Book Review: Granny McFlitter: A country yarn, by Heather Haylock, illustrated by Lael Chisholm

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_Granny_mcflitter_a_country_yarnThe A & P show was finally here. We find Granny McFlitter at the best Vegetable Knitter display. Woolly tomatoes, onions and leeks, courgettes and carrots, broccoli, beans, radishes, rhubarb and watercress greens, Granny had knitted them all. Trophies, sashes and ribbons awaited the winners for sheepdogs and show jumpers, scarecrows and more. There were rosettes for the fanciest and fluffiest of lambs and a tent full of prize-winning cakes and jams.

Granny sat down under a tree to drink a nice pot of tea. Then the great excitement started – THE BULL HAD ESCAPED! He smashed through the show-ring and the gate, shattered the show jumps, scattered the hens and piglets. He toppled a stand and then rushed to the tent full of sponges and cakes. Pavlovas and lamingtons flew all around, jam tarts, cupcakes, pikelets and fudges rained down on the terrified judges.

Granny McFlitter knew what to do. She got her knitting needles and some wool and knitted a cape with some wool from a lamb, dying it bright red with strawberry jam, knitting a long, braided woolly Lasso.

Granny is the hero of this fabulous story, which I read to 4 ½ year old Quinn. She looked at me in a strange way, wondering what I could do to save the day if something like that happened while around he – perhaps a marauding dog snarling behind a fence, or a naughty cat eating a bird, or a diving magpie. I think I would run for the hills taking her with me at great speed!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Granny McFlitter: A Country Yarn
by Heather Haylock, illustrated by Lael Chisholm
Published by Puffin NZ
ISBN 9780143773238

Book Review: Keep an Eye on this Koala, by Scott Tulloch

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_keep_an_eye_on_this_koalaIn this short comic-like chapter book narrated by a smart-mouthed cockatoo we meet a “dozy” Koala who we are told to “keep an eye on”. Koala is the butt-end of all the jokes amoungst his fellow Aussie creatures. He gets tricked into hilarious situations and creates trouble for the others. However they are made to eat their words when Koala uses a clever idea to help them escape from The Dreadful Drop-bear.

Scott Tulloch has created another amusing comic with humorous dialogue in Keep an eye on this koala. His cute pencil illustrations add to the comedy with their highly expressive faces and movements.

I love when characters break the fourth wall in children’s books which is exactly what the main character and narrator of this book does. Talking directly to the audience helps engage young readers and gives the feel of being apart of the story.

Keep on eye on koala is a lighthearted book that’s perfect for beginner readers. It’ll have children chuckling at Cockatoo’s wisecracks and Koala’s dozy misfortunes. A great introduction to chapter books!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Keep an Eye on this Koala
by Scott Tulloch
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435426

Book Review:  I am So Clever, by Mario Ramos

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_i_am_so_cleverWow, was there ever a buzz when I opened the package from Booksellers in class and pulled I Am So Clever out!  Previous books by Mario Ramos, I Am So Strong and I Am So Handsome, are firm favourites with my class of 5 and 6 year olds, and are frequently issued to us by the school library.  Could the newest title in a series of stories about a boastful, narcissistic wolf live up to our huge expectations?  Also, why is Wolf wearing a nightie in the middle of the woods?

As always, the rich vocabulary is a delight.  The wolf is bombastic, and it’s wonderful!  “Hello, my dear! How fine you look in that delightful outfit,” he greets Little Red Riding Hood.  Wolf uses words like vicious, striding, ferocious and splendid which can only enrich the vocabulary of his readers.  Even his actions have flair – Wolf squirms, shuffles, eases and slinks.  This is the sort of language that makes my teacher heart sing.  My students love it too – even if it means that a story is constantly interrupted by either a “What does slunk mean?”-type questions, or by my pre-emptive explanations.

The illustrations are gorgeous and funny, as Ramos’ illustrations always are.  The expressions of Wolf, as things just keep going wrong, are brilliant – you don’t have to be able to read the words to know how the story is going for him.  And between the text and the illustrations, you get a kick out of pratfalls that, having grown up on Looney Tunes cartoons, I just adore.  My class, who are a bit gentler and kinder than I probably was at their age – giggle, but then say things like “That wasn’t very nice,” and “I hope that Wolf will be ok.”

So yes, our high expectations were met.  I hope Wolf hasn’t been too humiliated by his latest adventure to retire – we want to read many more stories about him!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

I am so Clever
by Mario Ramos
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572489

 

Book Review: Things in the Sea are Touching Me!, by Linda Jane Keegan and Minky Stapleton

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Things in the sea are touching me_HRUnder a shimmering, summer-blue sky, a family strolls to the beach. After dropping their towels, sunblock and snacks at their favourite spot the little girl and her two mums run into the bubbling waves feeling carefree… when suddenly something grazes the girl’s feet causing her to shriek and squeal and call out for her Ma! What could be lurking beneath the surface… a shark? a sea monster perhaps? or something more mysterious?

We can all relate to that feeling of fright when something unknown brushes against us in the waves! Things in the Sea are Touching Me! explores a few of the things we might commonly encounter at the beach that, when unseen, can seem a little scary but after learning what they are become quite a wonderful part of the swimming in the ocean!

With its jaunty rhythm and rhyme, repetitive sentence pattern and fun language play, this book is a joy to read aloud. Minky Stapleton’s multi-layered underwater seascapes that depict mysterious hands reaching up from the ocean bed will keep children wondering about what could be hiding under the water. My preschool class loved making guesses about what was touching the little girl and enjoyed being introduced to the filter-feeding salps, bobbing mangrove seeds and slimy kelp forests.

Things in the Sea are Touching Me! is a delightful picture book that addresses the fear of the unknown in a light-hearted and humorous way. An awesome book for young children which is also available in Te Reo Māori: Ngā mea kei rō Moana e whakapā mai ana!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Things in the Sea are Touching Me!
by Linda Jane Keegan, illustrated by Minky Stapleton
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435709

Book Review: Hazel and the Snails, by Nan Blanchard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hazel_and_the_snailsHazel and the Snails is an enchanting, thoughtful book, suited to readers about eight years old (give or take). Hazel, an energetic and matter-of-fact young girl probably about six or seven herself, is a super snail sleuth. We follow Hazel from home to school – along with her snails, who live in a cardboard box under her bed and are lovingly transported wherever she goes. Ms Taylor, a teacher a bit like Matilda’s Miss Honey says with a smile that ‘Snails are welcome at school but not on top of desks’.

This short chapter book deals with the serious issues of the illness of a loved one, death and grief from the point of view of a child. As Hazel’s dad progressively worsens, meaning Mum is away more while Hazel and her nose-studded brother Henry are looked after by her grandmother, Hazel remains absorbed in her snails and everyday adventures. Hazel lives in a distinctly contemporary New Zealand (I love the references to WeetBix and to Lilybee Wrap).

Hazel and the Snails shows, in a very everyday way, what it looks and feels like to be Hazel and sensitively introduces the idea of death and dying in a child’s life. I found myself thinking of the adventures of Milly-Molly-Mandy as I thumbed its pages – and was rewarded to see a reference to Milly-Molly-Mandy herself partway through! A lovely, honest and simple story by a first-time children’s author, complemented by pencil drawings by Giselle Clarkson. Grown ups will enjoy the story too – and might indeed benefit from this insight into children’s minds.

I look forward to seeing what else new writer Nan Blanchard has up her sleeve.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

Hazel and the Snails
by Nan Blanchard
Published by Annual Ink
ISBN 9780995113589

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Dog Runner, by Bren MacDibble

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_dog_runnerAs a kid born and raised on farms all around Aotearoa, author Bren McDibble can speak with some authority about growing up on the land. While she now lives on a house bus that travels around Aussie, her roots are clearly, and proudly, rural. That grounding speaks strongly through the theme of this ecological apocalypse she has created, which serves as a dark backdrop to this story. It comes through in her proposition: that a ‘all-too possible’ fungus could wipe out all the grass and starve our livestock. This, in turn would bring down the whole farming model and impact on our entire food chain and eventually our eco-system. It’s a familiar scene.

Food is scarce. So, humans are reduced to become scavengers and are helpless to fend for themselves, having abandoned their skills following mass production and corporatisation. It’s a bleak new world. Think of the movies Quiet Earth, Mad Max, I am Pilgrim and so on. Desolate, wiped out. The connections to the great Irish Potato Famine are also pretty obvious, too. Except this time, immigration will not solve the issue. In this world adults are useless, and powerless, having become slaves to supermarkets, the internet and their electronic devices. They fall into are petty habits, squabble and join tribes to survive instead of rallying together. They are ultimately selfish and self-serving. Therefore, it’s up to the kids to save the day. It’s a book that comfortably sits alongside other YA authors like John Marsden.

With the help of their five big ‘doggos’, our heroes Ella and Emery must use a dry-land dogsled to leave the security of their inner city apartment and navigate their way through rough terrain to reach the relative safety and food of Emery’s mum’s place. Ella’s dad has disappeared. Emery’s mother works for a power company, and holds a vital job managing this precious resource from a remote location. She does it reluctantly, under pressure from her employer. It’s never really explained but she must remain at work, separated from her family, inexplicably obligated carry out her tasks for Orwellian masters. The parallels to Soviet Bloc utilities is not overlooked as the power splutters on and off, exposing a decaying, cracked network.

The kids must escape their urban prison and venture out into these new wastelands. Along the way, they encounter a range of difficult characters, who challenge them is many ways. I don’t want to provide spoilers but again, think of those characters in the Mad Max movies, with fewer guns.

The story throws you straight in, with little need to explain the setting or situation and then drops plot hints, like a trail of breadcrumbs, to keep you going. It’s told from the first person, with Ella holding the camera as she pans around revealing her world and every step she must take. We are teased along, even as Ella and Emery get further and further away from their crumbling city. From time to time Ella breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the reader. This is partly a reassuring inner dialogue, and a popular mechanism for YA fiction. The way it’s written, Ella could be either a boy or a girl. Her voice has no defining gender, beyond a name. It means the reader doesn’t take sides, and can empathize with these challenging circumstances.

Given climate change this scenario is a real threat and given we are so reliant on grains for basic food and feeding livestock, it’s a problem we, as humans must consider seriously.

But it’s not all gloomy. With the same adventurous spirit as Blyton’s The Famous Five, MacDibble revels in the pursuit of adventure. The story is fast-paced, there are fraught hideaways, difficult puzzles and dubious foes. These kids are fierce and brave, like farm kids, and creative and innovative. They see every problem as an opportunity.

Once again, MacDibble delivers a thoughtful and provoking read. Her first novel, How to Bee, also had an ecological them, examining our world without bees, which has become more of a very real threat over the last few years. This book takes a few more steps into oblivion, visualising not only a world where grasses and grains are wiped out but asking questions about what would replace these vital food sources.

Both teachers and parents should recommend this to upper primary school readers and return after to spark a wider conversation. It was also be a great one for further classroom study.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Dog Runner
by Bren MacDibble
Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760523572

Book Review: Simon Said and Other Cautionary Tales, by Pamela Allen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_simon_said_and_other_cautionary_talesMost children know the game Simon Says, but this book puts a different spin on the game.

‘Simon said,
I am taller than you.’

And he was.

He can pull harder than you, jump higher than you, run faster than you, climb higher than you, throw a ball further than you, finally finishing with ’I can eat more than you.’  It does not end well!

The second story in this wonderfully funny book is ‘Simon Did’. This story also does not end well for Simon.

The third and fourth stories; Watch me, and Watch me Now have slightly better endings.

This is a fun book with wonderful illustrations and sitting down with 4- year–old granddaughter Quinn made this a great experience for both of us.  We were laughing our socks off at Simon’s antics and what we really shouldn’t do in life.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Simon Said and Other Cautionary Tales
by Pamela Allen
Published by OneTree House
ISBN 9780995106499