Book Review: Showtym Adventures: Dandy, the Mountain Pony, by Kelly Wilson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dandy_the_mountain_ponyThe Wilson Sisters, Vicki, Kelly and Amanda are well known in equestrian circles having also appeared on a television programme about capturing and training the wild Kaimanawas horses.

Dandy, The Mountain Pony is Vicki Wilson’s story. Vicki was nine years old when the owner of her lease pony Cardiff, decided to sell him. She was broken hearted but was realistic that her parents didn’t have the money to buy him.

A month after Cardiff had been sold Vicki was still without a pony. All the pony’s advertised for sale were far too expensive – her parents had managed to scrape together a couple of hundred dollars which was just not enough. Her parents surprised her one day with a visit to some wild ponies. There had been an advertisement in the local paper for a herd that runs wild on a mountain just fifteen minutes from where the Wilsons live. Vicki had always dreamed of taming wild horses. It appeared that perhaps her dream was about to come true.

The Welsh ponies had been bred on the mountain for generations but of recent years the lady and her family had been unable to keep up with training them so the herd was running wild with some of them never having been touched.

The Wilsons ended up buying three of the ponies. They had budgeted for $200 so at $50 each they could afford to buy all three, but with proviso that one be trained and then sold to offset the costs of feed and training.

Vicki starts training her pony Dandy. Gaining Dandy’s trust is the first hurdle she has to overcome. This proved to be a difficult and challenging project. After many months she is able to enter into competitions with him but not without a lot of challenges along the way.

I came to the conclusion after reading this book aloud to 6-year-old Abby that you don’t necessarily have to be a horsy person to enjoy it. Abby loved it asking lots of questions as I read it to her. There are lots of training tips at the back of this book for the serious owner.

The Wilson sisters also run Showtym Camps for young riders, which is hugely popular, helping them get the most from their ponies while having a lot of fun and adventures along the way.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Showtym Adventures: Dandy, the Mountain Pony
by Kelly Wilson
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771494


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



Book Review: The Christmas Tree Tangle, by Margaret Mahy

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Icv_the_christmas_tree_tangle am sadly just a decade too old to have actually grown up with this book, but I wish I had! Mahy is fabulous fun in this tale of a hapless kitten stuck up a Christmas Tree.

It has all the elements we know and love Mahy for: flawless rhyme, rhythm and cadence, a solid story in several acts, and a wicked sense of fun. And the word ‘horrakapotchkin’ – probably my favourite of all the coined words Mahy uses.

The feel of this as you read it is similar to singing the 12 days of Christmas, or I know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. First cat, then dog, then goat, then pigs ascend the tree, and as the story builds we have a couplet given to each: The cat splits the night with a woeful wail, the dog barks in the Christmas night, the goat teeters, entreating, while the kitting clings with her claws to the Christmas star.

Spoiler alert – none of these animals are quite as good at climbing as the kitten… but they do make extremely good stepping stones!

Sarah Davis’s illustrations are playful and wild, matching the tone of the book perfectly. The things that befall the animals are hilarious – the cat’s tail gets caught in the teeth of a nutcracker ornament, while the dog is tangled in some pretty strong beads. And the manner in which the child at the end ascends the tree is perfect – using a collection of Christmas-themed helium balloons. (Check out Sarah Davis’s article on The Sapling about her attempts at illustrating the kitten!)

Buy and read this with your children this Christmas (if you can find a copy!): our copy is going under the tree as a Christmas Eve read.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Christmas Tree Tangle
by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Sarah Davis
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 97801437709800

Book Review: Scarface Claw, Hold Tight, by Lynley Dodd

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_scarface_claw_hold_tightWhat child doesn’t like Hairy Maclary books? One of the benefits of living in Tauranga is taking my grandchildren to see yhe wonderful Hairy Maclary statues at The Strand down by the water. They make me realise how universal these characters are. All ages stroke them and comment about the books.

“The morning was peaceful
The birds in the trees
were fluffing their feathers
and teasing the bees.
Sunning himself
as he settled each paw
was lazy old sleepyhead,
Scarface Claw.”

Scarface gets himself in a bit of a jam , sunning himself on top of a car which drives off. Poor old Scarface hangs on for dear life.

As usual Lynley Dodd has written a book that small children just love. I read this to 3-year-old Quinn. She hung on every word, looking at the illustrations pointing to poor old Scarface clinging on for dear life. She was quite sure that he would fall off and hurt himself and end up at the vets. Quite a relief when we came to the end of the story and she saw that he survived.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Scarface Claw, Hold Tight
by Lynley Dodd
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770985

Book Review: Aotearoa, by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_aotearoa_the_new_zealand_storyGavin Bishop’s Aotearoa has been atop the Nielsen Bestsellers list virtually since its release. I spotted Gavin at the Storylines Hui the day after it was launch and he said ‘It sold 140 copies at the launch! I’ve never written a bestseller!’

Gavin has been writing and illustrating books for over 40 years. He has gone through many phases of illustration – the illustrations in this book are most similar in style to his The House that Jack Built, which was re-published a few years ago by Gecko Press, but also bring in elements (particularly in the people) of the broad style he used in Mister Whistler.

Aotearoa tells the story of our nation, from the big bang, via dinosaurs, through Kupe’s discovery of Aotearoa (so named by Kupe’s wife Kuramārōtini) and so on. My first favourite page – there are many – is the Voyages to Aotearoa, which depicts each of the waka that we know sailed to settle in New Zealand from Hawaiki. Along with people, came gods, and the stories of our gods are flawlessly woven into the narrative.

As iwi settled the land, each named its sacred mountain, and set about naming the birds, fish and insects of Aotearoa – and the land: Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui. On the following spread, came war: the Māori war god Tūmatauenga makes several appearances as our people go to war. While disputes over land led to fighting, the first Pākehā arrived. Gavin takes us inside their minds to show how they drew the coastline of New Zealand, and the illustrations give further information about what was introduced and traded.

Something notable if you have never read a history book that has an integrated world-view of New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi isn’t signed until page 20 – one-third of the way through the book. There was a lot of history in Aotearoa before Pākehā came and carved it up, and this book ensures the younger generation doesn’t forget it. I will also add, for me the best parts of the book are those which tell about the settlement of New Zealand by all its peoples.

From the late 19th century on, Gavin does break-out ‘survey’ pages telling about progress in different areas of life and society. Transport, employment, houses, education. Each of these are finely drawn, but as somebody who tends to view things in a linear manner, I couldn’t help but want the images to sit in a more time-oriented manner!

The things he brings out though are wonderful, and there are several juxtapositions that made me smile to myself – in housing, these three things are close together: 1937: State houses were built for those who could not afford their own; 2008: A house in Masterton designed by the Wellington firm Melling Morse Architects; 2015: The number of homeless people who slept on the streets increased.

Gavin has also very cleverly given potted histories of famous architects, significant visionaries, and so on throughout his illustrations. His war illustrations are majestic artworks of the sort that I hope go on tour through Painted Stories.

I will stop myself gushing over every page and think about audience for a second. There is nothing that Gavin has done that hasn’t got kids in the centre of his thinking. The lollies page is fantastic; the clothes page – which involves many members of his own family – could inspire a class study of fashions using old family photos; the sports section is brilliant – and of course the All Blacks are running across the South Island. The disasters section is a starter page for 100s of school projects in the future. He has chosen famous people that children can relate to (Jamie Curry, Annabel Langbein, Witi Ihimaera, Lorde) and singers, writers, actors, dancers and artists as well. I’m pleased to see he has drawn himself in there.

Gavin has not been afraid to put his worldview across. ‘1840: The Treaty of Waitangi gave Māori the rights of British citizens. But for over 100 years it was ignored and ruled irrelevant to New Zealand law and government’. He has told briefly of land marches, protests, Bastion Point and Moutoa Gardens, hikoi, and wrongful Anti-terror raids. He has also called out those who are destroying our land: ‘Careless use of the environment threatens all life.’ Possibly the cutest drawing of the south island has it turned into a possum…

But the book ends with hope. Electric transport is being brought in. Kāpiti Island is a bird sanctuary, the Southern Ocean is a whale sanctuary. There are good things happening in agriculture. And finally, we have children flying the flag for the future. Just perfect.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, you will learn something from this book. You will understand how history has formed our land. Gavin has used the academic work of our most important historians to focus his drawings, and he has done a superlative job. Step out of the way, everybody, the award goes to…

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770350


Book Reviews: Colours for Kiwi Babies, and Counting For Kiwi Babies, by Matthew Williamson and Fraser Williamson

cv_colours_for_kiwi_babiesAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

It is refreshing to read board books for young babies which represent the world they are growing up in through beautiful pictures and simple text.

In Colours for Kiwi Babies, each double page spread focuses on one colour. One page is filled with the colour with the colour’s name in both te reo Māori and English. Opposite, a stylized kiwi image represents the colour. With each turn of the page, the pictures show New Zealand proudly – a rugby jersey, pohutakawa, pavalova; all things your child is likely to grow up knowing in real life.

cv_counting_for_kiwi_babiesIn Counting for Kiwi Babies, the focus is on New Zealand native birds from across the country – kiwi, tūī, ruru and kea for example. The text includes the numeral with te reo Māori and English names for each number. This is great as your child grows for number recognition.

In both books, both English and te reo Māori are valued equally – and it is fantastic to see some bird and plant names are not translated because these kupu are part of our kiwi dictionary!

The books are robust enough for your child to love but designed for adults to enjoy too. I really enjoyed the muted colours which were pleasing to read and the pictures could hang on my wall!

We shared these with a young child who has just had a baby sister join her whānau. The simple format allowed her to read to her new sister independently and for her sister to enjoy the story-telling.

Both these books are a beautiful addition to any new-borns’ library and as your baby grows, these books will provoke lots of kōrero about the images and text.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Colours for Kiwi Babies
by Matthew Williamson and Fraser Williamson
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771142

Counting for Kiwi Babies
by Matthew Williamson and Fraser Williamson
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771135

Book Review: We’re All Wonders, by R. J. Palacio

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_wereallwonders.jpgThis is a beautiful reflection on difference and how we react. While as a Mum, I wanted my three children to be curious and ask questions, I always struggled with the loudly voiced,’ Why does that girl have…?’.

This simple but clear picture book gives the perspective from the inside. The opening statement declares, ‘I know I’m not an ordinary kid.’ The story follows the everyday actions which all children enjoy, but being stared at, left out and bullied becomes the norm.

R J Palacio wrote the novel Wonder from this perspective and has followed it with a number of related tales. Here we have a simplified version of Wonder, where the message is easy for all to follow. I can see this book being a useful starter in classrooms at all levels. My Year 11 class engaged in a robust discussion about appearance and pressure to conform. As a parent and grandparent this is a treasure to share.

The final statement is a heartfelt message for child and adult: ‘I know I can’t change the way I look BUT maybe, just maybe, people can change the way they see…’

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

We’re All Wonders
by R. J. Palacio
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780141386416