Book Review: Dawn Raid, by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith

Dawn Raid is a finalist in The Wright Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction, in the NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. 

cv_dawn_raidAnother in the very good Scholastic series – My New Zealand Story, Dawn Raid is told from the perspective of 13 year old Sofia Savea, who lives in Cannon’s Creek, Porirua. Her story starts with the opening of the first McDonald’s in New Zealand. Sofia is typical of a lot of Kiwi children at that age – concerned with friendships and having enough money to buy her dream pair of white boots. She gets a milk run to help with buying clothes.

The book seeks to explain ‘Dawn Raids’ through the eyes of a typical Samoan family. At school Sofia uses school speeches to explain about her culture, then the impact of raids on the community. Mirroring this, Sofia’s family are personally touched by a raid, and experience great upset and confusion as a result. Multiple voices and perspectives are acknowledged. The support from the community after the raid – legal advice and the role of the Polynesian Panthers was interesting to learn about. The book further references Dame Whina Cooper’s long march to parliament, and David Lange’s legal help (this is of course prior to him entering politics).

I really liked how Sofia’s character developed over the course of the book, from a somewhat reserved person, to a student who confidently delivers a powerful speech on an issue close to her family.

This book is suitable for ages 10-15, and is a fictionalised account of an era in New Zealand characterised by a lot of political protest. As a resource to learn about racism, politics and how media bias can direct the wider conversation, it is very powerful book.

I’m so glad that this series is so wide ranging and has such a great range of writers behind it. Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith is an Invercargill-based writer, and this is her first book.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Dawn Raid
by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434757

 

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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: See You When I See You, by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Erikksson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_see_you_when_I_see_youSee You When I See You is the fifth book in the Dani series, about a girl starting the second year of school. The previous four books set the scene for Dani, a girl whose mother is dead and whose Dad spent a long time in hospital recently recovering from an accident. Understanding this context is useful, as without it the story seems oddly complex.

Dani has a bad start to a special day when her Dad asks her if it is OK for his friend Sadie to come over and cook dinner. It is clear from the story that Dani is not happy about this.

That day it is time for Dani’s annual school trip to the Skansen Zoo. The children go on a bus to the zoo, get a lecture about what to do if they are lost and happily have close encounters with some animals. Sadly, two of Dani’s classmates are mean to her, and in her distress she runs away. She remembers to follow the instructions of her teacher, and returns to the last place she saw her class. Suddenly she comes across her best friend, Ella. Ella is at a different school and the children make the most of the happy chance to go off and play.

The books are designed for children aged 5-7 and the publisher, Gecko Press, notes that ‘The series fills a gap of good reading for five- to seven-year-olds. It gives them a proper grown-up reading experience that is accessible but also has emotional weight.’

My seven-year-old daughter very much enjoyed the book, and I could hear the voice of seven-year-old’s in the story. With a seven-year-old’s understanding, not everything in the story is explained. We both enjoyed the illustrations, which show a child’s view of the action.

Books from this series would make a great gift for young readers, particularly those who would enjoy reading their own chapter books.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford.

See You When I See You
by Rose Lagercrantz
Illustrated by Eva Erikksson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571307

Book Review: The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser, by David McGill

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_plot_to_kill_peter_FraserThe Plot to Kill Peter Fraser is a novel set in immediate post World War Two Wellington.  As such, it provides a fascinating insight into daily life as New Zealand starts to recover from war.  The protagonist is former detective Dav Delany (a character continuing from the book The Death Ray Debacle) who is back home after a long war with his refugee wife, Rina.

The book opens with a German political detainee swimming from Matiu Somes Island to the mainland to deliver mail and collect contraband. One letter is to warn Peter Fraser that an attack on his life is planned. On his return to the island the detainee is drowned by other prisoners. The scene then switches to a political rally with Peter Fraser in Auckland. It is Dan’s first day back in New Zealand and his focus is to start a new life. At the conclusion of the rally, he intervenes to stop a knife attack and quickly finds himself reemployed and transferred to Wellington to investigate a threat on Peter Fraser.

The author, David McGill, is a prolific author and the research he undertook is evident throughout the book. I was fascinated to learn more about Peter Fraser, and his role in the set-up of the United Nations. Peter undertook to get protections for smaller nations, which put him at odds with the previous war allies. He also protested the ‘great nations’ having veto powers. Therefore, the idea that someone might wish to remove his influence by harming him is plausible. David McGill includes notes at the end of the novel, directing the reader to further learn about Peter Fraser.

The book then proceeds in a more typical ‘whodunnit’ fashion with numerous likely suspects. I really valued much of the detail in the book – the world building was clear and a real strength. Unfortunately, I think the author gives too big a clue to the identity of the assassin – the ending would have been a little more shocking for the revelation without the foreshadowing. However, I was left with a real desire to know what happened after the story ended, and if there was a further book in the series I’d be keen to read it.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser
by David McGill
Published by Silver Owl Press
ISBN 9780992262259

Book Review: House of Robots – Robot Revolution, by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_robot_revolutionJames Patterson is one of the most prolific authors today. He co-authors a number of series with up and coming authors. Most feature his trademark of short, attention grabbing chapters. While famous for his adult series of Alex Cross novels, James has a significant range of young adult books, including the Middle School series and this edition from the House of Robots series. In his spare time, Patterson is involved in a lot of charitable work supporting youth literacy, independent bookstores and education scholarships. It makes it very easy to support a best-selling author who is passionate about engaging children in reading!

House of Robots: Robot Revolution may seem lengthy at 316 pages, but the story is broken into short chapters with many illustrations throughout. At the heart of the story is Sammy, who lives with his sister and parents in a robot-filled house. His mother is an inventor, who has designed a number of household robots. One robot, E, has a special purpose: he attends school for Sammy’s sister, Maddie. Maddie has an auto-immune illness that prevents her from leaving the house. As the story starts Sammy’s parents are distracted,and the robots are not working properly. This causes trouble for Sammy at home and school.

In many ways this is quite a sweet story. While it is clear that the parents are very busy, and that Maddy’s illness is a serious household concern, the story’s focus is on Sammy and school. The characters are well defined, and stop short of being cliched – I was left with a very sympathetic view of a busy family who look out for each other. The story includes a number of amusing robot-related disasters, and my ten-year-old daughter was often heard laughing out loud while reading this book. We have since sought out the other books in this series.

It is a very entertaining read, and one that is suitable for children aged 9-12.

A review from Hannah (10)

Robots! You would think that they help the house run better, right? Right!? Well, not really. These robots are sick of their job but support a little girl (Maddie). They adore her but rebel because they think E, a robot who goes to school for Maddie, gets all the best care.

A science fair must be won, however a snobby, rich and intelligent boy is crushing hopes and dreams by using perfection as a base for all his work. Can Sammy beat the new kid and save his sister from her prison in her room because of a disease? Can his best friend stay loyal all the way? Can they see the new kid make his biggest mistake yet in front of public, or will Sammy be forever humiliated by his whole school? Find out the answers in the book!

I love this book and I have read it over and over again.

I give this book 8/10 bunny power!

Book review by Emma Rutherford and Hannah Wong-Ming

House of Robots: Robot Revolution
Written by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Published by Arrow
ISBN 9781784754242

 

 

Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, by Lily Collins

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_unfilteredLily Collins is a popular actress and Instagram star who has just released her autobiography. Her book, Unfiltered, is a series of essays about her life. There is a particular emphasis on relationships, being true to yourself and her early years.

As I was unfamiliar with her work this was a completely fresh introduction to Lily Collins and I found her writing very easy to read. Lily has written one essay about her father (the musician Phil Collins) and her relationship with her mother, who mostly raised her, flows through the other essays. Most interesting is her determination – she decided teen magazines needed actual teen input and through a lot of work talked her way into a regular column in ELLE Girl magazine. This lead to other freelance work (while still in her teens) for Teen Vogue and other publications. This lead to TV journalism work – and from there to acting. It is a really interesting story.

Like many essay collections, it suffers from a lack of cohesion. It felt like many subjects were not discussed in depth, or conflicted with information previously discussed. One chapter discussed an abusive relationship – but the vagueness of detail lessened the impact – it was mentioned obliquely, then she moved on.

As a structure for an autobiography it made for somewhat disjointed reading. It is a shame, as there were some interesting events and experiences that might have made more sense in a more traditional chronological format.

Her main point in the book is to be yourself. This fits with her main charity focus – peer support and bullying prevention. Lily was involved in peer support programmes as a student and has been involved in youth advocacy for counselling centres. It is always nice to hear people’s accounts of what they remembered (and used) from High School days. She is also involved in ‘We day’ – a children’s advocacy charity.

At the end of the book there are links to resources to deal with issues raised in the book. I note this because the book deals with eating disorders and relationship violence. For this reason I would recommend the book for older teenagers.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me
by Lily Collins
Published by Ebury Press
ISBN 9781785034107

Book review: The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_mothers_promise.jpgThe Mother’s Promise opens with Alice learning she has cancer. Like any mother, her first thought is for her child. Alice is too busy to have cancer, let alone surgery. Alice’s daughter Zoe suffers from social anxiety, and going to school is painful for her. They are a tight unit, with no suitable family or friends to support them. Alice finds the idea of a week in the hospital impossible. Kate, her pregnant cancer care nurse is worried about the lack of support and calls Sonja, a social worker who has some concerns about her own relationship.

Together, the women in this story are brought together by Alice’s treatment. As the story progresses the women become more and more involved until finally a previously unknown connection is revealed. It was clear from the very beginning that Alice and Zoe are a very tight unit who, while experiencing difficulties, feel like they are doing well by themselves. The forced and unwelcome involvement of Kate and Sonja leads to small opportunities to change their lives.

A Mother’s Promise is cleverly written. Different chapters take each woman’s voice and while the story opens with Alice, each of the women are dealing with their own issues. I enjoyed the depth of the characters and particularly enjoyed reading about Zoe and her experience of social anxiety. I liked the themes of belonging and creating your own family, and I really enjoyed the development of the characters. Zoe in particularly goes through a lot of changes – perhaps reflecting her young age and her potential for change. The adult characters are forced to reflect on their past decisions throughout the book, to ensue that Zoe is safe and happy.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked the tight focus on the main characters and developing tension. Sally Hepworth writes with honesty and dark humour on topics that are serious. The topic of a mother and child facing a cancer diagnosis could be maudlin. But Sally Hepworth negotiates the story with sincerity and even joy. I look forward to reading her other books.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Mother’s Promise
by Sally Hepworth
Published by Macmillan Australia
ISBN 9781925479959