Sunday, 29 September 2013

Picture Books

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Greg Straight
While You Are Sleeping
Duck Creek Press   2013       $29.99hb  32pp

ISBN  978 1 8773 7877 5
ISBN  978 1 8773 7878 2  Paperback edition $19.99
Theme:         The world at night

While the small child and his/her dog sleep peacefully the world outside the window is a frenetically busy place. The moon jumps over the cows, bakers get up at 4.50am to put the dough to rise, the sun sets and rises (in France), trains, planes and mighty trucks with bright eyes winking rush through the night. Apart from the French scene, the illustrations all indicate it is nighttime with a clever use of deep purple backgrounds and wonderfully colorful images. As in all good picture books the reader and listener will want to go back again and again to discover phrases and details they missed on the previous time (and the time before that).

Preschool -Year  2/ Ages 3 - 6

Fiction 9 up

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Johanna Knox, illustrated by Sabrina Malcolm
The Sundew Stalks
Book Two in The Fly Papers series
Hinterlands   2013       $23.00pb         173pp
ISBN  978 0 4732 2663 3
Themes:  Carnivorous plants/ Genetic engineering/ Protection of the environment / Wrestling


Zany characters, including a set of carnivorous plants with personalities of their own, an outrageously over the top but still totally believable plot and a wicked sense of humour are the components of this book. Tora de Ronde, plus characters from the first book, leads a full on life of excitement and adventure as she battles scheming wrestlers, tries to rescue the plants and to help a scientist in great danger.  An easy to read, accessible writing style make Johanna Knox’s Fly Paper series one that children from around nine to intermediate level will really latch into. The illustrations by Sabrina Malcolm match the text perfectly and the whole production has a feeling of careful planning and quality. The next book in the series, The Aldrovanda Turns is promised ‘soon’.  As far as I know there are six more books to come… 

Year 5 up/ Age 9 up

Monday, 23 September 2013

Fiction - Age 9 up

NZ Writer & Illustrator

Sherryl Jordan

Fishtales Far-Fetched and Foul

Scholastic   2013       $15.00pb  125pp

ISBN  978 1 7754 3117 6

Themes:  Funny stories/ Long ‘short’ stories/ Read aloud stories/ Scary stories

Sherryl Jordan has put together a set of four long (short) stories with a fishy base - and she doesn’t even like fishing very much. The stories range from truly scary to really funny – told and crafted as only a great story teller can.
They are just the right length to read aloud on a double period on a wet Friday afternoon!

Year 5 up/ Age 9 up

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Picture Book

NZ Writer & Illustrator
Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Cat Chapman
The Frog Who Lost His Underpants
Walker Books   2013       $27.99hb   32pp
ISBN  978 1 9219 7789 3

Themes:  Friendship/ Jungles/ Quests

Poor Frog feels he is quite undressed without his favourite red underpants. It takes a colourful walk through the jungle with his best friend Teddy and a real dilemma before Frog realises friendship is more important than the way one looks! The story is told in an interesting mixture of rhyme and straight text and exuberantly illustrated in muted jungle colours. I would have reviewed this many weeks ago but foolishly lent it to a visiting child from where it has 'done the rounds' and has only just been returned to me. My travels around the neighborhood from family to family in search of it deserves a picture book of its own.

Preschool up/ Age 4 up

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


NZ Editor

Crissi Blair

New Zealand Children’s Books in Print 2012-2013

Silvertone    2013    $20.00     88 pages

ISBN 978 0 4732 4999 1

Here is the annual ‘list’ of all the New Zealand books for children from birth to secondary school that were in print at the end of 2012 plus a large selection of books now available in 2013. ‘List’ is a very weak word to describe this cornucopia of books that is eagerly waited for from year to year and greeted with admiration for its editor who must have spent so many hours compiling it. The whole production is carefully set out so that accessing material is simple. Some schools and colleges I know encourage their students to leaf through it to find new treasures that can then be followed through on the school computer. This year Crissi Blair advises, so that all schools can have a chance to see it, she has decided to make it freely available in digital format. Go to:

You can purchase a hard copy by emailing and it will be sent to you with an invoice.

Teacher Reference Material

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Fiction Age 10 up

NZ Writer
Robert MacKinlay
Face the Shadows
Available from the writer  - see below 2013    $19.00pb (plus postage)    185pages
ISBN 978 0 4732 5625 8

Themes: Bullying/ Family stories/ Fires/ NZ 1939 - / Read aloud/ World War II

Robbie Thom is a gentle boy whose big ambition is to save enough money to buy the latest Kodak camera, to  own a decent pair of shoes and to be able to stand up to the school bully. Then the class teacher tells the children about something that has just happened on the other side of the world - Kristallnacht  - yet another indication that World War II is nearly there. And Robbie’s world is about to change dramatically and not only by the impending war but also by a devastating fire and the terrifying presence of the man in the shadows. This makes for exciting reading (I feel it would read aloud well to a class) and gives a genuine image of life in New Zealand around the late 30’s early 40’s.  You are able to order direct from the writer at:    

Year 6 up/ Age 10 up

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Picture Books

NZ Writer and Illustrator
Joy Cowley, illustrated by Philip Webb
Hero of the Hill
Scholastic   2013    $22.99hb     32 pages
ISBN 978 1 7754 3196 1

Themes: Fell engines/ Rimutaka Incline/ Stories in rhyme

Many years ago trains didn’t go through the tunnel to the Wairarapa from Wellington. In those days the carriages were hauled up the incline with a gradient of 1/13 at the steepest part by the Fell locomotive. Here is the story of Locomotive H One-Ninety-Nine as it battles  (with help from the sweating drivers) to pull the train up through Cross Creek, through Siberia to the Summit. Joy Cowley and Philip Webb have collaborated to bring this now almost forgotten part of New Zealand history to life and you can tell both have had much pleasure in doing it. The rhyme is pitch perfect and easy to read aloud and the illustrations are firmly set in the 1950s.
Go to for information about the Fell Locomotive Museum in Featherston.   

Preschool up / Age 4 up

(I was working at School Library Service (as it then was) around 1955-56 and was sent to take a large box of brand new books to the children at Cross Creek School travelling on a wooden train pulled by the Fell Locomotive  – it was quite an adventure. I stayed the night in the Headmaster’s house (no Principals then) and returned to Wellington the next day. 'Going down' was almost as exciting.)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Picture Books

NZ Writer and Illustrator
Gay Hay, illustrated by Margaret Tolland
Watch Out, Snail
Page Break Ltd   2013    $22.00pb     32 pages
ISBN 978 0 4732 2644 2

Themes: NZ forest/ Nighttime in the forest/ Powellliphanta snail

Come into the nighttime New Zealand forest – a dark place where it is eat or be eaten and follow the slimy trail of the Powellliphanta snail as he/she (these snails are hermaphrodites) evades a series of hungry mouths. There are other hungry creatures in the forest  - pigs and rats, hedgehogs and possums – even birds will eat these snails.  Gay Hay has used elegant and lyrical language that is a pleasure to read aloud (and has not fallen into the trap of writing in verse) to tell the story of the snail’s search for a meal. Margaret Tolland has created a dark forest that once you enter it on the first page you simply do not leave again until the dramatic end of the story. The photos of Rod Morris have guided much of the artwork. Three pages of simple information about the snails are included at the end. I feel this is a special book that will be enjoyed and admired.
Preschool up / Age 4 up

I went to the launch  out at Pataka at Porirua last week and took several photos. However, I’m afraid none of them are worth reproducing here – this is due to the ineptitude of the photographer and has nothing to do with the subjects who both looked relaxed and happy – as well they might.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Fiction - Age 10 up

- available for pre-order now

NZ Writer
Joy Cowley
Gecko Press 2013   $19.99pb 156 pages
ISBN 978 1 8775 7946 2

Themes: Brothers and sisters/ Grandparents/ Marlborough Sounds

Grandpa and Grandma are in their 80’s, ex Hippies, struggling with the limitations of being older but determined to keep hold of their run down old bach deep in the bush in the Marlborough Sounds. They continually argue with each other and voice their opinions on everything very loudly and firmly indeed. When William and Melissa, who tell the story in alternate chapters, are sent to help their grandparents with the bach instead of going to Australia’s Gold Coast, the two children  are in shock mode. What will they do without a cell phone, a flushing toilet, a fridge and without any other people their own age?  This is a story about real people in real situations – it is funny, poignant, heart warming and all the other values one would expect from a writer like Joy Cowley. And every page tells us firmly this is New Zealand children’s fiction. I can’t recommend it highly enough and hope many, many children will have the pleasure of hearing it read aloud and even more will read it for themselves. And then, in the way of all books of this calibre, go right back to start over again as soon as they have finished.   

Year 6 up/ Age 10 up (and all adults)

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Picture Books

NZ Writer and Illustrator
Gavin Bishop (reteller)
The Three Little Pigs
Scholastic NZ  2013  (first published by Ashton Scholastic 1989)  $19.50pb     32 pages
Themes: Traditional stories

If the expression on her face is anything to go by, Mrs Pig has had enough. She is scowling as she mows the lawn while her three great lumps of sons sit around watching from their deck chairs and the pool. She packs them a generous lunch and sends them off into the world. We all know what happens next – two pigs meet a nasty fate in encounters with the big bad wolf and the third, more astute and with a much better house design, goes on to live a comfortable and happy life. Gavin Bishop has retold the story but has not ‘tampered’ with any of the essential ingredients and although for this new issue he has redesigned the images they have not lost any of their original charm from the 1989 edition. We need more ‘retellings’ of traditional stories like this where the tried and tested plot stays the same!

Preschool up / Age 4 up

Picture Books


NZ Writer and Illustrator
Isaac Drought, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Alphabet Squabble
Scholastic NZ  2013   $19.50pb     32 pages
Themes:   Attitudes/ Determination/ Equality/ Journeys/ Popularity/ Prejudice/ Xenophobia

It has been worked out that A and C and P are all popular letters in the land of Alphabet and they have become rich and famous but what about the not so often used X’s and Y’s and Z’s? Shouldn’t they have a say and some words as well?  When these three letters decide to stand up for themselves and to journey the world in search of five words each something very special happens for every letter in the alphabet community.

A clever story that has something to say to all ages and illustrations that have given Jenny Cooper full reign for her fertile imagination. A deserving winner of the Storylines Joy Cowley Award for 2012.

Preschool up / Age 4 up

Young Adult Fiction

NZ Writer
Fleur Beale
Speed Freak
Random House 2013   $19.99pb  240 pages
ISBN 978 1 7755 3470 9

Themes: Competition/ Fathers and sons/ Kart racing

Fifteen-year-old Archie is in the running for selection to drive his kart in Europe but before he can be considered there are many hurdles in his way. First there is Craig who is his main rival and who has a father with enough money to buy his son’s way into the Challenge. And then there is Silver, back in racing after a break but she is now stronger and more determined than ever. Life on the home front has its problems as well – Dad and his intense relationship with his girlfriend, Erica, irritates and worries Archie, particularly as she is totally anti-karting. Fleur Beale has managed to put herself inside the head of a fifteen-year-old boy and find his voice (I know because I have tried it out on a fifteen-year-old) so be prepared for some strong language and emotions.  I personally have no interest whatsoever in kart racing but such is the power of the story I found myself awake last night and reading until well past midnight to be totally involved and feel happy with such a satisfying ending.      

Year 9 up/ Age 13 up