Book Review: The World of Greek Mythology, by Ben Spies

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_world_of_greek_mythology.jpgThis is an excellent introduction for anyone curious about Greek mythology. Here on the other side of the world, and eons away from their place of origin, many of the legends are still part of our collective cultural narrative. The stories of the Trojan war will be familiar to many in a sketchy, delivered-by-Hollywood way.

The difference between Spies’ book and other recent books on Greek mythology, such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe, is that Spies is writing specifically for children and young adults. This makes his retelling engaging and easy to understand (it’s a very complicated pantheon) without being dumbed-down, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The World of Greek Mythology to adults either.

Spies writes in a lively, fast-paced style, with lots of jokes and asides to his readers. He know his audience well, having written the book aged 11. He covers the Titans, some of the Olympians, the Trojan War, and the Odyssey in 228 action-packed pages. I enjoyed Spies’ frankness – he tells his readers in places how complicated some of the myths are, and that he doesn’t always understand the myths either. I wish I’d had this book as an intro when I studies Classics at high school, I might have found it a bit easier to follow!

There is the promise of another book on the subject to come, covering the other Olympians who couldn’t fit in this first volume. I’m really looking forward to it and am hoping that maybe Spies could put in a pronunciations guide for some of the trickier names and places. A map would also be great for readers who like to visualise where things are happening.

This book will appeal to readers from about 8 years up who enjoy action, fantasy and don’t mind a bit of blood and gore. It would be a great read-to book from about 8, depending on the reader’s own capabilities. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The World of Greek Mythology
by Ben Spies
Published by Spies Publishing
ISBN 9780473455866

Book Review: The Unreliable People, by Rosetta Allan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_unreliable_peopleIn 1974 in Kazakhstan, then part of the USSR, a little girl is abducted from her bed. Several days later, the girl arrives back, the abductor having suddenly changed her mind. In 1994, in St Petersburg, Antonina navigates her art studies, a new city in newly broken-up Russia, and a search for her identity.

Antonina was the girl who was abducted by the mysterious Katerina. She is of the Koryo-saram people; a group of Koreans who had immigrated to Russia in the 19th century, settling in the far east of Siberia. They have a long and complicated history that can’t be done justice in a book review; The Unreliable People does deal in some depth with the forced deportation of the entire Koryo-saram population from Siberia to Central Asia in the 1930s. Antonina knows a little about her past and the history of her people, and much of the narrative of the story is her slow uncovering of her own stories. Antonina’s character is the most developed in the story; her mother, two best friends and Katerina are all more sketch-like.

Allan’s descriptions of scenes and landscapes are evocative, and you can see the shabby streets of St Petersburg and the windswept Kazakh steppes easily in your mind’s eye. The narrative moves between time periods and locations, and towards the end also shifts in focus between main characters, which was a little jarring.  The most compelling part of the story for me was Katerina’s experiences during the deportation from Siberia to Kazakhstan, which were horrific and tragic in equal measure – a piece of history I hadn’t been aware of, and certainly nothing that enhances Stalin’s reputation. Other aspects of recent history are touched on such as the breakup of the USSR and nuclear testing.

I enjoyed The Unreliable People, although it took me a while to get the hang of 1994 St Petersburg and its art world. With themes of love, loss, identity and redemption, it has a lot going on, and will appeal to readers who like their books to have a bit of depth.

by Rachel Moore

The Unreliable People
by Rosetta Allan
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143773566

Book Review: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_te_tiriti_o_waitangi.jpgToby Morris is a cartoonist and illustrator who will be familiar to many New Zealanders as the creator of The Side Eye on The Spinoff Website. He’s well known for his commentary on social issues, and has also written books including Don’t Puke On Your Dad: A Year in the Life of a New Father and The Day the Costumes Stuck.

The Treaty of Waitangi\Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a flip book – one way the text is in English, turn it upside down and you have a Te Reo Māori version. The English text was originally published in two articles in the School Journal and has been developed into a graphic book by Morris.

The text is straight-forward, as you’d expect for something that was written for young people. It is factual and non-emotive, and lays out the timeline up to the Treaty being signed in 1840, and then what happened afterwards. It’s the same narrative that you’ll find in museums and libraries across the country. It’s Morris’s illustrations that bring the text to life. Starting with the cover, which depicts a wide variety of people from different eras, you know that what you’re about to read is about people, not about legal arguments. This makes the book accessible to anyone, regardless of their prior knowledge or attitude towards Te Tiriti.

This book should be in every home in the country.  It should be in every school and public library and given to every new migrant who arrives to live in New Zealand as part of a welcome package. As Morris’s narrator says at the end of the English version: ‘What happened [after the Treaty was signed] wasn’t always the nicest story, but we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  If we’re honest about our country’s past, we can try to fix some of the damage that still affects us today.  We all want a country that’s fair for everyone.’

It’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Treaty of Waitangi|Te Tiriti o Waitangi
by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby
Published by Lift Education
ISBN 9780473470654

Book Review: Rivers, by Peter Goes

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_riversWow, this is an astonishingly good book. Readers who have enjoyed Timeline won’t be surprised by this revelation, but if you’re new to Peter Goes’ work, you’ve been missing out. Get yourself to your book store, stat.

This is a large format non-fiction picture book. So far, so ordinary, right? Open it up. Goes covers the continents and their major rivers and seas with illustrations and facts (quite literally – the continents are almost covered up!). All sorts of facts and figures are given to the curious reader – all sorts of stuff that I didn’t know, and more that I didn’t know I’d be interested in! There’s also a line of environmentl awareness throughout the book – I’m looking at you in particular, Darling River.

This is the sort of book that a reader will look at over and over. There’s so much information that it’s almost overwhelming, and I certainly couldn’t take it in all in one sitting. It’s like an invitation to come back and play another day after a successful play date – there’s just So. Much. Stuff.

Each double page spread has a really pared-back colour palette – for example, one spread may be just shades of blue, and black and white; the next might be shades of yellow, or purple. This is a really good way of managing the amount of information on the page, as it keeps the page back from the cliff edge of information overload. The illustrations are great, quite often humorous, and easy to understand.

Peter Goes is Belgian, so I was interested to see how he approached the one New Zealand entry in Rivers, the Waikato. It was well-researched and dealt with both Māori and Pakeha experiences and world views.  I came away happy.

You’ll probably find Rivers in the children’s section of your bookstore. I’d definitely recommend it for any child from about 7 upwards. Don’t discount it for teenagers and adults though, especially as a gift for someone who likes graphic novels or is a curious but reluctant reader. Rivers will appeal to a really wide range of people.  And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dip back into it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Rivers
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572168

Book Review:  I am So Clever, by Mario Ramos

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_i_am_so_cleverWow, was there ever a buzz when I opened the package from Booksellers in class and pulled I Am So Clever out!  Previous books by Mario Ramos, I Am So Strong and I Am So Handsome, are firm favourites with my class of 5 and 6 year olds, and are frequently issued to us by the school library.  Could the newest title in a series of stories about a boastful, narcissistic wolf live up to our huge expectations?  Also, why is Wolf wearing a nightie in the middle of the woods?

As always, the rich vocabulary is a delight.  The wolf is bombastic, and it’s wonderful!  “Hello, my dear! How fine you look in that delightful outfit,” he greets Little Red Riding Hood.  Wolf uses words like vicious, striding, ferocious and splendid which can only enrich the vocabulary of his readers.  Even his actions have flair – Wolf squirms, shuffles, eases and slinks.  This is the sort of language that makes my teacher heart sing.  My students love it too – even if it means that a story is constantly interrupted by either a “What does slunk mean?”-type questions, or by my pre-emptive explanations.

The illustrations are gorgeous and funny, as Ramos’ illustrations always are.  The expressions of Wolf, as things just keep going wrong, are brilliant – you don’t have to be able to read the words to know how the story is going for him.  And between the text and the illustrations, you get a kick out of pratfalls that, having grown up on Looney Tunes cartoons, I just adore.  My class, who are a bit gentler and kinder than I probably was at their age – giggle, but then say things like “That wasn’t very nice,” and “I hope that Wolf will be ok.”

So yes, our high expectations were met.  I hope Wolf hasn’t been too humiliated by his latest adventure to retire – we want to read many more stories about him!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

I am so Clever
by Mario Ramos
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572489

 

Book Review: Oink, by David Elliot

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_oinkSometimes all you want is some quiet time. Time to not hear your name, to have no one in your personal bubble, time for just yourself. I know it’s not just me!

Pig is in the same boat – er, bath. The bathroom is free. The water in the bath is the perfect temperature. Silence is golden. Until there’s a knock on the door …

David Elliot has a gift for expressions. Pig’s face runs the gamut from blissed-out, to puzzled, to concerned, then annoyed, then heartily fed up. Everyone else in the story is in various stages of delight at the shared bath time experience. It’s a great time (except for Pig), until someone forgets their manners.

I enlisted the help of my trusty side-kick, 7-year-old Lucas, to help me review this book, as my class were enjoying their summer holidays so I couldn’t read it to them. Lucas LOVED being able to read the limited text all by himself (the only text is pretty much animal vocalisations), and as a teacher I loved that he used the punctuation to add expression! He thought it was very funny, but interestingly, didn’t pick up on the subtleties of the illustration, especially the bath went wrong.

It’s always one of those things I wonder about when reading to children – should I point out detail in the pictures if the children don’t see the joke? I don’t know if there’s a right answer to that question, I think it depends if it’s going to be one of those stories you read over and over again, so there are opportunities for children to discover the joke for themselves. And Oink definitely deserves to be enjoyed over and over again. It’s a wonderful book for all ages, and a perfect gift for parents of toddlers, who will totally get it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Oink
by David Elliot
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572144

Book Review: Stories of the Night, by Kitty Crowther

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_stories_of_the_nightI’d seen a lot of positive media for Stories of the Night and had been hoping that it might cross my path for review, so I was delighted to be able to receive it and judge for myself. I resisted opening it until I was with my 7 year-old friend Lucas, who loves books and stories as much as I do. It was well worth the wait.

Lucas was utterly transfixed by the story, he was highly interested in both story and illustrations, and we had lots of discussions as the book went on. He loved that the stories came to life for Little Bear at the end of the book. I loved the way that the stories left plenty of room for imagination, individual interpretation, and conversation. When Lucas’s mum Louise came into the room halfway through the story, Lucas was excited to share Stories of the Night with her too, and they more or less read it again.

There are so many studies that validate reading to children as being the perfect launch pad for school-readiness, but I think there is much more to reading together than that. The safety and security of snuggling up to a loved one while they read to you has got to be important for brain development and mental health. Decades later, many of my strongest childhood memories are of my dad reading to me at bedtime, and it was a special time of day two have two songs and two stories at my own daughter’s bedtime. Stories belongs to that canon of treasured shared books.

Stories of the Night makes total sense as a bedtime story, but will be great to read at any time. In something I hadn’t noticed, Louise pointed out that by washing the illustrations with a pink palette, it takes the scare factor away from “night time stories”, which would be children who might be afraid of the dark.

It’s highly recommended by all three of us for reading to children from 4 or 5 years of age.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Stories of the Night
by Kitty Crowther
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571970