Book Review: The Christmas Tree Tangle, by Margaret Mahy

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Icv_the_christmas_tree_tangle am sadly just a decade too old to have actually grown up with this book, but I wish I had! Mahy is fabulous fun in this tale of a hapless kitten stuck up a Christmas Tree.

It has all the elements we know and love Mahy for: flawless rhyme, rhythm and cadence, a solid story in several acts, and a wicked sense of fun. And the word ‘horrakapotchkin’ – probably my favourite of all the coined words Mahy uses.

The feel of this as you read it is similar to singing the 12 days of Christmas, or I know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. First cat, then dog, then goat, then pigs ascend the tree, and as the story builds we have a couplet given to each: The cat splits the night with a woeful wail, the dog barks in the Christmas night, the goat teeters, entreating, while the kitting clings with her claws to the Christmas star.

Spoiler alert – none of these animals are quite as good at climbing as the kitten… but they do make extremely good stepping stones!

Sarah Davis’s illustrations are playful and wild, matching the tone of the book perfectly. The things that befall the animals are hilarious – the cat’s tail gets caught in the teeth of a nutcracker ornament, while the dog is tangled in some pretty strong beads. And the manner in which the child at the end ascends the tree is perfect – using a collection of Christmas-themed helium balloons. (Check out Sarah Davis’s article on The Sapling about her attempts at illustrating the kitten!)

Buy and read this with your children this Christmas (if you can find a copy!): our copy is going under the tree as a Christmas Eve read.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Christmas Tree Tangle
by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Sarah Davis
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 97801437709800

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Book Review: Marmaduke Duck and the Christmas Calamity, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_marmaduke_duck_and_the_christmas_calamityAnother adventure in the series featuring the much loved Marmaduke Duck, this book continues in the same delightfully humorous vein as it’s predecessors and like it’s predecessors this book will make a terrific shared reading experience.

With Christmas in the title along with the word Calamity, one can guess that something unwanted may be about to happen and that the day of the year loved by children may be threatened… and when Santa and his Reindeer find themselves buried in the snow, a hero is needed. Who else but Marmaduke Duck could save the day?

With it’s cast of characters, delightful illustrations, rhyming words, exclamation marks and  neat little story, this book has it all: Adults and children alike, will love it!

A wonderful edition to the growing catalogue of New Zealand-written Christmas stories, Author and Illustrator have worked together to produce a book that will be welcomed everywhere, especially on every child’s bookshelf.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Marmaduke Duck and the Christmas Calamity
by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433903

Book Review: That’s Not a Hippopotamus!, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Available soon at bookshops nationwide.

cv_thats_not_a_hippopotamusJuliette MacIver and Sarah Davis are in top form in That’s NOT a Hippopotamus! All the characters from every preeschool or junior school class are there: the know-it-all, the slightly crazed, the over-eager, and of course the boy who says very little, but notices a lot.

The book starts as the kids arrive at ‘Don’s Safari,’ and our know-it-all notices that there doesn’t seem to be a ‘Hippopotamus’ sign on the wall with all the other animals. Don takes them to where the hippo usually hangs out – but oh no! The hippo has gone missing! Then begins our romp around the wildlife park to find the hiding hippo; via the giraffes, elephants, a snake, a skunk and more – each child certain they’ve got him this time. Meanwhile our hero, Liam, tries to quietly draw attention to the hippo, with no luck, as this harried teacher is on the run.

MacIver’s rhyme in Hippopotamus is, as always, impeccable. She never plays a rhyme straight, but bounces around and has fun with the words:

Golly, Miss! A lot amiss.
A missing hippopotamus!
Good thing we’re here. The best, hands-down,
of hippo-hunters in the town.

Sarah Davis’ oblivious teacher manages to be all business and overwhelmed at the same time. The children are varied and wild, with every hairstyle under the sun represented, and every fashion as well. She always matches text with illustrations well, but this story is told as much in the illustration as in the text, and it’s fantastic to see such a seamless interaction between illustrator and writer. There is much more showing than telling: always the mark of an excellent picture book.

MacIver’s books are a firm favourite with both of my boys. 5-year-old Dan was an immediate fan of this book, and was incredulous as he realised, gradually, that the Hippopotamus was on every spread. As his Dad came in he was like ‘And there’s this Hippo, and he’s on every page, and nobody even notices…’ He’s a book kid, but the bubbling is always fantastic to see.

Take this book home for your own little hippo-hunter, or buy it in for your school library or class. It would make a perfect introduction to a study of wildlife (the notion of big, small, colourful are all explored), or a book to hype the class up for an outing to the zoo. I’m sure this will remain a favourite in this household for years to come.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

That’s NOT a Hippopotamus
by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271964

Note: For another great hippo book, check out Margaret Mahy’s The Boy Who Was Followed Home (Puffin) 9780143504375

Book Review: The House on the Hill, by Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Davis

cv_the_house_on_the_hillThis book is a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in three categories: The Russell Clark Illustration Award, the Picture Book Award and the Children’s Choice Picture Book Award. 

When two ghosts are being drawn to a house perched on a hill, you know scary stuff is going to happen and in this fantastically illustrated book, it does.

A children’s version of the spooky, much loved Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven; the text and illustrations perfectly complement each other, drawing an atmospheric cloak around the ghosts as they make their way up to the house on the hill and then…inside.

For the darkness of this book and the scare factor, there is a delightful twist at the end, this book will delight children who enjoy being frightened. The book is probably best suited to the older child who enjoys a more sophisticated picture book.

by Marion Dreadon

The House on the Hill
by Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Davis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775430841

Vote now for the Hell Children’s Choice Award

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

The blog to end our 20-day blog tour!

BookAwards_CC_900x320_v3_bannerWe have just finished a fabulous four-week tour around our authors inspirations, aims and achievements with their Children’s Choice finalist books. Now it is time for you to help your kids to vote their favourite book and author to win: they will be in to win a selection of finalists for themselves and their school if they do! Kids can select a winner in each category; the winning book of each category will win a prize at the Book Awards ceremony on Thursday 13 August. Thank you to all of the other blogs who have hosted these interviews!

Children's_choice_ya_fic_V2jpgDuring the first week of our tour, we heard from the Young Adult fiction finalists. We heard from Ella West (who, like any good super author, writes under a pseudonym) who dedicated Night Vision to Trish Brooking, because she still takes her out for lunch, after looking after her as Otago Education College Writer in Residence in 2010. We learned that Natalie King has not one but three pseudonyms, and was inspired by a dream of a lake to write the book Awakening, which begins with a mysterious necklace drawn from a lake. While Jill Harris sadly passed away in December, Makaro Press publisher Mary McCallum told us that she published her book The Red Suitcase because the opening chapter inside a Lancaster bomber had her riveted. I Am Rebecca was a return to a character that author Fleur Beale had written about before, in I am not Esther. She told us that the secret to her amazing characters is simply to “walk in the shoes of the character so that what happens to the character informs the story.” Our final YA author was Nelson-based Rachael Craw, who had two interviews in two different places! Spark was also inspired by a dream, which took 5 and a half years to come to fruition: she had to learn to write first! She was inspired by the power of DNA when she met her birth mother.

Children's_choice_picbook_v4Week two saw us jump back a few reading years to the Picture Book finalists. Scott Tulloch ran I am Not a Worm past fellow Children’s Choice finalist Juliette MacIver and her kids, and her oldest son Louis suggested what became the final line in the book: “I like butterflies.” Yvonne Morrison, author of Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite, told us she was about to leave NZ for a new job in Vietnam, living on a jungle island and managing a centre for endangered primates! Donovan Bixley covered two finalist books in one interview, Little Red and Junior Fiction book Dragon Knight: Fire! and he said that working with the same authors again and again means he can just do a messy scribble at the early stage of illustrating, and they will trust him to flesh it out!  Jo van Dam wrote doggy rhymes for her own children when they were young, and this became Doggy Ditties from A to Z. This is illustrated by Myles Lawford, who had to do a lot of research to make sure he illustrated each breed accurately. Peter Millet answered his own question about pets in the army with The Anzac Puppy, illustrated by Trish Bowles, who used to get in trouble at school for drawing: she now gets rewarded for it! Juliette MacIver likes to feature things in her books that children see in their everyday lives – “monkeys, old wooden galleons, pirates, for example, things that children encounter most days on their way to kindy or school.” Marmaduke Duck and the Wide Blue Seas was the third in the series by her and Sarah Davis, who reckons Juliette sometimes writes things in just to annoy her: ”52 marmosets leaped on board”?!? Seriously!!? Do you know how long it takes to draw 52 marmosets? Much longer than it takes to write the words “52 marmosets”, that’s for sure.”

Children's_choice_JUNIOR_V4We began the Junior Fiction category with an interview with Kyle Mewburn, author of Dragon Knight: Fire!, the first in a new series for the younger Junior Fiction age-group, and a finalist in both the children’s choice and the judges’ lists. Kyle doesn’t let his ideas float around “in case they escape, or some sneaky author steals one.”  The lead character in 1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, was inspired by her grandfather, Thomas McGee, who served as a mounted rifleman in WW1. Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Quake, and the character of Maddy popped into her head on the way home from work as a school librarian one day. “It was a bit crowded in there, so I sat down and wrote it out,” she said. Stacy Gregg‘s story The Island of Lost Horses began when she fell in love, with a picture of an Abaco Barb horse, the breed featured in this story; which is inspired by real events. Suzanne Main won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon award for the manuscript for How I Alienated My Grandma. This came with an offer of publication from Scholastic NZ, which enabled her to keep backing herself and her work to succeed.Children's_choice_NON_FIC_V3

The Non-fiction category tour began with the double-nominee (in judge’s and children’s choice lists) Māori Art for Kids, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke. Their aim was “to create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.” Poet Sarah Jane Barnett featured poetry title The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green and Myles Lawford on her blog The Red Room. Paula says, “When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried!” Maria Gill followed up her New Zealand Hall of Fame of 2011 with New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions – she says the toughest task was to decide who to leave out. Gorgeous illustration guide book A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris, was featured next on NZ Green Buttons. Sandra’s favourite thing to do when not drawing or managing her illustration agency, is tramping, unsurprisingly!  Philippa Werry was in last year’s awards with her great Anzac Day book, and this year she was a children’s choice finalist for Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, featured on Barbara Murison’s blog. Philippa focused this book on the day itself, as opposed to the treaty, and she enjoys doing cryptic crosswords while contemplating writing.

While this tour is ending, we will be carrying on our celebration of the book awards, promoting the judges’ list in the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the run-up to the awards announcement at Government House on 13 August 2015. There will be giveaways and reviews, and fun besides, so watch this space!

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For the full links list for the Book Awards, please head here.

Other blogs involved were: NZ Booklovers blog, Booknotes Unbound, Around the BookshopsThrifty Gifty, My Best Friends are Books, NZ Green Buttons Blog and The Red Room.

Book Review: Marmaduke Duck on the Wide Blue Seas, by Juliette McIver and Sarah Davis

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

This is a charming delight of a picture book. It is the third featuring Marmaduke Duck, written by Juliette MacIver and illustrated by Sarah Davis, and by far the most cv_marmaduke_duck_on_the_wide_blue_seascompelling and adventurous of the three (and my favourite − it has monkeys in it!). For those unfamiliar with the series, Marmaduke Duck makes marmalade jam, which is well loved by his animal friends, then (in the second book) Bernadette Bear moves in and sets up a honey store in direct competition with him. There is some rivalry, but the two eventually become friends and combine their talents to make a one stop sweet shop.

In this third book, Marmaduke Duck has become restless with his cosy life, and decides to set off on a grand adventure − exchanging a cart filled with jam for a sailing ship, and heading off with a ragtag crew to sail the seas. All is going well until the ship runs afoul of the Marmoset Monkeys and Orangutan Fang.

The whimsical illustrations are a delight and combine with the words to create a truly enchanting picture book. From the soft pastels of the cover − where Marmaduke stands atop his crow’s nest, telescope in hand and stirring spoon in his belt − and throughout the narrative, the characters come to life. This is one tale in which the illustrations go above and beyond the narrative, and we can watch as Bernadette − a home sort of bear − leaves the comfort of her house to follow her friend into the unknown − and turn up in just the nick of time to save his feathery hide. Sarah Davis creates all her characters with loving care, including the individual marmosets (there is even a credit at the back to her “Monkey Pirate Fashion Consultant”) who all have their own unique traits. I especially love the facial expressions of Orangutan Fang and the fact that Bernadette Bear is a very realistic sort of bear (especially when angered) – despite her apron, hand bag and little bow.

The prose too is a delight to read. Juliette MacIver writes in rhyme − a hard technique to master − almost flawlessly, creating an animated and lively tale to read aloud. There is a delightful playfulness to the rhythm. Coupled with the illustrations, this is one picture book that can stand reading time and time again, with extra time spend to study the second story − the one told in illustrations alone. This is a story of courage and friendship, of the power of jam and home comforts over the allure of gold. I hope to see more of this loveable, unlikely duo, now that they’ve both had a taste of adventure, let’s hope it leads to more!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Marmaduke Duck on the Wide Blue Seas
by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775431251