Book Review: Kōwhai Kids, by Marion Day and Anna Evans

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kowhai_kidsThe frosts are over and the warm, spring weather has finally arrived in New Zealand which means the native kōwhai trees are in full bloom. Amongst the branches, the kōwhai kids with their classy costumes sway in the breeze and show off their golden colours. Kōwhai girls love to chat, dance and cuddle while kōwhai boys love to tease, throw and tackle. They care for the birds that help with pollination, show kindness to the animals that seek protection and chase away the pesky critters that strip their branches. After their busy bloom seed pods begin to grow from the branches of the kōwhai and when the time comes the kōwhai kids say goodbye and let the seeds drop to the ground to grow new trees. But that’s not the last you will see of the kōwhai kids, because next spring, new kōwhai kids will bloom and start the cycle all over again.

Kōwhai Kids uses an imaginative world with adorable fairy-like characters to explain the reproductive process and secret life of New Zealand’s own kōwhai tree. Cleverly written, the kōwhai boys and girls represent the dioecious nature of the trees needing both a female and a male tree to reproduce while teaching young children about the important symbiotic relationship between the birds, particularly the tūī, and the kōwhai that are also needed in order for the tree to propagate.

The illustrations flood each page with the rich colours and the vibrant wildlife of spring time in New Zealand and capture the bright golden glow of the kōwhai. Kōwhai Kids is a wonderful introduction to one of the most beautiful trees in the world with factual information about the native beauty included on the first page as well as a ‘How to Grow a Kōwhai Tree’ guide in the back. This book is the perfect tool to start a growing project with your children if you are fortunate enough to have one of these beautiful trees growing near you!

While the kōwhai is spectacular on its own the thought of the tiny kōwhai kids playing amongst its branches makes the magnificent tree a little bit more magical. Giving appreciation to our native flora and fauna, Kōwhai Kids is imaginative and informative, making it a great addition to a child’s home or classroom library.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Kōwhai Kids
by Marion Day, illustrated by Anna Evans
Published by AM Publishing
ISBN 9780473459000

Book Review: Polly does NOT want a cracker!, by Stephanie Thatcher

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_polly_does_not_want_a_crackerSo first of all, why do we call parrots Polly, and why are crackers associated with them?

It seems that as far back as Ben Jonson (17th century) or even before, there were literary references to parrots being named Poll or Polly. That name is a derivative from Moll, or Molly, in turn an abbreviated or alternative form of Mary, which was just a hugely common name and also one give to parrots generally. But asking “Mary want a muffin?” while alliterative, does not seem to carry the same feeling!

So why the crackers? Apparently this can be traced, if you believe Google, to the fact that parrots were common on board ships, and biscuits (hard tack) were a staple in the diet of sailors, so they’d get offered to parrots.

Well, there you are. It’s one explanation. Parrots, as we know, are amazing imitators of sounds including human speech, and are apparently smart enough – at least in one case – to differentiate between asking for morning and afternoon tea at the appropriate time of day.

Now, our Polly absolutely does not want crackers and is so forceful in her refusals that she is turned out of her own home. Okay, she lived in the zoo and the keeper thought she was just too rude to be kept on. So, she’s sent off to a pet shop. This did not go so well, as every visitor asked Polly the same silly question, and she responded in her normal way, at the same time terrifying all the small animals waiting to be chosen for their ‘forever homes’.

Now, I won’t give all the story away; you need to do some reading for yourselves!

The illustrations, also by Stephanie Thatcher, are delightful; who knew you could put an expression on a kitten’s face (which is about the size of an old threepenny bit)? Stephanie can!

It’s a lovely book which I think will delight readers of all ages.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Polly does NOT want a cracker!
by Stephanie Thatcher
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781988516592

Book Review: There’s a Hedgehog in my Pants!, by Amy Harrop and Ross Kinnaird

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_theres_a_hedgehog_in_my_pantsAlways remember to keep an eye on your pants the next time you’re on a hike and desperately need the loo. In this crack-up tale a young boy finds out the hard way that he should never have left his pants unattended when an unfortunately prickly pal moves in. His poor bottom gets a particularly raw deal and no amount of jumping, dancing or shaking to and fro can extract the little fella. It seems only taking his pants back off will relieve his burning botty but leaves both him and the hedgehog shivering in the breeze. Luckily, the boy thinks of a solution that will suit the two of them just right.

The warning given on the front cover definitely fulfilled its promise as this story certainly contains multiple words for ‘bottom’ and we all know how much young children enjoy saying that! There’s a HEDGEHOG in my PANTS! had my preschool class giggling away and feeling highly entertained at all the different ways to say ‘bottom’! Silly stories give children an appropriate time and outlet to enjoy a laugh about the funniest part of our anatomy and this one sure delivered.

Children love when they know something that the main character in the book doesn’t and There’s a HEDGEHOG in my PANTS! ends exactly like that, leaving room for discussion about what could happen next. Ross Kinnaird’s fun and comical illustrations and Amy Harrop’s amusing and wonderfully rhyming story is sure to draw a chuckle from little ones as well as broadening their vocabulary for one particular part of their body.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

There’s a HEDGEHOG in my PANTS!
by Amy Harrop, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435655

Book Review: Yackety Zac, by Chris Gurney, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_yackety_zacWhen Booksellers sent out an email recently with a photograph of children’s books to be reviewed, and an instruction to ‘choose 3’, it was a classic case of judging a book by the cover – or title, in this case. The title and cover illustration Yackety Zac pretty much tells you everything you are going to need to know about this book, and I HAD to have it.

Don’t think you won’t be surprised by Yackety Zac though.  Yup, Zac talks A LOT, but I wasn’t expecting his talk to be so precociously early, or in rhyme. The rhymes scan well, and trip of the tongue with ease. The language is also rich, and exposes children to words they might not otherwise use, in the best traditions of Lynley Dodd and Margaret Mahy – this is always a very good thing.

The illustrations are hilarious and vibrantly coloured. The expressions on the other character’s faces convey exactly everyone’s reactions to Zac’s incessant talking, while Zac is joyfully oblivious. I also love the subtle messages on the doctor’s clinic wall – a good reminder for everyone about the reason why we have two ears and only one mouth.

The solution to Zac’s problem is funny and clever, and a nice play on an old idiom.  It ties up the story in a satisfying.  It was school holidays when I reviewed Yackety Zac, so I enlisted the help of my friend Lucas, who is 7, to give me his opinion. He thought it was very funny, and liked the conclusion as much as I did.

Lucas and I highly recommend this book for children from 3 years and up, and I think it will be a useful resource for teachers in particular (despite the rather unflattering portrayal of a teacher in the book!), to raise the issue of taking turn while talking in a humourous and fun way.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Yackety Zac
by Chris Gurney, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Published by OneTree House
ISBN 9780995106451

Book Review: Tane Mahuta has a Forest / He wao tā Tāne Mahuta, by Rebecca Larsen

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_tane_mahuta_has_a_forestRebecca Larsen is back with another sing-along kiwi adventure. Following on from her debut book, Row, row, row your boat, Kiwi, Hoiho & Pukeko are heading off for a walk through Tāne Mahuta’s forest.

Set to the tune of Old MacDonald had a farm, the three friends walk through the forest and spot different creatures as they go (including Tāne Mahuta himself!). The lyrics encourage readers to move their bodies as we meet each animal – can you crawl like a weta or stretch as tall as Tāne Mahuta?

There are two things which make this sing-along book special. Firstly, Rebecca Larsen’s beautiful pencil illustrations which are bright and full of life. All the textures and shading can be seen and admired and the birds are delightful characters to follow through the story. We laughed at the kiwi flying like a pekapeka with a little help from her friend!

Secondly, the text incorporates te reo Māori throughout the song. It provides lots of opportunities to practice vowel pronunciation for new speakers, but also weaves Māori kupu into the verses too. There is, of course, a fluent Māori version at the back, but for beginner speakers it is a great way to learn and use new vocabulary.

With so many sing-along books now available, Rebecca Larsen has developed something a little more funky that makes it stand out from the crowd. With vibrant illustrations, beautiful lyrics and music which will get all readers wriggling and jiggling along, this will surely become a favourite on your bookshelf.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Tāne Mahuta has a forest / He wao tā Tāne Mahuta
Written & illustrated by Rebecca Larsen
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995103283

Book Review: Mini Whinny – Happy Birthday to Me, by Stacy Gregg and Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_mini_whinnyWe all love birthday parties, especially when it is our own. But what happens if you have to share your birthday? And not just with a twin or friend, but with every other horse in the world! That is the problem faced by Mini Whinny. Not only is she the smallest and cutest horse in the stable, she is also the naughtiest.

Mini Whinny has a plan and the story follows her decision to celebrate her own birthday in a special way. There is a message for us all about friendship and sharing in this cautionary tale.

Stacy Gregg has two passions: horses and writing. She combines them beautifully in this story. Of Ngāti Mahuta descent, she is a New Zealand author with an ability to see the story in any situation. Her Pony Club and historical series’ appealed to an older age group.

The illustrations, by Ruth Paul, are beautiful and my granddaughter loved spotting the details which are included on every page. The front and end papers are an extra detail which can be enjoyed by the observant reader. I used these with my class and asked them to create the story between, before reading to them, and it was a lot of fun.

Mini Whinny would be a treat in any Christmas stocking, but especially for one who loves horses.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Mini Whinny: Happy Birthday to Me!
by Stacey Gregg and Ruth Paul
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435372

Book Review: Of Course You Can! | Ka Taea Tonu e Koe! by Karen Hinge, illustrated by Nicky Sievert

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_of_course_you_can.jpgJust like any child starting a new school, Jeremy was nervous. Kowhai Street Primary school looked nice and his teacher, Whae Kath was welcoming. He waved good-bye to his mother. Jeremy sat back watching the activities the other children were engaging in. After eating some of his lunch he participated in some of the activities – making a colourful fish picture to add to the class display. His first day was over but his enthusiasm was a bit mixed which is how a lot of children feel in a new environment.

On Jeremy’s second day he was invited to join in some of the activities. He was convinced he wouldn’t be able to participate but with words of encouragement and a bit of ingenuity he was able to join in. Jeremy was making new friends and finding ways to participate in all the games and the rough and tumble of a school’s playground.

This book is very cleverly put together, encouraging children to have empathy for those who aren’t able-bodied, and helping them to find a way to join in children’s every day activities.

What is also wonderful with this book is the accompanying text in Te Reo. Many schools are teaching Te Reo, so this book is a great addition to a school’s library or class text.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Of Course You Can! | Ka Taea Tonu e Koe!
by Karen Hinge Na Ngaere Roberts i whakamaori
Illustrated by Nicky Sievert
Published by OneTree House
ISBN 9780473421854