Book Review: Torty and the Soldier, by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Torty and the Soldier is a finalist in the Non-fiction category of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_torty_and_the_soldier.jpgThis beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a tortoise who was found in a rather forlorn condition by a young New Zealand Soldier in Salonika during WW1, the developing relationship is told delightfully. It is a gentle, caring and nurturing relationship with a well-depicted backstory.

The real twist is Torty coming home with Stewart and settling into life in New Zealand, a life of adventure that lasted 60 years, the illustrations combined with a wonderful array of rich and vibrant language tell a beguiling story that will keep children’s attention, no matter what the setting. To say that the illustrations  are realistic and evocative of a time and place is to understate it: they are first class!

This book is a wonderful addition to our national collection of war stories, ensuring that those who served this country will not be forgotten. Inspired by a true story, it is clear that a lot of research has gone into this book and this makes it even richer.

Readers aged 10 upwards will thoroughly enjoy this, as will any adult who shares it with a younger child.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Torty And The Soldier
by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433651

Book Review: We’re off to Find a Kiwi by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Kate Wilkinson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_were_off_to_find_a_kiwiEveryone in New Zealand dreams of seeing a kiwi, but very few of us in fact have seen one. In this delightful picture book Louie and his older sister set off to find a kiwi.

The author uses an excellent rhyming method to carry the children from their street into the city where they meet a tui who offers advice.

From there they go to a farm, then up a mountain, where a kea tells them to look in a dimmer place.

They try a forest and hear,
A scratch – a rustle – something close …
I feel the need to wee-wee!
It’s coming near! I freeze in fear!
And then we see a … KIWI.

It’s a wonderful story for the 3-7 age group: my 3-year-old grandson loves it. The week before this book arrived we had been walking in the Orokonui Sanctuary looking for birds, kiwi included, and other wildlife, so this book continues our adventures.

Juliette MacIver has created a wonderful New Zealand story, introducing children to some of our finest native birds and with the subtle illustrations by Kate Wilkinson, children can learn about the special places which are home to these birds.

The last page includes facts about kiwi, good discussion points for parents and teachers.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

We’re off to Find a Kiwi
by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Kate Wilkinson
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433750

Musical Book Reviews: Angel Star, by Chris Sanders, illustrated by Kat Merewether; Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine, by Deano Yipadee, illustrated by Paul Beavis

Angel Star, by Chris Sanders, illustrated by Kat Merewether
Chris Saunders and Kat Merewether have teamed up to create this wonderful book.

cv_angel_star‘She looked up, into the sky,
to pick an Angel from the stars.
A shining light,
stood out that night,
so she reached out
to give it life.
And as her hand it touched the light.
it flickered down towards the Earth.
Just as if it was, all meant to be,
Like picking apples from a tree.’

This book comes with the added bonus of a CD with Chris Saunders singing and playing his guitar. The illustrations by Kat Merewether lend a whimsical and mythical air to a rather lovely book. A really wonderful way of introducing the idea of a new baby into a family with a small child.

My 2 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn was read this book and immediately grasped that this was about a new baby in a family and gave herself the role of the baby and the little girl as her big sister Abby, which I found incredibly cute.

Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine, by Deano Yipadee, and Paul Beavis
The idea began as a spark when Deano’s friend mentioned her son was always saying ‘Neeee-naw w w‘ and pretending to be a fire engine. I think a lot of children are fascinated by the sound of sirens, copying the sounds they hear.

cv_nee_naw_the_little_fire_engine‘There was a dinky little fire truck
hidden away,
with a dent on his bottom
and a door painted grey.
The new fire engines thought
he couldn’t help at all
because he wasn’t very shiny
and he wasn’t very tall.’

The newer fire engines may have been flasher, with shiny bodies, but Nee Naw saves the day when one of the big engines gets stuck in the mud.

This book also comes with a CD with music and lyrics by the author Deano Yipadee, along with rather fun illustrations by Paul Beavis.

I had to play the CD twice to my 2-½-year-old granddaughter as she rather liked making the fire engine siren noises.

Reviews by Christine Frayling

Angel Star
by Chris Sanders, illustrated by Kat Merewether
Published by Chris Sanders
ISBN 9780473356026

Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine
by Deano Yipadee, and Paul Beavis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433927

Book Review: If I Had an Elephant, by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_if_i_had_an_elephantThe front cover of this delightful picture book, tells its own story. Small boy, BIG elephant looking at each other. Here we enter the wonderful imagination of a child- asking “What if…”

Wanting an elephant is a perfectly normal desire for a small child. I always wanted a monkey. The possibilities are endless if you actually have an elephant, and the illustrations are expressive and easy to follow. It is the way the elephant’s eyes respond to each scenario which I loved best. The story takes us through many suggestions but what the boy actually gets for his birthday is not revealed until the final page.

This book was a treat for my granddaughter who asked lots of questions about the mechanics of owning an elephant. She very quickly noticed the expressive eyes and told me sad, or scary or happy from each page. The pictures have quirky additions which lead to deeper discussions and the final page allows further flights of imagination. The detail in the pictures is superb. The colourist, Tara Black, brings the images to life. Even the front and endpapers of the book tell part of the story. I am always delighted to see excellence in the presentation of children’s books.

As a teacher, this would be a great starter for a technology unit, or pet care, or even the poetry starter…What if?

For my birthday ( or even for Mother’s Day) I think I’d like…

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

If I Had an Elephant
by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434764

Book Review: Parakeet in Boots, by Chris Gurney, illustrated by Myles Lawford

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_parakeet_in_bootsThis is a hilarious Kiwi version of the fairy story Puss in Boots. There was once a farmer, who fell ill and died, leaving three sons and a farm to divide. The eldest received all the buildings and land, the next got the tractor and cash in the hand. But there in the will, to his youngest son Pete, all the farmer had left was his pet parakeet!

“What good’s a dumb parrot?” Pete cried in dismay.
“Don’t worry!” the bird squawked.
“I’ll see you’re okay.”
“Get me some ugg boots to warm up my feet,
plus a flax kete, and all will be sweet!”

The story continues on with the parrot “helping” Pete get what he needed in life including perhaps, the “girl of his dreams”.

A rather unique take on a classical fairy story. Both our 2 granddaughters were mesmerised by the idea of a parakeet taking charge of Pete’s destiny. I kept thinking of the parrot wearing ugg boots and wondering how on earth he could fly in such cumbersome things.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Parakeet in Boots
by Chris Gurney, illustrated by Myles Lawford
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434382

Book Review: Sunken Forest, by Des Hunt

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sunken_forestMatt Smith’s life is turned upside down when his petrol-head father is sent to prison for illegal car racing. With the family’s main income earner behind bars, Matt is sent to live with his Nana, relocating from Hastings to Gisborne. The move brings with it a new school, a new teacher (the excellently named Mrs Snodgrass), new friendships, and a whole bunch of unexpected challenges.

Unfortunately for Matt, his Nana’s warning that “early friends aren’t always the good ones” couldn’t be more true of his two fast-friends at Oneroa Intermediate School, Jay and Cameron. The duo use Matt to help smuggle stolen goods out of school, and when Matt performs a random act of kindness, he’s later blamed for what seems to be a related crime.

Consequently, Matt is told he can’t go on school camp with his class to Auckland, and instead he attends a military-style wilderness camp with Cameron and Jay’s class at Lake Waikaremoana. As Matt negotiates making new friends – including a monstrous eel named Elsa – accusations continue to fly. Mr Klink believes the worst and Matt soon finds himself in deep water. Together with his new friends, he must use all his eco-science, detective and adventure skills not only to prove himself innocent, but to save the camp from potential disaster.

Another fabulous read by acclaimed New Zealand writer Des Hunt. I would strongly recommend this as a regular on every Intermediate school teacher’s read aloud list. I love how real and complicated Matt’s social background is, how his self-esteem plays into the relationships he forms, and how Matt’s story is woven into a rich, real-life setting in a way that champions eco-science and wilderness knowledge without becoming overbearing.

While I wasn’t so taken with a few of the secondary characters (namely Maddy, and her one-track-minded desire for revenge regardless of consequence), most in this eclectic cast of characters jump off the page, and the descriptions of Lake Waikaremoana and the surrounding area are stunning. I did wonder if perhaps Matt was a little too innocent – too much in the wrong place at the wrong time – though his shoplifting backstory and his father’s prison sentence do explain why he now has such a strong moral compass.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Sunken Forest is its ending. It’s an ending that wraps-up not just Matt’s story, but many of the secondary character’s arcs as well in a satisfying, logical way – very much a credit to an experienced writer well in his stride.

Reviewed by Emma Bryson

Sunken Forest
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434030

Book Review: Hush -A Kiwi Lullaby By Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hush_a_kiwi_lullabyWe are so blessed in New Zealand to have writers such as Joy Cowley. She has continued over the years to provide appropriate, beautiful texts to share with our children. Hush is the latest addition and I think this book and song will quickly become a Kiwi classic.

The traditional lullaby by Brahms is given new words and a Maori translation. We have sheep and Mums, stars and tui, pāua and kauri in place of the traditional English images. The words fit the tune in a natural way and the illustrations use a soft palette to create an harmonious, restful scene.

I was delighted to see the book has an additional Māori text and even a glossary of Māori words. The next generation of Kiwis will be familiar with a bi-cultural approach at pre-school and school, so it is timely to see New Zealand publications acknowledging this.

This book would make a wonderful gift for a newborn, a toddler birthday or even to a Grandparent. It is a delight of word and image. As the final line states:
‘And when that silver fern’s no more….
You’re still the best baby in Aotearoa.’

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby
by Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433125