Book Review: Harsu & The Werestoat, by Barbara Else

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_harsu_and_the_werestoatThis book is not the usual genre I am attracted to but I have to say this book fascinated me. I am also always on the look-out for books to inspire and interest my 12-year-old granddaughter Eden.

Harsu is a 12-year-old boy whose mother is Daama, the daughter of the Wind God. On the outside she looks like a woman but Daama is capable of changing into a stoat – hence the term werestoat.

When Harsu was 6 years old his father tried to teach Harsu about the world – also trying to teach him how to read.  Harsu developed a terrible fever-dream breaking out in a rash, and remembers his parents fighting.  By the time he recovered, his father was gone from the Palace.

Harsu’s mother started stealing babies as she wanted a perfect child, as thanks to the fever dream, Harsu wasn’t perfect anymore.  Daama’s behaviour continues to be of concern to Harsu as she constantly wants praise for her job as a mother and often doesn’t get it. Staff in the Palace walk out as her temper tantrums become worse.

Harsu is torn as while he loves his mother, he does not condone her behaviour. As he is part human and totally devoted to her, he can’t stand by and let her behaviour continue as she contrives to steal older children.  Moving via a mysterious portal, through history, finally settling in current-day New Zealand doesn’t seem to make any difference or contain her behaviour. It becomes even more bizarre.

The more I got into this book I realised that  this was a modern-day fairy tale. Not all fairy stories I grew up with necessarily had happy beginnings or endings. This has a great ending that most would be happy with.

Eden you are going to be the recipient of a new book! Enjoy, my darling girl!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Harsu & The Werestoat
by Barbara Else
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572199

Book Review: Go Girl – A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women, by Barbara Else

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_go_girl.jpgIn the vein of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls comes Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women. It is written by well-regarded New Zealand author Barbara Else and illustrations are provided by nine New Zealand artists. This hardback edition is boldly coloured and the contemporary illustrations further enhance this attractive book. In what I hope becomes standard practice in kiwi publishing, macrons are correctly used for words written in Māori.

My daughters (aged seven and eleven) jumped on this book. They then searched the book to see if their favourite high profile women were included. Having completed that, they then searched out stories of women they were unfamiliar with.

Beatrice Tinsley was a profile that particularly resonated with the girls, I had not heard of her astrophysics achievements prior to reading this book. Hūria Mātenga, the famous rescuer of the shipwrecked boat Delaware was an amazing story of strength and bravery.

Barbara Else provides tips at the end of the book for further research on the women covered and we had a fascinating time looking up the Te Ara website for further biographical information. There is a timeline at the back of the book with each woman plotted to show when she was born. This provides a great way of ‘re-ordering’ the stories, which are provided in alphabetical order in the text.

This is a wonderful book. The writing style is clear, and reads like a bedtime story, so is very appealing. Often, the writing style will further reflect the woman portrayed – I particularly enjoyed Margaret Mahy’s profile! I loved the wide range of subjects. With nearly 50 stories, and a range of historic and contemporary women across a variety of disciplines, this is a great book for New Zealand children.

I’m sure that this book will appeal widely in New Zealand homes and schools, quickly becoming a standard resource. It makes a fantastic gift.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Go Girl – A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women
by Barbara Else
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780143771609

Book Review: The Knot Impossible, by Barbara Else

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_knot_impossibleThe Knot Impossible is the fourth book in Barbara Else’s award-winning series, ‘Tales of Fontania’. As enchanting and richly told as the previous three books, it introduces a new story to the Fontania saga, and to the history of the world which the author has so skillfully created.

Rufkin Robiasson is the son of a famous family of entertainers. When his family go travelling to perform around Fontania during the summer, Rufkin stays behind because of his terrible stage fright. He is sent to work in a salvage yard among the cave lizards and scrap-metal ship hulks.

When Rufkin comes to the rescue of a small boy they soon discover is named Vosco, a series of events are triggered, and he and his new sort-of friend Nissy embark on a dangerous adventure at sea. The outcome of their mission will determine the fate of Vosco, themselves, and the kingdom of Fontania. Rufkin, who has always feared the stage, is now the centre of the kingdom’s attention – he must fix the problems of the past if he wants to save his future. 

While reading The Knot Impossible I was completely enthralled by its steampunk theme and amusing storyline. The characters are genuinely charming and the plot has been cleverly thought out – it’s guaranteed to be unlike any story you’ve read before. It’s a tale of peril, cave lizards and queens – a perfect read to enjoy during the remainder of the summer holidays.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

The Knot Impossible
by Barbara Else
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570041


Book Review: The Volume of Possible Endings, by Barbara Else

Available now in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_volume_of_possible_endings

The third book in Barbara Else’s award-winning children’s book series, Tales of Fontania, The Volume of Possible Endings will continue to enthral and intrigue New Zealand bookworms both young and old.

It tells the unusual tale of twelve-year-old Dorrity, the only child in her village, and Metalboy, the runaway experiment created by a king. Dorrity and Metalboy embark on an adventure that will take them from Owl Town to the Fontania palace; on the way they discover an enchanted book that claims to know the five possible endings to Dorrity’s life story. As she struggles to discover what her future holds, the secrets of her past begin to reveal themselves.

As everything Dorrity thought she could rely on forever vanishes, she begins to realise that the five endings of her story are one by one coming true – even when she doesn’t want them to. But can Dorrity change the future that is written for her in The Volume of Possible Endings? And do the endings really mean what they seem to?

While the evil Count Bale tries to cause great amounts of trouble for Dorrity and Metalboy, the two friends must trust each other as they work together to learn the truth about their pasts and avoid the Count. Without each other’s friendship, there is little chance that they will get out of this mess in one piece…

The Volume of Possible Endings introduces many new quirky and quaint characters into the Tales of Fontania universe. With rich prose, magic, adventure and a metal boy with a heart of red jasper, Barbara Else’s storytelling skills have reached a new level of total and utter brilliance. The fantasy world of Fontania is one that children will be visiting for many years to come.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

The Volume of Possible Endings
by Barbara Else
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271377

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards judge Barbara Else’s first impressions of the job ahead

Our convening judge for the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, Barbara Else, gives us her first reaction upon receiving the entries: ‘It is incredibly exciting, like the combination of a dozen birthdays with seven Christmasses.’pp_barbara_else_judge

What was your first impression of the books as you removed them from their boxes?
I have only just taken them out of the boxes they arrived in, and have sorted them into four boxes for the separate categories: YA fiction, junior fiction, picture books and non-fiction. Thanks goodness I have a spare room to put them in.  At  this very first glance, it looks to be an excellent year. I have a feast of reading ahead.

How many piles do you think you will end up with as the best rise to the top?
When I’ve judged or selected books and stories before, I’ve ended up with 4 piles for each category, not very articulately labelled something like ‘definitely not’ – ‘maybe not’ – ‘perhaps’ and ‘very possible’. I’ve always found that on a second reading books can shuffle between the piles.  The upwardly-mobile can surprise you.

How many reads do you anticipate giving each book by the end of the process? In particular, how many reads do you anticipate giving the winners?
I plan to read each book at least twice, and will need to read the long lists probably 4, 5 or even more times

When is your favourite time of day to read? Where is your favourite place to read?
Afternoon is best. That spare room of mine has lovely light and is very quiet. I think that reading all the books in the same environment will give each their best chance.

What, to you, defines a good book?
For me, a ‘good’ book satisfies by surprising me, giving me a little jolt in the heart, mind or brain. Let’s not debate here whether and how those three things are separate, but the very best books do all three at once. I want originality and flair. If a book is about something familiar and ordinary, I still want it to make me respond to that familiar element in a new way.

Thank you to Barbara for sharing her first reactions. Don’t forget, if you are publishing your children’s book in December this year, there is still time to enter it in the awards. The second submissions closing date is Friday 29 November 2013.