Book Reviews: Maisy, Max and Moo and Moo

cv_maisy_goes_swimmingMaisy goes Swimming, by Lucy Cousins

How does a picture book become a classic? It is loved to bits by the little people who read it, and remembered across the years. So when they have children, they want a new copy for the next generation. Well, that is my theory because that is what happened in our family.

Maisy goes Swimming is a revamped, reissue of a classic Lucy Cousins title. It was such fun using the flaps to jiggle and juggle the clothes off to help Maisie prepare for her dip. The images are simple and bold with matching text.

This book lends itself to repeated readings, which is the very best way to encourage literate kids. My granddaughter not only enjoyed naming and removing the clothes, she also practiced the colours and even demonstrated her own undressing ability.

What a great idea to re issue this classic. I can see it entertaining another generation of Maisie fans.

cv_max_and_his_big_imaginationMax and His Big Imagination: The Sandpit, by Chrissy Metge

What a wonderful thing imagination is, especially in childhood.

Chrissy Metge has continued her stories of Max at the beach and the safari, with an adventure in the sandpit. She takes a simple setting, Max digging in the sandpit, and adds a flight of fancy.

The illustrations by Dmitry Chizov use animation style characters which contrast nicely with the soft focus backgrounds. Faces are expressive and details add to the story. The dinosaur skeletons are used cleverly in front and end papers of the book. The text is designed to be read aloud by an adult and is kept to the bottom of the page.

Children are born with amazing imaginations and we have a responsibility to encourage their development. Creativity as adults often stems from the daydreams of childhood. I loved joining Max and the dinosaurs in his sandpit. I think you will too.

cv_Moo_and_moo_and_the_little_calf_tooMoo and Moo and the Little Calf Too, by Jane Milton, illustrated by Deborah Hinde

Sometimes we are captivated by an image and want to know more. This was certainly the case in the conception of this delightful true story.

While the powerful Kaikoura earthquake of 2016 caused devastation and fear, it also gave rise to some amazing stories. When the quake struck around midnight, large earth slides resulted in two cows and a calf becoming stranded high on a section of hillside. While the small plateau moved down the hill, these three remained high and dry above the mud. By the next morning a passing helicopter spotted and photographed the trio. This story tells of their stranding and eventual rescue.

The media quickly adopted the photo of the cows and it spread around the world.
Jane Milton, on whose farm this happened, has written a lovely rhyming tale of the stranding and rescue of the fearless trio. The Kiwi ” can do” attitude is reflected in the colourful illustrations by Deborah Hinde. Her simple images with expressive faces, Kiwi touches in the detail and a little bird hiding on each page, are sure to delight children. Similar artwork was seen in her Kiwi Night Before Christmas.

I would have loved a reproduction of the original photo to show young readers the reality on which the story was based. Perhaps copyright prevented this.

As Quaky Cat told the Christchurch earthquake story, so Moo and Moo tells of the Kaikoura event. What a positive and gentle way for children to remember the Kaikoura quake.

All three books reviewed by Kathy Watson

 

Maisy Goes Swimming
by Lucy Cousins
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406374049

Max and His Big Imagination: The Sandpit
by Chrissy Metge
Published by Chrissy Metge
ISBN 9780473387297

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too  
by Jane Milton and Deborah Hinde
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781877505928

Book Review: Peak. Reinventing Middle Age, by Patricia and Don Edgar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_Peak_reinventing_middle_age.jpgHaving recently turned 60, I have been interested in the changing perceptions of what middle age is. My father retired at 60 and has been an active member of a rural community for 30 years. While he still farms, his community involvement has finally ebbed away, but he just turned 91.

So do we need to change the categories of middle and old age? According this book, the answer is an overwhelming yes.

Patricia and Don Edgar are in their late 80s. This Australian couple explore the key aspects of aging in the first part of the book. This includes perceptions of middle age, family, work, housing, learning and alternative work. I was impressed by their research and the evidence they provided both on the current situation and on what the future looks like. As the Baby Boomers reach their mature years there are implications across all aspects of society.

I know that my own community has wonderful examples of older people making valuable contributions in the paid and voluntary workforces. Likewise, education, travel and recreation are firmly on the agenda for those wishing to pursue life after retirement.

The call made by the Edgars is for government to start planning alternatives to the traditional views of old age, such as encouraging employers to continue a different work model, where the experience of older workers is matched with reduced hours and mentoring programmes. Continuing to work contributes to taxes and engagement in work allows a longer more productive old age.

The second part of the book is a collection of life stories. These were superb little vignettes. Each story explores the possibilities for living a rich and varied life into and beyond middle age. These people are not heroes. They are tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

My copy of Peak is about to have its own long and varied life. I have friends and family lined up and we will make an action plan to follow.

Watch this space..

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Peak. Reinventing Middle Age
By Patricia and Don Edgar
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925355963

Book Review: If I Had an Elephant, by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_if_i_had_an_elephantThe front cover of this delightful picture book, tells its own story. Small boy, BIG elephant looking at each other. Here we enter the wonderful imagination of a child- asking “What if…”

Wanting an elephant is a perfectly normal desire for a small child. I always wanted a monkey. The possibilities are endless if you actually have an elephant, and the illustrations are expressive and easy to follow. It is the way the elephant’s eyes respond to each scenario which I loved best. The story takes us through many suggestions but what the boy actually gets for his birthday is not revealed until the final page.

This book was a treat for my granddaughter who asked lots of questions about the mechanics of owning an elephant. She very quickly noticed the expressive eyes and told me sad, or scary or happy from each page. The pictures have quirky additions which lead to deeper discussions and the final page allows further flights of imagination. The detail in the pictures is superb. The colourist, Tara Black, brings the images to life. Even the front and endpapers of the book tell part of the story. I am always delighted to see excellence in the presentation of children’s books.

As a teacher, this would be a great starter for a technology unit, or pet care, or even the poetry starter…What if?

For my birthday ( or even for Mother’s Day) I think I’d like…

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

If I Had an Elephant
by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434764

Book Review: We’re All Wonders, by R. J. Palacio

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_wereallwonders.jpgThis is a beautiful reflection on difference and how we react. While as a Mum, I wanted my three children to be curious and ask questions, I always struggled with the loudly voiced,’ Why does that girl have…?’.

This simple but clear picture book gives the perspective from the inside. The opening statement declares, ‘I know I’m not an ordinary kid.’ The story follows the everyday actions which all children enjoy, but being stared at, left out and bullied becomes the norm.

R J Palacio wrote the novel Wonder from this perspective and has followed it with a number of related tales. Here we have a simplified version of Wonder, where the message is easy for all to follow. I can see this book being a useful starter in classrooms at all levels. My Year 11 class engaged in a robust discussion about appearance and pressure to conform. As a parent and grandparent this is a treasure to share.

The final statement is a heartfelt message for child and adult: ‘I know I can’t change the way I look BUT maybe, just maybe, people can change the way they see…’

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

We’re All Wonders
by R. J. Palacio
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780141386416

Book Review: Good Sons: A Novel of the Great War, by Greg Hall

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_good_sonsOver the past three years, a lot has been written about the Great War. The major events have been highlighted as 100 years was marked for each one. Families have unearthed letters which bring a more personal view of the war. Distance and time soften the horror of those stories.

Greg Hall has written Good Sons to highlight the impact of war on ordinary people. In this case, three friends from Oamaru. The story is told by Frank Wilson from his schooldays and adventures as a young boy, to the battlefields of Europe. The detail of his life is minutely drawn. My 90-year-old Father was quite taken by the descriptions of ordinary life: going camping, riding bikes, playing rugby and the importance of family life.

While Frank and his best mates, Tom Davis and Robert Sutherland eagerly await their birthdays so they can sign up, we read small press clippings at the start of each chapter detailing the progress of the war. These are at times shocking in their paternalistic and biased interpretation of events. It is a clever device to contrast the reported and the real.

The trust, the naïveté and the courage of these three is undeniable. I loved the details of the train ride through Timaru, the training camps and the night out from Trentham to Wellington. On arrival in France we are led to the battlefields and horror of war.

Greg Hall has taken on War commentary through his writing, poetry and research. He is the director of the Passchendaele Society. His superb knowledge lends credibility to the events and descriptions in the book. Even the cover photo communicates contrast of three fine boys, and three battle weary soldiers. This is a very readable account from a New Zealand perspective. While more academic tomes appeal to some, I loved the accessibility of his writing. This is a novel of war, both heroic and horrendous.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Good Sons: A Novel of the Great War
by Greg Hall
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473383787

Book Review: Humans, Bow Down, by James Patterson & Emily Raymond

cv_humans_bow_downI have been an avid James Patterson fan for years. I especially enjoy the Alex Cross series and eagerly await new titles. His collaboration with a number of authors allows a wider repertoire and probably a greater spread of the profit. Sometimes the collaborations work, sometimes they make uneasy bed-mates.

So when I picked up Humans, Bow Down I was taken by surprise. This is no detective novel. This is a completely new genre but written superbly and a thoroughly gripping tale.

Here we are introduced to an earth in the future where humans are the minority, living on the fringes and subservient to their HuBot masters. It sounds like a simplistic plot, but it actually works well. Can the human race survive in a world where they are emotive and illogical? The intelligent, controlled and skilled HuBots are the masters on this earth.

The story follows the life of Six and her family as they struggle to survive in the underworld of the Reserve. On the HuBot side we have a malfunctioning family who appear to express emotions which leads to the empathy formed between the two lead females.

I felt the story was incomplete and rushed towards a conclusion. The setting lends itself to a new series of books based on these characters, which may perhaps be the hidden agenda. I look forward to further titles from this combination of writers telling of the future of HuBots and Humans on this strange new earth

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Humans, Bow Down
by James Patterson & Emily Raymond
Published by Century
ISBN 9781780895505

Book Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_hearts_invisible_furiesI must be honest and admit that I spent four days handling this book before actually starting to read it. Why? Well I have really loved all John Boyne’s books. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas was a stunner and I have never forgotten the impact it had on me when I read it. When I heard he had finally written a story based on the Ireland he had grown up in, I was anxious lest it be a disappointment.

This book was something different. Fear not, you will love it.

The tale of Cyril Avery takes us through the Ireland of the 1940’s to the present day. It is the story of an unmarried mother, denounced from the pulpit, who travels to Dublin where she gives her child up for adoption. Cyril is taken in by an unconventional family. This provides much of the comic relief in the story as his writer Mother (adoptive) and businessman Father (adoptive) struggle to cope with a son they rarely see and a world which is a mystery to them.

Cyril’s childhood, adolescence and advance to old age take us through political, social and literary changes in Ireland and the world. The detail is fascinating and Boyne knows the Dublin landscape so well. In a natural way, the lives of Cyril, his parents, friends and birth Mother interweave across the 60 years. We revisit them in different times and locations but the storyline keeps us guessing. It is a truly funny book with descriptions of erratic behaviour and genuine prejudice from the times. I can remember hearing the bigoted comments he captures so well, in my own youth. It is also a deeply moving story and I will admit to a few tears. Such cruelty and such love in one story.

Some will enjoy the book as an engaging tale written with style and great literary talent. For others, it is a reflection on what it means to be alive. Is happiness due to us, do we have to earn a sense of belonging or do we grow to be part of a family? It is about acceptance and rejection, religion and sexuality, love and loss. This all sounds cliché but the book is not. My suspicion is that this will become a great Irish novel. It tells a story we all suspect, we all know, but we could not say it so well. Make sure it is on your 2017 booklist.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
By John Boyne
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857523488