Book Review:  Taupo Blows! by Doug Wilson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_taupo_blowsI will be honest with you.  I did not want to read this book at all. The title is the stuff of many of my childhood fears; after learning about volcanoes at primary school, staying at my nana’s home with its view of Lake Taupō during school holidays was never again a carefree experience. I don’t know how many nights I lay awake wondering if my number was up.

Thankfully, Doug Wilson hasn’t written that story. Instead he’s had Mt Ruapehu erupt, with young Rachel and Sam home alone when a second eruption throws a strange visitor onto their doorstep. Guld lives under the mountain, and needs Rachel and Sam to help him put things right before the whole volcanic plateau blows.

With the plot moving along at a cracking pace, Wilson introduces Rachel and Sam to a variety of odd characters to help them on their quest. The children must overcome their fears and find their inner strength to save the North Island from a cataclysmic eruption.

Taupo Blows! reminds me of the Maurice Gee classic (and nightmare-inducing) Under the Mountain in terms of setting, and Suzanne Collins’ wonderful Gregor the Overlander series in terms of characters and themes. This is high praise, and has Wilson keeping very good company. I’d recommend Taupo Blows! for readers from about 9-10 years, and I look forward to Wilson’s next offering.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Taupo Blows!
by Doug Wilson
Published by Bateman Publishing
ISBN 9781869539672

Advertisements

Book Review: Ngā Atua Māori Gods, by Robyn Kahukiwa

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_nga_atua_maori_godsThe blurb on the back of this large picture book reads: Aotearoa is home to many marvellous gods. They are special. They are unique. They are awesome. It’s a pretty good description of the book itself – special, unique and awesome.

Many New Zealanders will be familiar with some of the Māori Gods such as Tāne, Papatūānuku and Ranginui. There are many more (not all covered in the book), and even people well-versed in Māori lore may discover new information in Kahukiwa’s book. Gods are introduced to the reader with their realm of influence, and a small amount of additional information to add flavour and interest. The amount of information is well balanced for a picture book – there was enough there to keep my class of 6 years engaged and interested without overwhelming them, and for older readers who want to find out more, it gives you a starting point.

The star of the book is Robyn Kahukiwa’s illustrations. They are just as stunning as you would expect from one of New Zealand’s top artists. They are colourful, powerful and vibrant, and convey the mana and fierceness of the gods.

This is one of those essential books that every New Zealand home, school and public library should have. Whether or not you’re Māori, it speaks to our shared heritage as New Zealanders, the stories that underpin our special part of the world. It would make a great gift for children up to the age of about 9 or 10 (Kahukiwa has dedicated it to her six year old grandson), and as a teacher I can definitely recommend it as a gift for an early childhood or primary teacher or library. Go buy it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Ngā Atua Māori Gods
by Robyn Kahukiwa
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506261

 

Book Review: I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess, by Petra Kotrotsos and Christina Irini Arathimos

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_Id_rather_be_a_fairy_princessLike many 6 year olds, Petra wants to be a fairy princess. Unfortunately, she becomes ill with the cancer neuroblastoma, and has to become a warrior princess to survive the disease.

Written when she was 7 and published at 20, I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess is Petra Kotrotsos’ own story of her battle with cancer. It shows her strength and determination to overcome her cancer with the support of her family and friends. Told with a mixture of innocent imagination and matter-of-factness, the story explains the diagnosis, the treatments and the reality of living with cancer.

The pictures in I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess are lovely, with a softness to them which belies the hard topic that the book deals with. They suit the word beautifully, by matching the hope of the text perfectly.

I’m not sure how to recommend this book. It would definitely be a good book for a family trying to explain cancer to a younger child, or even within a classroom setting if it were relevant. The tone of hope and determination is a useful one, and the descriptions of x-rays, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and the helpful and caring nurses would help to take some of the fear away that a child may have about themselves or someone they care about following a diagnosis. I don’t know about recommending it as a general book for bedtime reading or the like – I think it would depend on the child. As the adult who knows your child best, have a read through first, and see what you think.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess
by Petra Kotrotsos and Christina Irini
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994137944

Book Review: The Secret of Black Rock, by Joe Todd-Stanton

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_secret_of_black_rockErin is desperate to go to sea in her mum’s fishing boat, enthralled by the tales she hears of the mysterious and dangerous Black Rock. Her daily attempts to sneak on board the boat are thwarted by her dog Archie, who sniffs her out every time. She’s very determined though, and one day her wish comes true, but disaster awaits.

At first I wasn’t sure which age group the book was pitched at – with environmental themes woven through the adventure plot, I thought it might be aimed at the more sophisticated picture book reader, aged about 9 or up. The plot is somewhat surrealist, and I wasn’t sure if younger readers would get it.

I needn’t have worried. My class of 5 and 6 year olds were transfixed from the first page, and it is honestly the most still they have been while I’ve read to them in a while. They hung off every word. When I finished they started a robust debate on whether the story was true or not.

The illustrations are detailed, with a subdued palate and little pops of colour. There’s lots to look at, and it would be a perfect book for an adult and child to snuggle up and explore. After reading it with my class, many children asked if they could have another look at it during the course of the day.

The publisher’s website recommends the book for 5-7 year olds, but I think it would be of interest to older children; the weaving of an environmental theme through what might otherwise be a relatively straightforward adventure story gives it more depth and would likely keep their attention.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Secret of Black Rock
by Joe Todd-Stanton
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171256

Book Review: Waiting for Goliath, by Antje Damm

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_waiting_for_goliath.jpgIn this sweet but not saccharine story about true friendship, Bear is waiting patiently for his best friend Goliath. The seasons slowly change and still Goliath doesn’t come, but Bear keeps his faith, and is rewarded at last.

A gentle but not simple story, Waiting for Goliath celebrates the virtues of patience and loyalty, and the extraordinary illustrations will delight readers both young and old.

Gecko Press describe Antje Damm’s method as creating dioramas out of cardboard then photographing them, giving them ‘a special lumosity and depth’. I can’t think of a better way to describe the illustrations; they’re captivating, and have little details that will entrance younger readers. I feel rather like I could get sucked into the pictures, and keep returning to the book time and again to look at them.

I read Waiting for Goliath to my class of 5 and 6 year olds, who enjoyed the illustrations as much as I did. They loved that genuine surprise when Goliath was revealed, and it lead to conversations about friendships, and being a good friend.

Highly recommended for children from 3 upwards.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Waiting for Goliath
by Antje Damm
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571413

Book Review: Heloise, by Mandy Hager

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_heloise.jpgThis is a big book. Not big in size at a reasonable 381 pages, but big in scope and ideas. It’s a book that you want to take time and care with, so that you can appreciate it as it deserves.

Lots of people may know the names of Heloise and Abelard, even if like me, they don’t really know the details. Abelard was widely celebrated as one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century; Heloise was among the most lauded of his students, made more notable because of her gender in a time when women were most definitely meant to be barely seen and certainly not heard.

Mandy Hager tells the story from Heloise’s perspective, filling in the historical gaps with seamless narrative. She starts with Heloise’s childhood, about which next to nothing is known, and traces her life through to her teenage years and adulthood, and her fateful meeting with Peter Abelard. The story is well paced and rich, with excerpts from Abelard and Heloise’s own writing, and many references to other great thinkers including Ovid, Seneca, Aristotle and Socrates. With a lot of the story taking place within a religious setting, Sts Augustine and Jerome also get regular look-ins. The content is quite dense – not in a negative way, but in the way that a lets you know you’re reading a book that’s been really well thought-through, researched and edited.

A reader with modern sensibilities will rage against the unfairness with which Heloise is treated, where even Abelard, who professes to love and respect her, treats her as a chattel without feelings and ambition of her own. Abelard eventually comes across as a fairly unsympathetic character, even though Heloise’s love and forgiveness of his behaviour wins out time and again. I found myself snarling at some of the male characters in the story quite regularly … the perils of being a modern reader of historical fiction, I suppose!

Heloise reminds me of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, dealing in depth as it does with a historical figure who has name recognition, even if the reader doesn’t know much more. It’s substantial in the same way, and immerses you in a world that may be 800 years gone, but still echoes now in the 21st century. It’s not a light holiday read, but perfect for when you have time and space to read something substantial. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Heloise
by Mandy Hager
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143770992

Book Reviews: Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit; Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoitcv_brachio

Jill Eggleton will be familiar to many New Zealand teachers and parents for her literacy programmes and her huge catalogue of poems. Brachio is a picture book for up to 7 year olds which showcases Eggleton’s rich writing style.

Brachio is much bigger than the other dinosaurs and mouse lizards, so there’s bound to be a few problems when he heads out to join in a dance party. Being a kind and thoughtful kind of dinosaur, Brachio has a few solutions in mind.

Eggleton’s language is full of poetic language, with onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhythm and rhyme, and simile dripping off the page. This is helped by clever text design, which gives the reader lots of clues about where the emphasis should be, and adds visual interest for young readers. Not that visual interest is lacking – Hoit’s illustrations are vivid and colourful, full of the joy of dancing with your friends, and the problems that occur when dancers get a little too enthusiastic!

My class of 5 and 6 year olds love listening to the language as I read to them, and the book was in high demand afterwards, because, dinosaurs! This book also comes with a CD, read by Eggleton, with loads of expression and a fun backing track of dinosaur noises.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jonescv_dont_think_about_purple_elephants

Sophie is a busy, happy girl. She likes school, enjoys her loving family, and has good friends. The problem starts when she’s not busy. At bedtime, as she tries to go to sleep, worries crowd in on her, keeping her awake. All of the suggestions to help her sleep – a special book or teddy, or a drink of warm milk – just give her new things to worry about.
Children’s worries are often dismissed by adults; adults often don’t consider the things children worry about as important when compared to adult concerns. Most children do have worries, however, and to them they feel very real. A quick survey of my class of 5 and 6 year olds showed up common themes: not having someone to play with, someone being mean to them, something bad happening to a loved one, forgetting a book bag or lunch for school, not making it to the toilet on time, not being picked up at the end of the school day.

Whelan and Jones have put some thought into Don’t Think About Purple Elephants; they clearly know children, and they don’t dismiss Sophie’s worries, but try to resolve them. The illustrations are lovely – brightly coloured and happy when Sophie is busy, and grey and ominous with oversized objects when she is worried. The resolution to Sophie’s worries is relatively simple and one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments that parents and teachers have.

This is an enjoyable picture book to read together for children up to 8 or 9 years old, regardless of whether or not the child worries – but it would be a particularly good book to read with a child who is suffering from anxiety, it might just do the trick.

Reviews by Rachel Moore

Brachio
by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit
Published by JillE Books
ISBN 9781927307809

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants
by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
Published by EK Books
ISBN 9781921966699