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.
Flash by Michael Cadnum covers a lot of uneven ground,emotionally,socially and politically. Milton and Bruce are dysfunctional brothers, troublemakers, one prone to violence, the other to moneymaking schemes that involve it. As they try and conceal the evidence from their botched bank robbery, Terrence, a nerdy neighbour,severely myopic and very law abiding stumbles,literally over them and becomes a threat they need to eliminate. In a confusing sub plot,his girlfriend Nina is trying to establish whether her idolised soldier brother has gone AWOL from Iraq to escape violence or to escape punishment for being violent. The plot moves at speed. The boys steal a gun, plan a double murder and as their rivalry escalates and the two groups converge one person makes a split second decision to end it all. Lack of money and loss are the motivations in this novel.The boys have lost their father,Nina's father, his business,Terrence his sight and Carraway his convictions. Family dynamics, fraught as they are, are underpinned by loyalty and love. Flashes of brilliant descriptive writing are offset by stereotypical characters, distracting sub plots and the unlikely speech of the young thugs. They contemplate trashing the major's house,'cracking open this stiffly maintained,starched and lifeless domicile'.
Flash was a National Book Award Finalist and is well worth reading
Booknotes, the NZ Book Council's quarterly publication is now online and apart from tantalising reviews for books in 2011 several articles caught my interest. Eirlys Hunter, tutor in Writing for Children at Victoria University explains in 'Masterclass' how the way you played when you were young can influence your writing style. It can also impede it. Too much description,shallow characters, action without emotion can be traced back to whether you were a young 'scenesetter' or more 'action orientated'. Blending the two and knowing what drives your character emotionally can help overcome writer's block. David Hill, an author known for his literary generosity has himself benefitted from a Creative NZ grant, spending three months at the University of Iowa's International Writing programme. Dylan Horrocks has a new cartoon with a distraught character unable to read because he has lost the ability to suspend disbelief. Pamela Allen has the last and perfect words to welcome in the New Year
'Books for children should be about the things that make your spirits soar'
Flickr image by I am Kat
In this narrative verse novel about a family on a dairy farm in Australia times are very hard because of long-term drought. It is Ruby’s voice we hear as she learns to join in the serious and important activities of a dairy farm involving birth, death and sacrifice. Beautifully written the descriptive verse conjures up images, sounds, smells and feelings associated with life on a dairy farm.
It’s a story of hope and hardship told from a child’s point of view. Readers who grew up on a dairy farm or are living on one now, will closely relate to Ruby’s lifestyle. For the city folk, the book represents a delightful ‘camera’ into the daily life on a dairy farm.
Reviewed by Pauline
Flickr image by publicenergy
Wishing all our readers a sunny Kiwi Christmas. Wherever you are, bach or bush, city or sea keep the sun screen on, keep hydrated and keep on reading.
We will be publishing weekly over the holidays and back to full review strength in early February 2011. Catch you then.
Flickr image by StormyDog
Kate DiCamillo is an accomplished writer and here she extends her considerable talent to her first picture book, Great Joy.
Francis is preparing for a Christmas pageant but increasingly her concern lies with a homeless organ grinder (and monkey) on the streets below her apartment. Set in an unnamed 1940s American city, the Norman Rockwell like realism of Ibatoulline’s illustrations are infused with a joyous sepia glow. But the real success of the book lies in the quiet simple (and often overlooked) celebration of compassion and kindness - there’s not a Father Christmas or Christmas toy in sight.
Flickr image by mag3737
First time novelist N.H. Senzai has based this book on her husband’s experience of fleeing Afghanistan. Fadi and his family escape the Taliban in 2001 and go to America to join an ever-growing community of refugees and asylum seekers. Fadi’s younger sister is left behind and Fadi spends all his waking hours blaming himself for this catastrophe. Although much that is familiar surrounds them, Fadi and his family experience a great deal of pain as they adjust to life in an Afghani community in California. Readers are given insight into the struggles of a refugee family, the struggle with understanding one’s ethnicity and the transition into another not always tolerant community. For all the pain, this is a hopeful story rich in resilience, authenticity and the best of the human spirit.
Reviewed by Pauline
flickr image by United Nations Photo
Gemma Toombs has been abducted by Ty from the airport in Bangkok and taken to the Great Sandy Desert in Australia. Ty is not your stereotypical abductor but is gorgeous, gentle and considerate of Gemma’s well being. The Australian outback can be harsh and wild but it can also be supernatural, stunningly beautiful and even inspirational when conveyed through the eyes of Ty. Although Gemma cannot find any justification for her abduction, she is confused about her feelings for Ty.
Gemma, the narrator is determined to bring to light her own understanding and feelings about her abduction and thus the narration takes the form of a letter to her captor. The story (told in the first person), may be a bit overwhelming at first but it slowly becomes apparent that it cannot be told any other way.
With its well-defined central characters and remarkable storyline its no wonder Stolen has just won the 2010, Gold Inky Award, Australia’s teen choice award for young adult fiction. It deals with the subjects of abduction and interpersonal relationships.
Reviewed by Janice
flickr image by yaruman5
‘Space Missions’ is one of the six books in the ‘Space Frontiers’ series. This book covers the race into space, missions to the Moon, the space shuttle programme, Hubble telescope, Mars landings, missions to other planets, and the future of space missions. A double page timeline of space exploration shows the types of missions undertaken, e.g. earth orbit, the moon, other planets, and whether they were U.S., Soviet or international missions.
The information on each topic is brief, and the presentation interesting. There are illustrations - photographs with informative captions - on each page, and the fact boxes give extra details. I think this title would best serve as a handy introduction to space exploration.
Reviewed by Heather.
Flickr image by jurvetson
Time is one of the first books published in the ‘My Path to Math’ series and looks in detail at clocks, parts of the day, and calendars. The large print and big colourful pictures make this book suitable to share with a group of children. The simple text includes questions for the children to answer and activities to try. Words in bold print are explained in a glossary.
Crabtree began publishing the junior primary series ‘My Path to Math’ in 2009 with eight titles. Around 15 titles have been published in 2010 and more again are due out in 2011. The series covers quite a range of maths topics, some quite hard to come by in this type of format and fro this age range. Other titles in the series include; Position and Direction, Slides Flips and Turns (topic of transformations), Symmetry’ Metric System and Probability.
Reviewed by Heather.
Flickr image by Leo Reynolds
With the increased interest in gardening, good gardening books for children have been easier to find over the last year or so.
This title deals with the principles of gardening, rather than how to grow specific vegetables and flowers. The attractive layout comes with colourful photographs, fact boxes, quizzes, and activities to try.
The first chapter gives benefits of gardening, and covers different health benefits, as well as touching on the important environmental issues. The second chapter covers the science of plants and gardening, how plants grow and the different types of plants. The remainder of the book investigates what, where and how to grow your garden, and concludes with with how to use produce from the garden.
This title is suitable for older primary to junior secondary students.
Reviewed by Heather
Flickr image by steveluscher
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