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

Advertisements

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

Book Review: Little Tables – Anytime Breakfasts from around the World, by Vanessa Lewis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_tablesThis book is half-recipe book, half-cute photos of kids book.  Visiting the cuisines of 32 countries across the globe, each country gets two recipes, a “fun fact”, and a gorgeous photo of a child that goes with the country’s “theme”.

The recipes weren’t created by Lewis, but come from websites, books and magazines.  They are wide and varied, with the idea that they give the reader a little taste of the culture of each country.  For example, New Zealand is represented by steel-cut oat porridge, and mussel and potato fritters.  The fun fact for New Zealand is about the carrot statue in Ohakune; it’s then followed by the mussel fritter recipe. I found this a bit jarring – some of the facts bear little or no relationship to the recipes, and I wondered what the point was; however, the bulk of the facts do relate directly to the recipe, or the nation’s cuisine.

The recipes themselves are fairly easy to follow, and they cover the range from basic to more complicated, allowing the book to be accessed by a wide range of home cooks.

It’s the photographs that are really the star of the book. The food photography is appetising and well-styled, inviting the reader into their own kitchen to get creating. The photos of the children are pretty lovely, with the children dressed to represent the country in some way, and interesting props.

This would make a nice gift for a child or family, to encourage some food adventures.  I know in my family breakfast is often rushed, and Little Tables would be fun to work through over the course of a year of weekends, trying many of the wide variety of dishes, and making an occasion of the meal.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Little Tables – Anytime Breakfasts from around the World
by Vanessa Lewis
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120595

Book Review: The Dyehouse, by Mena Calthorpe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_dyehouseWritten in 1961, The Dyehouse has been republished by Text Classics, who are in the business of reintroducing readers to books that could be considered classics but have faded from the collective consciousness. The Dyehouse has themes that are as true today as they were at the time of writing.

If you’re looking for a light read, some fluff, then this book is not for you. The interwoven storylines, set in a fabric dyeing factory in 1950s Australia, highlight issues of worker exploitation, the plight of the working poor and some rage-inducing sexism (in this reader, at any rate). It’s beautifully written, but definitely not light.

At the heart of the story lurks thoroughly unlikeable Renshaw, the factory boss. In his world, workers are dispensable, regardless of expertise or length of service; and women are there for his entertainment, but only if he considers them worthy. We meet the workers: pretty and naïve Patty, talented and dedicated Hughie, efficient Miss Merton, cock-of-the-walk Oliver, and late-in-life dad Barney. Their interactions with Renshaw and each other are flesh of the story, built upon the bones of the underlying themes.

The opening sentence shows Calthorpe’s ability to add richness to her words without becoming flowery. “Miss Merton came to the Dyehouse one windy afternoon when smoke from the railway-yards drifted darkly over Macdonaltdtown.” You get drawn in, you can almost smell the factory, and the depth of her writing helps you to keep reading despite the cycle of drudgery that the protagonists are seemingly trapped in.

The other thing that kept me reading was a strong desire to see Renshaw get his. He’s just so casually villainous he made my blood boil. Other readers may find redeeming features in him, but I couldn’t. What was particularly frustrating was that Renshaw’s world view still exists in some people, more than 50 years after he was created. And just like real life now, and probably then, there are no Hollywood endings.

The Dyehouse is a pretty gritty read, and tough going at times because of its themes. It’s totally worth it, though, and deserves the wider audience that Text Classics will be hoping for. Recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Dyehouse
by Mena Calthorpe
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925355758

Book Review: If I Was a Banana, by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart

Available now (and on NZ Bookshop Day) in bookshops nationwide.

GIVEAWAY: Comment below or on this post on Facebook telling us what type of banana, mountain, bird or cow you would be…if you were one. Closes 12 noon 26/10/2016.

cv_if_i_was_a_bananaAs a child, I used to imagine tiny worlds in the cereal bowl; that with every spoonful I might be separating families of rice bubbles. I also thought that musicians on the radio were performing live in the studio. I wondered, if you stepped on an ant, would its friends be sad? If I Was a Banana was written for children like me.

Whimsically written and gorgeously illustrated, If I Was a Banana will appeal to anyone with a modicum of imagination. What if you were a banana, or an elephant, or a spoon? If you were a ladybird or a mountain, what might the ramifications be?

I read my review copy to a class of five-year-olds, and it took much longer than a “regular book”, because the children were so engaged and so keen to talk about each idea and share their responses. As a teacher, anything that gets children talking and thinking is alright by me. They particularly loved the illustration on the last page, and the book was in hot demand after I’d shared it, so that they could explore the cloud drawings in more depth.

Gecko Press continue to produce high quality books that deserve to be on the bookshelves of all children, teachers and in libraries. I’ve written many reviews of Gecko Press for this blog, and read many more of their books than I’ve written about, and I am aware that I probably sound like a total Gecko fan girl by now. But it’s not my fault. Julia Marshall and her team are doing extremely good, and important work. Long may they reign.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

If I was a Banana
by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570331