Book Review: Awatea’s Treasure, by Fraser Smith

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_awateas_treasure.jpgThis book is a great delight to read.

Awatea, the main character, has been sent to stay with his grandparents and uncles in the country because his dad is not well. The story is set in the far north of New Zealand, and the atmosphere created by Fraser Smith’s writing is very credible and evocative of life in a reasonably remote area.

I was drawn in to this book from the outset. The uncles, prone to fairly rough practical joking, were scarily good and set the scene well for the development of the book.
It has everything – the already mentioned scary uncles, relaxed but firm grandparents, an empty – possibly haunted – house next door, and beaches and forests to explore, neighbours (a long way away) with a nutty parrot and an unseen son. Magic, adventure, what’s not to like?

It’s an excellent story and I don’t want to give away too much detail, but Awatea finds a tree house with some things which surely belonged to the boy who built it – but who is he? Where is he? Is the treasure really valuable? And where does the guy with the horse fit in?
Just read it! I am sure that like you won’t put it down till you have finished.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Awatea’s Treasure
by Fraser Smith
Huia Publishers 2016
ISBN 9781775502944

Book Review: Alice’s Food A-Z, by Alice Zaslavsky

Available in bookstores nationwide.
Alice Zaslavsky is a former teacher and Masterchef Australia contestant. She now hosts an Australian kids cooking knowledge quiz show, thus this book, Alice’s Food A-Z is a logical combination of those two experiences. This colourful book is aimed at sharing food facts, cooking tips and terminology with children –the main audience being 8-14 year olds.

There are nearly 40 recipes included, from the simple – peanut butter on celery sticks, to the more involved recipe for borscht. It is framed as an A-Z, with each letter featuring a food and recipe or two. The writing style is very casual, perhaps somewhat irritating for adults (the sentence “Science, yo” still sits uncomfortably with me) but it is very engaging for the target audience.

The fun facts are interesting. I enjoyed learning why bananas are curved and being reminded that baby carrots are not young carrots, but sculptured seconds from the adult carrot harvest. We have also changed the way we peel bananas – we now peel from the short end – on her recommendation. My eight-year-old daughter had this book by her side for a few days. Kids her age love facts – so we heard a lot of them during this time. She also really enjoyed the mushroom guide – she hadn’t realised that there were more types of mushrooms than those we typically buy from the supermarket.

The recipes are all labeled to make it clear which contain nuts and gluten, with some of the recipes being at ‘expert level’ – needing independent knife skills for example. The recipes are often written in a very informal way and do not assume prior knowledge of cooking skills. They also give good reminders when you may need some adult assistance.

This is one of those hard to categorise books. It is the sort of book that has a really wide potential audience, because it is very engaging once you pick it up. But it is one that would perhaps be easy to overlook as it isn’t really just a recipe book, or a fact guide. I recommend it for children who enjoy sharing ‘fun facts’ or would like a slightly more than basic recipe book.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Alice’s Food A-Z
by Alice Zaslavsky
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922179388

Book Review: Night of the Perigee Moon, by Juliet Jacka

Available in bookstores nationwide.

This charming “middle grade” tale reminded me racv_night_of_the_perigee_moonther of Diana Wynne Jones – with its cast of quirky and out-of-this-world (although not literally) characters and the sprinkling of magic applied to the modern world. As a fast-paced, appealing and amusing read, it certainly appealed and completely deserves its Tom Fitzgibbon award.

Playful and fun, we are first introduced to nearly-thirteen year old Tilly Angelica, anticipating the arrival of her “changeover” party – in which her special ability (if she happens to have one) will make itself apparent. Tilly hopes fervently that it will not – that she will be ordinary like her father and not a strange “freak” like her aunts and various other cousins. Why would she want to be able to grow ridiculously oversized vegetables? Or what if her nose grew to epic proportions to give her a magnificant sense of smell? I must confess, her attitude towards her potential “gift” perplexed me – then I remembered that she was an almost teenage girl, and desire to fit in far outweighs the desire to have some unique and potentially embarrassing ability.

But the potential talent soon becomes the least of her worries. For the entire Angelica family – 25 assorted cousins, uncles, aunts, twice removed and so forth, descend on the manor house. The Southern Angelicas quickly come to blows with the Northern Angelicas and her mischievous younger brother suddenly finds himself with two identical and equally naughty co-conspirators. And that’s not all – cousin Prosper is up to something and his scheming and plotting could bring Tilly’s comfortable existence crashing around her ears.

Not only must she discover, and survive, her Angelica talent, but she must also put a halt to his evil plans. Can she do it? With the help of her brazen burmese, her best friend Olivia and the trouble-making trio… perhaps she can!

It has a relatively simple plot – not too complicated, just filled with madcap craziness and chaotic levels of hilarity. Short chapters make it a fun tale to read aloud and it should certainly appeal to those within the 9-12 age range.

by Angela Oliver

Night of the Perigee Moon
by Juliet Jacka
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432036

Book Review: Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, by Mary McCallum

Available from bookstores now, launch on Sunday 9 March 6pm. Details below.

Annie, or more correctly Dappled Annie, and her little cv_dappled_annie_and_the_tigrishbrother Robbie live in a remote (and idyllic) location; their father is the lighthouse keeper. I know this is supposed to be the lighthouse at Castlepoint (the afterword tells me so) but it could be anywhere along the New Zealand coastline. For me, it’s Burgess Island in the Mokohinau Islands of the Hauraki Gulf. A place so remote as to be perfect.

With busy parents, the two children in this book only have each other and their imaginations to fill the long summer days. Annie likes to get close, very close, to the natural world. When she stands surrounded by the interleaving branches, the individual trees come alive. To Annie, the trees are alive; she hears and converses in their language. I found the way the trees come alive a little forced, but in reality, how else do you make trees come alive? The wind brings a pivotal creature – the Tigrish – into the story. And the adventure begins. It was easy to get swept up in the tale and by the end I came to view the hedge as alive as Annie herself.  After all, who hasn’t seen faces in a hedgerow or a tree trunk? And noticed the dappled light as shadows come, grow, and eventually disappear?

I love the way Mary McCallum brings a wonderful child-level view to the world. For example running through a pine forest dodging the pinecone grenades that drop from the sky. She captures the exaggerated nervousness that can only occur in one’s own mind:
“Annie heard a sound on the stairs as if someone was following her. Out of the corner of her eye something flickered. A moth? A mouse? Something bigger?”

She captures the bravado of a child:
““I’m ready,” she said again, which meant she wasn’t really ready but was trying to be.”

And she captures the musings of a child eavesdropping on a fantail family as they “Pick! Pick! Pick! Me!”  The baby fantails call to their father as they jostle for the next unlucky insect he brings. Annie hears the yearning and angst of that family.

It’s a lovely original story. Children with vivid imaginations, who love playing outside (like we all used to do), will find some synergies with delightful Annie. All children need to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and Annie and her brother do that – facing their fears and embarking on a unique adventure. This is a thoroughly New Zealand adventure and delightful story.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

Dappled Annie and the Tigrish
by Mary McCallum
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781877579192

Dappled Annie and the Tigrish will be launched as part of the festival at 6pm on Sunday 9 March at the Westpac Festival Hub, First Floor, St James Theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington.

Book Review: Charlotte and the Golden Promise, by Sandy McKay

cv_charlotte_and_the_golden_promiseAvailable in bookstores now.

Charlotte and the Golden Promise is the third book in the popular new series, New Zealand Girl. A new book, a new girl, a new moment in time. The year is 1865, and Charlotte McIntyre is desperate for adventure. During school lessons she dreams of digging for treasure in the goldfields of Hogburn Gully.

Charlotte’s mother is having yet another baby, and soon she will need her eldest daughter to leave school and help her with the cooking, cleaning and sewing.  Charlotte can’t imagine anything worse. If only they could afford to hire a maid to help with the housework…Then Charlotte has an idea – an idea that could save her from a lifetime of sewing pillowslips and feeding crying babies.

In the dead of night, she packs her bag and runs away to Hogburn Gully with her best friend Cyril, to pan for gold. Charlotte imagines the fields are awash with gold – it would surely take no time at all to find some and return home. However, Hogburn Gully is not what she expected. There are thugs and thieves and gold seems scarce. Will Charlotte have to return home empty-handed?

Charlotte and the Golden Promise is a story about bravery, friendship, and how the most valuable thing in life isn’t gold and precious stones. Author Sandy McKay skillfully captures the tension, thrill and hope of an 1860’s goldfield in New Zealand. Informative and addictive, this book will have you dreaming of adventure in vast, dusty goldmines, over a hundred years ago.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Charlotte and the Golden Promise
by Sandy McKay
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143307723