Book Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, by Lauren James

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_loneliest_girl_in_the_universeRomy Silvers finds herself alone in space on a journey to populate Earth II with a cargo of frozen embryos. When transmissions from Earth are interrupted with overtones of war, she becomes afraid for her own future. Just when things seem dire, help arrives in the form of another ship from Earth under the control of “J”.

This is an exciting tale of hope and despair. Romy fills in the background, but also the questions which begin to puzzle her about her mysterious rescuer. Is everything as simple as it seems?

Dystopia books are very popular at my school. This generation feels the danger of climate change, racial dischord and terrorism acutely. Creating fiction from this very real setting, captures the imagination of many young adults.

Lauren James is a 25-year-old British YA writer. Her science background is evident in the detail included in this title. It is a gripping read, with a twist: but my lips are sealed.

I already have takers for my copy of the Loneliest Girl in the Universe.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe
by Lauren James
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406375473

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Book Review: Where is Grandma?, by Peter Schossow

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_where_is_grandmaWhat a wonderful way to introduce children to the strange world of the hospital. Here we meet Henry who is coming to visit his Grandma in hospital. His nanny has to take a phone-call and Henry decides to find his Grandma all by himself.

Peter Schossow is an award winning illustrator and this story shows why. It is almost like a graphic novel. The illustrations show a working day in the hospital with careful detail and a wonderful perspective. The text is informative and works well when read aloud. We meet the Doctors, Nurses, Janitor, other patients, Surgeon and Specialists. I loved the office of the Gastro Surgeon with detailed pictures of digestion and worms. Of course, we know that in the end Henry will find his Grandma, but there is a little bit of anxiety as the whole hospital searches for a small lost boy.

This is a substantial picture book, which works in many ways. It is a great tale, but also a visual treat with the hidden details. Finally, it provides an interesting view of a hospital from a child’s perspective. I liked the large size and the heavy covers, the quality printing and binding. This picture book is a visual and tactile treat.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Where is Grandma?
by Peter Schossow
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571543

Book Review: Feel a Little: Little Poems About Big Feelings, by Jenny Palmer, illustrated by Evie Kemp

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_feel_a_little_NZSharing our feelings is not only important for adults. The benefits of emotional literacy can be seen in children of all ages. This book is a collaboration by two people who addressed the need for this. It began as an online project where an emotion was featured each week. The poem for each emotion combines catchy rhymes with beautifully vibrant illustrations. There are 14 emotions in the book, a rainbow of expressions and images, that use colour to reinforce ideas. Following the success of the venture, the poems were gathered into this hard cover book which is best suited for 7-11 year olds.

While the poems are quite long and complex, they would make a useful starter as an educational focus. I could see myself in teaching, using a poem each week and basing activities on these. Movement, music and art would flow naturally from discussions about, “When I feel Sad”. In the home, the book might be read over a number of weeks allowing for family discussions about times when we have felt that emotion. I would struggle to read the whole book in a sitting, but do not feel this was the intended purpose of the authors.

Feel a Little is an exciting collaboration because it addresses the emotional needs of children in words and images. By choosing to publish these poems they will access a wider audience and be useful in many situations. My copy has already gone to my Grandaughter’s preschool who intend to use it in their programmes. That must be a sure sign of a successful book.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Feel a Little: Little Poems About Big Feelings
by Jenny Palmer, illustrated by Evie Kemp
Published by Little Love
ISBN 9780473384456

Book Review: The Mouse and the Octopus, Retold and illustrated by Lisala Halapua

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_Mouse_and_the_octopus.jpgThe oral stories of our Pacific neighbours are rarely seen in print. This book is the first in a series that intends to remedy that.

Here we see a tale found in many cultures, but this one is based on an old Tongan fable. The hungry little mouse goes searching for food. After looking in the traditional places, Mouse ventures out across the reef. The advancing sea threatens to drown Mouse. Octopus intervenes and saves the life of Mouse, but there is a twist to the story, which leads to the design of a fishing lure: the culmination of the story.

The tale is simply retold, and the illustrations are easy to follow. At times, the language was a little wordy for a children’s book, but as a retelling, this is perhaps hard to remedy.

The information about the origin of this Tongan story, is given on the back cover. I found this a little confusing as I read the book from the front, and only made the links at the end. I think a simple map of the Pacific with Tonga clearly marked, as well as the information about it being a traditional tale would be best at the start of the story. As this is to be a series of books it would be of benefit for each title to clearly show the location on a map of the South Pacific.

I was delighted to read this first story in the Island Fables series and look forward to many more tales.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Mouse and the Octopus
Retold and illustrated by Lisala Halapua
Published by Talanoa Books Ltd
ISBN 9780473380168

Book Review: Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843, by M H McKinley

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

This book is a finalist in the category of Best First Book in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

warsNew Zealand history should be an important part of the education of our children but sometimes it is difficult to package the information in an easily read way. I think this might be the answer. A graphic novel takes the best of illustrations with the bare bones of text. Creatively combined, they tell a story in an engaging and informative way.

The story of the Pakeha Māori conflict at Wairau in 1843, marked the first major conflict between European and Māori. I grew up knowing it as the Wairau massacre, then the Wairau affray. Certainly, it was a sad story of greed, poor communication and mistakes on both sides. This version is based on the experiences of two boys, William and Arana. We hear of the confusion regarding land ownership and the injustice of the European law when a Maori mother and her child are attacked and killed. The devastating effects of English diseases also get a mention, especially on mental ability following syphilis. The narrative follows the events involving settlers, the NZ Company and the local Ngati-Toa.

The style of the illustrations fits the story. The colours are dark and threatening showing the harshness of conflict and the anger of the people. Expressions are vivid, details abound.

The book also includes excellent historical notes. These give an account of the actual events and biographies of each of the main characters. Photographs of the original sites and people add another layer of interest as do the newspaper pages on the back cover.

This book marks a new chapter in history for our children. It presents a clear, balanced version packaged in an easily read, well-illustrated book. I look forward to further titles in this series that will follow other events in the history of New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Wars in the Whitecloud: Wairau 1843
By M H McKinley
Published by Kin Publishing
ISBN 9780473356514

Book Review: Jack and Charlie – Boys of the Bush, by Jack Marcotte

Available in bookshops nationwide.

 Jack and Charlie – Boys of the Bush, is a finalist in the Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction, part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_jack_and_charlie_boys_of_the_bushWhen I first picked up this book I was curious to see how a whole story could centre around a couple of Kiwi boys living with their parents on the West Coast and playing in the bush. I now realise what a stupid, modern world assumption I was making. I only need to think back 50 years to my own childhood to remember the joys of the outdoors before devices took over.

Nine-year-old Jack and his seven year old brother, Charlie, live with their parents and baby brother at Ross on the West Coast. Their Dad is a bushman, their Mum a keen gardener and they delight in the world on the doorstep. The chapters lead us through their world from Camping and Rafting, Going Bush, Huntin’ and Shootin’ to fishing. They also help out in the garden, attend the local school and learn all the household tasks essential for survival: wood chopping and stacking, and cooking.

Illustrated with superb photographs, this is a tale of simple pleasures and exciting challenges. The book is written by Jack, and it is his voice we hear throughout. I worried that the large amount of text would be a challenge for younger readers, but quickly realised that the language is easy to understand and includes the vocabulary and expressions of a nine-year-old. I could see this as a great read aloud for a family but a read alone for a capable eight-year-old.

Jack takes us in to his world with a keen eye for detail. I was impressed by the lessons his parents were giving about safety and ethics.

‘We only shoot what we can eat…Dad says it’s good ethics. Having good ethics means doing the right thing all the time – even when no one is watching.’

So this is like a travel guide to the West Coast bush, with an entertaining and informative guide. The fact that Jack is nine simply means we get a better view of the ground than normal. Each chapter contains the details of the activity, photos of the setting and action and some deep philosophy from a nine-year-old.

I grew up reading David Boy of the High Country, the story of David Innes and his family in the MacKenzie basin. My own children also enjoyed this story as we had holidays in Twizel. It too had wonderful photos (black and white) and inspired us with tales of Correspondence school and farming antics.

This book deserves to become a classic for the next generation of kids living or holidaying on the West Coast. In a world dominated by the internet and technology, this is a journey to the back of beyond and to another time. I loved it.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Jack and Charlie: Boys of the Bush
by Jack Marcotte
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143574149

Book Review: Iceland, by Dominic Hoey

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_iceland.jpgDominic Hoey is a musician, poet and author based in Auckland, known by his stage name Tourette’s.

Here, in his debut novel, he follows the life of musician, Zlata. Zlata works days in an office where she awaits her sacking. The story follows her relationship with Hamish, who is a graffiti artist and drug dealer. Set in the streets of inner city Auckland, we follow the friendships of a group of drifters who struggle to survive and create their own rules and friendships. The concept of family is fringe to this group who lurch from party to fight to street to creative genius. Auckland is shown as a city struggling to find an identity. Where the suburbs are portrayed as deathly boring, it is the excitement and unpredictability of the city which is central to the story.

While Zlata works to secure a recording contract, Hamish is invited to show his art at a beautifully described opening. The conflict between artist, money and audience is well written. Violence is part of Zlata and Hamish’s relationship, and the question of ‘do I go or do I stay’ is explored.

While I struggled with the raw language and the hopeless situations, I understood that this is a world which I do not know. I felt myself living in the suburbs and casting judgement on these drifters and druggies. I suspect that this is a very real world which others will recognise.

This is not a cruisy read or a gentle excursion, but a raw, real read about what happens in the wide world.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Iceland
by Dominic Hoey
Published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa Ltd
ISBN 9780947493431