Book Review: The World of Greek Mythology, by Ben Spies

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_world_of_greek_mythology.jpgThis is an excellent introduction for anyone curious about Greek mythology. Here on the other side of the world, and eons away from their place of origin, many of the legends are still part of our collective cultural narrative. The stories of the Trojan war will be familiar to many in a sketchy, delivered-by-Hollywood way.

The difference between Spies’ book and other recent books on Greek mythology, such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe, is that Spies is writing specifically for children and young adults. This makes his retelling engaging and easy to understand (it’s a very complicated pantheon) without being dumbed-down, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The World of Greek Mythology to adults either.

Spies writes in a lively, fast-paced style, with lots of jokes and asides to his readers. He know his audience well, having written the book aged 11. He covers the Titans, some of the Olympians, the Trojan War, and the Odyssey in 228 action-packed pages. I enjoyed Spies’ frankness – he tells his readers in places how complicated some of the myths are, and that he doesn’t always understand the myths either. I wish I’d had this book as an intro when I studies Classics at high school, I might have found it a bit easier to follow!

There is the promise of another book on the subject to come, covering the other Olympians who couldn’t fit in this first volume. I’m really looking forward to it and am hoping that maybe Spies could put in a pronunciations guide for some of the trickier names and places. A map would also be great for readers who like to visualise where things are happening.

This book will appeal to readers from about 8 years up who enjoy action, fantasy and don’t mind a bit of blood and gore. It would be a great read-to book from about 8, depending on the reader’s own capabilities. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The World of Greek Mythology
by Ben Spies
Published by Spies Publishing
ISBN 9780473455866

Book Review: I Love Tomato Sauce, by Nicky Sievert

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_love_tomato_sauceMost children love tomato sauce, and will enjoy this fun story of how this family enjoys their tomato sauce. The boy in the story likes his sauce on most of the food he eats, even on party food. But there are issues in the family as his parents can’t decide which bottle is the best to use, his dad prefers the upside down bottle, while Mum likes the old squeeze bottle shaped like a tomato. The small pots in the fish and chip shop are preferred by big sister Ariana, but Aunty Kirsty makes her own tomato sauce, as does Nan’s neighbour Cyril.

When the family go on a picnic they have to pack everyone’s preferred tomato sauce, but they are so busy organizing the sauce they forget the food to go with it.

The day is not ruined as Nan has brought a loaf of bread to feed the ducks, and the family enjoy their sauce on the bread.

The simple story will appeal to most children, the script has words highlighted in bold which emphasize key points, and there will be lots of talking points in the colourful illustrations.

Supplying Aunt Kirsty’s recipe is a nice addition, which could lead to a fun activity for a family to do if they have surplus tomatoes growing.

A page at the back discussing some of the sign language used in the illustrations is quite unique and should generate discussion with children and adults reading the book. I liked this inclusion as it would enable children with hearing impairments to be more included in the New Zealand classroom.

Nicky Sievert grew up in Hawkes Bay, studied art in Wellington and lives in Lower Hutt. I Love Tomato Sauce is the first book she has written and illustrated, although in 2018 she illustrated Our Dad, written by David Ling.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

I Love Tomato Sauce
by Nicky Sievert
Published by Duck Creek Press
ISBN 9781927305560

Book Review: The Girls in the Kapa Haka, by Angie Belcher, illustrated by Debbie Tipuna

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_girls_in_the_kapa_hakaThis is a delightful picture book in the tradition of The house that Jack built – a story which builds up rhyme by rhyme until it’s complete. There’s enough in the brief text to let the reader understand how much work goes into making a piupiu, and also that it’s probably not easy!

There’s good use of Te Reo, enough for you to learn something and the rhymes are good.

I have one or two issues with the metre and continuity in the text, but overall the story builds up well.

The illustrations really to me are the stand-out – well, that’s what you do want in a picture book, after all. But the clever use of side panels on the left of each double-page spread gives a hint as to the next component of the rhyme, and would certainly keep kids looking.

It’s good also that the girls in the Kapa Haka group are diverse, and although Koro seems far too young I think that’s my eyesight and not any other kind of issue!

All in all it’s a delightful little book which should appeal greatly to preschoolers.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Girls in the Kapa Haka  
By Angie Belcher, illustrated by Debbie Tipuna
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143773870

Book Review: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_te_tiriti_o_waitangi.jpgToby Morris is a cartoonist and illustrator who will be familiar to many New Zealanders as the creator of The Side Eye on The Spinoff Website. He’s well known for his commentary on social issues, and has also written books including Don’t Puke On Your Dad: A Year in the Life of a New Father and The Day the Costumes Stuck.

The Treaty of Waitangi\Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a flip book – one way the text is in English, turn it upside down and you have a Te Reo Māori version. The English text was originally published in two articles in the School Journal and has been developed into a graphic book by Morris.

The text is straight-forward, as you’d expect for something that was written for young people. It is factual and non-emotive, and lays out the timeline up to the Treaty being signed in 1840, and then what happened afterwards. It’s the same narrative that you’ll find in museums and libraries across the country. It’s Morris’s illustrations that bring the text to life. Starting with the cover, which depicts a wide variety of people from different eras, you know that what you’re about to read is about people, not about legal arguments. This makes the book accessible to anyone, regardless of their prior knowledge or attitude towards Te Tiriti.

This book should be in every home in the country.  It should be in every school and public library and given to every new migrant who arrives to live in New Zealand as part of a welcome package. As Morris’s narrator says at the end of the English version: ‘What happened [after the Treaty was signed] wasn’t always the nicest story, but we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  If we’re honest about our country’s past, we can try to fix some of the damage that still affects us today.  We all want a country that’s fair for everyone.’

It’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Treaty of Waitangi|Te Tiriti o Waitangi
by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby
Published by Lift Education
ISBN 9780473470654

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