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

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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

Frankie Potts #3 and #4, by Juliet Jacka, illustrated by Phoebe Morris

If you haven’t read the Frankie Potts series yet, then you’re definitely missing out. 7-10 year olds I’m talking to you. Funny, awkward, sometimes challenging and always a bit batty. Wellington writer Juliet Jacka knows how to engage her audience – and more importantly, she does it with a local flavour.

Frankie Potts & the Postcard Puzzle 
cv_frankie_potts_and_the_postcard_puzzleThis is part three in this mystery and detective series. Frankie Potts has red hair, a super dog called Sparkplug and a mate called Mac. They love mysteries. And with a family like Frankie has there is always a mystery.

The family has hidden secrets. So, when Frankie finds a postcard sent to her mother saying “dearest Tania I do think we should give it another try, don’t you? Gideon xxx” Frankie’s methodical brain goes into over drive. What could all this be? A long lost lover? Does Father know? To solve the mystery Frankie and her gang jump on the bus to Giggleswick to search for Gideon.

What they find is going to unleash a horde of family secrets. All is revealed at a family dinner with the Marvellous M, Frankie’s Grandma and her menagerie of animals which includes a parrot called Firefly who says “Potamus-otamus-hippo-whatamus”.

Frankie Potts & The Wicked Wolves
cv_frankie_potts_and_the_wicked_wolvesThis is part 4 of the series. Frankie has found her long-lost grandad, Sparkplug’s girlfriend Tinkerbell has just had 7 puppies, her grandmother the wonderful The Marvellous M has entered a competition with her dogs, and Frankie’s mother is expecting twins. On top of that, blue-faced dancers the Wicked Wolves have come to the village of Tring.

Initially, it’s all very exciting but Frankie can smell a rat. Something’s not right. There’s a mystery afoot. Who are these Wicked Wolves? How come Marvellous knows them? Why does she want to fight them?

In the meanwhile, there’s puppy chaos at Frankie’s house and Grandma M is planning to give half of them away. Frankie must make sure that they go to good homes. She’s not happy about this at all.

To add to this, Ralph Peter-McGee, Frankie’s arch-enemy, has his eye on her favourite pup Kettle Thomson. Can Frankie stop Ralph getting the pup? And why are those Wicked Wolves sniffing around the puppies? Set against all this is the inaugural Tring Talent Contest. The show is rapidly approaching, and Frankie has some serious detecting to do. But maybe not all the clues are quite as they seem …


My own 8-year-old loves these gentle mysteries. She found the writing easy and simple to follow and the story engaging enough to stay up and read the whole thing in a single Friday night. Mixed with Phoebe Morris’ clever and quirky black and white drawings, some including paws across empty pages, she was quietly giggling away to herself at times.

Moreover, the story was memorable. There are hints of the old-fashioned English children’s books like Famous Five here. Children have some freedom to roam and think for themselves. There are no mobile phones or iPads or any other modern trappings, unless they are essential for the plot.

But to my daughter, the gentle uncluttered plots and strong, likable characters were the real appeal. Frankie has flaming red hair and an insatiable appetite for solving mysteries. Plot-wise they are bizarre enough to intrigue and simple enough to remember. My daughter had no trouble reciting the whole thing back to me on the walk to school. A winner, at least in our household.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Frankie Potts & the Postcard Puzzle
by Juliet Jacka and Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770206

Frankie Potts & The Wicked Wolves
by Juliet Jacka and Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770459

Book Review: See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng

cv_see_you_in_the_cosmosAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

This book centres on Alex, an 11 year old (but “13 in responsibility years”) who is fascinated by rockets and life on other planets. His mission is to launch his own rocket complete with his iPod on which he has recorded his comments about life on earth and what it’s really like for him.

It’s fair to say that Alex is not your average 11 year old: his dad is dead, his mum has a raft of issues of her own, and his older brother does not even live in the same town, so Alex is pretty much left to his own devices.  He is very resourceful, and very responsible. He sets out, without permission, because his mom is having one of her “days when she stays in bed and does not respond, to go to the South West High Altitude Rocket Festival taking along his dog Carl Sagan – named for his hero – and his rocket. This is where it turns into a road trip – and what a trip – there’s a zillion twists and turns and potential disasters and that’s before he even  gets to the festival.

It’s on the whole strangely credible, even if at the same time quite unlikely, and it gives the reader a great deal to ponder on about resilience, bravery and the importance of family. It helps that all the total strangers Alex meets up with are helpful, responsible and willing to take him as he is, which is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum. I don’t think that is particularly realistic but it does keep the momentum up. Faced with all the challenges which Alex encounters, most of us would give up and find a quick way home, but it’s part of the delight of this book that he doesn’t. It also shows an awareness on the author’s part of the challenges posed to, and by, kids on the “spectrum”, and the single mindedness which so often accompanies this.

I think it is an excellent story. It’s well-constructed, funny and sad sometimes at the same time, and Alex and the rest of the main characters (who cover a very wide range of the odd and the particularly peculiar, all good-hearted as can be) are quite credible.

Highly recommended for those who loved “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “Wonder”, but also for anyone who loves a story where challenges are confronted,  analysed and resolved through good will and compassion.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

See You in the Cosmos
Jack Cheng
Published by Puffin
ISBN: 9780141365602

Book Review: The Severed Land, by Maurice Gee

Available now at bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_severed_landIn a welcome return to writing fiction intended primarily for younger readers, Maurice Gee has definitely pulled it off. This is an excellent book.

It’s set in a time where,as in many dystopian novels, there has been a breakdown of civilisation. However, I hesitate to label it as dystopian fiction, as there is greater depth and more hope than in many books of that genre.

So instead, I will call it an adventure. It brings to mind the Salt trilogy, which was such an excellent series, but it’s not at all the same. It also made me think about The Chimes, although again there are not really similarities – I think that it’s about the feeling these books create in the reader which makes them feel somewhat familiar.

But what an adventure: power, thievery, slavery, acts of immense courage and bravado, and a definite nod to an underworld of violence and cruelty. It’s all managed brilliantly.

The main character, Fliss, is an escaped slave who lives in a part of the country Galb which is separated from the rest by an invisible – and generally unbreachable – wall. On her side of the wall there used to be The People who were instrumental in creating and holding the wall, but only one, the Old One, remains. His urgent need is to find and bring through another who has the ability to hold the wall together even if only for a while.

Fliss is a remarkably-drawn character. She is gutsy, determined, brave, and sure of herself. A good role model, one might say, except for the knife which she can use when necessary! One could fantasize that, put in a similar situation, one would be brave enough to use that knife.

The other main character is Kirt/Keef, who was once a member of one of the ruling families in Galb. His circumstances changed dramatically and at the start of the book he tries to escape and but for Fliss, would have been killed. I don’t want to give away the whole plot, so if you want to find out you’ll have to read this for yourself!

But I will just say – who is the Nightingale? Can she be saved? Will the wall hold up for long enough?

It goes without saying really that this is well-written – I honestly don’t think Maurice Gee could write a bad sentence if he tried – and the characters spring from the pages.
It also goes without saying that it may have been aimed at younger readers, but that like any really good book, its audience is in fact anyone who loves a great story. Of course it’s not as complex as it might have been were it written with an adult readership in mind, but sometimes less is more!

And while the story is complete, it’s possible there could be more – I guess we’ll just have to hope.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Severed Land
by Maurice Gee
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770244