Blog Archives

It’s in the detail, Trevor Agnew

The Cat From Muzzle Sally Sutton (Scott Tulloch illus) Puffin, $20.00, ISBN 9780143773085 Bess The Brave War Horse Susan Brocker (Raymond McGrath illus) Scholastic, $28.00, ISBN 9781775435563 Home Child: A Child Migrant In New Zealand Dawn McMillan (Trish Bowles illus)

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review

Well packaged history, Anna Mackenzie

Amundsen’s Way: The Race To The South Pole
Joanna Grochowicz
Allen and Unwin, $19.00,
ISBN 9781760637668

The Telegram
Philippa Werry
Pipi Press, $23.00,
ISBN 9780473462826

Amundsen’s Way delivers exactly what it promises on the cover: the story of Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s expedition to the South Pole, and the manner in which it was shaped by his single-minded determination to lead the first polar exploration team to reach it.

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Posted in Children, History, Non-fiction

Doors and mirrors, Alex Mitcalfe Wilson 

The Chosen One
Joy H Davidson
DHD Publishing, $27.00,
ISBN 9780473448301

Harsu and the Werestoat
Barbara Else
Gecko Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776572199

The World of Greek Mythology
Ben Spies
Spies Publishing, $20.00,
ISBN 9780473455866

Fantasy has always mattered to me. I first sensed this around the same time I realised I was completely ill-adapted to my 1990s New Zealand childhood. I was a fat kid, a nervous perfectionist who was frightened of rugby and wanted to wear dresses. Most days, it felt like the sky was going to fall on my head. Luckily, I knew a few adults who were sensitive enough to notice my constant unease, and thoughtful enough to feed me stories. Those books were a magic door at the back of my wardrobe, the escape-hatch every lonely kid needs.

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Posted in Children, Fiction, History, Literature, Non-fiction, Review

Boys’ own journey, Chris Szekely

The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty
Rhys Darby
Scholastic, $18.00,
ISBN 9781775434979

Adele Broadbent
One Tree House, $20.00,
ISBN 9780995106420

Slice of Heaven
Des O’Leary
Mākaro Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780995109247

I reckon I had the best summer break in ages: lots of sunny days, lots of sleep-ins, and a trio of junior-fiction books to read for pure pleasure. At the beach, on the couch, under a shady tree, it felt like the school holidays for a grown-up.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review

A child’s-eye view, Anna Mackenzie

The Mapmakers’ Race Eirlys Hunter, Gecko Press, $25.00

Time Twins Arne Norlin and Sally Astridge, Submarine, $25.00

Finding David Hill, Puffin, $20.00

The bonds of family and place, seen from an appropriately youthful viewpoint, are the key players in three recent offerings for younger readers.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review

Giving them what they want, Linda Burgess

Donato and the Cartege Blade
Fiona Jordan
Mary Egan Publishing, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473437367

1918: Broken Poppies Des Hunt, Scholastic, $19.00,

How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot Suzanne Main, Scholastic, $17.00,

Dawn Raid Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, Scholastic, $18.00,

Unlike the other books reviewed, Fiona Jordan’s Donata and the Cartege Blade is not set in a current or historical New Zealand. Its setting is recognisable, though. Time – Middle Ages, round about: place – fantasy land. This means there are monasteries, cloaked monks, ruined abbeys, looming mountains, ancient castles with dark passages, attempted assassinations and more than a hint of issues to do with identity. Indeed, quite early on in the novel, the protagonist learns he is no ordinary boy. He is the child of important parents, and who they are is one of the main threads running through the story. As a baby, it became clear that he was at risk of being murdered, so he was deftly swapped with another baby. Which was rather unfortunate for the replacement baby, for whom the swap turned out to be fatal.

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review

Girls galloping horses: unstable identities, Amy Brown

Ella West
Allen and Unwin, $19.00, ISBN 9781760296834

Showtym Adventures: Casper, the Spirited Arabian
Kelly Wilson
Puffin, $15.00, ISBN 9780143772248

Do You Want to Gallop with Me?
Sophie Siers (Judith Trevelyan illus)
Millwood Press, $20.00, ISBN 9780473408541

The Gift Horse
Sophie Siers (Katharine White illus)
Millwood Press, $20.00, ISBN 9780473408558

Since I learned to read, I’ve read about horses and riders. Did I love horses because of the books I read, or did I read the books because their covers were stable doors? What does it mean to read about a female child desiring and caring for a horse? Answering these questions has felt like psychoanalysis; a girl galloping a horse should be a Jungian archetype – and I have been that girl.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review

Back in the day, Gavin McLean

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf too
Jane Millton (Deborah Hinde illus)
Allen and Unwin, $20.00, ISBN 978877505928

Allis the Little Tractor
Sophie Siers (Helen Kerridge illus)
Millwood-Heritage Productions, $20.00, ISBN 9780473329594

The Viaduct Postcard
Susan Price (Judith Trevelyan illus)
Millwood-Heritage Productions, $20.00, ISBN 9780473369224

Sky High: Jean Batten’s Incredible Flying Adventures
David Hill (Phoebe Morris illus)
Penguin Random House, $25.00, ISBN 9780143770367

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
Gavin Bishop
Puffin, $40.00, ISBN 978043770350

Children’s books do not feature strongly in my childhood memories. Avis Acres was selling New Zealand-themed ones, but I mostly recall British books, full of their steam trains and villages. There were also books you brushed with water to bring up their pallid colours. But the real revolution came with the widespread adoption of Asian printing, making the highly colourful “picture flat” (and these all are) affordable to a wider audience. Think lots of colour, big pictures and big formats.

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review

Fighting a good fight, Tatjana Schaefer

Flight Path
David Hill
Puffin, $20.00,
ISBN 9780143770527

The Traitor and the Thief
Gareth Ward
Walker Books, $20.00,
ISBN 9781925381504

Helper and Helper
Joy Cowley (Gavin Bishop illus)
Gecko Press, $23.00,
ISBN 9781776571055

In this, the last year of the WWI centenary, it should not seem unusual to be reviewing three books that all have war or conflict as their central themes. The questions of what defines an enemy and how they are to be dealt with are addressed and (thankfully) not always answered, at least not in a didactic sort of way. Interesting in the present selection is the variety of approaches, not only to the topic of war and strife, but also to questions of friendship and belonging in the face of conflict.

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review

Cliquety-clique? David Hill

Twice Upon a Time
James Norcliffe
Puffin NZ, $17.00,
ISBN 9780143770671

Into the White
Joanna Grochowicz
Allen and Unwin, $19.00,
ISBN 9781760293659

Taupo Blows!
Doug Wilson
Bateman, $19.00,
ISBN 9781869539672

Those accusations from a few months back – the ones which told us New Zealand literature is a cliquey little club, rampant with mutual back-scratching and buttock-wiping, with the Book Council and New Zealand Books among its most self-serving cliquettes: am I the only one who found them a tad same-old, same-old?

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review
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