Book Review: The Whale and the Snapper, by Jo Van Dam, illustrated by Richart Holt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_whale_and_the_snapperThe Whale and the Snapper is part of the Kiwi Corkers collection published by Scholastic NZ. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing previous titles Parakeet in Boots and Wacko Kakapo, and each of these books have been received well by my grandchildren. Three-year-old Quinn had me read this title to her over and over.

‘Once upon a time, in the deep blue and dark blue sea, lived a tiny shiny snapper, and her sisters thirty-three.’

Quinn stopped me at this point, asking ‘has she got thirty-three sisters, Grandma’ – I had to explain that snappers lay a lot of eggs and, yes, they were all her sisters. Only having one sister, Quinn thought about that for a minute and said – “I don’t think I’d like to have thirty-three sisters”.  I  think she is right, one sister is plenty.

The tiny snappers had all been nagged by their mother to ‘stay hidden in the weed, as whales and people fishing reckon you’re a tasty feed.’  Generally, they obeyed her but of course being young they were curious and ventured beyond where they should go.

Of course, a good story has to have a villain and in this case, it was a whale. The tiny snapper appealed to the whale to not eat him up but to let him go. If he did, he would sometime in the future repay the kindness. So, the villain turns out to be a good guy and let the snapper go. The snapper never forgot that kindness and was able to return the favour.

The moral of the story is if you do a good deed you will be repaid sometime in the future – well you hope so!

After reading each page I stopped and asked Quinn what she could see in the illustrations. The language alongside each one just made me laugh with the amount of Kiwi slang – ‘sweet as! Fresh kai for me,’ being just one example.  A truly delightful book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Whale and the Snapper
by Jo Van Dam, illustrated by Richard Holt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434948



Book Review: A Lion is a Lion, by Polly Dunbar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_lion_is_a_lionI wish this book was written when I was a child. I never understood what my mother meant when she said, ‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’. It’s not a saying that resonates with a five-year-old. After all, sheep don’t wear clothes, and even if they did, how would a wolf wear them?

Polly Dunbar’s cautionary tale, A Lion is a Lion, would probably have cleared things up for me. Is a lion still a lion if it dresses up, has nice manners and can sing and dance? Are you any less likely to be dessert if he has observed the niceties?

A Lion is a Lion can be read as an allegory for sticking up for yourself, being cautious about the people your parents warned you about, and even for the concept of consent.

I guarantee the vast majority of five-year-olds won’t see it this way, but they will agree that the children in the story should definitely call the lion out on his behaviour and send him on his way. A caring, supportive adult could steer the conversation towards meanness and bullying: if someone starts off by being nice but turns out to be unkind, what should you do?

With fast-paced action and illustrations full of whimsy and a hat tip to previous literary cats that cause problems (particularly Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat), A Lion is a Lion will delight young readers from about 3 – 7 years.

Any serious conversations you may have afterwards will just be an added bonus.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

A Lion is a Lion
by Polly Dunbar
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406371536

Book Review: Hugo Makes a Change, by Mauro Gatti and Scott Emmons

cv_hugo_makes_a_change.jpgAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

In this brightly illustrated book we are introduced to Hugo the Vampire. Hugo, just like any vampire, wakes at night and is feeling hungry. We find out that Hugo’s favourite food is “red, juicy, MEAT!” and it’s all he craves for every meal. As Hugo eats his way through hot dogs, turkey, roast, jerky, steak and salami each night he soon discovers his diet is making him feel sluggish and he grows tired of eating meat every night. Seeking variety her ventures out into the garden; but Hugo doesn’t like the look of the fruits and vegetables at all and decides he will never eat them.

However, a round, red apple catches his eye and after the first bite he decides that he will give fruits and vegetables a try. Now Hugo thinks fruits and vegetables are delicious and he eats them for every meal (along with his favourite meats of course). Nuts and raisins become Hugo’s favourite snacks and as he finds himself growing stronger and having more energy he is pleased he added fruits and vegetables to his diet.

This is an excellent book for promoting healthy eating in young children. Hugo the Vampire is easy for children to relate to if they find trying new food a bit daunting as he is hesitant to try fruits and veggies at first too! This book came at the perfect time as our preschool is currently exploring healthy eating and how to build strong muscles. The children responded positively to Hugo’s choice to try new foods and were quick to share that they were going to eat more fruits and vegetables to “get strong” like Hugo. I’m sure the very last page will leave children wondering about the little holes they might find in their fruit.

I also appreciated that Hugo didn’t entirely give up his favourite foods and decided that he could still eat meat as part of a balanced diet. The descriptive language paired with great rhyming made the book informative and fun to read. Emmons does a brilliant job of making different cuts and styles of meats into rhythmical rhymes while Gatti’s bold and colourful illustrations let us see how Hugo was feeling about his all-meat diet and his adventures in trying new foods.

It can be tricky to explain to young children why it’s important we eat a balanced diet with a variety of different foods but I think Hugo Makes a Change does this wonderfully. This book would make great tool for any teacher or parent who is trying to help their child make healthy eating choices.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Hugo Makes a Change
by Mauro Gatti and Scott Emmons
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171218

Book Review: The Kiwi Go Marching One by One, by Peter Millett, illustrated by Deborah Hinde

Available in bookshops nationwide.

The Kiwi Go Marching One by One is a Kiwi take on the nursery rhyme “The Ants Go Marching”. It follows five kiwis pals as they embark on a camping trip and partake in the many exciting adventures New Zealand has to offer; from building bivouacs in the forest and sea fishing to sledding down snowy mountains and bungee jumping from trees. It begins with five excited kiwis marching off to set up camp and ends with five very tired kiwis marching home to a well deserved rest.

Hinde’s illustrations are lovely and manage to capture the tranquility of the New Zealand’s outdoors. Each time I read through the book I noticed more and more little details and each kiwi appears to have their own personality. Children will love scouring the pages to find familiar creatures and plants that are unique to Aotearoa.

The lyrics fit seamlessly into the tune and my preschool students and I enjoyed singing along with Jay Laga’aia. Singing is very important towards language learning and I always love finding new sing-a-long books to share with children. The te reo Māori translation is brilliant and books that promote the use and learning of te reo Māori for young children and adults alike are a great resource to have.

I would recommend this book to any child that loves a sing-a-long! It is thoughtfully illustrated and wonderfully written and children can enjoy singing along with an adult or the CD or just explore New Zealand nature and wildlife through the illustrations.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Kiwi Go Marching One by One
by Peter Millett, illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435129

Book Review: Toroa’s Journey, by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_toroas_journeyThis wonderful book is based on the true story of the 500th albatross chick to hatch at Otago’s Taiaroa Head breeding colony. It tells the narrative of the chick Toroa’s adventures after leaving the colony based on tracking information, but also includes fascinating facts about albatrosses to add another layer of depth to the story.

I love the language in Toroa’s Journey. It’s rich and interesting, and for a book that’s narrative non-fiction, it gives as much varied vocabulary to the reader as a picture books by Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley or Lynley Dodd. For example, “Toroa jerks his head from under his wing … he waddles toward her and nudges open her bill; swallowing the slurried seafood.” The use of such evocative verbs adds another layer to the text which will promote questions and discussion for young readers and listeners.

The illustrations are stunning, including an open-out four-page spread to show off the magnificent reach of the albatross’s wings. They catch the movement of the birds, wind and ocean beautifully, and the illustration of Toroa arriving at a plastic patch looks oily and stomach churning – which is as it should be.

Toroa encounters a commercial fishing ship and a plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean, and along with some facts about the vulnerability of chicks to introduced predators, this raises for the reader some environmental messages. These aren’t preachy or overpowering, just factually stated, and again, these are likely to start a discussion for readers. I don’t know what it is, but the estimates in the fact box about plastic waste were really sobering for me, possibly because I wasn’t expecting to read them then and there in a children’s book.

Whether your young reader loves animals, adventure, non-fiction or is interested in the environment, this will be a great book to read together, or for older children (7+), to read on their own. It’s interesting, gorgeously illustrated, and full of fascinating facts.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Toroa’s Journey
by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey
Published by Potton & Burton

Book Review: I am Jellyfish, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_am_jellyfish.jpgWhen you buy this book, make sure to take it into a darkened room to admire – the cover is wreathed with glow in the dark jellyfish and a fearsome swordfish’s eye.

Poor Jelly is being teased by Swordfish for not having a reason for existing, as she lives her peaceful existence: ‘Jellyfish shrugged, jellyfish sighed. “I go with the flow,” she softly replied.’ When Swordfish tries to eat her, she drops, into the deep, dark ocean; and swordfish follows, well beyond his comfort zone. Where other predators of the sea await.

Ruth Paul has been writing and illustrating books (and having them published!) since 2005, and this particular book reminds me of one of my favourites of hers, Superpotamus! The rhyme scheme is similar, with a phrase that repeats with mild variations, and the storyline is similarly delightful. This may be the first picture book I’ve ever read with a Giant Squid as the big baddie.

Swordfish learns a little more about himself, and a lot more about jellyfish, when he is saved from the predator (spoiler alert) by the very fish he was aiming to have for dinner. Jellyfish, in turn, and after teaching Swordfish a lesson, is reminded of her own usefulness and becomes more certain of herself as the book concludes, saying “I am what I am.”

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, using dappled tones and bright colours to pop the fish against the background, which heads to absolute black as we dive many fathoms deep. The expressions of the fish are hilarious, particularly the lanternfish, who has the expression of a country yokel in every B-grade Western ever made!

I recommend this for those with curious children, who ask a million why’s and have an interest in what exactly goes on, under the surface of our great oceans. Age 2+.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I am Jellyfish
by Ruth Paul
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771159



Book Review: Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros, by Meg McKinlay

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_once_upon_a_small_rhinocerosThis whimsical book brought a smile to my face with its positivity, determination and adventure of the small rhinoceros heading out to explore the world.

We meet a young rhinoceros who is delightfully personified in the illustrations but still remains a rhinoceros (thankfully she is not given some cutesy name! – this book never becomes cheesy or juvenile).  And did I mention she is a girl? – great to see girls represented in powerful roles in picture books.

The young rhinoceros lives with the other rhinos next to a river which bring the sights and smells of faraway lands to her rhinoceros world filled with mud, grass and trees.  The other rhinoceroses tell her that this is all she needs, that she is crazy to dream of anything more.

The young rhinoceros smiles and agrees as she continues to collect the supplies she needs to go adventuring – she never loses her dream.  We watch her build a boat before setting sail down the river and over the ocean.  She sails through the day and after each night, through summer and winter.  We see the rhinoceros exploring the world – everywhere is represented (so much to discuss in the illustrations!).

Eventually she has seen more things than a rhinoceros could ever imagine and returns home where the rhinoceroses are waiting.  The rhinoceroses continue to show their lack understanding of her adventures but another little voice speaks up to ask if it was wonderful.  The young rhinoceros becomes a role model of the possibility of the next little rhinoceros being an explorer too.

A tale beautifully told through dialogue and poetic language.  All ages can follow along because the illustrations clearly tell the story through delightful sketches and watercolours.  It is one of the true treasures of children’s picture books – all ages will find something to love in this book, including the adult reader!  This is a story which will be a fantastic addition to any bedtime collection (especially for anyone who likes to dream big and be an explorer in the world).

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros
by Meg McKinlay, illustrated by Leila Rudge
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781925126709