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: Toroa’s Journey, by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_toroas_journeyThis wonderful book is based on the true story of the 500th albatross chick to hatch at Otago’s Taiaroa Head breeding colony. It tells the narrative of the chick Toroa’s adventures after leaving the colony based on tracking information, but also includes fascinating facts about albatrosses to add another layer of depth to the story.

I love the language in Toroa’s Journey. It’s rich and interesting, and for a book that’s narrative non-fiction, it gives as much varied vocabulary to the reader as a picture books by Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley or Lynley Dodd. For example, “Toroa jerks his head from under his wing … he waddles toward her and nudges open her bill; swallowing the slurried seafood.” The use of such evocative verbs adds another layer to the text which will promote questions and discussion for young readers and listeners.

The illustrations are stunning, including an open-out four-page spread to show off the magnificent reach of the albatross’s wings. They catch the movement of the birds, wind and ocean beautifully, and the illustration of Toroa arriving at a plastic patch looks oily and stomach churning – which is as it should be.

Toroa encounters a commercial fishing ship and a plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean, and along with some facts about the vulnerability of chicks to introduced predators, this raises for the reader some environmental messages. These aren’t preachy or overpowering, just factually stated, and again, these are likely to start a discussion for readers. I don’t know what it is, but the estimates in the fact box about plastic waste were really sobering for me, possibly because I wasn’t expecting to read them then and there in a children’s book.

Whether your young reader loves animals, adventure, non-fiction or is interested in the environment, this will be a great book to read together, or for older children (7+), to read on their own. It’s interesting, gorgeously illustrated, and full of fascinating facts.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Toroa’s Journey
by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey
Published by Potton & Burton

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

Add these authors into your popularity stakes this Christmas

While approximately half of all international book sales are made up by sales of books for Children and Young Adults, less than 1/3 of NZ book sales are in the Children and Young Adult category. Why is this? The talent is certainly here – perhaps it is a matter of name recognition?

Looking at the bestsellers charts for international Children’s & YA, parents and kids buy based on author name. Right now, Andy Griffiths is hovering at the top of the charts for his Treehouse series. David Walliams also sticks on the chart like glue: I didn’t even realise he’d written seven books until his visit to the Auckland Writers’ Festival made that clear. In the domestic market, names like Lynley Dodd, and Kiwi story author Bob Darroch stick around, with backlist sales being incredibly strong.

With this in mind, here are a whole load of still-living, possibly-overlooked amazing NZ authors that you should bring into your child’s reading world as early as you can.

Picture Book Authors

Donovan Bixley
cv_little_bo_peepDonovan is New Zealand’s king of expressive illustration. His sheep in Little Bo Peep and More (Upstart Press) are hilarious, and his illustrations of kid’s classics Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm (Hachette NZ) are brilliantly original. With several original stories under his belt now – the award-winning Monkey Boy (Scholastic NZ, 2014), for one – I can’t wait to see more.

cv_ghoulish_getupsFifi Colston
Home costume creation must-have Ghoulish Get-ups (Scholastic NZ) is just the latest in a great range of books that multi-talented creative Fifi Colston has to offer. Her award-winning Wearable Wonders (Scholastic NZ)  is essential for any young creative soul, and she has illustrated more books than I can count, in a career spanning 30 years. The Red Poppy, written by David Hill (Scholastic NZ), was just gorgeous, and Itiiti’s Gift, with Melanie Drewery (Puffin), is another classic.

Juliette MacIver
cv_yak_and_gnuWith her latest picture book, Yak and Gnu (Walker Books), being her 12th picture book in 5 years, Juliette MacIver and her flawless rhyming verse have become one of the perennials of the NZ book world. Her first book, Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam (Scholastic NZ), is the boys’ favourite; my personal favourite from her backlist is Toucan Can (Gecko Press). Most of her books are illustrated by the equally wonderful Sarah Davis.

cv_trainsCatherine Foreman
Catherine Foreman has a way with words for the younger kids in your family. Her 2015 book, The Roly-Poly Baby (Scholastic NZ), is a lovely short tale for your adventurous baby. Her 2013 series ‘Machines & Me’ still comes out most nights in our family – Trains in particular. Take note, writers of NZ – we need more good books about trains!

Ruth Paul
cv_stompRuth’s latest is the third in a group of dinosaur books, What’s the Time, Dinosaur? (Scholastic NZ) Not only are Ruth’s illustrations delightful, she can even rhyme! Our family favourites are Stomp! (board book just released), Two Little Pirates , and The King’s Bubbles (all Scholastic NZ).

Sally Suttoncv_zoo_train
All aboard the Zoo Train (Walker Books)! Sally is another fantastic picture book writer that isn’t anywhere near as well-known as she ought to be. Every child needs a copy of Roadworks (Walker Books). Be ready to hide it when it becomes a must-read Every Single Night. There are two follow-ups too – Demolition, and Construction.

Junior Fiction & Non-fiction

Kyle Mewburn
cv_dragon_knightKyle Mewburn has collaborated with Donovan Bixley for both of his recent junior fiction series’, Dinosaur Rescue (8 books, Scholastic NZ), and Dragon Knight. Begun early in 2015, this series is already 4 books strong. Both of these series are full of silly laughs for lovers of Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with a bit of Horrible Histories for good measure. He also has a 24-title-strong picture book list too: Duck’s Stuck (Scholastic NZ) and No Room for a Mouse (Scholastic Aus) are family favourites.

cv_cool_nukesDes Hunt
Cool Nukes author Des Hunt specialises in action-packed, environmentally-conscious writing. He has written about glaciers (Shadows in the Ice), mining (Frog Whistle Mine) and treasure-hunting (Cry of the Taniwha). There is something in his 22-book strong backlist for every adventure-loving 8-12-year-old.

Elizabeth Pulford
cv_sanspell‘Bloodtree Chronicles’ author Elizabeth Pulford is an incredibly diverse writer, writing for every age range. Her Scholastic fairy series Lily was published worldwide, and her most recent picture book Finding Monkey Moon (Candlewick Press) is being feted all over the globe. Junior Fiction series ‘Bloodtree Chronicles’, beginning with Sanspell, is perfect for the magic-loving kids in your life.
Philippa Werrycv_anzac_day_the_new_zealand_story
Author of non-fiction titles Anzac Day and Waitangi Day (New Holland), Philippa is another multi-talented author, writing ably across age ranges. Her most recent books have focused on war, and the New Zealand experience of war, but an old favourite of mine is junior fiction title The Great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off.

WW1 series, Scholastic NZ
cv_1915_wounds_of_warScholastic has a current book series commemorating New Zealanders’ wartime adventures. This began last year, with 1914: Riding into War, by Susan Brocker (another great underrated writer), then 1915: Wounds of War, by Diana Menefy (you guessed it, another). It will go for another three years, and is good reading for kids who enjoy Michael Morpurgo and other war-focussed writers.

Ned Barraud & Gillian Candler
cv_in_the_bushNed and Gillian have paired up on four books about New Zealand nature so far, and each of them have been extraordinarily good. In the Bush is the latest from this pair, but there is also On the Beach, In the Garden, and Under the Ocean. All are published by Potton& Burton. So, no matter where you are going this summer, there is a book in this range for you. Another kiwi author who writes and illustrates in the same area is Andrew Crowe.

cv_new_zealand_hall_of_fameMaria Gill
Most recently, Maria is known for her ‘Hall of Fame’ books – New Zealand Hall of Fame and New Zealand’s Sports Hall of Fame; but she has also got a huge backlist of nature publishing under her belt. If it explodes (Rangitoto, Eruption), has feathers (Call of the Kokako, Bird’s Eye View) or indeed fins (Save our Seas), she is bound to have written about it. Get your eco-ranger onto her books now!

Young Adult Fiction
David Hill
cv_first_to_the_topMy Brother’s War and The Deadly Sky (Penguin NZ) are just the most recent in a very long list of books for young adults that the wonderful David Hill has produced. He has recently branched into picture book writing, with Red Poppy and First to the Top (Penguin, 2015). In his YA list, his sensitive portrayal of awkward teendom, and his wit, is what sets him apart from others.

cv_evies_warAnna Mackenzie
Author of the recent release Evie’s War, Anna Mackenzie has been an essential part of the YA scene in New Zealand for many years. The Sea-Wreck Stranger was the first in a series exploring the fate of a stranger in a close-knit community. Cattra’s Legacy and Donnel’s Promise took us back into history, and reminded me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s books, with their fierce heroine.

Brian Falkner

cv_recon_team_angel_vengeanceRecon Team Angel (Walker Books) is the most recent series from Falkner, and it is a must-read for lovers of the ‘Cherub’ series. He began his writing career with junior fiction, incorporating the Warriors (The Flea Thing) and Coca Cola (The Real Thing); then moved into future-tech YA, with Brain Jack and The Tomorrow Code. He is a master of fast-paced action-packed adventure fiction.

Finally, a few you ought to know by now: Kate De Goldi, Elizabeth Knox, Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager, Bernard Beckett, and Ella Hunt. Introduce your teens to them, and they’ll read all of their books. They are brilliant. See my post from a couple of years ago for more about teen fiction writers in NZ.

by Sarah Forster

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.

Book Review: The Last of Maui’s Dolphins, by Maria Gill and Bruce Potter

cv_the_last_of_mauis_dolphinsAvailable now in bookstores nationwide.

As a resident of Raglan, one of the last places Maui’s Dolphin can be found, I was keen to get this book for my five-year-old daughter, to help her understand the importance of protecting these unique and beautiful animals.

The book consists of two parts: a fictional story about a young Maui’s dolphin, Hiriwa, and a couple of reference pages at the end with factual information about the dolphins.

Hiriwa’s story was easy to read and follow, and thankfully the writer did not fall into the trap of trying to rhyme, which many educational children’s books do, usually poorly. This is not one of those children’s stories that is a particular delight to read – the sentences are short and prosaic and the vocabulary basic. The story is also basic, and there are no real surprises or twists in the tale. However, it does what it sets out to do – it explains in an engaging and age-appropriate way the plight of the Maui’s dolphins, and the reasons for their being endangered.

The illustrations are appropriate and interesting, and help tell the story well. The dappled effect of light coming through water is particularly well captured.

My daughter enjoyed listening to the story, and asked lots of questions about the dolphins and how we could help them. It helped that we recently had “Maui’s Dolphin Day” in Raglan, so it tied in nicely with that experience, and helped me to explain to her what the day is for and why it is important. It’s not a book she has reached for over and over again, but she is happy to listen to it whenever I offer it.

Hopefully one day we won’t need books like this, as our waters will once again be teeming with plenty of beautiful native species, but until then I applaud the efforts of the writers and illustrators writing environmentally themed children’s books. Maybe my daughter’s generation will get the message and do something before it’s too late.

Reviewed by Renee Boyer-Willisson

The Last of Maui’s Dolphins
by Maria Gill and Bruce Potter
Published by New Holland
ISBN 9781869664107

Book review: New Zealand Hall of Fame by Maria Gill, illustrated by Bruce Potter

This book is in bookshops now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

I found this book extremely interesting and enjoyed reading about all the famous New Zealanders and what they have achieved. I liked the way the book was laid out, catergorising people by their area of interest or expertise.

The pictures and page layouts were eye catching and exciting and kept me wanting to read on. I like the passport idea for each person, as it made it easy to indentify who they were and what their key information was.

This book would appeal to children aged six and over and would be a very useful book to have on hand for homework and general knowledge quizzes. My family have had several quiz nights now, taking turns at asking questions about our knowledge of the subjects in the book.

I did feel that there were a number of important New Zealanders that should have been included in this book and I wondered why they had been left out. I was also very impressed with how many Kiwis have achieved great things in the world. It made me feel very proud to be a New Zealander.

It is a fun and informative book, written at the right level for children and designed to engage them in New Zealand history and general knowledge.

Reviewed by Brittany Luhrs (aged 12).

New Zealand Hall of Fame: 50 Remarkable Kiwis
by Maria Gill and illustrated by Bruce Potter
(New Holland Publishing)
ISBN 9781869663124

See our other review of this book.

Book review: New Zealand Hall of Fame by Maria Gill, illustrated by Bruce Potter

This book is in bookshops now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

A couple of years ago I tried to find a book on famous New Zealanders that my children could use for school projects. I failed miserably as there seemed to be a real gap in the market, so I was thrilled to come across Bruce Potter drawing caricatures for a new book on famous New Zealanders at the Storyline Festival.

I had to wait for it to be published and it was well worth the wait. Maria Gill has identified an interesting mix of 50 New Zealanders, both living and dead, who’ve all done something remarkable in their field.

The table of contents is split into sections: adventurers, leaders, pioneers, scientists, inventors, artists and sportspeople, so when my daughter was looking for a scientist to do a school project on, it was easy to identify four likely candidates.

I like the way that the four people are all quite different and specialise in different areas so there is bound to be someone of interest to all readers. My daughter chose Steve O’Shea (world-renowned squid expert) for her homework assignment and found plenty of information in the book.

Each page has some specific sections – Trophy Board, Timeline and Passport (with a photo and facts like name, date of birth and place of birth). All information is written in a very child-friendly way and includes information that children would find interesting.

Bruce Potter has drawn a caricature of each person and this takes pride of place on each double-spread. These are complimented by smaller photos and other drawings. One thing I don’t understand is why small drawings have been made from photographs on some of the pages. I don’t think these drawings have been done very well (poor Dave Dobbyn looks like Shrek in the picture on Tim Finn’s page), and the original photos are easily found on the internet.

My daughter has enjoyed flicking through the book and reading snippets of information. She declared she likes the book because ‘it tells you lots of interesting things about people.’
The book includes web addresses, and references to documentaries and films that can be found online.

I think this book is a ‘must have’ for any family with young children and I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Niki Bailey, Facebook fan

New Zealand Hall of Fame: 50 Remarkable Kiwis

by Maria Gill and illustrated by Bruce Potter
(New Holland Publishing)
ISBN 9781869663124