Book Review: Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag, by Sherryl Jordan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_rafferty_ferret_ratbag.jpg‘Rafferty was starving. He was also homeless, motherless, fatherless, penniless, and (if he wasn’t very careful) on his way to being lifeless as well.’

So begins Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag, a rollicking tale of a courageous orphan boy. Homeless and hungry, Rafferty Ferret is desperately looking for a way to earn a living.

Set in medieval times, Rafferty has been living rough ever since his forced removal from the monastery he called home. The story begins with Rafferty in a pickle: he is stuck in a hazardous Leper Hole. Soon rescued by a kind baker and his (rather unkind) wife, Rafferty stumbles upon the unlikely occupation of bakery ‘rat catcher’. Before long, his rat-catching fame spreads throughout the village of Spickernell and his skills are in demand. Often meeting unsavoury characters involved in the business, Rafferty is pleasantly surprised to make friends with a young boy named Wyll. The rat-catching pair use their crafty natures to save themselves from the perils of homelessness.

Rafferty is a strong, clever and cunning protagonist who looks out for everyone (and every rat) around him. With few adults willing to help him, his adventures are brought about by his own determination to survive. Hearts will ache for Wyll, who, falling seriously ill, has only one hope – that Rafferty will be able to find him help in time.

Renowned award-winning New Zealand author and illustrator Sherryl Jordan has published extensively since the 1990s. Now published by independent children’s publisher OneTree House, her latest novel Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag will appeal to all children who love historical adventure – or simply a good story.

An effortless read, this book will quickly charm readers. A well-researched story which draws the reader into a medieval world of danger, illness, hunger and corruption, Jordan brings the setting and characters to life with vivid and lively prose.

Her beautiful writing reflects her artistic talent: ‘Thunder rolled and lightning sizzled across the moor making trees stand out stark and black in the lurid glare, and lighting the distant house with its streaming thatch and stone walls. When there was no lightning the darkness was complete, and there was only the fury of the wind and the tumultuous lashing of the rain.’

The seamlessly introduced historical language and delicate illustrations heighten the powerful emotional atmosphere of this adventure story.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

Rafferty Ferret: Ratbag
by Sherryl Jordan
Published by OneTree House Ltd
ISBN 9780995106437

Book Review: Rosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere, by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Judith Trevelyan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_Rosie_joy_here_there_and_everywhere.jpgRosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere, is a sweet story about a young girl named Rosie Joy who dreams of being an explorer. Rosie finds herself embarking on an exploration sooner than she expected when she decides to take on the responsibility of hatching her own ‘tiny, yellow, fluffy and cheepy’ chicks. Along with her family and her best friend, Polly, Rosie makes all sorts of new discoveries about nature, knitting and things that are of paramount importance!

The soft pencil and water coloured art displayed front gives you a glimpse into the feel of the story to come. It is easy to see that the author, Sophie Siers is a farm girl at heart as this heart-warming story portrays the hard work, satisfaction and joy of family-farm life.

Siers has also done a wonderful job of capturing the thoughts and feelings of how we expect a 9-year-old girl might experience life: overwhelming excitement, big dreams, impatience and frustration and an insatiable curiosity about the world. This story includes all the ups and downs of Rosie’s journey into hatching chicks. As well as getting an insight into how to hatch chicks the natural way and a lesson in female explorers, the reader will also learn the definition and use of some big words, like paramount and circumnavigate!

Rosie Joy would be a great inspiration and source of information for any young person thinking about hatching their own chicks or someone who just loves a good feel-good story about farm life and growing up.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Rosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere
by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Judith Trevelyan
Published by Millwood Press
ISBN 9780473402402

Book Review: The Yark, by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_yark.jpgAs if there weren’t enough child-hungry monsters lurking in the shadows for children to be wary of, The Yark introduces us to a blood-thirsty monster to join them. In this humorous and slightly dark children’s chapter book it doesn’t pay to be a good little girl or boy, because those are exactly the type of children the Yark craves in the dead of the night.

But the Yark isn’t like his fellow monsters. He doesn’t enjoy gobbling up innocent, wide-eyed children. In fact, he feels great sympathy for his meals, but alas, the Yark must continue the battle with his conscience as he has done since the beginning of time… or must he? Can a unusual friendship with a young but wise, little girl help him to make a change – or is his need to feast on children’s flesh too great?

Alongside his ever-growing conscience, the Yark also faces starvation as the number of good children left on earth is dwindling. This is a huge problem for the Yark, as the taste of bad children causes his stomach to churn and his skin to erupt in painful boils.

I ended up feeling compassion for the poor Yark as he seems to live a very sad existence full of misfortune and self-doubt. Santini does an excellent job of imagining the inner-turmoil and struggles that a monster like this may be faced with, as he desperately scours the earth for his next meal in order to survive. His brilliant use of words will expose young readers to an enriching array of language and gives the book it’s darkly humorous quality. The descriptions of what are considered to be “bad” children are quite irreverent, which gives you a shocking insight into what other intelligent creatures may think of human society. The Yark has enough twists and elements of suspense to keep readers hooked and includes the perfect amount fart jokes to lighten the story and make children giggle.

I thought Gapaillard’s gothic illustrations complimented the story beautifully. He did an excellent job of bringing the Yark to life with his terrifying jaws filled with huge pointed teeth which are juxtaposed by his soft, round eyes and fuzzy body and ridiculously tiny wings.

The Yark puts a twist on traditional monster stories and readers will find it hard not to side with the furry and somewhat melancholy beast in this quirky tale. The Yark is a surprisingly deep story that explores moral dilemmas, and any young reader who enjoys monsters, wicked humour, and rich language will appreciate this book.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Yark
by Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571727

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:  Taupo Blows! by Doug Wilson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_taupo_blowsI will be honest with you.  I did not want to read this book at all. The title is the stuff of many of my childhood fears; after learning about volcanoes at primary school, staying at my nana’s home with its view of Lake Taupō during school holidays was never again a carefree experience. I don’t know how many nights I lay awake wondering if my number was up.

Thankfully, Doug Wilson hasn’t written that story. Instead he’s had Mt Ruapehu erupt, with young Rachel and Sam home alone when a second eruption throws a strange visitor onto their doorstep. Guld lives under the mountain, and needs Rachel and Sam to help him put things right before the whole volcanic plateau blows.

With the plot moving along at a cracking pace, Wilson introduces Rachel and Sam to a variety of odd characters to help them on their quest. The children must overcome their fears and find their inner strength to save the North Island from a cataclysmic eruption.

Taupo Blows! reminds me of the Maurice Gee classic (and nightmare-inducing) Under the Mountain in terms of setting, and Suzanne Collins’ wonderful Gregor the Overlander series in terms of characters and themes. This is high praise, and has Wilson keeping very good company. I’d recommend Taupo Blows! for readers from about 9-10 years, and I look forward to Wilson’s next offering.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Taupo Blows!
by Doug Wilson
Published by Bateman Publishing
ISBN 9781869539672

Book Review: The Magic Pencil, by Ben Spies

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_magic_pencilWhat an extraordinary accomplishment for a ten-year-old. To write a story is hard, to write a long, novel length story is even harder. And yet that is exactly what Ben has done. As it says on the cover, his story is an action-packed adventure where the hero and his friends blitz from one dangerous situation to the next on a quest to save the world from destruction.

It all starts when Bob finds an innocent-looking pencil (innocent but for the piece of tin foil attached) which turns out to be magic – anything it draws becomes real. Which in turn means a gang of bad people want it for their own dastardly plans. Bob is soon on the run to keep the pencil safe, aided by his friends and a strange but helpful Old Man.

Their adventure is full of rockets, explosions, time travel, dinosaurs, rescues and space travel, and along the way the adventurers meet the Queen, a pharaoh and Einstein.  Eventually they return home just in the nick of time to prevent the baddies from destroying the planet. Whew!

Full of imaginative scenarios, this is a children’s story written by a child and as such features much of the things they love – action, narrow escapes, good guys and bad guys, and lots of high energy.  When it comes to writing, a lot of new writers tend to forget that they need a plot with a beginning, middle and most importantly, an end, however this is not a trap that Ben has fallen into – his plot follows a good thread with mounting action and a nicely closed loop at the end. He has also done a fine job of dealing with multiple characters and keeping them all in the right place at the right time.

The book is self-published with illustrations by Ben’s father, Robert Spies. The cover is well designed, brightly coloured and eye-catching, and overall the design and finished product are great, showing that a lot of effort has gone into creating this project. Kudos to Ben’s parents for encouraging and supporting his writing passion by turning his work into a real, live book.

As an author, Ben has made a very good start. It takes a massive amount of commitment to see a story to the end and to have done it twice is fantastic. It is wonderful to see a young boy who loves writing and this enjoyment shone through his work. My advice to him is to keep reading, keep learning and please, please keep writing.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Magic Pencil
by Ben Spies
Published by Spies Publishing
ISBN: 9780473377779

Book Review: Miniwings – Oceana’s Kitty Catastrophe, by Sally Sutton, illustrated Kirsten Richards

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_miniwings_oceanas_kitty_catastropheSophia is a little girl with a very special secret. She has six miniwings that come to life only when she is around. Her little sister Clara is the only other person who knows. The only problem is they keep getting Sophia into trouble.

Sophia and Clara’s parents decide to go on a date and to drop the girls off at their grandparent’s house. Their grandparents run a cattery. An inspector is due to come, and of course those darn miniwings had to cause trouble. Can Sophia get herself out of trouble and solve the problems that they create?

I turned up at my daughter’s place to stay and gave our granddaughter 6 ½ year old Abby this book to read. She ran into her room, shut the door – hours of peace. Sometime later she comes out, book in hand and says – ‘I really liked that book Grandma, can I keep it, I’d like to read it again.’ What she particularly liked about it was the mischief the miniwings created and Sophia’s solution.

Make believe is something that most children indulge in. Our daughter, being a teacher, actively encourages this through play and books.

Oceana’s Kitty Catastrophe is a lovely story and one that will hopefully activate your little one’s imagination. Miniwings aren’t a million miles from My Little Pony, so this relationship could well see this series become a hit with a lot of little girls.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Miniwings – Oceana’s Kitty Catastrophe
by Sally Sutton, Illustrated by Kirsten Richards
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434856