Book Review: Badjelly the Witch, with audio CD, by Spike Milligan

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_badjelly_the_witchIn the interests of full disclosure, I grew up on this story. I used to listen to Dick Weir’s radio show for kids on weekend mornings (morning TV wasn’t a thing until I was a bit older), and it was always a great day when he played Badjelly. I also raised my now-adult daughter on the story of courageous siblings who are searching for their lost cow, and meet a cast of interesting characters along the way. I am, as you can already tell, a fan.

What I wanted to see was if today’s kids would still appreciate Badjelly in all its un-PC, analogue glory. So, roll on up, my 5-7 year-old students: welcome to a piece of your teacher’s childhood.

I read the book in chunks. Milligan helpfully broke the text into sections, so I stuck with this and read the story over a couple of days like a mini-novel. The kids loved it. They laughed at the funny bits and gasped at the tense bits. They enjoyed the pictures (in colour, no less!) and were impressed that Spike Milligan had actually handwritten his story, just like they do.

What I was really looking forward was watching the children listen to the CD. I didn’t own a copy of the book until I was an adult, so my memories are aural. I’ve probably listened to the story about a hundred times … I’ve heard it so many times that when I read it aloud, I can’t help but read it in my best Spike Milligan imitation.

The kids enjoyed the CD, but couldn’t listen to the whole thing in one go … I’m not sure if it’s the “attention span of today’s yoof”, or just that classroom floors after lunch don’t foster the same cosy feelings as my childhood lounge floor in my PJs.

In hardback and in colour, with the CD, this has got to be the definitive version of Badjelly the Witch. If your household has small people in it, you need a copy. If you know small people, they need a copy. If you’re like me and grew up in the late 70s, you probably need a copy too, for nostalgia’s sake.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Badjelly the Witch, with audio CD
by Spike Milligan
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143772286

Book Review: Kakapo Dance, by Helen Taylor

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kakapo_danceI read this book to my 3 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn. The illustrations are captivating and marry in beautifully with this rather delightful story.

Kakapo is a rather large clumsy bird. The forest is alive with all the birds singing and dancing, all except Kakapo.

‘Because Kakapo DON’T sing or dance,
We’re just not made that way!’

The Bellbird has a melodious song, but all Kakapo can do is Thud! Thud! Thud! We then have the Keruru who loves to coo and glide and the Bellbird loves to hop and chime. Whio likes to whistle and waddle. Pukeko like to strut and shriek, Fantail likes to chirp and twirl but all Kakapo can do is Boom! Boom! Boom! They also Ching! And they can Tuuuumble! Shuffle! Shuffle! Shuffle!

This is quite a funny book as it highlights how even a clumsy bird has its attributes.

Quinn had a faraway look on her face at one stage – her own singing and dancing is a bit like Kakapo’s. Perhaps she was imagining herself in Kakapo’s shoes and wondering how she could improve her own singing and dancing.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Kakapo Dance
by Helen Taylor
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143506010

Book Review: Bobby, the Littlest War Hero, by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_bobby_the_littlest_war_heroNow, 100 years after the Great War, stories are emerging about people and events previously unspoken of. I know with my own family, the stories were not recounted for over 50 years and it was the Grandchildren who became the listeners.

Bobby, the littlest War Hero is just such a story. For me the best part is that the tale comes as a picture book and so is available to an audience for whom the Great War is  distant history. This book makes it real.

Glyn Harper is a war historian and he uses a real event to tell the tale of a canary and his best friend Jack. The use of canaries in mining is well know, but their work during the war with the tunnelers was a revelation. Jenny Cooper brings the story of Bobby to life with the bleak browns of the battlefield and the yellow canary.

As a teacher I find a resource such as Bobby enables wonderful discussions and research. 30 years ago, such books were a rarity and it was difficult to engage my students. This book has been around many classes and I included my World War 1 entrenchment tool, to add another level to their understanding. This came back with my Grandfather and shows the fragility of life in the trenches.

As Anzac Day approaches, Bobby would be a wonderful way for a family to share ideas on war, peace and the importance of friendships.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Bobby, the Littlest War Hero
by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771876

 

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