Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Traditional Fairy Tales in Sculpture

To be published tomorrow Thursday October 1st 2015

Australian Writer and Illustrator  Shaun Tan  The Singing Bones  Allen & Unwin 2015 $39.99hb 185pp  ISBN 978 1 7601 1103 8  Themes: Traditional fairy Tales/ Sculptures

This is a book unlike any other I have seen that relooks at traditional fairy tales.  Artist and writer Shaun Tan, has created the essential essence of around 70 well known (and some not quite so well known) fairy tales in a handsome book of sculptures. Love, betrayal, adventure, magic, wicked stepmothers (of course), lost princesses and scary foxes are shown here in a gallery of pictures that need to be looked at again and again to understand  and enjoy their meaning. This is a project as far away from the Disneyfication of fairy tales as you could get and is a serious and important book for serious art students and students of literature.  Each plate has an accompanying brief description and there is further information at the end. The book contains an essay on the Brothers Grimm by Jack Zipes and a foreword by Philip Pullman. As Philip Pullman points out, not many fairy tales are actually ‘ pretty’ as depicted over the years by people like Arthur Rackham and his contemporaries  - actually many are quite brutal, earthy and bloody - and strange .  Not a general book for primary schools in my opinion but secondary schools and students of art should find it a marvellous resource and a book to treasure.        

Year 9 up/ Age 13 up  - and for adults.


Monday, 28 September 2015

A contemporary fairy tale from a Tunisian writer and a Belgian artist

Tunisian Writer and Belgian Illustrator
Laila Koubaa, illustrated by Mattias De Leeuw
Azizi and the Little Blue Bird
Book Island 2015 $17.99hb 28pp
ISBN 978 0 9941 0986 6
Themes: Fear/ Greed/ Justice
Azizi lives in the Land of the Crescent Moon, a place ruled by two despotic leaders who keep order by fear and theft and have a particularly nasty habit of locking up all the country’s beautiful and innocent blue birds. But change is coming and with the help of one farsighted bluebird Azizi is able to bring freedom back to the land. Read into it what you will but it is also a great story just to read aloud without looking for hidden meanings. What makes it outstanding are the illustrations. These have been created by a young (26 years old) Belgian artist whose work has been likened to that of Quentin Blake. The images are clean and white but with a feeling of great dry heat – and you can almost smell the jasmine as you turn the pages. Like nearly all books from this publisher, this is a special example of high quality book production.
Year 2 up/ Age 6 up

Saturday, 26 September 2015

An Iranian Refugee's Story

Iranian Writer (now lives in the USA) Abbas Kazerooni The Boy With Two Lives A continuation of On Two Feet and Wings Allen & Unwin 2015 $17.99pb 246pp ISBN 978 1 7433 1483 8 Themes: Boarding school life/ Homelessness/ Refugees/ Sequels/ Stress
In a much darker story than the writer’s first book about his early life we pick up where he is sent to England having fled conscription into the Iranian Army at the age of ten. Things are not much better there as he is placed in a boarding school where he is badly treated and finally when he has just turned thirteen, he finds himself 'homeless' and with no way of keeping contact with his mother who is still in Iran. The story is told simply and one of the things that shines through this account of a tough life is the complete lack of bitterness on Abbas’s part. 

He is now a successful lawyer, actor, writer and producer. He lives in California, USA

Year 8 up/ Age 12 up

Friday, 25 September 2015

New Zealand's Native Forests - Book Four in the Explore and Discover series


NZ Illustrator & Writer Ned Barraud & Gillian Candler In the Bush – Explore and Discover New Zealand’s Native Forests
Explore and Discover series Potton and Burton 2015 $19.99pb 36pp ISBN 978 1 9272 1354 4 Themes: Native flora and fauna

In the same style as the other books in this series here we are taken for a detailed look along a bush track observing the forest floor, the tangles of bush and vines and then high, high up in the canopy. Birds, trees, mammals, fungi, reptiles and amphibians all come under the microscope of this artist and writer and the book is full of information that is easily assessed by the youngest children through to older primary students.  A special feature of the book is a pull away chart showing 20 birds you might be lucky enough to see even from your own window if like me you live on the edge of the bush or you could put it flat in your pack when out in the forest. (I’ve yet to see a Kiwi strolling through my garden though – even late at night).  

Preschool up/ Age 4 up

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Elephant Hide and Seek

UK Writer & Illustrator
David Barrow
Have You Seen Elephant?
Gecko Press 2015 $19.99pb 32pp
ISBN 978 17765 7009 6
Themes: Elephants/ Hide-and-Seek
Is there an elephant in the house or garden? It’s hard to tell because he is SO good at hiding (or maybe adults and the little boy in the book are not very good at finding). I tried this out with a small group of four-year-olds the other day and they had no trouble deciphering what was just an armchair or a TV and what was actually Elephant masquerading as one. Cheerfully illustrated in muted shades which makes the ‘finding’ even more rewarding. 
Preschool up/ Age 4 up

Will you be there?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

A tale of betrayal, jealousy, brotherly love and freeriding.

NZ Writer Aaron Topp Hucking Cody Mary Egan Publishing 2015 $18.99pb 264pp ISBN 978 0 4733 2668 5 Themes: Bullying/ Love stories/ Mountain Biking
For Cody, life is at its best when he is crouched over the handlebars of his mountain bike concentrating on the bush lined trail ahead and forgetting the baggage of worries that wait for him later. Then he falls in love with a girl and a new bike and the kaleidoscope that his life has become away from the trail become suffocatingly real.

Aaron Topp, who lives in Hawkes Bay, has already proved himself as a writer of books for young adults to watch out for. His first book Single Fin, based on the true story of a boy obsessed with surfing, won the NZ Post Book Young Adult Fiction Honour Award in 2008  and was also on the Storylines Notable Books list.Google his name fo rmore info. 
Go to: 
for an interview with Aaaron on Desna Wallace's Blog.  Desna is the librarian at Fendalton School Christchurch
Year 9 / Age  13 up

Aaron Topp- acknowledgements to Hawkes Bay Writers Festival

Christchurch Earthquake rebuild. A new Quaky Cat story

NZ Writer and Illustrator Diana Noonan, illustrated by Gavin Bishop Quaky Cat Helps Out Scholastic NZ 2015 $18.99pb 32pp ISBN 978 1 7754 3297 5 Themes: Being traumatised /Christchurch earthquakes 2010 – 2011/ Christchurch rebuild/ Homeless pets/ Sequels/ Stories in rhyme

Tiger AKA Quaky Cat, cosily half asleep on his friend Emma’s feet in their warm safe home that’s now mended and strong after the Christchurch earthquakes is suddenly reminded of something. He thinks of all the homeless cats around town. There is lonely Toffee sitting in a letter box waiting for the family that fled the city; May who is still hiding under the table; old Bill who once moused the churches; Samantha who now lives in a caravan. Tiger is reminded that once they all had FUN and so he plans to organise a little social get together. The first Quaky Cat story helped many children in the initial stages after the quakes. Now  that the children are living through the long re-build years, Diana Noonan and Gavin Bishop have produced for them another story into which they will read so much more and put into it their own interpretations.    

Year 1 up/ Age 5 up

Monday, 14 September 2015

Another Tale of Fontania -coming soon

NZ Writer and Illustrator Barbara Else, illustrated by Sam Broad  The Knot Impossible – A Tale of Fontania Gecko 2015 $24.99pb 328pp 4# in The Tales of Fontania series ISBN 978 1 7765 7004 1 Themes: Magic/ Sea stories/ Series/ Stage fright

Rufkin is a failure - there is no doubt about it – a child from a popular acting family he suffers from stage fright, his school reports all say ‘could do better (much better) and his mother thinks he is lazy. All of which explains why, at the beginning of the story he is on his way to work in a ship salvage yard while the rest of the family go on holiday.  But. Take a look at the jacket (another creation from Sam Broad) and you will realise at once that the story is going to take us far away from land-based salvage yards to the adventures of the sea and Rufkin is about to take Centre Stage.  Flip through the chapter headings  - disasters ahead/ oat bars and tiddlers/ jaws in the river/ glinty black buttons to get a flavour of what lies inside the pages.

With her inimitable wit, sense of story and eye for detail Barbara Else has created for her readers another enchanting story, the fourth in the Fontania series.

I didn’t want to finish it… Please don’t let this be the last Fontania title. There are so many more characters living there just waiting to let their stories OUT and be told. New characters to meet/ old characters to check up on.  What happens for instance to Rufkin? Does he ever get to win a barrel-boat race? (see p. 322)  (In a book world where so much gets worse and worse it is heartening to see a series that gets better and better and better and…

Year 5 up/ Age 9 up

Friday, 11 September 2015


    I spent the lunch hour yesterday outside Unity Books in Wellington reading my copy of Into the River at one of the ‘silent reading’ meetings. The idea for the meetings came from Emma Neale of Dunedin who assessed the book for Ted Dawe before it was published. They were held up and down New Zealand. I am not sure what happened in the other centres but our group was hardly ‘silent’. You couldn’t put all those writers and illustrators, readers and librarians together and expect them to be totally quiet. However, much reading was done. The whole place was positively BRISTLING with news media and we were also joined by a very large person in a golden gorilla suit who had a placard making some points of his (her) own although not much to do with Into the River.
 Please go to
for a detailed video clip look at this protest including an interview with Susan Pearce who organised the Wellington event or, of course, just Google Ted Dawes or Into the River for an overwhelming amount of information including Emma and the Dunedin protest and  links to the Guardian newspaper UK.
There is, so I hear, more to come…

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Unsolicited Books

Over the past month I have received so many unsolicited books. 
I have written myself some fairly strict guidelines about what I will and will not post on this Blog so I thought it was worth repeating a paragraph I posted earlier.


          As you might imagine I sometimes feel I am drowning in a sea of books as they continue to flow into my private mail box or are delivered by courier or NZ Post – and sometimes, very special, even by hand.

          It is just not possible to review everything I receive (nor would I want to) although sometimes I am sent emails or notes or even have phone calls asking why the book ‘they’ sent me has not yet been blogged.

          I try very hard to only review books here that I know will play an important part in the reader’s life either in a school/ college/ library or a private (doesn’t that sound grand?) collection.  I am looking for books that will make them think, laugh, cry, question, be involved, find answers.  

           I very seldom post unsolicited material but of course sometimes it happens that an absolute treasure appears. So. Please send me the books by all means but just don’t be offended if I don’t post them. 


Congratulations to Barbara Else.

The University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne has just announced the seven recipients of the Arts Fellowships for 2016.  Barbara has been awarded the College of Education/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence.

Barbara, who has written six novels for children and six for adults, says she wants to use the time to write a children’s novel that begins in ancient times and moves to a contemporary New Zealand sea-side settlement.

Well done Barbara – that is such good news
Acknowledgments to Hutt News


And keep watching this space next week for a review of Barbara’s latest book published by Gecko Press – The Knot Impossible to be launched in October.  Number Four in the Fontania series.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Tapirs in the city

UK Writer and Illustrator Polly Faber, illustrated by Clara VulliamyThe Not-A-Pig  #1 in the Mango and Bambang series  Walker Books 2015 $19.99hb 142pp  ISBN 978 1 4063 6143 8  Themes: City life/ Friendship/ Short stories / Single parent families/ Tapirs

So many people thought that Bambang was a pig but of course he wasn’t. He was a Malaysian Tapir as Mango, who knew everything, tried to explain to anyone who would listen. In these four short stories it is hard not to fall in love with the two characters as they explore the inside of a big city, go swimming in an Olympic sized pool, eventually avoid the wicked intentions of a determined animal collector and learn to sing and to play the clarinet. The stories are written with a charm and warmth and are a pleasure to read aloud. This is Polly Faber’s first book and I am looking forward impatiently for the rest of the series.    

Year 4 up/ Age 8 up

Moa Hunting!

NZ illustrator Patrick McDonald We’re Going on a Moa Hunt Puffin 2015 $19.99pb 32pp ISBN 978 0 1435 0638 6

Themes: Traditional nursery stories - reworded

The pictures in this rewording of a very familiar children’s story are amazing and full of images (with much humour) of the New Zealand bush and mountains, seashore and countryside – with hundreds of NZ birds, butterflies, fish, shells and mammals (including the moa) to be found on every generously covered page.  For very small children and specially those who know the words of ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ off by heart, a certain amount of explaining needs to be done before embarking but the excitement is the same and so is the wonderful tension on the journey ‘out’ and the one back home again. My only quibble is – why wasn’t a small girl allowed to be one of the Moa Hunters?     

Preschool up/ Age 3.5 up

Don't forget tomorrow, September 8th, is 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The importance of Nursery Rhymes

NZ illustrator Donovan Bixley
Pussycat Pussycat and more
Upstart Press 2015 $19.99pb 24pp
ISBN 978 1 9272 6228 3
Themes: Traditional nursery rhymes (cat themes)
I feel I know every picture, every nuance of this book off by heart as since it was sent to me three weeks ago (and I apologise I am only posting it now) it has travelled back and forth to the Waikanae Kindergarten. The children have pulled it out of my book bag each Tuesday morning and insisted that that is the book we begin with. It is a long time since I shared nursery rhymes with children and I had forgotten how magic they can be with their simplicity and yet their sense of huge story behind each one. And this is even before the illustrations are mentioned! Donovan Bixley’s pictures for these four rhymes (all with a cat hero) are charming. They are warm and friendly and funny and cover each page with images. They are very ‘touchable’.
I read an interesting article on the importance of nursery rhymes the other day – it was written a few years ago and I am not totally sure of its source but have a look as it does make some very valuable points.
Preschool up/ Age 3.5 up