Book Review: Freedom Song, by Emma Farry, illustrated by Ewan McDougall

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_freedom_songWhat began as a poem drafted during the night, twenty-five years ago, after a particularly difficult meeting with a young mother while working on a documentary, has resulted in a stunning hardcover book with a simple message – love conquers all.

In the preface Farry says, ‘The sadness of this woman’s life and lack of love that it illustrated affected me deeply. The poem has been a kind of a touchstone for me ever since’.

Living in Manhattan when the planes flew into the towers on September 11 2001, Farry again turned to the words of the poem to make sense of the disaster.

Back home in Dunedin in 2010 Farry saw Ewan McDougall’s art in an exhibition at the Gallery de Novo and felt he could produce the appropriate works of art for her poem.
The colourful oils compliment the words on each page and I am sure they will even appeal to children, and offer tremendous opportunity for thought provoking discussion in homes or schools.

At the rear of the book all the paintings are named and listed in order with the finished size and painting medium.

Emma Farry chose her birth town Dunedin to launch her book Freedom Song during August 2018, which seems fitting as she received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Otago University before gaining a Diploma in Journalism from Canterbury University.

Freedom Song is a wonderful book of hope for the future which will sit nicely on my coffee table ‘And safe in the knowledge, true love would abide, United and balanced, our spirits could glide’.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Freedom Song
by Emma Farry, illustrated by Ewan McDougall
Published by Be Loved Press
ISBN 9780473410131

Book Review: Dear Donald Trump, by Sophie Siers and Anne Villeneuve

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_dear_donald_trumpThe premise of this delightful picture book (for older readers!) is that Sam is over sharing a bedroom with his brother and would like to block out the irritating behaviour (playing on a phone!) which keeps him awake at night. Having heard that Donald Trump has an idea which might suit, he suggests to his parents that he build a wall in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are not convinced. So he writes to Donald Trump to sound him out.

The particular genius in this story is that each time Sam writes a letter, there’s a corresponding illustration of DT determinedly avoiding receiving said letters. You can tell who it is, because of the yellow hair, but you never see his face – he’s always with his back to you, or with the face obscured. Brilliant politicial commentary right there, for the observant reader!!

Sam does try hard to get his point across to his parents, who counter his arguments with more reasonable suggestions which don’t involve structural alterations of their sons’ bedroom. As the story goes on, he gradually concedes that there may be more than one way to solve his problem, and by the end of course it all works out extremely well, but you’ll have to read it to find out how.

Sophie Siers has done a great job with this book. The language is reasonably sophisticated and very believable. The throwaway comments from Sam’s mum are spot-on, and it’s easy to see how Sam got so irritated with his brother.

The illustrations are very clever, and also very un-Kiwi. Anne Villeneuve is a Canadian illustrator/author, and her work is much more Quentin Blake than Gavin Bishop; the style works very well for this story.

All in all, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Dear Donald Trump
by Sophie Siers and Anne Villeneuve
Published by Millwood Press
ISBN 9780473432812

Book Review: The penguins are coming!, by Meg McKinlay & Mark Jackson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_penguins_are_coming.jpgThe zoo is expecting some penguins to arrive and a squirrel is confused – what exactly is a penguin?  This begins a crazy story where all the animals contribute their preposterous ideas which become more absurd with each turn of the page.

The illustrations perfectly capture the cheerful nature of the story.  They are full of life and colour.  The animation of the animals creates a playful scene for the silliness.  There is even a kiwi to spot for the eagle eyed!  Little dream bubbles accompany the animals as they imagine what a penguin is.

Children will love becoming the expert to correct the zoo animals and share their knowledge.  And they don’t need to know much about penguins to be the expert – according to the otters they travel south to get away from the snow but stop for pizza on the way.  Later on the pelicans tell us the penguins don’t like water!

Each animal has an opinion but nobody knows what to expect.  Eventually the zoo keeper steps in and contributes knowledge by correcting the animals.  This is a great way to introduce facts into the fictional book.  But wait for the twist at the end when the penguins arrive!

This is a great book to share out loud and a hilarious addition to any young child’s bookshelf.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

The penguins are coming!
by Meg McKinlay & Mark Jackson
Published by Walker Books

Book Review: Do you want to gallop with me? by Sophie Siers, with illustrations by Judith Trevelyan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_do_you_want_to_gallop_with_me.jpgBeing horse-mad as a child, I would have loved this book. Beautifully illustrated by Judith Trevelyan, Do you want to gallop with me? features horses every time you turn the page, along with tui, rabbits, and hedgehogs.

The story is about Nibbles the pony, who loves to gallop but on this day he has trouble finding anyone to play with him. The tui, hare, hedgehog and fellow horses all say no, and he’s thinking he’s going to be all alone in his prancing…

But then across the paddock comes a friend who is certainly keen to go galloping with Nibbles. They gallop and trot and splash and prance – past Tui, past Hare and past Hedgehog.

This book has plenty to keep a child enthralled as the pages turn, and the delightful illustrations are colourful and full of detail.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Do You Want to Gallop With Me?
by Sophie Siers, with illustrations by Judith Trevelyan
Published by Millwood Press
ISBN 9780473408541

Book Review:  One House for All, by Inese Zandere, illustrated by Juris Petraškevičs

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_one_house_for_all.jpgA Latvian book now translated into English, One House for All asks what happens when three close friends find that their needs are different, and have to learn to compromise?

Crayfish, Raven and Horse want to live together as friends, but are also ready to get married and have children.  They soon realise that their wants and needs are not the same, and have to make a hard choice – not get married at all, or think of a creative solution that works for them all.

Aside from the repeated focus on marriage (it’s 2018, after all – and the original only dates to 2014), this is a very sweet story of good things coming in threes, be it three friends, 3 acres of grass, or three-metre-high bedrooms.

The story follows a pattern – each friend has the same idea, but in their own way.  I haven’t read it with my class yet but I’m prepared to wager that, if I stopped reading the story at the crisis point, the kids would come up with a very similar solution to the main characters; like the friends, kids are often great at thinking outside the square if given a chance.

The illustrations are saturated with colour, and appear simplistic or childlike at first glance, but are layered and richly detailed on a closer look.  This would be a great read-aloud for children aged about 4 – 8 years old.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

One House for All
by Inese Zandere, illustrated by Juris Petraškevičs
Published by Book Island Ltd
ISBN 9781911496069

Book Review: Gentle Giant – Wētāpunga, by Annemarie Florian & Terry Fitzgibbon

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_gentle_giantThis non-fiction meets poetic story about New Zealand’s largest insect is an amazing insight into the history and life of a wētā. It begins with some intriguing facts about the enormous size of wētā and how it came to make its home in Aotearoa before exploring its breeding, eating and survival habits, and taking a look at how human activity and the introduction of mammals has affected its way of life.

Young children are curious about the living world and seem to have endless questions about the many creatures that inhabit the earth. Annemarie Florian has created an amazing source of reference for children and adults with this book and it is clear that a lot of research and passion about New Zealand’s creatures has gone into Gentle Giant. The poetic narrative paired with the rich illustrations makes it a versatile teaching tool as it can be used as a story book as well as in-depth research tool.

If you were a fan of Florian’s award winning book KIWI: the real story or you have a young class or little explorer of your own who is curious about the wētā, you need to get your hands on a copy of Gentle Giant: Wētāpunga.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Gentle Giant: Wētāpunga
by Annemarie Florian
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664817

Book Review: Dream Ayla Dream, by Mikyung Song, translated by Soona Song Wylie

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_dream_ayla_dream.jpgInside this delightful picture book are six short stories, introduced as ‘stories that make you happy’. They feature a little girl called Ayla who has fun exploring the world around her and we get to see that world through her eyes; this is a celebration of the simple joys children find in their everyday lives.

In Sunflower Parasol, Ayla decides it is too hot. And what is missing from the picnic table? A sunflower will do the trick, so she plants a seed underneath the umbrella hole. All she has to do now is wait.

Drawings Alive serves as a cautionary tale for distracted parents. Ayla’s mum is busy and without time to find paper for Ayla to draw with asks, ‘Is there anything else you can use?’ Uh-oh… Yes there is but it’s not what mum had in mind.

A hot summers day is not what Ayla’s toy friend enjoys. So she helps by creating a cold artic winter for him; a cool pool complete with ice is just the thing for a polar bear and Ayla immerses herself into the game by donning a winter coat and scarf. Red faced she declares ‘Mummy, it’s not hot here at all. Can’t you see Poley and I are at the North Pole?’

The last story is my favourite. In this one Ayla shares the secret of rainbows – they come from the bubbles she blows. She has to blow lots of bubbles to make lots of rainbows, because rainbows make people happy.

Ayla is quite a character, full of curiosity and imagination. She is generally well behaved, with a few moments of mischief (like most young children), which make her appealing and natural. I also got a chuckle out of the illustration of her mother gazing at the mess left in the kitchen – so much is said in just a few quick sketched lines. Pared back text and minimal, childlike illustrations pull your focus into the stories which are somehow powerful in their simplicity while remaining approachable and engaging. These are stories that young children will relate to and enjoy as they will see themselves within the pages – they certainly are ‘stories that make you happy.’

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Dream Ayla Dream
by Mikyung Song, translated by Soona Song Wylie
Walking Book, South Korea
ISBN: 9791196124817

Book Review: The Whale and the Snapper, by Jo Van Dam, illustrated by Richart Holt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_whale_and_the_snapperThe Whale and the Snapper is part of the Kiwi Corkers collection published by Scholastic NZ. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing previous titles Parakeet in Boots and Wacko Kakapo, and each of these books have been received well by my grandchildren. Three-year-old Quinn had me read this title to her over and over.

‘Once upon a time, in the deep blue and dark blue sea, lived a tiny shiny snapper, and her sisters thirty-three.’

Quinn stopped me at this point, asking ‘has she got thirty-three sisters, Grandma’ – I had to explain that snappers lay a lot of eggs and, yes, they were all her sisters. Only having one sister, Quinn thought about that for a minute and said – “I don’t think I’d like to have thirty-three sisters”.  I  think she is right, one sister is plenty.

The tiny snappers had all been nagged by their mother to ‘stay hidden in the weed, as whales and people fishing reckon you’re a tasty feed.’  Generally, they obeyed her but of course being young they were curious and ventured beyond where they should go.

Of course, a good story has to have a villain and in this case, it was a whale. The tiny snapper appealed to the whale to not eat him up but to let him go. If he did, he would sometime in the future repay the kindness. So, the villain turns out to be a good guy and let the snapper go. The snapper never forgot that kindness and was able to return the favour.

The moral of the story is if you do a good deed you will be repaid sometime in the future – well you hope so!

After reading each page I stopped and asked Quinn what she could see in the illustrations. The language alongside each one just made me laugh with the amount of Kiwi slang – ‘sweet as! Fresh kai for me,’ being just one example.  A truly delightful book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Whale and the Snapper
by Jo Van Dam, illustrated by Richard Holt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434948


Book Review: Hugo Makes a Change, by Mauro Gatti and Scott Emmons

cv_hugo_makes_a_change.jpgAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

In this brightly illustrated book we are introduced to Hugo the Vampire. Hugo, just like any vampire, wakes at night and is feeling hungry. We find out that Hugo’s favourite food is “red, juicy, MEAT!” and it’s all he craves for every meal. As Hugo eats his way through hot dogs, turkey, roast, jerky, steak and salami each night he soon discovers his diet is making him feel sluggish and he grows tired of eating meat every night. Seeking variety her ventures out into the garden; but Hugo doesn’t like the look of the fruits and vegetables at all and decides he will never eat them.

However, a round, red apple catches his eye and after the first bite he decides that he will give fruits and vegetables a try. Now Hugo thinks fruits and vegetables are delicious and he eats them for every meal (along with his favourite meats of course). Nuts and raisins become Hugo’s favourite snacks and as he finds himself growing stronger and having more energy he is pleased he added fruits and vegetables to his diet.

This is an excellent book for promoting healthy eating in young children. Hugo the Vampire is easy for children to relate to if they find trying new food a bit daunting as he is hesitant to try fruits and veggies at first too! This book came at the perfect time as our preschool is currently exploring healthy eating and how to build strong muscles. The children responded positively to Hugo’s choice to try new foods and were quick to share that they were going to eat more fruits and vegetables to “get strong” like Hugo. I’m sure the very last page will leave children wondering about the little holes they might find in their fruit.

I also appreciated that Hugo didn’t entirely give up his favourite foods and decided that he could still eat meat as part of a balanced diet. The descriptive language paired with great rhyming made the book informative and fun to read. Emmons does a brilliant job of making different cuts and styles of meats into rhythmical rhymes while Gatti’s bold and colourful illustrations let us see how Hugo was feeling about his all-meat diet and his adventures in trying new foods.

It can be tricky to explain to young children why it’s important we eat a balanced diet with a variety of different foods but I think Hugo Makes a Change does this wonderfully. This book would make great tool for any teacher or parent who is trying to help their child make healthy eating choices.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Hugo Makes a Change
by Mauro Gatti and Scott Emmons
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171218

Book Review: I am Jellyfish, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_am_jellyfish.jpgWhen you buy this book, make sure to take it into a darkened room to admire – the cover is wreathed with glow in the dark jellyfish and a fearsome swordfish’s eye.

Poor Jelly is being teased by Swordfish for not having a reason for existing, as she lives her peaceful existence: ‘Jellyfish shrugged, jellyfish sighed. “I go with the flow,” she softly replied.’ When Swordfish tries to eat her, she drops, into the deep, dark ocean; and swordfish follows, well beyond his comfort zone. Where other predators of the sea await.

Ruth Paul has been writing and illustrating books (and having them published!) since 2005, and this particular book reminds me of one of my favourites of hers, Superpotamus! The rhyme scheme is similar, with a phrase that repeats with mild variations, and the storyline is similarly delightful. This may be the first picture book I’ve ever read with a Giant Squid as the big baddie.

Swordfish learns a little more about himself, and a lot more about jellyfish, when he is saved from the predator (spoiler alert) by the very fish he was aiming to have for dinner. Jellyfish, in turn, and after teaching Swordfish a lesson, is reminded of her own usefulness and becomes more certain of herself as the book concludes, saying “I am what I am.”

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, using dappled tones and bright colours to pop the fish against the background, which heads to absolute black as we dive many fathoms deep. The expressions of the fish are hilarious, particularly the lanternfish, who has the expression of a country yokel in every B-grade Western ever made!

I recommend this for those with curious children, who ask a million why’s and have an interest in what exactly goes on, under the surface of our great oceans. Age 2+.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I am Jellyfish
by Ruth Paul
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771159