Book Review: Arlo and The Ginkgo Tree, by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Kate Twhigg

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_arlo_and_the_Gingko_treeThis is the first book I’ve read recently from small publishers Millwood Press, an award-winning publishing company established way back in the 1960s. They are known for producing high quality specialty productions. They cherish books, especially those that touch individuality. They currently focus on children’s books illustrated by contemporary artists in a fine arts tradition. So, as the daughter of historian Judy Siers and photographer Jim Siers (and controller of the company), it seems only right that Sophie Siers should show her hand with the pen.

Sophie has spent plenty of time on a Hawkes Bay farm, so it’s natural that her story should revolve about a boy and a tree – nature in it’s purest form and its most simple. And the story is simple too. It follows little Arlo as he climbs his favourite Ginkgo tree to watch the circle of life revolve around him. In this case, it’s a family of piwakawaka, who come to nest, lay eggs, raise their young and fly off.  Then after autumn and winter, the birds return, to begin the whole process again.

I loved Kate Twhigg’s simple watercolours. She has painted throughout her life, but has never previously been published.  She’s done a pretty good job.  For me, I would have like these images to have been a little sharper – the images are rendered in coloured pencil and watercolour, making them a little blurry.  But they are still very good.  The endpapers with flying birds and butterflies are delightful.

However, both of my girls, the real critics, loved this book. They related to the story, and to the images.  They wanted to go outside in their dressing gowns and hunt for birds’ nests – at 8.30pm! On a school night.

Kate, who sometimes writes in this blog did add one question for Sophie – ‘where’s the backstory about Arlo? Who is he? Why does he climb the tree. Where’s his iPad?  Why does the book he reads have no words on the cover?’  She was disturbed by Arlo’s anonyminity.

Overall, though, this story was a winner.  A perfect bedtime story, and uniquely local, too.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Arlo and The Ginkgo Tree
written by Sophie Siers and illustrated by Kate Twhigg
Published by Millwood Press
ISBN 9780473410940


Book Review: Little Truff and the Whales, by Ann Russell and Lara Frizzell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_truff_and_the_whalesThe gorgeous Little Truff returns for another adventure, this time in a setting that will teach readers about the importance of sea/ocean life and the responsibility we all have to look after it and ensure its future. The book also creates awareness of the immense damage that equipment designed for use in the sea can cause, to those it wasn’t intended to impact.

Little Truff, a Blenheim Cavalier is out on a boat with her family, when she senses something isn’t right and tugs on her masters shorts and barks to get his attention. A humpback whale has become entangled in a fishing net and needs help. The family needs to make choices and wise ones at that.

This book which is endorsed by DOC is simply brilliant, it’s message resonates in a very real and practical manner, there is a serious side to it but a lightness also so it isn’t weighted down. The illustrations are fabulous and fit the setting in a way that catches the eye and enhances the story.

Both author and illustrator have worked very hard to produce a book that shares an important message in a child friendly way, Little Truff is already well known to children and she is very popular with them. Every home and library should have a copy of this.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Little Truff and the Whales 
by Ann Russell and Lara Frizzell
Published by Ann Russell
ISBN 9780473367756

Book Review: Rosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere, by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Judith Trevelyan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_Rosie_joy_here_there_and_everywhere.jpgRosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere, is a sweet story about a young girl named Rosie Joy who dreams of being an explorer. Rosie finds herself embarking on an exploration sooner than she expected when she decides to take on the responsibility of hatching her own ‘tiny, yellow, fluffy and cheepy’ chicks. Along with her family and her best friend, Polly, Rosie makes all sorts of new discoveries about nature, knitting and things that are of paramount importance!

The soft pencil and water coloured art displayed front gives you a glimpse into the feel of the story to come. It is easy to see that the author, Sophie Siers is a farm girl at heart as this heart-warming story portrays the hard work, satisfaction and joy of family-farm life.

Siers has also done a wonderful job of capturing the thoughts and feelings of how we expect a 9-year-old girl might experience life: overwhelming excitement, big dreams, impatience and frustration and an insatiable curiosity about the world. This story includes all the ups and downs of Rosie’s journey into hatching chicks. As well as getting an insight into how to hatch chicks the natural way and a lesson in female explorers, the reader will also learn the definition and use of some big words, like paramount and circumnavigate!

Rosie Joy would be a great inspiration and source of information for any young person thinking about hatching their own chicks or someone who just loves a good feel-good story about farm life and growing up.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Rosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere
by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Judith Trevelyan
Published by Millwood Press
ISBN 9780473402402

Book Review: Gentle Giant – Wētāpunga, by Annemarie Florian & Terry Fitzgibbon

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_gentle_giantThis non-fiction meets poetic story about New Zealand’s largest insect is an amazing insight into the history and life of a wētā. It begins with some intriguing facts about the enormous size of wētā and how it came to make its home in Aotearoa before exploring its breeding, eating and survival habits, and taking a look at how human activity and the introduction of mammals has affected its way of life.

Young children are curious about the living world and seem to have endless questions about the many creatures that inhabit the earth. Annemarie Florian has created an amazing source of reference for children and adults with this book and it is clear that a lot of research and passion about New Zealand’s creatures has gone into Gentle Giant. The poetic narrative paired with the rich illustrations makes it a versatile teaching tool as it can be used as a story book as well as in-depth research tool.

If you were a fan of Florian’s award winning book KIWI: the real story or you have a young class or little explorer of your own who is curious about the wētā, you need to get your hands on a copy of Gentle Giant: Wētāpunga.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Gentle Giant: Wētāpunga
by Annemarie Florian
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664817

Book Review: The Yark, by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_yark.jpgAs if there weren’t enough child-hungry monsters lurking in the shadows for children to be wary of, The Yark introduces us to a blood-thirsty monster to join them. In this humorous and slightly dark children’s chapter book it doesn’t pay to be a good little girl or boy, because those are exactly the type of children the Yark craves in the dead of the night.

But the Yark isn’t like his fellow monsters. He doesn’t enjoy gobbling up innocent, wide-eyed children. In fact, he feels great sympathy for his meals, but alas, the Yark must continue the battle with his conscience as he has done since the beginning of time… or must he? Can a unusual friendship with a young but wise, little girl help him to make a change – or is his need to feast on children’s flesh too great?

Alongside his ever-growing conscience, the Yark also faces starvation as the number of good children left on earth is dwindling. This is a huge problem for the Yark, as the taste of bad children causes his stomach to churn and his skin to erupt in painful boils.

I ended up feeling compassion for the poor Yark as he seems to live a very sad existence full of misfortune and self-doubt. Santini does an excellent job of imagining the inner-turmoil and struggles that a monster like this may be faced with, as he desperately scours the earth for his next meal in order to survive. His brilliant use of words will expose young readers to an enriching array of language and gives the book it’s darkly humorous quality. The descriptions of what are considered to be “bad” children are quite irreverent, which gives you a shocking insight into what other intelligent creatures may think of human society. The Yark has enough twists and elements of suspense to keep readers hooked and includes the perfect amount fart jokes to lighten the story and make children giggle.

I thought Gapaillard’s gothic illustrations complimented the story beautifully. He did an excellent job of bringing the Yark to life with his terrifying jaws filled with huge pointed teeth which are juxtaposed by his soft, round eyes and fuzzy body and ridiculously tiny wings.

The Yark puts a twist on traditional monster stories and readers will find it hard not to side with the furry and somewhat melancholy beast in this quirky tale. The Yark is a surprisingly deep story that explores moral dilemmas, and any young reader who enjoys monsters, wicked humour, and rich language will appreciate this book.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Yark
by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571727

Book Review: Dream Ayla Dream, by Mikyung Song, translated by Soona Song Wylie

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_dream_ayla_dream.jpgInside this delightful picture book are six short stories, introduced as ‘stories that make you happy’. They feature a little girl called Ayla who has fun exploring the world around her and we get to see that world through her eyes; this is a celebration of the simple joys children find in their everyday lives.

In Sunflower Parasol, Ayla decides it is too hot. And what is missing from the picnic table? A sunflower will do the trick, so she plants a seed underneath the umbrella hole. All she has to do now is wait.

Drawings Alive serves as a cautionary tale for distracted parents. Ayla’s mum is busy and without time to find paper for Ayla to draw with asks, ‘Is there anything else you can use?’ Uh-oh… Yes there is but it’s not what mum had in mind.

A hot summers day is not what Ayla’s toy friend enjoys. So she helps by creating a cold artic winter for him; a cool pool complete with ice is just the thing for a polar bear and Ayla immerses herself into the game by donning a winter coat and scarf. Red faced she declares ‘Mummy, it’s not hot here at all. Can’t you see Poley and I are at the North Pole?’

The last story is my favourite. In this one Ayla shares the secret of rainbows – they come from the bubbles she blows. She has to blow lots of bubbles to make lots of rainbows, because rainbows make people happy.

Ayla is quite a character, full of curiosity and imagination. She is generally well behaved, with a few moments of mischief (like most young children), which make her appealing and natural. I also got a chuckle out of the illustration of her mother gazing at the mess left in the kitchen – so much is said in just a few quick sketched lines. Pared back text and minimal, childlike illustrations pull your focus into the stories which are somehow powerful in their simplicity while remaining approachable and engaging. These are stories that young children will relate to and enjoy as they will see themselves within the pages – they certainly are ‘stories that make you happy.’

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Dream Ayla Dream
by Mikyung Song, translated by Soona Song Wylie
Walking Book, South Korea
ISBN: 9791196124817

Book Review: Through My Eyes – Lyla, by Fleur Beale

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_lyla_through_my_eyesThirteen-year-old Lyla, her family and friends are trying to get back to normal life in Christchurch after the terrifying September 2010 earthquake that shook their beautiful city in the middle of the night. Buildings were damaged but importantly, everyone is ok. Life is starting to return to some semblance of normality, despite the repeated aftershocks. Then, 22 February 2011, the big one hits.

Through My Eyes: Natural Disaster Zone is a powerful fiction series from Allen & Unwin about children living in contemporary natural disaster zones. Their stories range from war-torn Kashmir to the cyclone-ravaged Philippines. And now we have our very own New Zealand addition, written by the wonderfully talented Fleur Beale (of the I am Not Esther and the Juno series). Lyla is the story of a young girl, her family, and friends coping with life after the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Although this is fiction, it is most definitely a New Zealand story. From the slang to the touches of Māoritanga, to the Student Army and the broken spires of the Christchurch Cathedral, the story is rooted firmly in reality. I am not from Christchurch myself and only experienced the terrible 6.3 quake from afar, but my experience of living in Wellington through the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake gave me a true appreciation for Beale’s realistic depiction of the terror such an event creates. She also accurately captures the ongoing exhaustion of living with aftershocks: ‘But I was sick of being resilient. In my opinion, the resilient-sayers should try living here in Christchurch, City of Shaky Ground.  … It’s February now and you’ve been shaking us for five months. Enough already!’ The book deals compassionately with the issue of post-traumatic stress and the ongoing mental health challenges this brings. Lyla puts up a very brave front but the constant state of hypervigilance takes its toll.

For some readers, this book may be all too real and not something they want to delve into. But for those who did not live the experience, Lyla is a fantastic and moving insight into the life of an extremely resilient (yes, I said it), albeit fictional, young woman. This is another compassionate, engrossing read from one of New Zealand’s best young people’s writers.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Through My Eyes – Lyla
by Fleur Beale
Published by Allen & Unwin Australia
ISBN 9781760113780