Book Review: The Thunderbolt Pony, by Stacy Gregg

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_thunderbolt_ponyIf you are a horse-loving tweenager, Stacy Gregg is a rockstar.  With her crazily popular Pony Club Secrets and Pony Club Rivals series and her more recent stand-alone novels, Stacy is one of New Zealand’s most popular children’s authors; both in New Zealand and overseas. Fans were queuing up to buy her newest release, The Thunderbolt Pony, last month without even needing to know the title or the plot; she is that popular.

Stacy’s newest novel is the first by her to be set in New Zealand. And what a tale it tells. Twelve year old Evie, already battling obsessive compulsive disorder after the recent death of her father, faces a new trauma when the Kaikoura earthquake strikes. Evie’s house in the small town of Parnassus is destroyed and her mother is badly injured, needing medical evacuation. When Evie is told she needs to flee the devastation with her neighbours to get to Kaikoura to meet a navy ship, she refuses to abandon her beloved animals and is determined to find a way to stay together. And thus begins her epic trek with her faithful pony Gus, feisty cat Moxy, and loyal dog Jock.

This is a thrilling read. The description of the physical experience of the big quake and its many aftershocks felt much too familiar. There were also far too many heart-in-throat moments of peril and danger. I found myself reading ‘just one more page’ on several occasions because I couldn’t bear to put the book down until I knew all of our animals were safe.

As well as the overarching plot about animals and earthquakes, there is a sub-story about Evie’s anxiety issues and counselling sessions. Stacey handles the topic of mental health with grace and empathy. Evie’s challenges with OCD and anxiety are not minimised nor used for comedic purposes. Her suffering is real and its treatment is explored gently and kindly, through the metaphor of Greek mythology.

This would be an extremely useful book to use to open a dialogue with children if they are facing any similar mental health challenges of their own, whether or not their anxiety is caused by a bereavement or earthquakes. Our hero is a great role model for anyone battling anxiety; she comes through her ordeal stronger and wiser: ‘… you could waste your life just waiting for the future to happen.  Sometimes we’re so busy anticipating things, we miss out on the moment that we’re living in right now.’

Evie’s story is one of courage, friendship, overcoming obstacles, and learning that there are some things we cannot control. It is an adventure story, an animal story, and a very New Zealand story; a great read for Kiwi kids and overseas friends.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Thunderbolt Pony
by Stacey Gregg
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008257019

 

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Book Review: Father Christmas’s Fake Beard, by Terry Pratchett

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_father_christmass_fake_beard.jpgFather Christmas’s Fake Beard is an hilarious story made up of emails or memos within Arnco Supersaver Store from various departmental heads regarding the employment of a Mr Nichols. Apparently Mr Nichols is from the north of Lapland and as a Equal Opportunities Employer they were not going to discriminate against someone from Lapland. He will provide his own costume and will not require false whiskers.

Father Christmas takes upon himself to let the children that come to Father Christmas’s grotto “help themselves” from the selection of gifts, and he offers children the chance to ask for different toys. Reindeer droppings appear overnight which in itself is suspicious, as all of the reindeer are made of plastic. Stuff goes missing from the DIY section, and the temperature in the toy department mysteriously seems to be very cold. And what could possibly see an employee need to leave early on Christmas Eve as he has another “job” to go to?

Ten other stories are included in this book. These stories are amazingly wonderful, for either a read-alone or a book for sharing with a younger child. The stories have titles such as The Blackbury Pie,  Judgement Day or Father Christmas, The Abominable Snow-baby, The Twelve Gifts of Christmas (another version of the twelve days of Christmas – I like this one better!)

I’m keeping this aside for 6 ½ year old granddaughter Abby for Christmas. She can read but doesn’t read my reviews – YET!!! She’s going to love it.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard
by Terry Pratchett
Published by Doubleday
9780857535504

Book Review: Dinosaur Trouble – The Runaway Coat, by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dinosaur_trouble_the_runaway_coatMost children love stories about dinosaurs and this book is no exception. This particular book is slightly different in that it goes back to cave man time where animal skins (and not much else) were worn as clothes. Yikes, fancy that!

These skins, though, were not nice and soft and free of vermin, oh no these ones had ticks and fleas and other revolting things like maggots that crawled all over the wearer of the garments.

A little boy called Arg is cold, but not just cold, actually just about freezing. Arg is different than other cave people.  He has a lot less hair and is always cold. When cave people get really cold they wear furs – fresh ones from a mastodon. I had to google to find out what a mastodon was – similar to a woolly mammoth, but not the same – but they may have roamed the earth together, according to my source.

Arg has one coat made out of a skin of a sabre-tooth tiger.  It was not as warm as mastodon fur but at least this one didn’t have maggots crawling all over it… His sister Hng is not very nice to her brother – most aren’t, but she is meaner than most.  She won’t let her poor hairless brother get closer to the fire so poor old Arg is frozen – so cold he thinks his brain may freeze.

Arg keeps Krrk-Krrk, his pet dinosaur, under his coat – but dinosaurs are cold-blooded which makes Arg even colder. Poor Arg!!  To make matter worse Krrk-Krrk chucks up a wonderful geyser of vomit which explodes from under Arg’s coat. Being so cold, the vomit freezes.

This is a great story which I know our 3-year-old granddaughter is going to love.  Her love of toilet humour and dinosaurs is well known in the family.  They eventually grow out of this sort of humour – which to my mind is a bit of a shame!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Dinosaur Trouble: The Runaway Coat
by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433682

Book Review: Ngā Atua Māori Gods, by Robyn Kahukiwa

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_nga_atua_maori_godsThe blurb on the back of this large picture book reads: Aotearoa is home to many marvellous gods. They are special. They are unique. They are awesome. It’s a pretty good description of the book itself – special, unique and awesome.

Many New Zealanders will be familiar with some of the Māori Gods such as Tāne, Papatūānuku and Ranginui. There are many more (not all covered in the book), and even people well-versed in Māori lore may discover new information in Kahukiwa’s book. Gods are introduced to the reader with their realm of influence, and a small amount of additional information to add flavour and interest. The amount of information is well balanced for a picture book – there was enough there to keep my class of 6 years engaged and interested without overwhelming them, and for older readers who want to find out more, it gives you a starting point.

The star of the book is Robyn Kahukiwa’s illustrations. They are just as stunning as you would expect from one of New Zealand’s top artists. They are colourful, powerful and vibrant, and convey the mana and fierceness of the gods.

This is one of those essential books that every New Zealand home, school and public library should have. Whether or not you’re Māori, it speaks to our shared heritage as New Zealanders, the stories that underpin our special part of the world. It would make a great gift for children up to the age of about 9 or 10 (Kahukiwa has dedicated it to her six year old grandson), and as a teacher I can definitely recommend it as a gift for an early childhood or primary teacher or library. Go buy it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Ngā Atua Māori Gods
by Robyn Kahukiwa
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506261

 

Book Review: Feel a Little: Little Poems About Big Feelings, by Jenny Palmer, illustrated by Evie Kemp

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_feel_a_little_NZSharing our feelings is not only important for adults. The benefits of emotional literacy can be seen in children of all ages. This book is a collaboration by two people who addressed the need for this. It began as an online project where an emotion was featured each week. The poem for each emotion combines catchy rhymes with beautifully vibrant illustrations. There are 14 emotions in the book, a rainbow of expressions and images, that use colour to reinforce ideas. Following the success of the venture, the poems were gathered into this hard cover book which is best suited for 7-11 year olds.

While the poems are quite long and complex, they would make a useful starter as an educational focus. I could see myself in teaching, using a poem each week and basing activities on these. Movement, music and art would flow naturally from discussions about, “When I feel Sad”. In the home, the book might be read over a number of weeks allowing for family discussions about times when we have felt that emotion. I would struggle to read the whole book in a sitting, but do not feel this was the intended purpose of the authors.

Feel a Little is an exciting collaboration because it addresses the emotional needs of children in words and images. By choosing to publish these poems they will access a wider audience and be useful in many situations. My copy has already gone to my Grandaughter’s preschool who intend to use it in their programmes. That must be a sure sign of a successful book.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Feel a Little: Little Poems About Big Feelings
by Jenny Palmer, illustrated by Evie Kemp
Published by Little Love
ISBN 9780473384456

Book Review: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay

Available in bookshops nationwide.Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_monster_calls_special“He heard the creaking and cracking of wood again groaning like a living thing, like the hungry stomach of the world growling for a meal.” Fourteen-year-old Conor O’Malley isn’t entirely surprised to wake up one night and discover a monster at the window. He has been expecting it for years and quite frankly, it is not as terrifying as the nightmare that has been plaguing him. The one he refuses to think about.

And now the Yew tree on the hill has somehow come to life and has grabbed him… and yet Conor is not afraid: “Shout all you want,” Conor shrugged, barely raising his voice. “I’ve seen worse.”

The next time the Yew tree monster returns, It and Conor meet in the dark where the monster reveals Its purpose. It will return to tell Conor three tales from Its vast and ancient history. In return, on the fourth visit, Conor must tell It a tale – the tale of his Truth. Conor is rightly incredulous – surely stories are not what monsters come after you for? However, this is no ordinary monster and a story is what it demands. ‘Stories are wild creatures,’ the monster said. ‘When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?’

To get to Conor’s truth, we follow a beautifully written coming of age story of a young boy trying to come to terms with his mother’s grave illness and the impact it has on him. With an absent father and a cold and aloof grandmother, Conor has no-one to help him deal with the inevitable. Instead he chooses to fervently believe she will get better and refuses to talk about it, secluding himself from friends and sympathetic teachers at school.

And what of the monster’s stories? Three clever fables that strive to show Conor that life can be unfair and things are not always as they appear; good and evil is not always easy to determine; good people do bad things, and bad people can do good things.

Powerful and gripping writing, accompanied by dark and vivid black and white sketch illustrations propel you through the story, reading faster to get to what is going to happen next. To see how Conor is faring, to see if he is going to be all right. And to see what the monster is going to reveal to him: (*ever so slight spoiler alert) “You do not write your life with words,’ the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”

This wonderful story was first published in 2011 and this re-release is a beautifully presented hardback edition complete with colour photos and interviews with the author and the actors who are bringing this story to life. The extra goodies complete the whole background to the story and bring extra depth to the tale.

Author Patrick Ness has said of this book: ‘A Monster Calls (is) never solely a book for children. A good story should be for everyone.’ And it is.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A Monster Calls (Special Collector’s Edition)
by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Published by Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406395771

Add these authors into your popularity stakes this Christmas

While approximately half of all international book sales are made up by sales of books for Children and Young Adults, less than 1/3 of NZ book sales are in the Children and Young Adult category. Why is this? The talent is certainly here – perhaps it is a matter of name recognition?

Looking at the bestsellers charts for international Children’s & YA, parents and kids buy based on author name. Right now, Andy Griffiths is hovering at the top of the charts for his Treehouse series. David Walliams also sticks on the chart like glue: I didn’t even realise he’d written seven books until his visit to the Auckland Writers’ Festival made that clear. In the domestic market, names like Lynley Dodd, and Kiwi story author Bob Darroch stick around, with backlist sales being incredibly strong.

With this in mind, here are a whole load of still-living, possibly-overlooked amazing NZ authors that you should bring into your child’s reading world as early as you can.

Picture Book Authors

Donovan Bixley
cv_little_bo_peepDonovan is New Zealand’s king of expressive illustration. His sheep in Little Bo Peep and More (Upstart Press) are hilarious, and his illustrations of kid’s classics Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm (Hachette NZ) are brilliantly original. With several original stories under his belt now – the award-winning Monkey Boy (Scholastic NZ, 2014), for one – I can’t wait to see more.

cv_ghoulish_getupsFifi Colston
Home costume creation must-have Ghoulish Get-ups (Scholastic NZ) is just the latest in a great range of books that multi-talented creative Fifi Colston has to offer. Her award-winning Wearable Wonders (Scholastic NZ)  is essential for any young creative soul, and she has illustrated more books than I can count, in a career spanning 30 years. The Red Poppy, written by David Hill (Scholastic NZ), was just gorgeous, and Itiiti’s Gift, with Melanie Drewery (Puffin), is another classic.

Juliette MacIver
cv_yak_and_gnuWith her latest picture book, Yak and Gnu (Walker Books), being her 12th picture book in 5 years, Juliette MacIver and her flawless rhyming verse have become one of the perennials of the NZ book world. Her first book, Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam (Scholastic NZ), is the boys’ favourite; my personal favourite from her backlist is Toucan Can (Gecko Press). Most of her books are illustrated by the equally wonderful Sarah Davis.

cv_trainsCatherine Foreman
Catherine Foreman has a way with words for the younger kids in your family. Her 2015 book, The Roly-Poly Baby (Scholastic NZ), is a lovely short tale for your adventurous baby. Her 2013 series ‘Machines & Me’ still comes out most nights in our family – Trains in particular. Take note, writers of NZ – we need more good books about trains!

Ruth Paul
cv_stompRuth’s latest is the third in a group of dinosaur books, What’s the Time, Dinosaur? (Scholastic NZ) Not only are Ruth’s illustrations delightful, she can even rhyme! Our family favourites are Stomp! (board book just released), Two Little Pirates , and The King’s Bubbles (all Scholastic NZ).

Sally Suttoncv_zoo_train
All aboard the Zoo Train (Walker Books)! Sally is another fantastic picture book writer that isn’t anywhere near as well-known as she ought to be. Every child needs a copy of Roadworks (Walker Books). Be ready to hide it when it becomes a must-read Every Single Night. There are two follow-ups too – Demolition, and Construction.

Junior Fiction & Non-fiction

Kyle Mewburn
cv_dragon_knightKyle Mewburn has collaborated with Donovan Bixley for both of his recent junior fiction series’, Dinosaur Rescue (8 books, Scholastic NZ), and Dragon Knight. Begun early in 2015, this series is already 4 books strong. Both of these series are full of silly laughs for lovers of Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with a bit of Horrible Histories for good measure. He also has a 24-title-strong picture book list too: Duck’s Stuck (Scholastic NZ) and No Room for a Mouse (Scholastic Aus) are family favourites.

cv_cool_nukesDes Hunt
Cool Nukes author Des Hunt specialises in action-packed, environmentally-conscious writing. He has written about glaciers (Shadows in the Ice), mining (Frog Whistle Mine) and treasure-hunting (Cry of the Taniwha). There is something in his 22-book strong backlist for every adventure-loving 8-12-year-old.

Elizabeth Pulford
cv_sanspell‘Bloodtree Chronicles’ author Elizabeth Pulford is an incredibly diverse writer, writing for every age range. Her Scholastic fairy series Lily was published worldwide, and her most recent picture book Finding Monkey Moon (Candlewick Press) is being feted all over the globe. Junior Fiction series ‘Bloodtree Chronicles’, beginning with Sanspell, is perfect for the magic-loving kids in your life.
Philippa Werrycv_anzac_day_the_new_zealand_story
Author of non-fiction titles Anzac Day and Waitangi Day (New Holland), Philippa is another multi-talented author, writing ably across age ranges. Her most recent books have focused on war, and the New Zealand experience of war, but an old favourite of mine is junior fiction title The Great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off.

WW1 series, Scholastic NZ
cv_1915_wounds_of_warScholastic has a current book series commemorating New Zealanders’ wartime adventures. This began last year, with 1914: Riding into War, by Susan Brocker (another great underrated writer), then 1915: Wounds of War, by Diana Menefy (you guessed it, another). It will go for another three years, and is good reading for kids who enjoy Michael Morpurgo and other war-focussed writers.

Ned Barraud & Gillian Candler
cv_in_the_bushNed and Gillian have paired up on four books about New Zealand nature so far, and each of them have been extraordinarily good. In the Bush is the latest from this pair, but there is also On the Beach, In the Garden, and Under the Ocean. All are published by Potton& Burton. So, no matter where you are going this summer, there is a book in this range for you. Another kiwi author who writes and illustrates in the same area is Andrew Crowe.

cv_new_zealand_hall_of_fameMaria Gill
Most recently, Maria is known for her ‘Hall of Fame’ books – New Zealand Hall of Fame and New Zealand’s Sports Hall of Fame; but she has also got a huge backlist of nature publishing under her belt. If it explodes (Rangitoto, Eruption), has feathers (Call of the Kokako, Bird’s Eye View) or indeed fins (Save our Seas), she is bound to have written about it. Get your eco-ranger onto her books now!

Young Adult Fiction
David Hill
cv_first_to_the_topMy Brother’s War and The Deadly Sky (Penguin NZ) are just the most recent in a very long list of books for young adults that the wonderful David Hill has produced. He has recently branched into picture book writing, with Red Poppy and First to the Top (Penguin, 2015). In his YA list, his sensitive portrayal of awkward teendom, and his wit, is what sets him apart from others.

cv_evies_warAnna Mackenzie
Author of the recent release Evie’s War, Anna Mackenzie has been an essential part of the YA scene in New Zealand for many years. The Sea-Wreck Stranger was the first in a series exploring the fate of a stranger in a close-knit community. Cattra’s Legacy and Donnel’s Promise took us back into history, and reminded me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s books, with their fierce heroine.


Brian Falkner

cv_recon_team_angel_vengeanceRecon Team Angel (Walker Books) is the most recent series from Falkner, and it is a must-read for lovers of the ‘Cherub’ series. He began his writing career with junior fiction, incorporating the Warriors (The Flea Thing) and Coca Cola (The Real Thing); then moved into future-tech YA, with Brain Jack and The Tomorrow Code. He is a master of fast-paced action-packed adventure fiction.

Finally, a few you ought to know by now: Kate De Goldi, Elizabeth Knox, Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager, Bernard Beckett, and Ella Hunt. Introduce your teens to them, and they’ll read all of their books. They are brilliant. See my post from a couple of years ago for more about teen fiction writers in NZ.

by Sarah Forster