Book Review: Kiwicorn, by Kat Merewether

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kiwicornThis is such a cute, positive book. It celebrates individuality of all types, with a tiny bit of toilet humour thrown in to stop it from being saccharine.

The Kiwicorn is a unique creature, part Kiwi-part unicorn as the name implies. The illustrations present a cuddly, cheeky little creature that would make a great soft toy. Each double page spread has three descriptions and opposite a summary sentence, kind of like a value statement. For example, the left hand page asks, ‘Who is gentle, gutsy and good-hearted?’ The right hand page answers with, ‘Kiwicorn! I care about others and they care about me.’

Kiwicorn would be a great book for families to share to encourage self-acceptance and to celebrate the personality of their child. A wide range of attributes are included in the story, from politeness to rebelliousness, with a lot in between, so there will be something for everyone. The illustrations are delightful and engaging, with extra little details to spot.

I can imagine this book being a lovely shared book for children as young as two, and I will be using it with my class of 6-year-olds this year to build acceptance of differences and individual strengths. And also, just because it’s rather charming.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Kiwicorn
by Kat Merewether
Published by Illustrated Publishing
ISBN 9780994136428

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Book Review: Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands, by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_abel_tasmanThere’s something a little bit eerie about the fact that a few minutes after I picked up Abel Tasman to read it in so I could write this review, Radio New Zealand National broadcast a piece marking the 375th anniversary of Tasman and his crew making first contact with Ngāti Tumatakokiri. It was purely a coincidence, but a tad spooky all the same.

Telling the story of how Abel Tasman came to be in that particular time and place, and what happened afterwards, this book is perfect for middle-upper primary readers (ages about 7 up) as a starting point into the European exploration of New Zealand. The text is easy to understand, balanced in terms of perspective, and follows a straightforward sequence. There are lots of footnotes to explain words used in multiple languages, and a helpful glossary at the back which adds more depth to the narrative.

For me, the highlight of an already good book is the illustrations. My mouth actually dropped open on about the third page, as the use of light was just stunning. The illustrations have a clarity and almost photographic reality that is just magic, and which I’m more used to seeing in art galleries. They are truly beautiful, and will keep me coming back to the story long after I’ve memorised the text. An extra special touch is the use of historic maps and drawings, at least some of which were drawn by Isaac Gilsemans, the fleet merchant in the expedition. Children will love this; and if they don’t notice it themselves, draw their attention to the dates on each set of end papers, and ask them what they notice.

As well as being essential for school and public libraries, this book would make a fantastic addition to the shelf of any curious child who appreciates a good story and asks lots of “why?” and “then what happened?” questions.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands
by Maria Gill
Illustrated by Marco Ivančić
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 9781775435099

 

Book Review: Regions of New Zealand, by Peter Dowling

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_regions_of_new_zealandTaking readers on a north to south journey through New Zealand’s regions, including off shore islands and territories, Regions of New Zealand blends historic events with current statistics and interesting facts and photos. It is a very current resource (it even includes the 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes), that is likely to find a home in every school and public library, but deserves a much wider audience. There’ll be new information for plenty of readers, regardless of age.

The book starts with an explanation of what constitutes a region, New Zealand’s regions from both a historical Māori perspective, and current local government arrangements. Then each region gets a double page spread, with a map, colour photos, facts and statistics (including when they were sourced and where from, allowing readers to check for updates). There is some Māori content; personally I would have liked more, but the book is an introduction, and there are plenty of places readers can find further information.

Aside from that, the only concern I had about the book is that it might date quickly, but by including the sources of statistical information there’s a level of future-proofing inbuilt into the book. I shared the book with a curious and avid 7 year old reader in my class, James, who enjoyed it a lot, and particularly loved discovering new facts. James is probably at the younger end of the market for Regions of New Zealand, and it would be a good research starting point for readers right into high school. Don’t overlook it as a gift for visitors and migrants, either!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Regions of New Zealand
by Peter Dowling
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506353

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

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