Book Review: 1918 Broken Poppies, by Des Hunt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_1918.jpg1918: Broken Poppies is the latest (and final) book in the Kiwis at War series, where well-known New Zealand authors write fictionalised accounts of the war for the YA market. It marks a departure from Des Hunt’s other books, which are usually modern-day, dealing with topical issues (such as bullying etc), and with a strong ecological or scientific bent to them. However, all of the trademark characteristics are there: short chapters, lots of action, and a wry sense of humour, designed to appeal to boys. It is based on the experiences of two of his uncles.

Henry Hunt starts life as a farmer’s son, working the land in the North Island of New Zealand. He’s hard-working, diligent and has a penchant for exploring. One day, he and his cousin George are exploring a cave on their property, when the roof collapses. Henry is buried, and almost dies, and only his cousin’s quick actions save his life. The fear of being buried alive, however, never quite leaves him. Then World War I happens, and George enlists. Henry follows him a year later, determined to fight by his side, but finds himself assigned, not to the Wellington group, but to the Otago. Here he makes friends, and catches the eye, and ire, of a superior officer, who seems determined to prove him a coward.

Whilst passing a group of refugees in France, Henry’s regiment pass a cart bearing a young girl and a small terrier. With little warning, bombs start raining down, and the child and dog become separated. After the shelling has stopped, Henry finds the dog – but is unable to return her to her owner. Poppy soon becomes a mascot for his squad, and her ratting skills earn her infamy. She provides comfort to the soldiers, keeps their tents free of vermin and delivers fresh meat to the cook (in the form of rabbits). Despite tragedy, the hardships of war, and suffering several life-changing injuries, Henry never forgets the promise he made to Poppy and her girl: that he would see them reunited.

The First World War was an horrific affair, and 1918: Broken Poppies spares few details on the unpleasantness of the terrain, pitted with crater holes, corpses and mud – a lot of mud – as well as the rats, the lice and many other obstacles the young soldiers had to endure even before facing off against the enemy. It truly brings the war to life, painting a vivid mental picture in the mind of the reader, without getting bogged down on descriptive prose. Brutally sad and undeniably engrossing, the easy language and fast moving plot should immerse anyone with any interest in military history, and should especially appeal to fans of Michael Morpurgo. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

1918: Broken Poppies
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432821

Previous books in the series:
1917: Machines of War, by Brian Falkner (not on our site)
1916: Dig for Victory , by David Hair
1915: Wounds of War,
by Diana Menefy
1914: Riding into War,
by Susan Brocker

Book Review: Sunken Forest, by Des Hunt

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sunken_forestMatt Smith’s life is turned upside down when his petrol-head father is sent to prison for illegal car racing. With the family’s main income earner behind bars, Matt is sent to live with his Nana, relocating from Hastings to Gisborne. The move brings with it a new school, a new teacher (the excellently named Mrs Snodgrass), new friendships, and a whole bunch of unexpected challenges.

Unfortunately for Matt, his Nana’s warning that “early friends aren’t always the good ones” couldn’t be more true of his two fast-friends at Oneroa Intermediate School, Jay and Cameron. The duo use Matt to help smuggle stolen goods out of school, and when Matt performs a random act of kindness, he’s later blamed for what seems to be a related crime.

Consequently, Matt is told he can’t go on school camp with his class to Auckland, and instead he attends a military-style wilderness camp with Cameron and Jay’s class at Lake Waikaremoana. As Matt negotiates making new friends – including a monstrous eel named Elsa – accusations continue to fly. Mr Klink believes the worst and Matt soon finds himself in deep water. Together with his new friends, he must use all his eco-science, detective and adventure skills not only to prove himself innocent, but to save the camp from potential disaster.

Another fabulous read by acclaimed New Zealand writer Des Hunt. I would strongly recommend this as a regular on every Intermediate school teacher’s read aloud list. I love how real and complicated Matt’s social background is, how his self-esteem plays into the relationships he forms, and how Matt’s story is woven into a rich, real-life setting in a way that champions eco-science and wilderness knowledge without becoming overbearing.

While I wasn’t so taken with a few of the secondary characters (namely Maddy, and her one-track-minded desire for revenge regardless of consequence), most in this eclectic cast of characters jump off the page, and the descriptions of Lake Waikaremoana and the surrounding area are stunning. I did wonder if perhaps Matt was a little too innocent – too much in the wrong place at the wrong time – though his shoplifting backstory and his father’s prison sentence do explain why he now has such a strong moral compass.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Sunken Forest is its ending. It’s an ending that wraps-up not just Matt’s story, but many of the secondary character’s arcs as well in a satisfying, logical way – very much a credit to an experienced writer well in his stride.

Reviewed by Emma Bryson

Sunken Forest
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434030

Book Review: Cool Nukes, by Des Hunt

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_cool_nukesDes Hunt has always had an interest in science and technology. I hadn’t read any of his books before, and I was encouraged to review this book by comments from my peers.

Cool Nukes is about a boy called Max and his 2 friends Cleo and Jensen, all of whom are involved in ProAx, a program designed for kids with special abilities. Max and Jensen’s professor believes in cold fusion and is trying to conduct an experiment to prove his theory. After the professor disappears, the teens discover clues and hints instructing them on how to build this device. Meanwhile, others are trying to access the plans and claim the invention for themselves.

I enjoyed the mystery and suspense of the plot and was always itching to turn the page. Cool Nukes is a good read for anyone interested in sci-fi, drama or mystery novels. I am looking forward to reading more of Des Hunt’s books in the future as I greatly enjoyed this one.

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston, age 14

Cool Nukes
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN  9781775433422

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

Book Review: Project Huia, by Des Hunt

Project Huia is shortlisted in the Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

In Project Huia, Des Hunt has oncecv_project_huia again found a winning formula that appeals to both young readers and his own conservation interests. In this book, Logan, the young male protagonist, is thrust back in history as his grandfather Jim recalls a period of unusual excitement and shenanigans from his own young life.

Jim and Logan travel back to the origins of the story and Logan is transported back in time as his grandfather relates the story of what is presumed to be the slaying of the last known huia. Throughout the book there is an air of expectation that the remains of that bird may be found. This is spurred on by a conservation scientist named Ana, who has her own secret mission, which is only partly revealed to Jim and Logan. She needs Jim to lead her to the site where the huia was last seen. She needs Logan to convince Jim to share his story. Jim needs to revisit his past for reasons that slowly reveal themselves.

Thwarting their efforts are two local louts. It soon transpires these two troublemakers are descendants of the Carson family, a family as notorious as the Huia’s extinction is in these parts. Jim had quarrelled badly with them as a boy, and the ill feeling and heartache is still palpable today. Logan is fated to re-enact some of the tension himself.

This is the story of adventure, revenge, bullying, and pointless extinction (of the huia). It is a thoroughly New Zealand story and the modern day action is well woven into historical and conservation aspects. It’s no surprise to me that this book is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Within the pages of the book, the huia, one of our most loved but now extinct birds, is brought back to life but it is also a compelling adventure and whodunit story.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

Project Huia
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN  9781775431763

Book Review: Project Huia, by Des Hunt

This book is available in bookstores now

It’s 1947, and Jim and his sister Mavis have seencv_project_huia something extraordinary in their backyard. A magnificent black huia – a bird thought to have been extinct for the past 40 years.  Concerned for the huia’s safety, Jim and Mavis decide to follow the bird down a rail tunnel and into a reserve. Then they learn there are people who want to harm the bird – and their adventure quickly becomes a race to save the bird’s life.

40 years later, many are eager to learn what happened to the last huia; and the only surviving person who knows is Jim. Now an old man, Jim is fighting cancer and never speaks about the fate of the bird…but a group of scientists need his story to unravel the mystery of the extinct species. With the help of his grandson Logan, Jim shows remarkable storytelling skills as he tells his tale. However, not everyone believes Jim’s story, and there is a dangerous hooded figure haunting their steps to find the bird. It’s up to Logan to help his grandfather prove himself, and to continue the battle to uncover the truth – to find the last huia…

Des Hunt’s novels never fail to amaze and inspire. Project Huia is an excellent tale full of adventure, mystery and action, written in a beautiful fashion that will enchant readers both young and old. This is a superb book, which will make you think differently about the way you see endangered species and remind you of the importance of family and loyalty.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

Project Huia
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775431763

Book review: Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt

Steel Pelicans is available in bookstores now.

I read Des Hunt’s new book in a day. Then I re-read it, just to experience the action and suspense again. I enjoy that Des Hunt’s writing is always set in familiar New Zealand settings.

Steel Pelicans was written in three parts, the first part set in Wollongong, Australia, the other two in Manukau and Port Waikato.

The main character’s name is Pelly. Pelly narrates the story, and expresses his feelings and thoughts of the many interesting events that take place throughout the book. Pelly lives in Australia, and tries to be a best friend, but what do you do when your friend is obsessed with making illegal explosives?

His parents decide to move to New Zealand, and so the poor boy is surrounded by strangers who make fun of his accent, miles away from his best friend. Of course, the story doesn’t end there.

He meets many new people, and runs into deep trouble along the way. Things get worse when his friend comes over to New Zealand, bringing danger and fireworks back with him.

Will things end in disaster?

Another thing I like is that the description is seemingly simple, yet it creates such vivid images. When Pelly and his new friend Afi meet shy, troubled Bee outside a chip shop, I could picture her picking at the old wooden tabletop, smell the ocean in the air and feel the goosebumps on my arms due to the cold evening breeze.

My favourite part was when Pelly climbed the pine tree to put the plastic snowman on top. Why was he putting a snowman on a tree? Grab the book and find out!

I recommend Steel Pelicans to both boys and girls aged from 10 to 14. I rate it highly because of the spectacular imagery and gripping climax.

Des Hunt also wrote Frog Whistle Mine and Cry of the Taniwha, which are two more fantastic reads.

By Tierney Reardon, age 12. Tierney also reviews for the Christchurch Kids Blog.

Steel Pelicans
by Des Hunt
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781869509538