Book Review: Toroa’s Journey, by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_toroas_journeyThis wonderful book is based on the true story of the 500th albatross chick to hatch at Otago’s Taiaroa Head breeding colony. It tells the narrative of the chick Toroa’s adventures after leaving the colony based on tracking information, but also includes fascinating facts about albatrosses to add another layer of depth to the story.

I love the language in Toroa’s Journey. It’s rich and interesting, and for a book that’s narrative non-fiction, it gives as much varied vocabulary to the reader as a picture books by Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley or Lynley Dodd. For example, “Toroa jerks his head from under his wing … he waddles toward her and nudges open her bill; swallowing the slurried seafood.” The use of such evocative verbs adds another layer to the text which will promote questions and discussion for young readers and listeners.

The illustrations are stunning, including an open-out four-page spread to show off the magnificent reach of the albatross’s wings. They catch the movement of the birds, wind and ocean beautifully, and the illustration of Toroa arriving at a plastic patch looks oily and stomach churning – which is as it should be.

Toroa encounters a commercial fishing ship and a plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean, and along with some facts about the vulnerability of chicks to introduced predators, this raises for the reader some environmental messages. These aren’t preachy or overpowering, just factually stated, and again, these are likely to start a discussion for readers. I don’t know what it is, but the estimates in the fact box about plastic waste were really sobering for me, possibly because I wasn’t expecting to read them then and there in a children’s book.

Whether your young reader loves animals, adventure, non-fiction or is interested in the environment, this will be a great book to read together, or for older children (7+), to read on their own. It’s interesting, gorgeously illustrated, and full of fascinating facts.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Toroa’s Journey
by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey
Published by Potton & Burton


Book Review: Three Cheers for Women!, by Marcia Williams

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_three_cheers_for_women“What’s this book about Dot?”

“Amazing, fantastic girls, Abe!”

“Boys do amazing fantastic things too!”

“Of course they do. But there are lots of books about them already!”

This introduction from the ‘narrators’ says it all really: this is a collection of over 70 amazing fantastic girls who have inspired and help shape our world, from Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt, to Malala Yousafzai: women’s rights activist.

Presented in an engaging comic strip format, each featured woman’s story is told in manageable bites across a double page spread, using fun and witty dialogue to keep the information interesting for younger readers, similar to the popular Horrible Histories series. Additional information features in the margins and the narrators keep up the banter throughout the book.

The range of women selected (and the author acknowledges who hard it was to select only a few from the thousands of inspirational and amazing women there are) features well-known names such as Jane Austen, Anne Frank, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth I, and Marie Curie. It has to be said that these well-known names are predominantly European, and this predominance is somewhat offset with the inclusion of other famous names such as Cleopatra, Cathy Freeman (Aboriginal Olympic gold medallist), Malala Yousfazai, Mae C Jemison (first African-American Woman in space), Wangari Maathai (Kenyan Peace Activist and Environmentalist).

It is the diverse range of accomplishments represented is wonderful to see – there are queens, sportswomen, creators, scientists and activists. Shared by all the women is a passion and belief in their worth and it is this important message that is there for all readers to see. Girls really can to anything they set their minds to.

The last three double spreads feature introductions to even more amazing women, with both familiar and new names featuring in a roll call of honour. It would have been great to see them have their own bigger spreads, but then the book would have ended up way too big to pick up! Perhaps the publishers could create a Three Cheers for Women – Vol 2?

As a highly readable non-fiction title, this will be a valuable resource for any primary or intermediate school library which can be used as a base for research projects or discussions about gender equality.

With the words of wisdom included and the stories of achievement and desire to help their communities, I sincerely hope it inspires both young girls and boys to find their own passions and way to make the world a better place for everyone – no matter who they are.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Three Cheers for Women!
by Marcia Williams
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406374865

Book Review: Regions of New Zealand, by Peter Dowling

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_regions_of_new_zealandTaking readers on a north to south journey through New Zealand’s regions, including off shore islands and territories, Regions of New Zealand blends historic events with current statistics and interesting facts and photos. It is a very current resource (it even includes the 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes), that is likely to find a home in every school and public library, but deserves a much wider audience. There’ll be new information for plenty of readers, regardless of age.

The book starts with an explanation of what constitutes a region, New Zealand’s regions from both a historical Māori perspective, and current local government arrangements. Then each region gets a double page spread, with a map, colour photos, facts and statistics (including when they were sourced and where from, allowing readers to check for updates). There is some Māori content; personally I would have liked more, but the book is an introduction, and there are plenty of places readers can find further information.

Aside from that, the only concern I had about the book is that it might date quickly, but by including the sources of statistical information there’s a level of future-proofing inbuilt into the book. I shared the book with a curious and avid 7 year old reader in my class, James, who enjoyed it a lot, and particularly loved discovering new facts. James is probably at the younger end of the market for Regions of New Zealand, and it would be a good research starting point for readers right into high school. Don’t overlook it as a gift for visitors and migrants, either!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Regions of New Zealand
by Peter Dowling
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506353

Book Review: Aotearoa, by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_aotearoa_the_new_zealand_storyGavin Bishop’s Aotearoa has been atop the Nielsen Bestsellers list virtually since its release. I spotted Gavin at the Storylines Hui the day after it was launch and he said ‘It sold 140 copies at the launch! I’ve never written a bestseller!’

Gavin has been writing and illustrating books for over 40 years. He has gone through many phases of illustration – the illustrations in this book are most similar in style to his The House that Jack Built, which was re-published a few years ago by Gecko Press, but also bring in elements (particularly in the people) of the broad style he used in Mister Whistler.

Aotearoa tells the story of our nation, from the big bang, via dinosaurs, through Kupe’s discovery of Aotearoa (so named by Kupe’s wife Kuramārōtini) and so on. My first favourite page – there are many – is the Voyages to Aotearoa, which depicts each of the waka that we know sailed to settle in New Zealand from Hawaiki. Along with people, came gods, and the stories of our gods are flawlessly woven into the narrative.

As iwi settled the land, each named its sacred mountain, and set about naming the birds, fish and insects of Aotearoa – and the land: Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui. On the following spread, came war: the Māori war god Tūmatauenga makes several appearances as our people go to war. While disputes over land led to fighting, the first Pākehā arrived. Gavin takes us inside their minds to show how they drew the coastline of New Zealand, and the illustrations give further information about what was introduced and traded.

Something notable if you have never read a history book that has an integrated world-view of New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi isn’t signed until page 20 – one-third of the way through the book. There was a lot of history in Aotearoa before Pākehā came and carved it up, and this book ensures the younger generation doesn’t forget it. I will also add, for me the best parts of the book are those which tell about the settlement of New Zealand by all its peoples.

From the late 19th century on, Gavin does break-out ‘survey’ pages telling about progress in different areas of life and society. Transport, employment, houses, education. Each of these are finely drawn, but as somebody who tends to view things in a linear manner, I couldn’t help but want the images to sit in a more time-oriented manner!

The things he brings out though are wonderful, and there are several juxtapositions that made me smile to myself – in housing, these three things are close together: 1937: State houses were built for those who could not afford their own; 2008: A house in Masterton designed by the Wellington firm Melling Morse Architects; 2015: The number of homeless people who slept on the streets increased.

Gavin has also very cleverly given potted histories of famous architects, significant visionaries, and so on throughout his illustrations. His war illustrations are majestic artworks of the sort that I hope go on tour through Painted Stories.

I will stop myself gushing over every page and think about audience for a second. There is nothing that Gavin has done that hasn’t got kids in the centre of his thinking. The lollies page is fantastic; the clothes page – which involves many members of his own family – could inspire a class study of fashions using old family photos; the sports section is brilliant – and of course the All Blacks are running across the South Island. The disasters section is a starter page for 100s of school projects in the future. He has chosen famous people that children can relate to (Jamie Curry, Annabel Langbein, Witi Ihimaera, Lorde) and singers, writers, actors, dancers and artists as well. I’m pleased to see he has drawn himself in there.

Gavin has not been afraid to put his worldview across. ‘1840: The Treaty of Waitangi gave Māori the rights of British citizens. But for over 100 years it was ignored and ruled irrelevant to New Zealand law and government’. He has told briefly of land marches, protests, Bastion Point and Moutoa Gardens, hikoi, and wrongful Anti-terror raids. He has also called out those who are destroying our land: ‘Careless use of the environment threatens all life.’ Possibly the cutest drawing of the south island has it turned into a possum…

But the book ends with hope. Electric transport is being brought in. Kāpiti Island is a bird sanctuary, the Southern Ocean is a whale sanctuary. There are good things happening in agriculture. And finally, we have children flying the flag for the future. Just perfect.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, you will learn something from this book. You will understand how history has formed our land. Gavin has used the academic work of our most important historians to focus his drawings, and he has done a superlative job. Step out of the way, everybody, the award goes to…

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770350


Book Review: Today in New Zealand History, by Atkinson, Green, Phipps and Watters

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_today_in_new_zealand_historyOne of the joys of aging is picking up a book like this and recognising that nearly half of the events happened in my lifetime. I remember most of them too. This is not a highs and lows, shockers and disasters type of  book. Instead, we have a wonderful collection of events which include the quirky (introduction of Jockey Y fronts), the disasters, the political triumphs, cultural firsts (Anna Pavalova dancing here) and plenty of sports. My husband enjoyed the sports clips as they were often the lesser-known events. Interspersed with the events, are the birth of a variety of New Zealanders on this day. These little vignettes could be a book on their own, but included in the text and photos of the main items, they add another layer of enjoyment.

The collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and the Alexander Turnbull Library has resulted in a book that is both informative and visually captivating. There is a photo of Michael Joseph Savage on the steps of the Social Security building. It is all art deco and serious but captures the amazing introduction in 1938 of the Social Security Act. The photo of the opening of the Christchurch Town Hall also made me nostalgic, for I sang at the opening and attended a meeting there on the morning of the quake.

By uniting two such esteemed groups, this team have produced a book that rises above the usual coffee table pretty. I found the clear and easy to read text gave me enough information without boring me through detail.

As a teacher, I am constantly saddened by the lack of historical knowledge shown by my pupils. I feel that a knowledge of the past enables us to truly face the challenges of the future. As New Zealanders we have travelled a long way in a short time. This book would be a useful aid to help students focus each day, on an event. My husband commented that he would be able to do this using just sports as there are often 2-3 stories for each day, and sports feature often. There is a pupil like this in every class.

Add to all this a hefty hard cover and wonderful photos. What a great Christmas present for those baby boomer parents who can relive their childhood and educate the grandchildren at the same time.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Today in New Zealand History
by Neill Atkinson, David Green, Gareth Phipps and Steve Watters
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593003

Book Review: From Moa to Dinosaurs, by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

From Moa to Dinosaurs is a finalist in the Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction, part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_from_moa_to_dinosaurs.jpgPotton and Burton have really taken on the task of ensuring quality nature texts are available in New Zealand for adult and child alike. This book is another in the explore and discover series.

Here we travel back in time to view the beginnings of life in New Zealand. The first section explains the formation of New Zealand from Gondwana. Clear diagrams and text lead us to the following chapters where we look at different habitats and their inhabitants.

Each section includes delightful illustrations that are bright and simple. I liked the separation of facts into boxes with easy bullet points. Likewise, there were boxes called How do we Know? These gave the scientific basis for the information presented. This is a successful format used in the previous titles and ensures that fact and fiction are distinguished.

The language is easy to follow but a useful glossary is included at the back for the more difficult ideas. An index also allows easy retrieval of information. Quality texts like this are essential in the classroom and allow research away from the Internet in manageable chunks. The format means the text is useful right across the primary levels. It provides a starting point for more detailed study but a good overview for a lesson.

This book would be an essential for a school library, but I think the whole series provides a great wealth of information for a family. Sometimes it is as easy as buying the set to start a love of the natural world in your kids. After reading From Moa to Dinosaurs I went and found my geologist’s hammer, grabbed a grandchild and headed off on a fossil hunt in the foothills.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

From Moa to Dinosaurs: Explore and Discover ancient New Zealand
by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503109

Book Review: The Genius of Bugs, by Simon Pollard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_genius_of_booksImagine you are a bug living in a bug world, where a blade of grass is as tall as a tree! All around you are other bugs with secret weapons on search and destroy missions. Lurking behind every leaf are mini-masters of disguise waiting to catch you out.

Bugs have been on earth for almost 400 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs and are still here, 65 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. What these critters do is really clever. The genius of bugs is revealed through their use of weapons, feats of engineering, scams and deceptions, and incredible teamwork.

This is a great book to introduce children to the magic of bugs. The use of in-built weapons by the Bombardier beetle, the marvel of miniature engineering of the Dragonfly and how a Portia jumping spider uses its exceptional intelligence to hunt other spiders.

I read this book with 5 ½-year-old Abby. We pored over the pages with her exclaiming ‘ooh yuk’a lot, but fascinated all the same. Afterwards, we took her magnifying glass outside with her net and bug catcher to see what we could find. We found a fine collection of moths, flies, spiders and snails, examined them at length and finally released them back into the wild.

This is a great book with lots of information and facts about bugs. It was great to see a page dedicated to genius bugs from New Zealand, and overall this is a great book for the aspiring biologist.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Genius of Bugs
by Simon Pollard
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994136213