Book Review: Wolfy, by Gregoire Solotareff

cv_wolfyAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

After the sudden death of his old uncle, Wolfy has found himself in somewhat dire circumstances and he has too figure out what to do. Seeking help, he comes upon the very chilled Tom, a rabbit who had never seen a wolf before. United in a sense of adventure, the most gorgeous friendship between the pair develops, each having something to offer the other. Until things hit a speed bump when Tom and Wolfy play ‘Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.’ Fear takes over and Tom decides that the friendship is over. But is it?

This book hooks you in from the cover onwards, and uses vibrant, colourful illustrations to great effect, complementing the text and engaging the reader in the story. The story is well paced with a great dollop of humour that will make both adult and child reader alike laugh. It is poignant in it’s emotions but never heavy.

This is a great book for the 4 year old upward reader. I suspect older children will enjoy it and as a shared reader it leaves a lot of scope for interaction. A focal point is the need for understanding in friendships and this book could easily lend itself to teachable moments.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Wolfy
by Gregoire Solotareff
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571567

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Book Review: Tasting Stars, by Karen Mills

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Karen Mills grew up in Otara in Auckland in a household of abuse, so she writes from the heart in her first novel dedicated to inspiring young adults to believe they have the power to change their future.

Tasting Stars is the story of thirteen-year-old Rose Ann Dixon a Pakeha growing up in the 1960s in Otara. The eldest in the family of six children Rose tries to protect her siblings from her father’s abuse but she is often his target along with her mother.
Her teacher gifts Rose a gold fountain pen for her thirteenth birthday urging her to “Write me your dreams, Rose”.

After hearing Martin Luther King’s inspiring speech, Rose realizes that every child can have dreams and that what’s more they have a right to expect them to come true.
Rose begins a journey from Otara to Wellington and finally to India, after competing in a speech contest. Sustained by the love and wisdom of a recently deceased aunt and the kindness of her best friend’s family, Rose learns things that give her the strength she needs to save those she loves.

It is a gripping story about family violence with profound understanding and delightful humorous touches best suited for 11-18 years. I found it an easy read but also very moving and sad to think so many children live in similar circumstances. During her trip to India Rose realises, “When I go home I have to stop him. I don’t know how. But I will. I want my brothers and sisters to feel some of what I have felt over the last two weeks”.

Karen Mills left home at the age of fourteen to live with Jim and Kay Tichener, both teachers at her local school, before going on to teach for thirty years in South Auckland. She now volunteers for Destiny Rescue and has included an information page at the rear of the book as well as a website for further research.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Tasting Stars
by Karen Mills
Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473394974

 

Book Review: A Gift for Ana, by Jane Va’afusuaga

Available in selected bookshops.

This book is a beautifully written narrative which gives insight into a Samoan family saying goodbye to someone they love. Ana is a young girl who is returning to her family’s homeland in Samoa because her family member had passed away. It is a book which tells a story from the Pacific so our children can see themselves in what they read.

It is a great teaching resource to help children understand what they might experience in a similar situation. The author quietly explains Ana’s story in a no-nonsense, straight-forward manner from the first page. It provides answers to many questions about what might happen when a child returns home and will also provoke many questions which can be talked through together.

The rich story is accompanied by stunning coloured lithographic prints which boldly sit alongside the text. We are excited that this book is also available in Samoan so our families can read this at home in their mother tongue.

The author has explored the delicate family relationships which develop when families live apart when Ana begins to know her grandmother. Ana’s grandmother tells Ana the stories of her family and you are left with hope and peace dispute the tough issues the book raises.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

A Gift for Ana
by Jane Va’afusuaga
Published by Little Island
ISBN: 9781877484247

 

 

 

Book Review: Precarity: Uncertain, Insecure and Unequal Lives in Aotearoa New Zealand

Available in bookshops nationwide.

This book is from the newest university publisher in New Zealand, Massey University Press, and presents some new research from post-graduate students and academics, mostly from Massey and Waikato Universities. It is a reminder that there is substantive research being done in social science in a multi-disciplinary context, and this is a valid attempt to get a wider audience than that within the ivory towers. The term ‘Precarity’ is derived from the work of an English academic, Guy Standing, who has written about the ‘Precariat’ as an international phenomenon. Standing provides a brief foreword to the book which explains his version of the concept, and relates it to the idea of a ‘denizen’, being those people who are marginal in the labour market, and are therefore no longer treated as full citizens. In fact, Standing’s concept of a ‘precariat’ and this book do not highlight the labour market much at all, other than in how it relates to the welfare system. This inevitably means that most chapters look at the effect of welfare policies.

Precarity is a collection of mostly very specific chapters about aspects of the welfare system, and the specific experience of certain people within it. This highlights some rather difficult material based on marginalised ‘denizens’, often from particular ethnic groups or cultural perspectives. The troubling content is presented as sensitively as possible, and most of the substantive chapters are quite brief. In fact, given that most chapters have two or more authors it seems that there has been a form of cherry-picking of the potential content from much more in-depth research. Only the chapter on media depictions of precarious work provides a lengthy contextual positioning.

Indeed, the book does not really need to focus on one particular concept like ‘precarity’ at all. It is really a very focussed critique of welfare and social policy practice. All of the theoretical framing is stated early in the chapters by referring to the now familiar concept of ‘neo-liberalism’, and the position that sweeping new policies were imposed based on an economic theory that had inevitable consequences for vulnerable individuals in the labour market, or on the fringes of it. This works at a very general level, or is presented as an inevitable international trend, and creates a large gap between theory and practice. There is a chapter called ‘From working poverty to sustainable livelihood’, in which a group of psychologists refer to the United Nations ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs). The SDGs are intended to address the poverty trap within specific countries, and focus the use of international aid. The authors refer to critics of international aid, but reduce it to a binary choice.

Since there is effectively a consensus within the book, in which all of the social scientists accept the idea of neo-liberalism as the prevailing policy paradigm, the chapters examine its deleterious effects. There are important empirical critiques of policy here, and the sheer callousness of the Work & Income staff. One especially topical point refers to the so-called ‘social investment’ approach that the National Party has claimed is the answer to welfare dependency. The chapter on young Maori mothers on the Youth Parent Payment benefit highlights the way that the beneficiaries are obliged to undertake education and training. This is based on the financialisation of lifetime benefit costs, and utilises a Net Present Value calculation by officials that is obviously inappropriate, since there are no ‘investment returns’ to be made as an interest rate.

So there is some significant work here, but it is not an easy read, and the lack of an index does not help the reader look for specific concepts being discussed.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Precarity: Uncertain, Insecure and Unequal Lives in Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by, Shiloh Groot, Natasha Tassell-Matamua, Clifford Van Ommen, and Bridgette Masters-Awatere
Published by Massey Texts
ISBN: 9780994141514

 

Book Review: Annual 2, edited by Kate De Goldi & Susan Paris

Available in bookshops nationwide.

“Annual 2” is a beautiful book to behold. With its gentle green colouration, whimsically pop-art styled illustration and thick creamy pages, it is decidedly collectible. On opening the book one is treated to an Aladdin’s cave of the oddball and quirky, with a charming irreverence that is an absolute delight.

For this is no ordinary compendium of stories, compiled from an array of New Zealand authors, illustrators and other creatively-minded people. No, this is a figurative treasure chest to grab and engage the mind and attention. There are short stories, yes, and essays too, plus several comics. But there is so much more: the board game of “Blended Families”, taking one on a ride roll-and-move through the hazards of step parents and siblings; a slightly twisted interview with a taxidermist (he took up the occupation so he could preserve his beloved cat, Mr Mallory); quirky craft activities (ever wanted to knit a digestive system? Or build an eye-catchingly garish mailbox?); a pancake recipe, complete with how to ferment your own sauerkraut; a double-page spread on the identification of “Common Household Biscuits and Slices of New Zealand” complete with scientific names (Raisin biscuits are known as Deceptus terribloides); strange historic postcards; colourful Illustrations; tips on how to be a rock star. There is something for everyone here, something to delight and entertain the young (and young at heart). I urge you to pick it up and take a look!

“Annual 2” is a very modern, contemporary collection, with a sophistication one rarely finds in more mainstream annuals. It is the sort of book that will hopefully find its way into Christmas stockings all over the country, into the collections of book lovers, and be passed on through the generations.

Book Review: The Rejects, by Ali Foster

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Garden Gnomes are still around in suburban gardens and children always delight in discovering them hiding in the undergrowth. Ali Foster has taken the world of Garden Gnomes and created a delightful story of mischief and adventure.

This group of discarded Gnomes (We’re ginomees, it says so right here. Look! G-N-O-M-E-S), are not content to stay still as stones in the garden. They plan to liberate all Gnomes from the boredom of the fishpond or pathway. This adventure is aimed at 8-10 year olds but can be fun for older readers too. Even me.

IWFG is an Australian publishing house but want to include New Zealand authors and audiences. The Rejects is the first title in an intended trilogy and I am sure we can expect more adventures from these not-so-statuesque Gnomes.

I suspect that while a good reader will manage the text alone, it would make a great read aloud for willing ears. My copy is off to school for a trial run.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson.

The Rejects
by Ali Foster
Published by IFWG Publishing, Australia
ISBN: 978-1-925496-25-3

Book Review: Selfie, by Will Storr

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_selfieI am not being overly dramatic when I say that we are living in a time of increasing levels of mental illness and challenges to emotional health, actual and attempted suicides, unhappy and unfulfilled people, over whelming pressures to be someone that we may not be internally programmed to be. These have always been issues in our communities through the centuries, but in the last fifty years or so there these issues have jumped to the fore of the lives of many many people in our world. But why? And what can we do about it?

Will Storr’s Selfie takes a look at the very complex issue in two ways – how us humans have become so self-obsessed and, what exactly it is doing to us. Such a complicated subject cannot be easy to write about and the result is quite a complicated, wide ranging, energetic and fascinating exploration into what makes us, and our own individual self. On the flip side, this is a very long book, there is an enormous amount of very detailed information which at times is too much. Plus, for me, way too much space given to long-word-for-word conversations between the author and his interviewee. Some more vigorous editing would not have gone amiss. All of this does make for a book that you need to concentrate on while reading – this is one of my ‘read in the daylight hours’ books, rather than a ‘read before going to sleep’ book, because you do have to be concentrate.

The author himself is an investigative journalist, whose life and career is very, very interesting and successful. In this book, he is very open about his own suicidal thoughts, his perceived dissatisfaction with his own self. After looking at his website, with its diverse range of articles he has written, and his bio listing his achievements, you wonder why. But this is why he is perhaps the perfect person to write such a book. After all he has made it in his field, so what the hell is wrong with him? For these reasons alone this book is excellent as it is written with self interest at its heart, full of passion and that most important ingredient – curiosity.

He firstly sets the scene by looking at why people commit suicide or try, then takes us back to the beginnings of human civilisation when we lived in tribal groups, and conformity/sameness was the way the tribe survived. Then he takes us to Ancient Greece, where a beautiful and perfect physical form was such a crucial part of the philosophy of the times. The rise of Christianity/Catholicism with its rampant notions of guilt planted the seed for self doubt, inability to meet expectations. A long period of time passes till we get to mid 20th century USA with the beginnings of liberalism, the power of the individual, decline of collectivism, which have since evolved into the current latest greatest piece of economic thinking that benefits a few at the top of the money tree, and negates everyone below – neo-liberalism, epitomised in its most raw form as I see it in zero hours contracts. I still can’t get my head around employing someone, but not guaranteeing them any work. Tied up with this is a hilarious and almost unbelievable chapter about the ‘self esteem’ industry in America. That was an absolute revelation for me! He then moves into the frightening world of Silicon Valley, start ups, venture capital, Google and the like.

Finally, the last chapter – how to stay alive in the age of perfectionism – where it is all supposed to come together, but for me doesn’t! The only message I got out of this chapter, is that if you are unhappy in your life, things aren’t going right, you are overwhelmed and not coping, do not try to change yourself. We are essentially programmed from birth to react to situations in a certain way – how do you explain children brought up exactly the same way reacting differently to a life changing event. Because the answer is that you can’t change yourself – there goes the self help industry, cognitive therapy etc. What you have to do is change the world you live in, which translates as change your job/profession, where you live, how you live, who you live with. Easier said than done, but what this solution does is take away that you yourself are 100% responsible for your negative self-perception, and gives you the power to fix things in another way.

Well worth reading, and keeping for future forays. The ten page index is excellent, and the notes/references take up another 50 pages. Whenever you hear or read about why people self harm, you wonder if someone maybe a narcissist, what really went on in those hippie retreats in the 1960s, how Donald Trump got to be in the White House, pick this book up because it explains a lot.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Selfie
by Will Storr
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781447283652