We want to help create motivated and engaged young readers. This blog is about children's and YA literature (especially New Zealand), literacy research, and ways to get, and keep, kids reading.
The minute I saw the cover of this lovely picture book I knew exactly where it was set – in the distinctive limestone high country of the Castle Hill Station, in the Southern Alps.
With beautiful design principles, and photography by John Bougen the story of Dart the sheepdog, looking for his missing sheep, is told with a wonderful mix of panoramic photography and fun, childlike collage. The text is easy to read with the story related in black, painterly text on beige corduroy and the conversational text incorporated with images of the various characters that Dart meets, at all manner of angles.
With its very New Zealand flavour, the rhyme of the text and changes in rhythm make it catchy and entertaining – great fun to read aloud, inviting lots of interaction from the audience. See if you can spot the missing sheep hiding in each double spread.
To finish off, there is a brief biography of Dart, information about Castle Hill Station and a glossary of special words.
This will not only be a lot of fun to share with younger primary school students, but is also a great example of design and illustration, so don’t forget to share it with your older students too.
review by Lisa
Image by fraew
As always, the contenders for the picture book section of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards are an interestingly mixed bag. But among the usual suspects—Margaret Mahy, Kyle Mewburn, Tina Matthews and Jennifer Beck is newcomer (amongst a group of not just previous finalists, but previous winners of this section) Terri Rose Baynton with her charmingly off- beat offering Mr Bear Branches and the cloud conundrum.
Terri Rose, the daughter of Martin Baynton of Jane and the dragon fame, has produced a story that incorporates both the factual (the water cycle) and the fantastical (the urge to relax couch- potato- like up in the clouds) before emerging as a whimsically charming book about friendship.
Possibly the illustrations are its strongest feature. In two tones of beige with warm red highlights, the stick figures of Mr Bear Branches and his friend Lintfrey bounce along in a trail of buttons. This book has also been shortlisted for the picture book section of this year’s Australian Book Design Awards—Terri Rose is a New Zealander, but spends much of her working life across the Tasman.
This would look to be a front-runner for the Best First Book Award at least.
review by Cecily
Image by John Mueller
Mules Can Do Anything—at least they can if they are like Melu (the spelling of his name is significant).
This, my personal favourite of the 2013 New Zealand Post picture book finalists, probably has more in common with 2011 finalist Hill and hole than Kyle Mewburn’s other works, being basically about a philosophy to live your life by—at junior level.
When Melu decides to break away from the herd of stubborn mules who ‘had been clip-clopping around the sun-baked hills for generations’ and always in the same direction, at first his enterprise is rewarded and the lush green fields below the hill are everything he had dreamed of while on the self imposed mule treadmill.
But it is when things become difficult and he has to seek the help of others that the book gains its true strength. Melu starts off as a story about enterprise and entrepreneurship, but the need for problems to be solved lifts it into the realms of co-operation, friendship, and the recognition that others often have a part to play in the achievement of our personal dreams.
As well as being my favourite, this could be the Children’s Choice winner. Kyle Mewburn has a history of being able to please both readers and NZ Post judges, winning awards from both in 2007 with Kiss Kiss, yuck yuck!, also illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly, though i prefer here the Melu illustrations, with their palette of earth, honey and glacier-fed greens!
review by Cecily
image used with permission
As thick fog rolls onto the beach where Anthea and her brothers and sisters are playing, it is up to Anthea, (who is blind), to guide them all safely home.
Beautifully illustrated by Gavin Bishop, Footsteps through the fog will give readers a new perspective on what it is like to be blind.
Mahy’s lyrical evocation of whispering trees, murmuring seas and waves sighing on the beach recasts the familiar landscape of the New Zealand seashore as an enchanting soundscape. Although unable to see, Anthea’s heightened senses of hearing, smell and touch show us that seeing isn’t the only way of getting to know and experiencing the world around us.
Published after Margaret Mahy’s death in 2012, royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB).
A bonus at the back of the book is a gate fold that opens out to display the Braille alphabet.
The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind maintains an excellent online resource page for teaching children and young people about blindness.
review by Peter
Image by Suziesparkle
Author-illustrator Tina Matthews describes A great cake as ‘very different’ from her other books, including her previous New Zealand Post Award successes - Out of the egg, which won the Best First Book category in 2008, and last year’s short-listed Waiting for later. It contains only 64 words and quite a bit of repetition, making it ideal for the beginning reader, but the vivid imaginative illustrations give it a much wider audience appeal than the junior level.
The story is simple - a young boy wants to make a cake for his family and friends to share. Although a lack of ingredients is a complication, he manages to make cakes suitable for snails, lizards and butterflies before a bit of co-operation from Dad enables him, finally, to bake a cake that’s right for people. (The recipe is included in the book and it is a good simple one that works - in the interests of literary research I have put it to the test several times).
In a high quality mix of picture book finalists, including several others from authors with previous New Zealand Post form, I’m not sure how this one will do. I don’t see it as a Children’s Choice contender (although the depiction of this happy, messy family is full of quirky little details) but its really superb presentation might just give it the edge over some of the other contenders for Best Picture Book.
review by Cecily
Image used with permission
In this first novel by Mary-Anne Scott, the topics of school balls their after parties, and bullying are tackled head-on.
Finn is 16. He lives in Waimea with his over-anxious mum, his girlfriend and some school mates. When his drug addict father Duggie finds himself charged with manslaughter, Finn’s Grandmother sends him to a boarding school in Auckland to get away from the gossip.
But, adjusting to the new school culture, rich kids and a jealous school bully who knows Finn’s secret, makes settling in difficult for Finn. He does make new friends and soon meets the lovely Mia, the richest girl in the school, who plays in the band. When Mia invites him to the school ball, Finn thinks he’s made. But alcohol and high-jinks around a swimming pool at the illegal after ball party results in a terrible tragedy, and it forces Finn to make a decision that will change his life forever.
Finn is a strong, typical kiwi teen, and boys in particular will relate to him.
review by Joy
Image used with permission
Dom has just finished school and is engaged in a painting job at his father’s advertising agency before he starts university. One morning he walks into his father’s office to ask for the keys to his car. Here he gets drawn into a conversation on the benefits of advertising and next thing he knows he’s being thrown a challenge to come up with a pitch to sell toothpaste. Dom’s philosophy it that it is easy enough to write an advertisement and that any ‘monkey’ could do it.
What follows is Dom’s process of due diligence on the campaign. The question raised is why does Dom really want to beat his dad at his own game? The story deals with the serious and humorous side of advertising, a father son relationship and Dom’s learning curve of where he wants to be in terms of a career.
Leonie Thorpe has done a brilliant job of keeping the story light, youthful and purposeful. Also noteworthy is the exposure to the world of advertising which is insightful for anyone wanting to pursue this line of a career.
review by Janice
Image by owly9
George Larson is an 18 year old school boy from Otago, with aspiring dreams of becoming a musician. But everything changes when George notices a spider crawling over his homework book in a repeating pattern - spelling out the word “soul”. His dead granddad starts turning up at night with strange messages that someone is after him, and to try not to get killed! And that George is apparently the only one who can save the world by turning off the “lighthouse”. A Tibetan monk (who likes to “high five”) turns up at George’s house wanting to go on a journey with him. George has so many questions. What is this lighthouse? Why does his dead Granddad keep turning up? Who are the people after him? Where are they going? Why does the Tibetan monk say he has known George for a long time? Can George and Kaisa become more than friends?…
The author, Fredrik Brouneus, was born in Stockholm, but now lives in Dunedin with his family. The Prince of Soul and the lighthouse is his first book in English.
review by Michelle
Image by alijava
Published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Collingwood Area School, this book of stories and photographs combines the high points of early school history with an update of events since the centennial celebrations in 1959.
It also encompasses the other eight schools of the area that have now closed. At first glance it may seem that only those who have some connection with Collingwood could find interest in this book. On the contrary, it is a documentation of changing times and changing schools in NZ history. Some highly sought after photographs are included in this books which detail life when the school opened in 1859 of not only school life at this time but life in NZ as a pioneer settler. This close knit community school was, in its origins, witness to pupils who were children of goldminers, storekeepers and pioneer farmers who knew the value of an education. The Collingwood community should be congratulated for 150 years of support to its students in preparation for the wider world. Recommended intermediate upward.
review by Melissa
I’m a real Sally Sutton fan – I love her latest picture book Farmer John’s tractor, and her Diary of a pukeko had me chuckling, so I was delighted to find this simple but lively new title on our shelves.
Diary of a bat sucks you in right from the first page, printed upside-down just as if a hanging bat was reading it, and pushing us straight into the life of this young bat – worried about the things that young people everywhere worry about, particularly at the beginning of a new school year. Who will his new teacher be? Will he have any friends? Will he be teased about his size – again? Why does his mother seem so distracted? And why won’t she answer his questions? And our young friend has a lot of questions….
Children intrigued by bats will find plenty of information about the New Zealand long-tailed variety woven carefully into the story (which would make a great read-aloud for younger children, but will be enjoyed by older ones too), and the text is well supported by Gave Gunson’s pen and ink illustrations.
Teacher notes are available (PDF).
review by Jan
Image used with permission
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