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.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice asks as she nears the bottom of the rabbit-hole dropping her down into Wonderland.
Well, just suppose it was. That’s the premise of this book, in which Alice’s dream takes a different turn and she ends up in the gardens of Larnach Castle, high in the hills of the Otago Peninsula. There she meets lots of familiar characters as she tries to make her way home, ranging from the Knave of Hearts and the Duchess, sculpted in the 1930s, to the 2007 bronze statue of Alice herself. (Which gives her pause for thought, as well it might…).
She also encounters the Cheshire Cat carved out of Oamaru stone, the Pool of Tears, the Queen of Hearts’ throne, a tree with a mysterious door in its trunk, and other wonders concealed around the castle—the book includes a map to help present-day visitors find them.
The book’s placing of a classical character into a New Zealand setting should give it wide appeal. It could also be used to introduce young readers to the original Alice. P.G. Rob’s delicate illustrations are more Tenniel than Disney, and the book is a lovely celebration of the might-have-been.
Larnach Castle has a superb setting, beautiful gardens, and a troubled past. However there is an almost complete absence of material for younger readers about New Zealand’s only castle. Alice’s adventures at the castle, which includes a factsheet, goes a long way towards bridging this gap.
Pop is proud of his vegetable garden, fertilised by his ‘stink bowl’ of industrial strength compost. When given a pet magpie,(called Pie) which he refuses to keep in a cage because, “Big birds aren’t meant to be caged - not even imports from Australia” he at first sees it as a means of keeping veggie-menacing insects out of his garden.
But Pie’s interests range far beyond earwigs and mealy bugs, and he finds Pop’s seedlings as appealing as Pop does. He goes too far, however, when he adds Pop’s car keys to the stink bowl.
Obviously a solution has to be found, and it is as ingenious as the magpie himself. Jo Thapa’s vivid illustrations enhance this entertaining read (or read- aloud) which should appeal to a wide age group. June Peka is well-known as a gardening writer, and the story has the ring of personal experience about it.
This te reo Maori story explores an important topic; the loss of identity and culture for Māori children and the pathways to regain it. Although it is a fictional account it illustrates a reality for many Māori children which makes it a useful tool for whānau and schools.
The plot uses the phenomenon of matakite (Māori seer) to develop the story and this adds an air of mystery and suspense to the story and draws the reader in from page one. The story also reveals the art of weaving to showcase a Māori skill that is not always visible to children today. Robyn Kahukiwa’s illustrations are exceptional. Each tells its own story in the past and present, interweaving Māori values and tikanga throughout.
In summary, this is an exceptional book both in illustrations and story. It should become a New Zealand classic. Also available in English under the same title. Winner of the Kura Pounamu award 2007 it is also available in English under the same title.
Each page in this delightful book describes a month of the year through the four seasons, holidays and special events, as seen through the eyes of a child. There’s extra value here for New Zealand kids since the book is Australian it records the season from a Southern Hemisphere perspective. The text is complemented with engaging artwork created in ink, pencil and collage by Anna Walker.
review by Coral
flickr image by Sarah Wampler
Rhyme, rhythm, repetition, familiarity, humour, heroes. These three book have elements of each and have discussion depth as well as visual texts enhancing and elaborating on emotions and action.
Bonnie Becker’s A Visitor for Little Bear foregrounds friendship with a reclusive bear set in his antisocial ways besieged by a determined little mouse. Every aspect, expressive illustrations,challenging vocabulary, cumulative plot and a warm and life changing climax makes this a glorious read aloud. Kevin Waldron and Michael Rosen combine their talents in art and rhythmic,repetitive text in a story that demands children join in, stamping and tramping, swooping and crushing to try and catch the Tiny Little Fly. Bears again in Scruffy Bear and the Six White Mice by Chris Wormell. Scruffy goes into the archetypal dark and gloomy forest and meets six little white mice terrified they will be devoured by the creatures of the night. The power of three in a story to build tension was bought home to me with my grandson torn between delight and terror as the fox,owl and snake were fooled by Scruffy Bear. Not only fooled but made to look like fools. There are lots of opportunities here for pausing in anticipation,discussion and appreciating the inference of an illustration. “Oh no” Dusty, my grandson groaned “he hasn’t tucked in his tail. He’s gonna be eaten now” . Of course the little white mouse with the exposed tail wasn’t eaten and the ending was a reassuring triumph as all good endings in picture books often are.
Flickr image Sandra
Emily spends fun days with her grandma, but all this changes when Emily has to move far, far away. Emily is very sad when she realises she is going to miss the dancing, baking and gardening with her beloved Grandma.
On the last day they spend together Grandma gives Emily a parting gift, her very own strawberry plant to nurture and care for. Emily’s Grandma tells her when the fruit ripens she will visit and they will both have more fun times together.
A superbly written and heart warming picture book.
flickr image by MoHottta18
“LOOK! The art of the Australian picture books today’ is the free exhibition presently showing at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia http://slv.vic.gov.au/look There is also an online gallery housing some of the pictures on show. http://gallary.slv.vic.gov.au/look
The first aspect of the exhibition that strikes a visitor is finding that the pictures are hung at child viewing height! Child friendly with immediate appeal for small people!
The pictures are hung in sections called Play, Night, School, Wild Things, Holidays and Home. Each section has some relevant notes posted on the wall. E.g. Home.
Home is where we make the world, where we learn and grow and play.
Home is the first world we explore, where we take our first steps.
Home is where we find the people who love us most.
Home is where we find our special stories and traditions.
It all begins with home.
Each picture has a label giving the artist’s name, the author’s name, the book title with an explanation of the media used and a note about the story followed by questions to stimulate discussion.
A beautifully produced little book is available for children to take away or complete at the exhibition.
A video with short films of many of the artists explaining their media and methods of working runs continually and this too is also at small person height.
Sally Rippin’s books about Fang and Warren Brim’s book about night creatures represent two ethnic groups of Australian children. Warren Brim belongs to the Djabugay people of Kuranda, Queensland and Sally Rippin writes drawing from her Chinese heritage.
This wonderful exhibition closes on May 29th so you will need to be quick to catch it!
flickr image by Timlewisnm
This is a charming junior level book with a message for all ages—that love is the only thing that really matters. Evie Kemp’s collage illustrations against a solid colour background blend perfectly with Janene Cooper’s simple text. Other people’s dogs are beautiful, or obedient, or fierce, or clever, or agile, and the world around them approves. The canine hero of this book has none of these qualities. But..
“My dog loves me,” says the little girl telling the story.
“He licks my tears when I’m sad.”
And her rumpled, slurping, disobedient, irresistible dog will be loved by everyone. The text is enlivened by highlighted action words, making this a very good interactive read aloud.
Fans of Lois Lowry will love Bless This Mouse, the story of a colony of church mice led by the indomitable Mouse Mistress Hildegarde. The feast day of St Francis is coming and to the mice that means one thing: CATS in the church!
Hildegarde must find a way to keep her flock safe while fending off the scheming Lucretia, who wants to take over as Mouse Mistress. Then some of the younger mice are seen and Father Murphy calls for the one thing that the mice fear more than cats…the Big X.
Younger Middle Grade readers will love the fully drawn characters and the creative ways the mice solve their problems and escape from danger. This would also make a wonderful read aloud book for a primary classroom. The lovely illustrations are by Caldecott Medal winner Eric Rohmann.
Reviewed by Caroline
flickr image by John G Meadows
Neither of the animals in this story is particularly lovable. The book, however, is brilliant. I had not been able to find a copy of Baa Baa Smart Sheep when I began reviewing this year’s shortlisted picture books. Having seen it, I have totally re-shuffled my Favourites’ List, putting this at the top for both Best Picture Book and Children’s Choice. I have just finished using it as part of individual presentations to 16 classes at an earthquake-extended Christchurch intermediate school and it was an enormous success. It works particularly well as a two-person read-aloud.
I asked one class of 12-year-olds whether they felt Baa Baa Smart Sheep would be suitable for reading to junior classes. They had reservations, mainly because (Spoiler Alert!) “little kids would just see it as a funny book about poo.”
They agreed with me that it is much more than that. Baa Baa Smart Sheep is both a smart modern take on the trickster tale—Little Baa is possibly our best exponent of this genre since Maui—and, like so many other trickster tales, a perfect example of persuasive language. I used the book with some year five and six children (eight and nine year olds) as well, and they too were able to get the underlying message of the quirky humour. Below this age the full value might be lost.
The husband and wife team of Mark and Rowan Sommerset has previously produced Cork on the ocean and Cork and the bottle (2008). I feel the Waiheke Island-based couple have moved light years ahead of these with Baa Baa Smart Sheep.
I don’t envy the task of this year’s New Zealand Post Award judges. The Non-fiction section, because of its great variety of topic and age-level, always requires a certain amount of comparing apples with oranges. This year I feel the picture book section is going to be just as difficult. Presentation standards are very high. Four of the five books are in hardback format, and all have great visual appeal.
With quality new offerings from multiple winner Margaret Mahy and rapidly-catching-up Kyle Mewburn; a patter-song read-aloud by a first-time author; a delightful Values book aimed at junior level; and the aforementioned ‘not-just-a-funny-book about poo’; it is an extremely varied field. I have made it clear where my feelings lie—but I am not one of the judges.
Whichever book wins, I feel the real winners this year are the children of New Zealand. To people like me whose childhood reading was overwhelmingly dominated by British and American authors, it is truly wonderful to see such a quality line-up from our own New Zealand writers.
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