Book Review: The Visitor, by Antje Damm

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_visitorPoor Elise stays hidden from the world in her neat and tidy home. She never goes out, night or day because Elise is afraid of everything – spiders, people and even trees. No one ever knocks on her door. Until one day when she opened the window to let fresh air in something strange flies in and the next morning she hears a knocking at the door. Elise opens the door to find a visitor who will bring some colour her life.

The Visitor is a beautiful tale about loneliness and human connection. The story and dialogue is simple yet descriptive and full of emotion which is very appealing to young readers. Antje Damm did a wonderful job capturing the curious and innocent dialogue of a child and the hesitant gestures and speech of someone who has all but forgotten how to be with another person.

Damm’s diorama style illustrations portray the stark, lonely and anxious existence of Elise. She cleverly uses light and colour to change the mood of the book from poignant to cheerful. The illustrations alone tells a story of transformation and the growth of a friendship between carefree and fearful.

What a wonderful book! The cover art and title drew me in immediately. It made me curious to read so I could find out who the visitor was and I was not disappointed! The complimentary words and illustrations create a lot of emotion and sympathy making it a great story for young children.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Visitor
by Antje Damm
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571888

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Book Review: DUCK!, by Meg McKinlay & Nathaniel Eckstrom

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_duckIt was a quiet afternoon on the farm, when suddenly… DUCK! The farm animals are disturbed by a loud and obnoxious duck shouting his own name at them. When the other animals try to explain to the duck that they are not ducks the duck only grows louder and more insistent. Is the duck not listening to his fellow farm animals or are they not listening to his warning.

Meg McKinlay’s DUCK! Is a funny story that explores the unfortunate consequences of a bunch of animals who misunderstand their fellow farm friend’s warning. The repetition and exclamations of DUCK! invites young children to participate and the humorous descriptive language is very appealing to this audience. Nathaniel Eckstrom’s charming illustrations which set the farm in the middle of autumn include subtle foreshadowing of the disaster that is about to strike and a clever reference to a well known movie.

If you’re looking for a great read aloud book then DUCK! is the book you’re looking for. Children will find themselves joining in shouting “DUCK!” and having a gasp and a giggle at the slightly shocking ending!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

DUCK!
by Meg McKinlay
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781925381535

Book Review: Valdemar’s Peas, by Maria Jönsson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_valdemars_peas.jpgValdemar LOVES fish fingers but he HATES peas! But Papa says ‘The peas go in the tummy. Then ice cream. Chocolate ice cream!’ Valdemar may be a little wolf but he’s a clever little wolf. He hatches a cunning idea to get the peas in the tummy without having to eat a single one.

Valdemar’s Peas is a tale about an all too familiar dinner time dilemma that I’m sure many young children and their parents have experienced. The back and forth between Valdemar and his Papa is all too relatable and both children and parents will find humour in Valdemar’s determination and trickery to get chocolate ice-cream. Although, I don’t think my own parents would have shown as much appreciation for such a cheeky and quick-witted response as Valdemar’s Papa!

Maria Jönsson’s adorable, black and white illustrations which are accented with reds, browns and greens suit her playful story perfectly, portraying well Valdemar’s distaste for peas, smugness at his own successful trick and Papa’s exasperation. I think Valdemar’s Papa will be more specific about which tummy the peas need to go into next time!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Valdemar’s Peas
by Maria Jönsson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571963

Book Review: Bird to Bird, by Claire Saxby

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bird_to_bird.jpgDeep in a forest a bird drops a seed. The seed grows into a tree and that tree is taken by men into a busy city and across the wide ocean to a foreign land where it is reused, recycled and repurposed many times before it can return to a forest.

Bird to Bird is an aesthetic circular narrative. Claire Saxby’s poetic and repetitive words paired with Wayne Harris’s dreamy illustrations make this brief journey through nature, history and time a pleasant read. Though minimalist, the narrative is still able to tell a huge story and that’s what I enjoyed most about this short tale.

I’ve found myself reading Bird to Bird over and over, appreciating both the words and the illustrations. It’s a very cleverly written book and I enjoyed the many layers of the story.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Bird to Bird
by Claire Saxby
Published by Black Dog Books
ISBN 9781925381122

Book Review: The Stolen Stars of Matariki, by Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zak Waipara

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_stolen_stars_of_matariki.jpgIn a magical, wild, windy place called Te Mata Hāpuku there’s a beach made up of as many stones as there are stars in the sky. When Te Rerehua and Sam stay with at Te Mata Hāpuku with their Grandma and Pōua they love to scour the beach for the gleaming, bright, white stones called agate. One night as they gaze up at the night sky their Grandma exclaims that there are stars missing from the Matariki cluster. Grandma knows exactly what has happened to those stars; the patupaiarehe have snatched them from the sky and will hide them amongst the stones unless they are stopped. Will Te Rerehua and Sam be able to hatch a plan clever enough to trick the naughty patupaiarehe into releasing the stolen stars?

The Stolen Stars of Matariki was a new Matariki Story for me and I found it to be a very amusing tale. It was great that all nine stars of Matariki were included in this story as many stories only include seven of the stars that make up the Matariki cluster.

Kamo’s descriptive language has a magical quality to it fitting with the theme of the story, and I enjoyed the Te Reo Māori that is woven through the English version.

The patupaiarehe were also new to me and I was delighted to be introduced to another piece of Māori mythology, albeit a very mischievous creature! A story between “right and wrong” or “good vs. evil” always makes for an interesting read and it’s made all the more better for young children when the hero triumphs over the villain using non-violence.

It is obvious that Te Mata Hāpuku holds a special place within Kamo’s heart, and she paints an evocative image of it’s landscape and atmosphere through her words. The rich illustrations of Zak Waipara saturate each page; mixing thick, bold lines and geometric patterns with delicate and vibrant watercolours which compliment Kamo’s words perfectly.

Miriama Kamo’s debut The Stolen Stars of Matariki is a wonderful tale that introduces new kupu and Māori mythology to readers. It’s magical words and haunting illustrations will amuse and delight many young children and adults who read it, while also familiarising them with Matariki. I will definitely be on the lookout for a copy of the te teo Māori addition and waiting semi-patiently for more books from Miriama Kamo.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Stolen Stars of Matariki
by Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zak Waipara
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435341

Book Review: The Yark, by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_yark.jpgAs if there weren’t enough child-hungry monsters lurking in the shadows for children to be wary of, The Yark introduces us to a blood-thirsty monster to join them. In this humorous and slightly dark children’s chapter book it doesn’t pay to be a good little girl or boy, because those are exactly the type of children the Yark craves in the dead of the night.

But the Yark isn’t like his fellow monsters. He doesn’t enjoy gobbling up innocent, wide-eyed children. In fact, he feels great sympathy for his meals, but alas, the Yark must continue the battle with his conscience as he has done since the beginning of time… or must he? Can a unusual friendship with a young but wise, little girl help him to make a change – or is his need to feast on children’s flesh too great?

Alongside his ever-growing conscience, the Yark also faces starvation as the number of good children left on earth is dwindling. This is a huge problem for the Yark, as the taste of bad children causes his stomach to churn and his skin to erupt in painful boils.

I ended up feeling compassion for the poor Yark as he seems to live a very sad existence full of misfortune and self-doubt. Santini does an excellent job of imagining the inner-turmoil and struggles that a monster like this may be faced with, as he desperately scours the earth for his next meal in order to survive. His brilliant use of words will expose young readers to an enriching array of language and gives the book it’s darkly humorous quality. The descriptions of what are considered to be “bad” children are quite irreverent, which gives you a shocking insight into what other intelligent creatures may think of human society. The Yark has enough twists and elements of suspense to keep readers hooked and includes the perfect amount fart jokes to lighten the story and make children giggle.

I thought Gapaillard’s gothic illustrations complimented the story beautifully. He did an excellent job of bringing the Yark to life with his terrifying jaws filled with huge pointed teeth which are juxtaposed by his soft, round eyes and fuzzy body and ridiculously tiny wings.

The Yark puts a twist on traditional monster stories and readers will find it hard not to side with the furry and somewhat melancholy beast in this quirky tale. The Yark is a surprisingly deep story that explores moral dilemmas, and any young reader who enjoys monsters, wicked humour, and rich language will appreciate this book.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Yark
by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571727

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