Book Review: He Wāhi i te Puruma, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, and translated by Karena Kelly

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_he_wahi_i_te_purumaThis is a delightful story about the exploits of a witch, her broom and how friends help each other. However, it is a version with a difference. While I have been the proud owner of this story in English, it took my daughter to encourage me to get the te reo Māori version. Why? Because she is raising her daughter (my Granddaughter) to be fluent in te reo. Her pre-school, like most educational places, makes use of bilingual labels, conversation and waiata. Having books to support this is the next step.

Unlike some of the earlier books in te reo, this one does not include an English version or a glossary of words. This indicates a coming-of-age for bilingual books. I know the beautiful rhyming tale of the Witch on her broom and the helpers who want to join her. Like all good stories, there is a little lesson to be learned. When misfortune befalls her, the friends step in to save the day.

Julia Donaldson has a natural way with rhyme and the story hums along in Māori as in English. It reminded me of the Snail on the Whale and What the Ladybird Heard. She has a great ear for sounds and I know my audience loved joining in with, “Ka eke ra te kuri, whuuu! Ka rere runga hau.”

Axel Scheffler provides entertaining illustrations that add visual details to the melody of the story. I love his eyes, which have that surprised expression, “What? Me?” The colours are bright and clear and by placing the smaller illustrations beside each block of text, there are visual clues to help the reader. I noticed one student found the English copy and was turning the pages with a friend as they looked at the translation. What a great way to explore language.

I was hoping to keep this title in my Nanna bookshelf, but a visiting niece asked politely if she might take it back with her daughter to Australia. How could I resist a bit of Trans-Tasman re-education. I am now looking forward to seeing other titles by Donaldson translated and available to all.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

He Wāhi i te Puruma
by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, and translated by Karena Kelly
Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775503293

Junior Fiction Shorts #2: Life According to Dani, Rona, and The Sam & Lucy Fables

There are a number of strong independent publishers based in Wellington, and these three books prove the point. Each of them is individual and necessary, and a lot of fun.

Life According to Dani, by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson

cv_life_according_to_daniThis is the fourth in this beautiful series exploring Dani’s life, and the emotional world our children have within them. Dani is in her happy place, with her best friend Ella on Ella’s part-time island, swimming in the sea, and making cookbooks, and selling buns and tea to the tourists who come by on the ferry. But the reason she is there is not so happy: her dad is still recovering from being run over by a car, and has been in hospital for months. Then one night, dad doesn’t phone…

As with many of Gecko’s writers, Lagercrantz and Eriksson have an uncanny way of getting under the skin of children and understanding their complicated lives – not underestimating them. I have most of the books in this series (and hadn’t realised I had missed one), and my son has benefited from them in times when he has been unsure of himself. The joy, and the sadness, of childhood is beautifully captured. Highly recommended for kids aged 4 – 9.

Life According to Dani
by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570713

by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan

To be Released on 30 November 2016
cv_ronaIn contrast with Frankie Potts, Rona is a thoroughly New Zealand heroine, who when born was ‘so busy arguing she forgot to cry.’ She lives with her grandparents, and is part of a fantastic whanau. As the book opens, her cousin Jessie has come to stay for the school holidays. They go bridge-jumping and swimming in the local river, and Rona takes joy in playing pranks on her cousin, who is under her thrall. One of these pranks goes awry, with Rona’s pride & joy, a gold-trimmed Royal wedding mug, breaking in half as a result. Easy enough to fix, if it wasn’t for Granddad’s dog Snuffy…

There are two stories in this book, and the second story sees Rona tell some tall tales about her name’s origin at school, and deal with the consequences of plagiarising her uncle’s poem, while at home she helps nanna get the house ready for Christmas, with a brilliant bunch of family members. This is all about the comfort of routine, as Rona helps grandma bake the Christmas cake, granddad mow the lawn – and they go and buy a tree from the service station for once, which Rona keeps secret from grandma. Illustrations throughout from Josh Morgan add another element of fun to a very enjoyable story. This is a hugely relatable and comforting story, perfect to share with or gift to a child age 5-8.

by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan
Published by Huia Publishing
ISBN 9781775501985

The Sam & Lucy Fables, by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins

cv_the_sam_and_lucy_fablesSam & Lucy are some pretty darn wise pigs. These are their stories, slightly reminiscent in format of Snake & Lizard, but with a fable that sees us learn something new about why the world is as it is at the end of each story. Every story has a guaranteed ‘is that true?!’ at the end of it, and Sarah Wilkins’ illustrations add wistful joy to each of the tales, each of which is more outlandish than the next.

My favourite fables are those with just the pigs, putting the world to rights – my absolute favourite being the Bus Stop story (hint: there’s always a bus there.) I highly recommend this for a book to read this holidays, perhaps in the back of a car on the way to a camping trip, where you may just see some flying carpets.

The Sam & Lucy Fables
by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins
Published by Submarine, with the help of Whitireia Publishing
ISBN 9780994129987


There are a couple more books I’d like to mention in the independent vein of things, which have landed on my desk more recently. Snails, Spells and Snazzlepops by Robyn Cooper is another from the Submarine imprint of Makaro Press, and looks like great fun; and if Lily Max: Slope, Style, Fashion from Luncheon Sausage Books is as good as the first Lily Max, (Satin, Scissors, Frock) it’s sure to be a hit. Jane Bloomfield has created an addictive character in Lily Max, and I look forward to reading this excerpt in her adventures.

All books reviewed by Sarah Forster 
And check out the first part of her junior fiction round-up here! 


Book Review: Keys, by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_keys

My four-year-old refers to this book as ‘Daddy’s Jokey Book’. She clearly understands the ‘special’ imagination all fathers to twist everyday objects, like a set of keys, into a clever narrative device – a prop on which to build a tall tale or two; spin a yarn as long as a Taranaki fence line.

In this charming picture book, Dad is tucking his daughter in for the night. But she’s distracted by his demanding job and the hours he must keep, away from her. So he tells her these fantastical little stories around each of the keys on his ring-set and, more importantly, what they unlock! There’s a “zippenburger” that takes him to work every day; an amazing rocket which he uses to harvest and collect space noodles; he uncovers an incredible treasure box buried in a dense a creepy jungle; he gains access to a chocolate biscuit factory and taste tests all the products; and he visits a paddock where he takes rides on a huge woolly mammoth that only eats yellow coloured food.

Masterton’s Josh Morgan is an illustrator with a modern but retro touch. His illustrations added levels of familiarity and a twist of quirkiness to the story, without distracting from the topic at hand. Fans of the band Urban Tramper might recognise his style from their album artwork. He’s branching out into children’s books with refreshing originality. The pictures are bright and colourful without giving too much away. His use of watercolours was a bold choice, but warranted here, as other illustrators could be tempted to go overboard on the detail and spoil the child’s right to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps.

I love Sacha Cotter’s vibrant and vivid imagination. Cotter works in libraries and she has a Graduate Diploma in Teaching and Learning, with experience teaching both here and in Spain. So she knows about the love of a good story, what it can do for children, to expand the mind whilst focusing on the everyday and mundane – like keys. She’s also done some film work, including the screenplay ‘Wasabi Peas’, which was a semi-finalist in the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival 2013.

This might be Sacha’s first book but it won’t be the last and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes next. And so is my four year old! (Incidentally, this one’s available in te Reo as well. Extra bonus!).

Reviewed by Tim Gruar and his daughter

by Sasha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775501619

Book Review: Bugs, by Whiti Hereaka

Bugs is a finalist in the Young Adult category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

Iweb_Bugs_cove‘m not at all surprised that this book has made it to the NZ Post Book awards final list. It’s a cracker of a novel.

Set in Taupo (or somewhere remarkably similar), the novel centres on three protagonists: Bugs, Jez and Stone Cold. They are all at high school, and are a fairly unlikely threesome on the face of it. But their lives become intertwined in a whole raft of ways once Stone Cold arrives on the scene.

I don’t want to describe the book too much, or I’ll spoil it for you.

Essentially this novel could be described as a coming-of-age story. It’s an intensely Kiwi book. Hereaka pulls no punches and spares no grim details as she develops the storyline. It’s all there − the solo parent with aspirations for a better future for her child, the staggeringly dysfunctional wealthy family, the intense friendships, the drugs, the violence, the love, the passion, the neglect, the humour and the difficulties of getting through teenage years.

The language is rough, but real. The twists and turns in the story are challenging and confronting, and the issues faced by some teenagers, somewhere in NZ, every day are set out in all their raw, difficult, messy entirety.

I can imagine that there will be some adults who will find this book shocking, distasteful, uncomfortable in the extreme. Good. We need to be taken far from our comfort zones from time to time.

I can imagine that many older teenage readers will find this book speaks to them as no other NZ book for young people has done so far. It’s a real book about real people and it packs a huge punch.

It’s extremely well-written, it has heaps of humour, the characters (even the minor ones, like the chemistry teacher)are developed well, and I could not put it down.

I know that I’ll be recommending this book to the senior boys at the school where I am librarian. It may challenge and shock them, too, but one thing is certain – they will remember it.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

by Whiti Hereaka
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775501336

We have an author Q & A coming up, but in the meantime here are the Booknotes Unbound ‘Five Easy Questions’ with Whiti Hereaka