Book Review: Anzac Animals, by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_anzac_animalsEvery Anzac Day, our family gets up in the cold and the dark to attend a dawn service to commemorate those who have served our country. Standing there in the dark, with the sun just beginning to whisper its arrival over the horizon, I always stop for a moment to think about all of the animals who have likewise served our country and paid the ultimate price for that service. The dogs, horses, carrier pigeons, and donkeys, who did their small part, perhaps unknowingly, to help our soldiers. So when I saw that Maria Gill had written a new book recording the stories of some of those animals, this animal-lover was delighted.

Gill and Ivančić are the same award-winning team that brought us Anzac Heroes (2016), New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame (2014), and Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands (2017). They are a great team; their combination of text, facts and artwork makes for a beautifully presented and extremely educational book.

This lovely treasury joins the likes of Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston’s Torty and the Soldier in celebrating and remembering the animals who either fought alongside our soldiers or did their part for the war effort by bringing some small moments of happiness and compassion to an otherwise joyless place.

The book features Bess the war horse, Caesar the Red Cross dog, and Murphy the stretcher-bearing donkey, among more than a dozen others. There are facts, dates, maps and photos interspersed among the stories, followed by a very handy bibliography for those readers who need to know more. This is a great example of non-fiction for children done well; bite-sized parcels of information and facts, surrounded by fantastic illustrations and colourful diagrams.

Anzac Animals is another fabulous book from Gill and Ivančić. It will be a worthy addition to any school library or animal lover’s bookshelf. This is a fine memorial to our animal friends who deserve their moment in the Anzac Day spotlight as we give thanks and pay tribute to those who fought for our country.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Anzac Animals
by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434740

Book Review: Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands, by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_abel_tasmanThere’s something a little bit eerie about the fact that a few minutes after I picked up Abel Tasman to read it in so I could write this review, Radio New Zealand National broadcast a piece marking the 375th anniversary of Tasman and his crew making first contact with Ngāti Tumatakokiri. It was purely a coincidence, but a tad spooky all the same.

Telling the story of how Abel Tasman came to be in that particular time and place, and what happened afterwards, this book is perfect for middle-upper primary readers (ages about 7 up) as a starting point into the European exploration of New Zealand. The text is easy to understand, balanced in terms of perspective, and follows a straightforward sequence. There are lots of footnotes to explain words used in multiple languages, and a helpful glossary at the back which adds more depth to the narrative.

For me, the highlight of an already good book is the illustrations. My mouth actually dropped open on about the third page, as the use of light was just stunning. The illustrations have a clarity and almost photographic reality that is just magic, and which I’m more used to seeing in art galleries. They are truly beautiful, and will keep me coming back to the story long after I’ve memorised the text. An extra special touch is the use of historic maps and drawings, at least some of which were drawn by Isaac Gilsemans, the fleet merchant in the expedition. Children will love this; and if they don’t notice it themselves, draw their attention to the dates on each set of end papers, and ask them what they notice.

As well as being essential for school and public libraries, this book would make a fantastic addition to the shelf of any curious child who appreciates a good story and asks lots of “why?” and “then what happened?” questions.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands
by Maria Gill
Illustrated by Marco Ivančić
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 9781775435099


Book Review: Anzac Heroes, by Maria Gill


Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_anzac_heroesIt is books like this one that will keep the spirit of the Anzacs alive for the generations to come.

30 Anzacs who served during WW1 and WW2 are featured, their stories told and illustrated in a manner that brings them alive before the readers eyes. The stories told are accompanied by detailed maps, timelines and photographs that all enhance the reader’s experience and help to show exactly where something took place.

The heroes’ stories are told in a very relatable manner, ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the most extraordinary places and in a timeframe that simply doesn’t leave time to ponder ones actions. Each branch of the services is represented, male and female.

If there is a particular standout in this book, it is the layout and illustrations, they are so well done and a lot of thought has gone into it. The book flows well from page to page, making it very easy for any young person using the book for a classroom inquiry to find exactly what they need.

This is the type of book that lends itself to being picked up and read from cover to cover, equally as an inquiry resource. Finding the information you need is quite easy, it’s all there waiting.

This book should be available in every children’s section of the library and every school library both here and in Australia, it is a very valuable slice of our history.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Anzac Heroes
by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN  9781775433637

Interview with Maria Gill about New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions


New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions was voted for by kiwi kids all around New Zealand as a finalist in the Children’s Choice list for the Book Awards. Author Maria Gill has written many book awards finalists, including New Zealand Hall of Fame, which won the non-fiction category of the Children’s Choice awards in 2012.

Maria is a fulltime writer, and lives in Matakana. We wondered how she came up with her latest book, and how she narrowed down the sports stars, and this is what she told us.

Maria Gill_NZ Sports Hall of Fame1.  As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book in particular?
In past awards the judges said there was a need for more books for boys – and where were the sports books. I had intended the New Zealand Hall of Fame book to be part of a series, and a sports book seemed the obvious one to do next.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
First of all I had to decide who I was going to include in the book. The list of 25 sports people was constantly being revised. I even polled people – should I have Dan Carter or Richie McCaw? I contacted sporting agencies and asked them who they would recommend. I had to weigh a sporting legend up, who the target age might not know, against an up-and-coming star that they would know. Then I had to gather information about the sports stars, and that proved to be quite a challenge for some of them.

Sometimes they were touring overseas and were impossible to contact. If someone had written a biography about them, I could read that and take notes. If there wasn’t a biography, I had to trawl through a lot of newspaper articles, radio and television interviews to put a story together about them. Problems occurred if the media articles were incorrect. We sent each sports person/manager their biography and asked if they could fact check it. This helped to prevent any misinformation being printed in the biographies.sportshalloffame_page2

3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
Marco Ivancic’s life-like caricatures immediately draw the age group to the book. I wrote the biographies from when the sports people were their age (8-14 years) and included any problems they had to overcome. I wanted kids to realise that problems can be overcome, and dreams reached. A constant message that came through the book was that it takes a lot of dedication to make it to the top. Everyone has the potential to do that if they are prepared to do the hard work. I also included the sports stars training programme and at the back of the book kids can write up their training schedule. They can also set goals to help them achieve their sporting dreams.

4. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?
I dedicated the book to my Dad. When I was young, he always encouraged us to do sport such as athletics and ice skating. He had organised one of the first national sporting events in New Zealand and was mad keen on many types of sports.

5. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?
David Riley has written some chapter books on famous sports stars such as Jammin’ cv_jammin_with_steven_adamswith Steven Adams, Off-loading with SBW and Steppin’ with Benji Marshall.

6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
I love to dance. I started ballet when I was five years old but gave it up at nine years of age. (Mum had to catch two buses with three kids for me to do it.) I figure skated for a few years and competed nationally. In my early twenties, I returned to dance and have been doing it regularly since. All the dancers in my ballet class are over 40 years old now. We can still do a mean pirouette. I love to dance because I am exercising while doing something creative.


For more information about Maria Gill or  New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, go to Maria’s website.

Teaching notes for the title are here.

Bob Docherty has reviewed the title here.

We are drawing to the end of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults children’s choice blog tour, with just two days left! Our last feature was about The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, by Paula Green & Myles Lawford, on Sarah Jane Barnett’s website The Red Room. Tomorrow, we will feature A New Zealand Nature Journal, on NZ Green Buttons.

To be in to win a copy of New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, comment on this Facebook post to tell us your favourite sports star.