Book Review: Ping vs Pong, by Mauro Gatti

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_ping_v_pong.jpgEdamame beans may not be what you first think of when you want to explore themes of turn taking, resilience and empathy, but bear with me – you might find yourself as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Ping and Pong, the aforementioned edamame beans, were born on the same day, and share the dream of becoming world champion table tennis players. With hard work and perseverance, they achieve their goal, but then decided they need to go one further – which one of them is the best?

Of course, when someone has to be the winner, someone has to be the loser, and feelings get hurt. This is not the end of the story, of course …

With vibrant, engaging illustrations, my class of 5-7 year olds enjoyed the story, and were able to see the lessons in it. This isn’t a hard-hitting moralising story, quite light in fact, but it’s always a good thing when young children can see to the heart of a story.

Recommended for 4-8 year olds who are learning to take turns and mind other people’s feelings.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Ping vs Pong
by Mauro Gatti
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN  9781911171386

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: Rosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere, by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Judith Trevelyan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_Rosie_joy_here_there_and_everywhere.jpgRosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere, is a sweet story about a young girl named Rosie Joy who dreams of being an explorer. Rosie finds herself embarking on an exploration sooner than she expected when she decides to take on the responsibility of hatching her own ‘tiny, yellow, fluffy and cheepy’ chicks. Along with her family and her best friend, Polly, Rosie makes all sorts of new discoveries about nature, knitting and things that are of paramount importance!

The soft pencil and water coloured art displayed front gives you a glimpse into the feel of the story to come. It is easy to see that the author, Sophie Siers is a farm girl at heart as this heart-warming story portrays the hard work, satisfaction and joy of family-farm life.

Siers has also done a wonderful job of capturing the thoughts and feelings of how we expect a 9-year-old girl might experience life: overwhelming excitement, big dreams, impatience and frustration and an insatiable curiosity about the world. This story includes all the ups and downs of Rosie’s journey into hatching chicks. As well as getting an insight into how to hatch chicks the natural way and a lesson in female explorers, the reader will also learn the definition and use of some big words, like paramount and circumnavigate!

Rosie Joy would be a great inspiration and source of information for any young person thinking about hatching their own chicks or someone who just loves a good feel-good story about farm life and growing up.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Rosie Joy: Here, There And Everywhere
by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Judith Trevelyan
Published by Millwood Press
ISBN 9780473402402

Book Review: Bird Builds a Nest, by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Richard Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bird_builds_a_nest.jpgThis book tells the story of a bird’s day, from finding breakfast to literally feathering her nest. So far, so ordinary, you might think. But it has a clever execution – the book is littered with scientific descriptions of the forces the bird is using, such as push and pull. I love the way that these scientific explanations are made simply and are woven through the text in a smaller font, so they don’t distract from the narrative. The story stands on its own, even without the scientific explanations, and has a lovely friendly and straightforward tone.

There’s also a little science experiment at the end of the book for children to explore push, pull and gravity a little further in an easy way.

The illustrations are delightful, in a muted colour palette. I’m reminded of a mash up between Orla Kiely and 60s/70s children’s book illustrations. The gorgeous expressions on bird’s face convey her delight at a delicious worm for breakfast, the difficulty of lifting a heavy twig, and the pleasure of snuggling in bed after a busy day of work.

This book is a must for school and public libraries, and deserves a place on the shelves of Early Childhood Centres and home book shelves as well. Young children delight in exploring the natural world, and this book would be a great starter or follow up to watching birds make their nests, exploring a nest that’s fallen from a tree, or exploring simple push and pull experiments in the playground or backyard. Cause and effect is easily observed, and Bird Builds a Nest will give even the most unscientific of adults a way of giving children the language to describe what they’re seeing and doing.  Recommended from age 3 or 4 up to about 8.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Bird Builds a Nest
by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Richard Jones
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406355130

Book Review: How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot, by Suzanne Main

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_how_not_to_stop_a_kidnap_plotAward-winning Wellington author Suzanne Main has revisited her funny, mishap-prone characters Michael and Elvis from How I Alienated My Grandma, in another fast-paced adventure.

In How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot, Michael and Elvis get themselves in a load of trouble by tampering with the school play. In the course of serving their punishment, the boys uncover a plot to kidnap a student from their school and decide to thwart the kidnappers before they can carry out their dastardly plan.

Helped along the way by uber-popular Angus and school journalist Natalie, the boys lurch from near miss to near miss, making assumptions and deductions that lead them on cross-town bike adventures and top secret stakeouts. But is everything as it seems?  And who is the mysterious and malevolent Mr C?

I’m 30 years too old to be the target audience for this book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely. The pace is snappy, the humour is genuine, and you can totally imagine some kids of your acquaintance jumping to the sorts of conclusions that Michael and Elvis jump to, and the scrapes they get in as a consequence.

I can see this book being a hit with students from about 8 -12, and would be a great read-aloud for parents and teachers. Get yourself a copy, and buckle up for a great time.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot
by Suzanne Main
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434801

Book Review: A Lion is a Lion, by Polly Dunbar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_lion_is_a_lionI wish this book was written when I was a child. I never understood what my mother meant when she said, ‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’. It’s not a saying that resonates with a five-year-old. After all, sheep don’t wear clothes, and even if they did, how would a wolf wear them?

Polly Dunbar’s cautionary tale, A Lion is a Lion, would probably have cleared things up for me. Is a lion still a lion if it dresses up, has nice manners and can sing and dance? Are you any less likely to be dessert if he has observed the niceties?

A Lion is a Lion can be read as an allegory for sticking up for yourself, being cautious about the people your parents warned you about, and even for the concept of consent.

I guarantee the vast majority of five-year-olds won’t see it this way, but they will agree that the children in the story should definitely call the lion out on his behaviour and send him on his way. A caring, supportive adult could steer the conversation towards meanness and bullying: if someone starts off by being nice but turns out to be unkind, what should you do?

With fast-paced action and illustrations full of whimsy and a hat tip to previous literary cats that cause problems (particularly Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat), A Lion is a Lion will delight young readers from about 3 – 7 years.

Any serious conversations you may have afterwards will just be an added bonus.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

A Lion is a Lion
by Polly Dunbar
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406371536

Book Review: Toroa’s Journey, by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_toroas_journeyThis wonderful book is based on the true story of the 500th albatross chick to hatch at Otago’s Taiaroa Head breeding colony. It tells the narrative of the chick Toroa’s adventures after leaving the colony based on tracking information, but also includes fascinating facts about albatrosses to add another layer of depth to the story.

I love the language in Toroa’s Journey. It’s rich and interesting, and for a book that’s narrative non-fiction, it gives as much varied vocabulary to the reader as a picture books by Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley or Lynley Dodd. For example, “Toroa jerks his head from under his wing … he waddles toward her and nudges open her bill; swallowing the slurried seafood.” The use of such evocative verbs adds another layer to the text which will promote questions and discussion for young readers and listeners.

The illustrations are stunning, including an open-out four-page spread to show off the magnificent reach of the albatross’s wings. They catch the movement of the birds, wind and ocean beautifully, and the illustration of Toroa arriving at a plastic patch looks oily and stomach churning – which is as it should be.

Toroa encounters a commercial fishing ship and a plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean, and along with some facts about the vulnerability of chicks to introduced predators, this raises for the reader some environmental messages. These aren’t preachy or overpowering, just factually stated, and again, these are likely to start a discussion for readers. I don’t know what it is, but the estimates in the fact box about plastic waste were really sobering for me, possibly because I wasn’t expecting to read them then and there in a children’s book.

Whether your young reader loves animals, adventure, non-fiction or is interested in the environment, this will be a great book to read together, or for older children (7+), to read on their own. It’s interesting, gorgeously illustrated, and full of fascinating facts.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Toroa’s Journey
by Maria Gill and Gavin Mouldey
Published by Potton & Burton
9780947503529