ways to say ‘bottom’! Silly stories give children an appropriate time and outlet to enjoy a laugh about the funniest part of our anatomy and this one sure delivered.

Children love when they know something that the main character in the book doesn’t and There’s a HEDGEHOG in my PANTS! ends exactly like that, leaving room for discussion about what could happen next. Ross Kinnaird’s fun and comical illustrations and Amy Harrop’s amusing and wonderfully rhyming story is sure to draw a chuckle from little ones as well as broadening their vocabulary for one particular part of their body.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

There’s a HEDGEHOG in my PANTS!
by Amy Harrop, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435655