Book review: The Little Kiwi and the treaty, by Nikki Slade Robinson

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_little_kiwi_and_the_treatyThis is another gem of a book in the Little Kiwi series by Nikki Slade Robinson.  Little Kiwi’s Koro tells the story of their ancestors coming from different lands.  Koro’s ancestors were the best food finders in the land and the ancestors of Kuia were known as the best nest builders.

They settled on the same land and a fight broke out before the chiefs stepped forward to find a resolution to the conflict. The author talks through the tense negotiations, staying true to the high emotions we all feel when we need to compromise! Te reo Māori is woven throughout the text – and many words are quietly translated as you read along (perfect for introducing new vocabulary).

The text is beautifully accompanied by Nikki’s illustrations. We are transported back in time by the clever use of black and white pictures when Koro is remembering the past. I still love all the emotion Nikki can portray with Little Kiwi – and the little details which distinguish each character (especially the pounamu being worn by the chiefs).

The familiar characters of Little Kiwi and her family introduces ideas about family history and identity to young children. Through Koro’s story we also come to understand what a treaty is. It is a gentle reminder for all children about friendship, conflict resolution and learning from each other.

It is a picture book that can be a wonderful teaching tool to talk about co-operation or simply enjoyed for the wonderful story-telling within.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

The Little Kiwi and the Treaty
by Nikki Slade Robinson
Published by David Ling Publishing
ISBN 9781927305485

Book Review: Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook), by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_cooks_cook.jpgChristchurch based author and illustrator Gavin Bishop is one of New Zealand’s top writers for children right now. He’s also won a ton of awards for his books, has been honoured with a NZ Order of Merit for Children’s literature and most recently, took out the top prize at the Children’s Book awards (The Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award) for his project Aotearoa: A New Zealand Story.

Over the years he’s illustrated Mahy’s books along with those of Joy Cowley and many other Kiwi authors. If you browse through his work you’ll notice his penchant for bringing history, particularly Colonial, to life. Aotearoa was not only an opportunity to bring our own past to life but to make it shine with elegant, personal , sparkling artwork that almost borders on a cartoon style. That, in turn, really appeals to children and lets them feel at ease with the stories he’s telling.

Carrying on the template he created for Aotearoa and also for an earlier successful book The House That Jack Built (the Kiwi retelling), Bishop places the reader as close to the action as possible. He knows that kids will relate to history if they can wear the clothes, taste the flavours and smell the aromas of history.  And so he’s chosen to write about Captain James Cook, not in the usual way but from the point of view of his cook, the one-handed John Thompson.

Thompson is not a man of airs and graces. He’s completely the opposite. Though he may not mind his Q’s he certainly knows his Pease Porridge – a sludgy soup made of split peas, favoured on alternate days to make the provisions of fresh food go further. This is just one fact we learn along the way. Bishop loves to throw in nerdy facts such as how many pigs, bottles of vinegar or sacks of flour are taken on board the Endeavour during its famous journey through Pacific waters in 1768. He relishes in providing these fantastic little details, information drawn from extensive research. Naturally, he also adds a bit of colourful sailor-talk and few sordid recipes like what to do with an albatross and how to serve sheared shark fins, Goose Pie (with a seabird substitute) or make Yorkshire pudding during a heavy storm.

Cook was determined to keep his crew and passengers fit and healthy so Thomson has his work cut out. His stories alone are worth the price of admission but this book is really more of a vehicle to tell the overall narrative around Cook’s famous voyage. Actually, the book tells multiple stories, of social class, hierarchy and race; stories of explorers and the people of the land (we are there during the first encounters with Maori, for example); the story of one of the world’s most famous explorers told through a fresh new lens – just in time for the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour’s journey.

This is a short but surprisingly heavily -packed book. There may only be about 40-odd pages but everyone deserves a re-read, as there are many little jokes, facts or secrets hiding in the illustrations. Children from 8 to 80 will love exploring this book and maybe even trying out a recipe or two – at their peril.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook)
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572045

Book Review: Wake Up, Bear by Lynley Dodd

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_wake_up_bearI have to make a disclosure here – I have actually read Wake Up, Bear before. More times than I can count, in fact. First released in 1986, it was on my daughter’s bookshelf during her early years in the mid-late 1990s. Lynley Dodd was always a huge favourite of ours – we both loved the luscious language, the pace and humour, and the gorgeous illustrations. That was 20-some years ago, and while I still think Lynley Dodd is fabulous, do today’s six-year-olds still revel in her stories in what feels increasingly like a device-driven world?

The short answer is, yes. Children still love a well-written story, and I’ve yet to read a Lynley Dodd story that doesn’t qualify. My class were learning about seasons and life cycles at the time I read this story, so they were full of shared knowledge about bears hibernating and were actively predicting where the story might go. They loved joining in the refrain and were delighted and surprised by the joke at the end, which caused Bear to wake up.

Wake Up, Bear might be 32 years old but it is still as fresh and lively as the first time I read it. The illustrations are still delightful, the language is still rich and vibrant, and like all of Dodd’s books it is absolutely perfect for reading aloud. In an era when junior school teachers are in despair about the increasingly low levels of oral language of children starting school, I offer the following prescription: Some Lynley Dodd, daily. At least one book, more as demanded by the child. It would go a long way.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Wake Up, Bear
by Lynley Dodd
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143772569

Book Review: Freedom Song, by Emma Farry, illustrated by Ewan McDougall

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_freedom_songWhat began as a poem drafted during the night, twenty-five years ago, after a particularly difficult meeting with a young mother while working on a documentary, has resulted in a stunning hardcover book with a simple message – love conquers all.

In the preface Farry says, ‘The sadness of this woman’s life and lack of love that it illustrated affected me deeply. The poem has been a kind of a touchstone for me ever since’.

Living in Manhattan when the planes flew into the towers on September 11 2001, Farry again turned to the words of the poem to make sense of the disaster.

Back home in Dunedin in 2010 Farry saw Ewan McDougall’s art in an exhibition at the Gallery de Novo and felt he could produce the appropriate works of art for her poem.
The colourful oils compliment the words on each page and I am sure they will even appeal to children, and offer tremendous opportunity for thought provoking discussion in homes or schools.

At the rear of the book all the paintings are named and listed in order with the finished size and painting medium.

Emma Farry chose her birth town Dunedin to launch her book Freedom Song during August 2018, which seems fitting as she received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Otago University before gaining a Diploma in Journalism from Canterbury University.

Freedom Song is a wonderful book of hope for the future which will sit nicely on my coffee table ‘And safe in the knowledge, true love would abide, United and balanced, our spirits could glide’.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Freedom Song
by Emma Farry, illustrated by Ewan McDougall
Published by Be Loved Press
ISBN 9780473410131

Book Review: Shhh! Don’t Wake The Baby…, illustrated by Scott Pearson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_shh_dont_wake_the_baby.jpegYou have to admit, the opportunity was just too good. A new Prime Minister, a husband who’d step up to raise the child while his wife ran the country, and a country captivated by a young vibrant first couple at a time when old, white men were reeking destruction and chaos elsewhere in the world. Quick off the mark, illustrator Scott Pearson has very carefully blended his cartoon style into 10 contemporary scenes that we will instantly recognise.

The ‘story’, if there is one is simple: don’t wake little Neve Te Aroha. But there are many interruptions, unique to this couple. All Black supporters off to the game cheer loudly outside the window; Clarke showing off his fishing skills; camera clicks from the paparazzi; noisy espresso machines during parent coffee mornings; loud tractors on a Morrinsville farm; extra bass during Jacinda’s night club DJ session (a great one, that) and Winston shhhhing Crusher Collins in the House whilst Parliament is sitting. That is my favourite scene. He’s captured the Deputy PM’s grumpiness perfectly. Oddly, apart from Collins, the other MPs don’t look like any currently sitting but that’s a minor point.

There’s not much else you can say about this book apart from that it’s a quintessentially ‘Kiwi’ book. Plenty of small references such as kiwi mobiles, hibiscus flowers in the vase, photos of the beehive on the walls, buzzy bees, caravans at the beach. This is a colourful, vibrant, snatch in time. Sure it’s cashing in on the moment but why not. Even my 6 year old immediately took to it, and she knows very little about current affairs, yet she knew enough to get all the small innuendos and jokes in the pictures. A great book for right now. Adults and kids alike will be happy with this.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Shh… Don’t Wake the Baby
illustrated by Scott Pearson
Published by Moa/ Hachette
ISBN 9781869713942

Book Review: The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty – Book 1, by Rhys Darby

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_top_secret_undercover_notes_of_buttons_mcgintyI finally managed to steal this from my 9-year-old.  You see, she sleeps with one eye open, so there was no chance she’d share a book like this until she’s finished it.  Now, she doesn’t do this with just any old book.  It has to be quirky, challenging and, in her terms, ‘un-put-a-down-able’.  It helps if the subject matter leads to a bit of a session on Google afterwards. ‘What’s Morse Code, Dad? Never mind, Mr Google told me!’ Kid’s eh?

My daughter has never heard of Rhys Darby, or Flight of the Conchords, but she knows a good book when it arrives in the post.

Written in the same book-style as the Treehouse books, with a handwritten font and plenty of ‘random’ sketches, Mr Darby brings us a slice of his awkward, Kiwi humour and out-of-this-world absurdity, served between two slices of mystery-comedy.

It’s aimed at kids aged 8-15 yrs. Darby assumes the clothes of 12-year-old Buttons McGinty, and pens his top secret scribbles in his nutty notebooks, as he and his mates dive into a universe unlike any they’ve known. Our hero has been shipped off to Ranktwerp Island Education Fortress for Gifted Lame Unruly Minors (R.I.E.F.G.L.U.M), which is apparently a boarding school located on a remote island, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Sounds like that island in Famous Five books, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. Add to that his parents have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Plus, there’s bogus baddies and a weird kind of yeti on the prowl.

Apart from the obvious ‘dad’ jokes and random acts of hilarity, my daughter loved problem solving the Morse Codes that Buttons (who was partially ‘modelled’ on Darby’s audio producer) tries to crack in order to figure out the clues necessary to solve the crimes. And that was the best bit, frankly. The immersion and engagement. The main reason why I couldn’t sneak the book away – until the notes in the margins had all been rubbed out. Apparently, this is only volume one. So that means more to come. Someone in my household has already added the next volume to Santa’s list.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty – Book 1
by Rhys Darby
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434979

Book Review: The Anger of Angels, by Sherryl Jordan

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_anger_of_angelsThis wonderfully written tale marks the return of New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan to the historic fiction market. Set in a country inspired by Italy, it encompasses two realms: one ruled by a generous and benevolent duke, the other by a cruel prince.

Our heroine is Giovanna, the jester’s daughter. She has had a relatively unconventional upbringing and dreams of travel and adventure. That is, until her father’s latest performance is heard by the wrong ears – and suddenly the cruel prince’s eyes, and attention, fall on her city. Now, the fate of her people may lay in Giovanna’s hands and, armed with a dangerous secret, she must journey into the hostile land and plead for forgiveness – or seek retribution.

As befits any strong young adult book, there is romance too, and Raffaele makes for a worthy love interest. Whilst undeniably handsome, he is marred by a slight physical variation that marks him as different – and the source of the occassional scorn. He also comes armed with a strong dose of heretical cynicism – which does not go down well in lands where the church hold reign. He has fled the tyrant prince’s Kingdom,  along with his artist brother, Santos, and has seen much of the horrors it contains.

Giovanna is a worthy protagonist. She does not need a man to save her from danger – instead the two support and complement each other. The setting is evocative and somewhat romantic, a nice counterpoint to the dark dystopia novels currently ruling the teen market. And, despite all the tragedy and treachery that does befall our heroes and their home, there is also the strong element of hope. Overall, a fresh and compelling read with a few minor loose ends that I would hope hint at future novels.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Anger of Angels
by Sherryl Jordan
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650605