City Trails: Barcelona – Secrets, Stories and Other Cool Stuff

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_barcelona_city_Trails.jpgGet ready for a walking tour like no other – all from the comfort of your sofa!  Google is a great way to travel virtually around a city but nothing beats local knowledge. This seriously streetwise guide is packed with themed trails, from food and festivals to music, art and sport, that reveal amazing facts and intriguing tales you won’t find on the tourist routes.

In City Trails: Barcelona, join Lonely Planet explorers Marco and Amelia as they hunt for more secrets, stories and surprises in another of the world’s great cities. You’ll discover human pyramids, dancing eggs, a witch school, and lots more!

This a book designed to inspire young intrepid travelers to explore exotic locations – in this case the ancient and modern city of Barcelona. It’s the kind of book you can browse or deep dive. With quirky, fun illustrations, an imaginary narrator takes the reader on a series of trails through the city.

Themed trails include ‘Legends From Long Ago’ (featuring locations of just a few of the city’s many festivals for saints and historic figures), ‘Animal Land’ (the various zoos and museums of the Barcelona); ‘Delicioso!’ (a quick and slightly unsatisfying survey of street food and tapas); ‘Gaudi Town’ (a compulsory introduction of the famous architect’s iconic buildings including La Sagrada Familia); ‘Musical Marvels’ (music festivals) and my favourite ‘Spooky Stuff’ (which includes the Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres – a museum devoted to local funerary customs, featuring a display of ornate horse-drawn hearses and The Alchemist’s House, and the Executioner’s House).

With bright colours and a scrapbook design, there’s plenty to see. Every page is overloaded with visual information and plenty of snappy facts and ‘teaser’ lines to whet the knowledge of appetite kids and adults alike.

Also available in the series are: City Trails – London, Paris, New York City, Rome, Tokyo, Sydney, Washington DC and Singapore.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

City Trails: Barcelona – Secrets, Stories and Other Cool Stuff
Published by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781787014848

Book Review: The Dog Runner, by Bren MacDibble

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_dog_runnerAs a kid born and raised on farms all around Aotearoa, author Bren McDibble can speak with some authority about growing up on the land. While she now lives on a house bus that travels around Aussie, her roots are clearly, and proudly, rural. That grounding speaks strongly through the theme of this ecological apocalypse she has created, which serves as a dark backdrop to this story. It comes through in her proposition: that a ‘all-too possible’ fungus could wipe out all the grass and starve our livestock. This, in turn would bring down the whole farming model and impact on our entire food chain and eventually our eco-system. It’s a familiar scene.

Food is scarce. So, humans are reduced to become scavengers and are helpless to fend for themselves, having abandoned their skills following mass production and corporatisation. It’s a bleak new world. Think of the movies Quiet Earth, Mad Max, I am Pilgrim and so on. Desolate, wiped out. The connections to the great Irish Potato Famine are also pretty obvious, too. Except this time, immigration will not solve the issue. In this world adults are useless, and powerless, having become slaves to supermarkets, the internet and their electronic devices. They fall into are petty habits, squabble and join tribes to survive instead of rallying together. They are ultimately selfish and self-serving. Therefore, it’s up to the kids to save the day. It’s a book that comfortably sits alongside other YA authors like John Marsden.

With the help of their five big ‘doggos’, our heroes Ella and Emery must use a dry-land dogsled to leave the security of their inner city apartment and navigate their way through rough terrain to reach the relative safety and food of Emery’s mum’s place. Ella’s dad has disappeared. Emery’s mother works for a power company, and holds a vital job managing this precious resource from a remote location. She does it reluctantly, under pressure from her employer. It’s never really explained but she must remain at work, separated from her family, inexplicably obligated carry out her tasks for Orwellian masters. The parallels to Soviet Bloc utilities is not overlooked as the power splutters on and off, exposing a decaying, cracked network.

The kids must escape their urban prison and venture out into these new wastelands. Along the way, they encounter a range of difficult characters, who challenge them is many ways. I don’t want to provide spoilers but again, think of those characters in the Mad Max movies, with fewer guns.

The story throws you straight in, with little need to explain the setting or situation and then drops plot hints, like a trail of breadcrumbs, to keep you going. It’s told from the first person, with Ella holding the camera as she pans around revealing her world and every step she must take. We are teased along, even as Ella and Emery get further and further away from their crumbling city. From time to time Ella breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the reader. This is partly a reassuring inner dialogue, and a popular mechanism for YA fiction. The way it’s written, Ella could be either a boy or a girl. Her voice has no defining gender, beyond a name. It means the reader doesn’t take sides, and can empathize with these challenging circumstances.

Given climate change this scenario is a real threat and given we are so reliant on grains for basic food and feeding livestock, it’s a problem we, as humans must consider seriously.

But it’s not all gloomy. With the same adventurous spirit as Blyton’s The Famous Five, MacDibble revels in the pursuit of adventure. The story is fast-paced, there are fraught hideaways, difficult puzzles and dubious foes. These kids are fierce and brave, like farm kids, and creative and innovative. They see every problem as an opportunity.

Once again, MacDibble delivers a thoughtful and provoking read. Her first novel, How to Bee, also had an ecological them, examining our world without bees, which has become more of a very real threat over the last few years. This book takes a few more steps into oblivion, visualising not only a world where grasses and grains are wiped out but asking questions about what would replace these vital food sources.

Both teachers and parents should recommend this to upper primary school readers and return after to spark a wider conversation. It was also be a great one for further classroom study.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Dog Runner
by Bren MacDibble
Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760523572

Book Review: Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook), by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_cooks_cook.jpgChristchurch based author and illustrator Gavin Bishop is one of New Zealand’s top writers for children right now. He’s also won a ton of awards for his books, has been honoured with a NZ Order of Merit for Children’s literature and most recently, took out the top prize at the Children’s Book awards (The Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award) for his project Aotearoa: A New Zealand Story.

Over the years he’s illustrated Mahy’s books along with those of Joy Cowley and many other Kiwi authors. If you browse through his work you’ll notice his penchant for bringing history, particularly Colonial, to life. Aotearoa was not only an opportunity to bring our own past to life but to make it shine with elegant, personal , sparkling artwork that almost borders on a cartoon style. That, in turn, really appeals to children and lets them feel at ease with the stories he’s telling.

Carrying on the template he created for Aotearoa and also for an earlier successful book The House That Jack Built (the Kiwi retelling), Bishop places the reader as close to the action as possible. He knows that kids will relate to history if they can wear the clothes, taste the flavours and smell the aromas of history.  And so he’s chosen to write about Captain James Cook, not in the usual way but from the point of view of his cook, the one-handed John Thompson.

Thompson is not a man of airs and graces. He’s completely the opposite. Though he may not mind his Q’s he certainly knows his Pease Porridge – a sludgy soup made of split peas, favoured on alternate days to make the provisions of fresh food go further. This is just one fact we learn along the way. Bishop loves to throw in nerdy facts such as how many pigs, bottles of vinegar or sacks of flour are taken on board the Endeavour during its famous journey through Pacific waters in 1768. He relishes in providing these fantastic little details, information drawn from extensive research. Naturally, he also adds a bit of colourful sailor-talk and few sordid recipes like what to do with an albatross and how to serve sheared shark fins, Goose Pie (with a seabird substitute) or make Yorkshire pudding during a heavy storm.

Cook was determined to keep his crew and passengers fit and healthy so Thomson has his work cut out. His stories alone are worth the price of admission but this book is really more of a vehicle to tell the overall narrative around Cook’s famous voyage. Actually, the book tells multiple stories, of social class, hierarchy and race; stories of explorers and the people of the land (we are there during the first encounters with Maori, for example); the story of one of the world’s most famous explorers told through a fresh new lens – just in time for the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour’s journey.

This is a short but surprisingly heavily -packed book. There may only be about 40-odd pages but everyone deserves a re-read, as there are many little jokes, facts or secrets hiding in the illustrations. Children from 8 to 80 will love exploring this book and maybe even trying out a recipe or two – at their peril.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook)
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572045

Book Review: Shhh! Don’t Wake The Baby…, illustrated by Scott Pearson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_shh_dont_wake_the_baby.jpegYou have to admit, the opportunity was just too good. A new Prime Minister, a husband who’d step up to raise the child while his wife ran the country, and a country captivated by a young vibrant first couple at a time when old, white men were reeking destruction and chaos elsewhere in the world. Quick off the mark, illustrator Scott Pearson has very carefully blended his cartoon style into 10 contemporary scenes that we will instantly recognise.

The ‘story’, if there is one is simple: don’t wake little Neve Te Aroha. But there are many interruptions, unique to this couple. All Black supporters off to the game cheer loudly outside the window; Clarke showing off his fishing skills; camera clicks from the paparazzi; noisy espresso machines during parent coffee mornings; loud tractors on a Morrinsville farm; extra bass during Jacinda’s night club DJ session (a great one, that) and Winston shhhhing Crusher Collins in the House whilst Parliament is sitting. That is my favourite scene. He’s captured the Deputy PM’s grumpiness perfectly. Oddly, apart from Collins, the other MPs don’t look like any currently sitting but that’s a minor point.

There’s not much else you can say about this book apart from that it’s a quintessentially ‘Kiwi’ book. Plenty of small references such as kiwi mobiles, hibiscus flowers in the vase, photos of the beehive on the walls, buzzy bees, caravans at the beach. This is a colourful, vibrant, snatch in time. Sure it’s cashing in on the moment but why not. Even my 6 year old immediately took to it, and she knows very little about current affairs, yet she knew enough to get all the small innuendos and jokes in the pictures. A great book for right now. Adults and kids alike will be happy with this.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Shh… Don’t Wake the Baby
illustrated by Scott Pearson
Published by Moa/ Hachette
ISBN 9781869713942

Book Review: The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty – Book 1, by Rhys Darby

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_top_secret_undercover_notes_of_buttons_mcgintyI finally managed to steal this from my 9-year-old.  You see, she sleeps with one eye open, so there was no chance she’d share a book like this until she’s finished it.  Now, she doesn’t do this with just any old book.  It has to be quirky, challenging and, in her terms, ‘un-put-a-down-able’.  It helps if the subject matter leads to a bit of a session on Google afterwards. ‘What’s Morse Code, Dad? Never mind, Mr Google told me!’ Kid’s eh?

My daughter has never heard of Rhys Darby, or Flight of the Conchords, but she knows a good book when it arrives in the post.

Written in the same book-style as the Treehouse books, with a handwritten font and plenty of ‘random’ sketches, Mr Darby brings us a slice of his awkward, Kiwi humour and out-of-this-world absurdity, served between two slices of mystery-comedy.

It’s aimed at kids aged 8-15 yrs. Darby assumes the clothes of 12-year-old Buttons McGinty, and pens his top secret scribbles in his nutty notebooks, as he and his mates dive into a universe unlike any they’ve known. Our hero has been shipped off to Ranktwerp Island Education Fortress for Gifted Lame Unruly Minors (R.I.E.F.G.L.U.M), which is apparently a boarding school located on a remote island, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Sounds like that island in Famous Five books, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. Add to that his parents have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Plus, there’s bogus baddies and a weird kind of yeti on the prowl.

Apart from the obvious ‘dad’ jokes and random acts of hilarity, my daughter loved problem solving the Morse Codes that Buttons (who was partially ‘modelled’ on Darby’s audio producer) tries to crack in order to figure out the clues necessary to solve the crimes. And that was the best bit, frankly. The immersion and engagement. The main reason why I couldn’t sneak the book away – until the notes in the margins had all been rubbed out. Apparently, this is only volume one. So that means more to come. Someone in my household has already added the next volume to Santa’s list.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty – Book 1
by Rhys Darby
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434979

Book Review: City Mazes – Real Street Map Puzzles to solve from Amsterdam to Vancouver, by Patricia Moffatt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_city_mazesPuzzle kids of all ages will get into this book.  It’s perfect for anyone who loves to travel – be it in the flesh or only on paper. Although, I have to say, if you own a Sat Nav, it’s pretty accurate. The book is a collection of 30 ‘iconic city’ street maps re-engineered here and there to a create fun, challenging and beautifully illustrated activity book. Puzzle designer Patricia Moffatt, with the help of illustrators company Racket, has taken aerial photos of a number of major cities and redrawn the streets with tiny little embellishments to create her mazes. Sometimes this is a simple line closing a street or in the case of Paris, directing the journey underground through a tunnel or over a bridge.

Whilst puzzlers draw along the with ‘paths’ their pens pass famous sights like the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building. Added to each page are features of each city, with dialogue to explain and even hyperlinks. Each maze also reveals hidden gems like markets, or unique shops and art galleries, eateries and other tourist spots from those in the know. After all this is a Lonely Planet production, the book producer that once prided itself on giving the inside information for all travellers. The links might be a bit of a clue to that, too.

Given the liberal placement of images of vodka, beer, wine etc, and mentions of bars and restaurants I’m not really sure this is a children’s book. But, on the positive, kids of all ages will appreciate the clean, almost cartoon-like images.

vancouver_imageAre the mazes easy? Well, not for me. I had to backtrack several times. I got a bit distracted by all the text on the sides of the main puzzle, which was interesting. But that didn’t stop me. I got there, probably about 2 hours after my 9-year-old who was intent only on solving each level. She didn’t read the text at all. No matter. Maybe on the second round. There are 30 puzzles to re-solve. (I shouldn’t have fretted, either.  The solutions are in the back.)

This is one of a series of books that run alongside the theme of mazes based on maps and geographic locations. The artwork has a nice muted but classy feel, being printed on good quality heavy paper. According to the inside sleeve, the paper stock is endorsed by Forest Stewardship Council, an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.

The cover has a satisfying three dimensional quality to it. Definitely worth a look as good gift choice for a unique recipient who has everything or nothing like this.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

City Mazes – Real Street Map Puzzles to solve from Amsterdam to Vancouver
by Patricia Moffatt
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013414

Book Review: The Kiwi Cyclist’s Guide To Life, by Jane King

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_kiwi_cyclists_guide_to_lifeI’ve been meaning to review this one for a little while. It’s been sitting on my coffee table glaring at me. ‘Read Me’, it beckons. But it’s been a great summer and I’ve been out on the road, peddling away through some great trails – on road, off road, town and country.

And every time I reached out to pick it up, a visitor would arrive. So, instead, they are the ones to pick it up a and peruse its chapters. They often drift away to another part of the house to finish a chapter. They are not long, complicated or overwritten. Quite the opposite. King writes with a journalist’s eye. She wants to capture the full flavour, not just the essence of her subjects.

When I found time, I discovered that King’s book is a taste treat for anyone who loves cycling; but it’s much more than that. Over 25 chapters, she introduces us to a varied selection of cycle fiends from literally every walk of life. She covers every popular style – GT factory racing, track, BMX, triathletes, cycle builders, historians, off-roaders and inventors. There’s eccentrics, lifestyle cyclists and hippies. There are some of the pioneers like Graeme Pearson (a racer, rebellious innovator and bike designer who pushed the boundaries of conventional cycle racing in NZ). Or Aaron Gate (World Champion and Olympic Medalist) and Sarah Walker, whom we all know as a top BMX rider and pioneer for the sport in New Zealand.

Mountain biking gets a mention, with a look at Wyn Masters (see image from his Instagram below) who’s won some big events like last year’s Enduro World Series and competed in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Leogang. If you’ve ever been up the Gondola at Rotorua then you would have seen the  Crankworx track. That’s where he raced.

A post shared by Wyn Masters (@wynmasters) on

 

If biking has an unsung hero of Arthur Lydiard proportions it could well be Phil Gibbs, who nurtures new talent. And don’t forget another legend, swimmer Moss Burmester – double Olympian, Commonwealth Games Champion and World Champion – he’s eternally on two wheels as well. In training, racing and, as proven in a great photo double spread, in bed sleeping with his Giant training bike. He’s taking a fear of stolen bicycles to a new level!

There’s a profile on Graeme Simpson, who operates out of his Oamaru garage making, believe it or not, Penny Farthing Bicycles! We also get an intriguing inside into journalist and presenter Mary Lambie who is a keen competitive cyclist, racing in the Taupo Cycle Challenge, the K2 around Coromandel Peninsula and even doing the Coast to Coast race.

There is a profile of Drew Duff-Dobson, who runs a Cycle Shop-cum café in Auckland. Now that’s my kind of cycling. And then there’s a High Country Heli-biker (yep, it’s a thing), tour operator Dan McMullan. His piece is accompanied by a stunning photo of he and his bike perched on a lonely precipice surrounded by an endless mountainous backdrop, with another inside of him leading a group down the snowy slopes of Mt Burke. You could not ask for a better work story!

Not everyone in this book is an over-achiever, though. One of my favourite stories is that of Ana Steele and her adventures on her electric bike, leather jacket and vintage flying goggles. She’s done her OE differently, riding across Europe, instead of hitching or bussing it. Brett Cotter doesn’t just ride, he organises biking film festivals and couple Sandra Jensen and Mark Vuletich have embraced the new trend for wearing vintage clothes and riding ancient Velos from the 1930’s.

Jane King was originally from the UK but it’s clear that she has a love of our outdoors and she travels widely to source material for her books. She knows about quality publishing being a digital producer and content writer for TVNZ, NZME, Tourism NZ and a number of other digital agencies. A lot of her photos definitely look like they belong in a brochure – in a good way!

King’s book is thorough, as she covers every aspect of cycling, from racers to innovators to fashionista to cycle tourists to electric users to zen riders and planet savers. Cycling is as diverse as the people that sit in the saddle and this book proves it. She has drawn on a wide range of photographers to illustrate her book, including herself. The image of Dan McMullen off-loading a bike from a helicopter in the snowy back country is one of my favourites. It has the promise of a great ride in amazing terrain. It sparks the imagination but is also a familiar scene, of which every Kiwi is proud of. It sums it all up superbly: the spirit of adventure; entrepreneurship; risk taking; ecology and green tourism and, best of all the invitation to have fun.

On the other extreme is Sandra Jensen and Mark Vuletich riding alongside an old tank dressed in their finest tweeds and muslin, expressing their overt eccentricities and quirkiness. They want to be alternatives to a life in front of a screen, breathing in recycled office air and drinking bad coffee. To be on a bike is the freedom you can never get from any other pursuit. It offers something more than the daily grind of the crankshaft. This is what this book embraces.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Kiwi Cyclist’s Guide To Life
by Jane King
Published by Bateman
ISBN 9781869539795