Book Review: Mini Whinny – Happy Birthday to Me, by Stacy Gregg and Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_mini_whinnyWe all love birthday parties, especially when it is our own. But what happens if you have to share your birthday? And not just with a twin or friend, but with every other horse in the world! That is the problem faced by Mini Whinny. Not only is she the smallest and cutest horse in the stable, she is also the naughtiest.

Mini Whinny has a plan and the story follows her decision to celebrate her own birthday in a special way. There is a message for us all about friendship and sharing in this cautionary tale.

Stacy Gregg has two passions: horses and writing. She combines them beautifully in this story. Of Ngāti Mahuta descent, she is a New Zealand author with an ability to see the story in any situation. Her Pony Club and historical series’ appealed to an older age group.

The illustrations, by Ruth Paul, are beautiful and my granddaughter loved spotting the details which are included on every page. The front and end papers are an extra detail which can be enjoyed by the observant reader. I used these with my class and asked them to create the story between, before reading to them, and it was a lot of fun.

Mini Whinny would be a treat in any Christmas stocking, but especially for one who loves horses.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Mini Whinny: Happy Birthday to Me!
by Stacey Gregg and Ruth Paul
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435372

Book Review: Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_hector_and_the_big_blue_whaleHector was a small but daring dolphin. But Hector was too small to go anywhere. One day Little Hector decides he had had enough of being told he’s too small to venture past The Point so he decides to follow the bigger dolphins out into the open ocean where he quickly gets left behind. Little Hector learns about the dangers of boats first hand and why his mother warned him to never trust an orca! Lucky for Hector he meets a friend who safely escorts him back to The Point and teaches him a valuable lesson; being the littlest is just as special as being the biggest! And size definitely doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship.

Author-illustrator Ruth Paul introduces us to her latest character Little Hector in Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale. The softness of the illustrations compliments the ocean setting of the story and the characters are charming with their friendly expressions, especially, Little Hector!

This story includes enough suspense, possible dangers and problems to be solved to keep young children captivated as well as putting a spotlight on New Zealand’s Hector’s dolphin. I especially enjoyed the ‘All about the Hector’s dolphin’ facts included at the end. The health of our oceans and the creatures within it is very important and it’s something that children should be aware of from a young age.

Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale is a wonderful new book that teaches children about the rare Hector’s dolphin. Children will love reading all about Little Hector’s big adventure into the deep sea and meeting all his marine friends. I can’t wait to read about Little Hector’s next adventure!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Little Hector and the Big Blue Whale
by Ruth Paul
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771524

Book Review: I am Jellyfish, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_am_jellyfish.jpgWhen you buy this book, make sure to take it into a darkened room to admire – the cover is wreathed with glow in the dark jellyfish and a fearsome swordfish’s eye.

Poor Jelly is being teased by Swordfish for not having a reason for existing, as she lives her peaceful existence: ‘Jellyfish shrugged, jellyfish sighed. “I go with the flow,” she softly replied.’ When Swordfish tries to eat her, she drops, into the deep, dark ocean; and swordfish follows, well beyond his comfort zone. Where other predators of the sea await.

Ruth Paul has been writing and illustrating books (and having them published!) since 2005, and this particular book reminds me of one of my favourites of hers, Superpotamus! The rhyme scheme is similar, with a phrase that repeats with mild variations, and the storyline is similarly delightful. This may be the first picture book I’ve ever read with a Giant Squid as the big baddie.

Swordfish learns a little more about himself, and a lot more about jellyfish, when he is saved from the predator (spoiler alert) by the very fish he was aiming to have for dinner. Jellyfish, in turn, and after teaching Swordfish a lesson, is reminded of her own usefulness and becomes more certain of herself as the book concludes, saying “I am what I am.”

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, using dappled tones and bright colours to pop the fish against the background, which heads to absolute black as we dive many fathoms deep. The expressions of the fish are hilarious, particularly the lanternfish, who has the expression of a country yokel in every B-grade Western ever made!

I recommend this for those with curious children, who ask a million why’s and have an interest in what exactly goes on, under the surface of our great oceans. Age 2+.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I am Jellyfish
by Ruth Paul
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771159



Add these authors into your popularity stakes this Christmas

While approximately half of all international book sales are made up by sales of books for Children and Young Adults, less than 1/3 of NZ book sales are in the Children and Young Adult category. Why is this? The talent is certainly here – perhaps it is a matter of name recognition?

Looking at the bestsellers charts for international Children’s & YA, parents and kids buy based on author name. Right now, Andy Griffiths is hovering at the top of the charts for his Treehouse series. David Walliams also sticks on the chart like glue: I didn’t even realise he’d written seven books until his visit to the Auckland Writers’ Festival made that clear. In the domestic market, names like Lynley Dodd, and Kiwi story author Bob Darroch stick around, with backlist sales being incredibly strong.

With this in mind, here are a whole load of still-living, possibly-overlooked amazing NZ authors that you should bring into your child’s reading world as early as you can.

Picture Book Authors

Donovan Bixley
cv_little_bo_peepDonovan is New Zealand’s king of expressive illustration. His sheep in Little Bo Peep and More (Upstart Press) are hilarious, and his illustrations of kid’s classics Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm (Hachette NZ) are brilliantly original. With several original stories under his belt now – the award-winning Monkey Boy (Scholastic NZ, 2014), for one – I can’t wait to see more.

cv_ghoulish_getupsFifi Colston
Home costume creation must-have Ghoulish Get-ups (Scholastic NZ) is just the latest in a great range of books that multi-talented creative Fifi Colston has to offer. Her award-winning Wearable Wonders (Scholastic NZ)  is essential for any young creative soul, and she has illustrated more books than I can count, in a career spanning 30 years. The Red Poppy, written by David Hill (Scholastic NZ), was just gorgeous, and Itiiti’s Gift, with Melanie Drewery (Puffin), is another classic.

Juliette MacIver
cv_yak_and_gnuWith her latest picture book, Yak and Gnu (Walker Books), being her 12th picture book in 5 years, Juliette MacIver and her flawless rhyming verse have become one of the perennials of the NZ book world. Her first book, Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam (Scholastic NZ), is the boys’ favourite; my personal favourite from her backlist is Toucan Can (Gecko Press). Most of her books are illustrated by the equally wonderful Sarah Davis.

cv_trainsCatherine Foreman
Catherine Foreman has a way with words for the younger kids in your family. Her 2015 book, The Roly-Poly Baby (Scholastic NZ), is a lovely short tale for your adventurous baby. Her 2013 series ‘Machines & Me’ still comes out most nights in our family – Trains in particular. Take note, writers of NZ – we need more good books about trains!

Ruth Paul
cv_stompRuth’s latest is the third in a group of dinosaur books, What’s the Time, Dinosaur? (Scholastic NZ) Not only are Ruth’s illustrations delightful, she can even rhyme! Our family favourites are Stomp! (board book just released), Two Little Pirates , and The King’s Bubbles (all Scholastic NZ).

Sally Suttoncv_zoo_train
All aboard the Zoo Train (Walker Books)! Sally is another fantastic picture book writer that isn’t anywhere near as well-known as she ought to be. Every child needs a copy of Roadworks (Walker Books). Be ready to hide it when it becomes a must-read Every Single Night. There are two follow-ups too – Demolition, and Construction.

Junior Fiction & Non-fiction

Kyle Mewburn
cv_dragon_knightKyle Mewburn has collaborated with Donovan Bixley for both of his recent junior fiction series’, Dinosaur Rescue (8 books, Scholastic NZ), and Dragon Knight. Begun early in 2015, this series is already 4 books strong. Both of these series are full of silly laughs for lovers of Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with a bit of Horrible Histories for good measure. He also has a 24-title-strong picture book list too: Duck’s Stuck (Scholastic NZ) and No Room for a Mouse (Scholastic Aus) are family favourites.

cv_cool_nukesDes Hunt
Cool Nukes author Des Hunt specialises in action-packed, environmentally-conscious writing. He has written about glaciers (Shadows in the Ice), mining (Frog Whistle Mine) and treasure-hunting (Cry of the Taniwha). There is something in his 22-book strong backlist for every adventure-loving 8-12-year-old.

Elizabeth Pulford
cv_sanspell‘Bloodtree Chronicles’ author Elizabeth Pulford is an incredibly diverse writer, writing for every age range. Her Scholastic fairy series Lily was published worldwide, and her most recent picture book Finding Monkey Moon (Candlewick Press) is being feted all over the globe. Junior Fiction series ‘Bloodtree Chronicles’, beginning with Sanspell, is perfect for the magic-loving kids in your life.
Philippa Werrycv_anzac_day_the_new_zealand_story
Author of non-fiction titles Anzac Day and Waitangi Day (New Holland), Philippa is another multi-talented author, writing ably across age ranges. Her most recent books have focused on war, and the New Zealand experience of war, but an old favourite of mine is junior fiction title The Great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off.

WW1 series, Scholastic NZ
cv_1915_wounds_of_warScholastic has a current book series commemorating New Zealanders’ wartime adventures. This began last year, with 1914: Riding into War, by Susan Brocker (another great underrated writer), then 1915: Wounds of War, by Diana Menefy (you guessed it, another). It will go for another three years, and is good reading for kids who enjoy Michael Morpurgo and other war-focussed writers.

Ned Barraud & Gillian Candler
cv_in_the_bushNed and Gillian have paired up on four books about New Zealand nature so far, and each of them have been extraordinarily good. In the Bush is the latest from this pair, but there is also On the Beach, In the Garden, and Under the Ocean. All are published by Potton& Burton. So, no matter where you are going this summer, there is a book in this range for you. Another kiwi author who writes and illustrates in the same area is Andrew Crowe.

cv_new_zealand_hall_of_fameMaria Gill
Most recently, Maria is known for her ‘Hall of Fame’ books – New Zealand Hall of Fame and New Zealand’s Sports Hall of Fame; but she has also got a huge backlist of nature publishing under her belt. If it explodes (Rangitoto, Eruption), has feathers (Call of the Kokako, Bird’s Eye View) or indeed fins (Save our Seas), she is bound to have written about it. Get your eco-ranger onto her books now!

Young Adult Fiction
David Hill
cv_first_to_the_topMy Brother’s War and The Deadly Sky (Penguin NZ) are just the most recent in a very long list of books for young adults that the wonderful David Hill has produced. He has recently branched into picture book writing, with Red Poppy and First to the Top (Penguin, 2015). In his YA list, his sensitive portrayal of awkward teendom, and his wit, is what sets him apart from others.

cv_evies_warAnna Mackenzie
Author of the recent release Evie’s War, Anna Mackenzie has been an essential part of the YA scene in New Zealand for many years. The Sea-Wreck Stranger was the first in a series exploring the fate of a stranger in a close-knit community. Cattra’s Legacy and Donnel’s Promise took us back into history, and reminded me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s books, with their fierce heroine.

Brian Falkner

cv_recon_team_angel_vengeanceRecon Team Angel (Walker Books) is the most recent series from Falkner, and it is a must-read for lovers of the ‘Cherub’ series. He began his writing career with junior fiction, incorporating the Warriors (The Flea Thing) and Coca Cola (The Real Thing); then moved into future-tech YA, with Brain Jack and The Tomorrow Code. He is a master of fast-paced action-packed adventure fiction.

Finally, a few you ought to know by now: Kate De Goldi, Elizabeth Knox, Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager, Bernard Beckett, and Ella Hunt. Introduce your teens to them, and they’ll read all of their books. They are brilliant. See my post from a couple of years ago for more about teen fiction writers in NZ.

by Sarah Forster

Book Review: Bye-Bye Grumpy Fly, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_bye-bye_grumpy_fly

Ruth Paul is a New Zealand author and illustrator living in Wellington. Previous titles include My Dinosaur Dad, Stomp!, The Animal Undie Ball, The Little White Lie. She has won numerous awards, including Children’s Choice and Picture Book categories at the NZ Post Children’s Books Awards 2008 with her book The King’s Bubble.

It’s a drizzly grey day and a very grumpy fly gets into all sorts of bother. First of all he nearly gets splatted by the rain, and nearly gets caught by a frog. He goes from bad to worse, chased by a crocodile and then Tiger gets in the act trying to swat him out of the sky. The story then goes on to have all of them ganging up together – rather unsuccessfully I might add.

This book is written in rhyming verse with fabulous illustrations and lots of action to keep a child interested. The little girl that I read this to is 4 years old. Abby adored the story, laughing at the grumpy flies antics. She particularly liked Tiger trying to chase the fly and ending up with a lily pad on his head.

The suggested age range for this book is 2 – 6 years old. It would be a great book for a young reader to read for themselves.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Bye-Bye Grumpy Fly
by Ruth Paul
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433187

Book Review: Go Home Flash! by Ruth Paul


Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Poor Flash! He gets such a hard time in this book. This adorable little puppy just wants to play, but everywhere he turns he gets told to go home.

Go Home Flash is great fun to read aloud, with lots of short, sharp sentences that emphasis the quick puppy thoughts going through Flash’s head.

“Sniff smell,
Find smell,
Strong smell,
P-o-n-g smell”

The style of writing makes this delightful to read, yet causes a rollercoaster of empathetic emotion, from giggles when he rolls in smelly rubbish, to hurt at poor Flash being told to go home, or elation when he sneaks off for a car ride. The refrain of “Go Home Flash” also makes it fun for young readers to join in (loudly).

Of course, the text is overshadowed by the absolutely gorgeous illustrations. They’re clear, with a strong central focus that doesn’t get lost in a lot of busy background, which is vital in books for young readers. More importantly, you wouldn’t feel quite so sorry for Flash if the illustrations weren’t able to convey, so perfectly, his elation, and his devastation. The combination of text and illustration allow for a personification of poor Flash, enabling the reader to relate on a personal level.

Flash gets up to a lot of mischief, and gets told off a lot, but he is still an adorable puppy, who loves his family unconditionally, and is adored right back.

Go Home Flash is not an overly “warm fuzzy” story, but it is enjoyable for both its language and visuals, and will delight young readers old enough to join in on repeat readings.

Reviewed by Alison Sammes

Go Home Flash
By Ruth Paul
Scholastic NZ
ISBN  9781775432456


Book Review: Hedgehog’s Magic Tricks, by Ruth Paul

This board book is available in bookstores nationwide. cv_hedgehogs_magic_tricks

Hedgehog’s Magic Tricks is a charmingly illustrated story about friendship, starring a baby rabbit, a hedgehog, a raccoon, a mouse and a duckling.

Hedgehog is putting on a magic show for his friends, but unfortunately he’s just not that good. Despite his failures with magic, Hedgehog’s friends still support him as he tries and tries again. When he’s at his lowest, completely despondent and about to give up on magic completely, his friends wheel in one last surprise. With a flick of his wand, and an Abracadabra, his friends reveal that he has “magically” made a cake appear… with a surprise inside.

The pictures are simply adorable, and very expressive, from the joyful pose of mouse as she performs as magician’s assistant, to hedgehog’s utter misery when he can’t make her disappear, and duckling’s absolute terror at his turn to play magicians assistant.

The story itself is made of short, sharp, sentences, which are best read aloud. It is simple for new readers to enjoy and can be livened up with an enthusiastic “Abracadabra!” or a saddened “Poor Hedgehog. His tricks haven’t worked.”

The ending is very cute, featuring very, very, shamefaced friends, hands and faces covered in cake; and an absolutely delighted hedgehog, who is very proud of himself for making the cake disappear.

It is a delightful story about friendship, and the ways in which friends support each other.

Reviewed by Alison Sammes

Hedgehog’s Magic Tricks
By Ruth Paul
Published by Walker Books
ISBN  9781922077141

NB: This is a board book release of an earlier picture book.