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: The Thunderbolt Pony, by Stacy Gregg

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_thunderbolt_ponyIf you are a horse-loving tweenager, Stacy Gregg is a rockstar.  With her crazily popular Pony Club Secrets and Pony Club Rivals series and her more recent stand-alone novels, Stacy is one of New Zealand’s most popular children’s authors; both in New Zealand and overseas. Fans were queuing up to buy her newest release, The Thunderbolt Pony, last month without even needing to know the title or the plot; she is that popular.

Stacy’s newest novel is the first by her to be set in New Zealand. And what a tale it tells. Twelve year old Evie, already battling obsessive compulsive disorder after the recent death of her father, faces a new trauma when the Kaikoura earthquake strikes. Evie’s house in the small town of Parnassus is destroyed and her mother is badly injured, needing medical evacuation. When Evie is told she needs to flee the devastation with her neighbours to get to Kaikoura to meet a navy ship, she refuses to abandon her beloved animals and is determined to find a way to stay together. And thus begins her epic trek with her faithful pony Gus, feisty cat Moxy, and loyal dog Jock.

This is a thrilling read. The description of the physical experience of the big quake and its many aftershocks felt much too familiar. There were also far too many heart-in-throat moments of peril and danger. I found myself reading ‘just one more page’ on several occasions because I couldn’t bear to put the book down until I knew all of our animals were safe.

As well as the overarching plot about animals and earthquakes, there is a sub-story about Evie’s anxiety issues and counselling sessions. Stacey handles the topic of mental health with grace and empathy. Evie’s challenges with OCD and anxiety are not minimised nor used for comedic purposes. Her suffering is real and its treatment is explored gently and kindly, through the metaphor of Greek mythology.

This would be an extremely useful book to use to open a dialogue with children if they are facing any similar mental health challenges of their own, whether or not their anxiety is caused by a bereavement or earthquakes. Our hero is a great role model for anyone battling anxiety; she comes through her ordeal stronger and wiser: ‘… you could waste your life just waiting for the future to happen.  Sometimes we’re so busy anticipating things, we miss out on the moment that we’re living in right now.’

Evie’s story is one of courage, friendship, overcoming obstacles, and learning that there are some things we cannot control. It is an adventure story, an animal story, and a very New Zealand story; a great read for Kiwi kids and overseas friends.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Thunderbolt Pony
by Stacey Gregg
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008257019


Book Review: The Diamond Horse, by Stacy Gregg

cv_the_diamond_horseAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!! Stacy Gregg has, once again, left me gobsmacked. After reading one of her previous novels The Princess And The Foal, I was excited to read this one. Gregg has put an extreme amount of research into this novel, and I felt as if I had been transported halfway across the world, experiencing this story first hand next to Anna.

The Diamond Horse is based on a Russian girl, Anna Orlov, whose father breeds animals and works for the Empress Catherine. When Anna’s father buys a new horse Anna is the one to break him in, but after the horse dies, Anna’s father orders that his son, a three-day-old foal is killed because of his unique appearance. When Anna’s mother dies she gives her a black diamond necklace that holds a secret.

I really enjoyed the persistence and courage that Anna showed throughout the novel, and would recommend The Diamond Horse to anyone who loves horses or anybody between the ages of 7 – 10.

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston (age 14)

The Diamond Horse
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008124397

Stacy Gregg will be in-store at Paper Plus Bethlehem for NZ Bookshop Day.

Book Review: The Girl Who Rode The Wind, by Stacy Gregg

Available now in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_girl_who_rode_the_wind

The Girl Who Rode The Wind by Stacy Gregg tells the history of the world’s most dangerous and famous horse race, the Palio de Siena.

The main characters are a young girl called Lola and her grandmother, Loretta, who travel to Siena in Italy from America. The grandmother tells Lola a story about when she rode in the Palio back when she was young. The Palio is the most dangerous horse race in the world because it is usually set at night and the jockeys ride bareback through the piazza.

When they arrive in Siena, locals think that Lola is a ghost: she looks just like Loretta when she was young. This is how she hears about the Palio, and then Lola really wants to ride in it. The capitano (mayor) sees her ride and encourages her, as he thinks she has a chance of winning it.

Lola meets the horse of her dreams called Nico, who happens to be her friend’s horse. And she is convinced that this is the horse that could help her win the Palio.

Of course a story about the most dangerous horse race in the world would be exciting and adventurous, and Stacy Gregg has certainly packed a lot of adventure into this book.

Stacy has written pony-based stories for many years, and always finds ways to include amazing action and drama from around the world. She was inspired to write this book after interviewing Rosanna Bonelli, one of only two woman to ever ride in the Palio. Stacy stayed with the Bonelli family and also got to meet the famous jockey Trecciolino who won the deadly street race 13 times!

Stacy is a horse rider herself so her descriptions of horses and racing are accurate and I feel like the horses have a main part in the book because they are so well-written. I think horsey girls age ten and over will be interested in this amazing book, which I give 5 stars.

Review by Ava Knowles, age 9

The Girl Who Rode The Wind
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9780008124304

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!


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.

Author Interview: Stacy Gregg, author of The Island of Lost Horses

harpercollins_vote_nowStacy Gregg has been voted for by kids all over New Zealand to become a
finalist in the Children’s Choice Junior Fiction category, for the second in her series of horse books inspired by true stories. She is also in the judge’s list for this year’s Junior Fiction award. Her 2013 book, The Princess and the Foal, was a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

We asked Stacy a few questions about where this story came from, and how she went about researching it.

1. What was the genesis for this, your second story inspired by a true horsey tale?
It began when I fell in love. I was looking through a book of rare horse breeds and I turned the page and there was this incredible creature with startling blue eyes, this face as white as bone china, strange markings like a dark bonnet over its ears, and a mane so tangled with sea grasses that it looked like it had dreadlocks. That was my first experience of seeing an Abaco Barb. I’d never even heard of them before, but I was struck by this image and so I began to research the horse and discovered that its story was remarkable.


The breed has lived in total isolation on a desert island in the Caribbean for 500 years and its DNA can be traced directly to the ancient bloodlines of horses in Spain. The bloodlines prove the Abaco Barbs came over from Spain with Christopher Columbus – but how did they end up running wild on this island in the middle of the Bahamas? I started to put the puzzle together and produced a dual narrative told through the eyes of two young girls, one in the present day in the Bahamas and the other in Spain in 1493. Beatriz and Felipa are both in love with their horses and will ultimately risk their lives to save them.

2. What were the main resources you used to do your research? Which of these shaped the book the most?
Stacy Gregg 2013 cr Carolyn HaslettAs an ex-journalist I am very vigorous when it comes to the research for my books. The starting point is usually location: I had already travelled to Spain for a previous novel so I had my key locations there like the Alhambra clearly in my mind and my editor, Lizzie Clifford, who has worked with me now on 16 books, grew up in the Bahamas.

Back home, I built up a library of excellent detailed historical reference books on Queen Isabella and Columbus and Spain in 1493, but some details required more certainty than the books could provide. I have one particular scene where a key character dies from the Black Death. To be absolutely certain I had my facts right I had to track down the world’s pre-eminent authority on Bubonic Plague, Dr Joseph Byrne at Belmont University in the United States. He was an amazing resource – I am now a plague expert thanks to him. I also know how to navigate a carracas from Spain to the Caribbean and can speak fluent Bahamian patois! I could also bore you to tears about the intricacies of the life cycles of sea thimble jellyfish (one of the characters is a marine biologist).

3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
I am always surprised when I get the printed book back and realise that I have in fact written a kids book because the process to me feels frightfully adult. There’s such a depth of history and fact in my stories. I want young readers to come away from a novel feeling like they have all this newfound knowledge absorbed almost by osmosis – the byproduct of a swashbuckling good yarn. There’s no reason why you can’t learn and have fun at the same time!

4. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book (and your other books!?)
I’ve been having vigorous debates about this with friends lately about what middle graders should be reading. I feel very strongly about the need for children’s literature to provide strong, positive role models that young readers can aspire to be. I love the fact that the girls in my books are powerful and heroic and solve their own problems. I think reading cv_watership_downabout characters who face their fears and achieve their goals can be inspiring for young readers. I get quite a bit of tear-jerking mail from my readers telling me that my books have inspired them to ride horses and pursue their pony dreams.

When you are reading, I think you should want desperately to be the character. I wanted so bad to be Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Or Alec Ramsay in The Black Stallion. I definitely wanted to be Hazel in Watership Down. Rabbits can be heroes too.

6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
Horses – always, always horses.

Win a Copy Now! 


If you want to know more about Stacy, check out her website here.

For reviews of her book, check out Bob Docherty’s review here.

This is day 14 of the blog tour featuring each of the finalists in the Children’s Choice category of the awards. Yesterday’s feature was Canterbury Quake, by Desna Wallace, on My Best Friends are Books. Tomorrow’s feature will be How I Alienated My Grandma, by Suzanne Main, which will be covered on Booknotes Unbound.

What you might have missed from the Junior Fiction list:

Dragon Knight: Fire!, by Kyle Mewburn & Donovan Bixley
1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker
My Story: Canterbury Quake, by Desna Wallace 

Book Review: The Princess and the Foal, by Stacy Gregg

The Princess and the Foal is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Get your copy now! 

A delightful story of equine friendship.

This is a fictional tale based on fact, the story of Untitled-4Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan. An inspirational young woman with an independent, and somewhat wilful, streak. Although clearly fiction, Stacy Gregg has met with Princess Haya, travelled to Jordan at her request, and been given unprecedented access to the stables. Fiction this may be, but it is plain that truth lies at its core.

When Princess Haya is but a small child, grave tragedy strikes her family and the young Princess becomes incresingly withdrawn. This changes however, when a precious young life is put into her hands: a three-day old foal, orphaned from birth.

And so begins a friendship that will last decades and a love of horses that will carry the young Princess to international success as a show-jumping champion.

The story follows Princess Haya’s early years, up to her first equestrian challenge. It is a heart-warming tale, filled with moments of pure happiness and intermingled with comic, and sometimes downright foolhardy, misadventures. Taking us through sorrow, loss and finally triumph. Gregg has captured the voice of the young protagonist to
perfection: her determination (bordering on stubborness) but also her fragility. She is no pampered princess, to sit in her palace and await her prince, no, she is a motivated young woman, who will (and has) gone far.

The other characters are equally real, at least within the prose, we have stern governess Frances with her disapproving eye; King Hussein who not only permits his daughter’s somewhat unruly endeavours but supports and encourages them, and younger brother Ali − a mischievous trouble-maker (who went on to champion football in Jordan and Asia).

For lovers of horse stories, there is a colourful equine cast as well:
the magnificent Arabian horses of the royal palace, the large and placid “tanks”, and even the fat and plodding ponies that the Princess must face when she is sent to a boarding school in England. Gregg’s previous novels has included the Pony Club Secrets series, and her knowledge and affection for our four-legged friends shines throughout the prose.

This is a wonderful tale for young girls, particularly those interested in horses. It is a tale of a Princess, friendship, and determination.

It may even inspire the young reader to learn more about the real characters behind the story, and enlighten them to how, despite Jordan being a world away, the love, and friendship, of horses is universal.

by Angela Oliver

The Princess and the Foal
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins Publishers UK
ISBN 9780007469048