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.
The four myths: Ka kitea a Maui tana whanau, Ko Rata me tona waka, Maui me te atua o te ahi and Hatupatu have been simply but eloquently retold but still retain the essence of the original myth. Maui lives on!
The illustrations are striking with the different colour palette for each of the four stories. The ink painting technique creates very original images to portray these well known stories. The illustrations integrate with the words in adding a strong visual dimension further enhanced by the use of Māori art forms; whakairo, koru and tā moko. The choice of words also helps bring these stories alive and the appeal to young readers is also enhanced by the use of questions through out the four myths.
Short listed for the Kura Pounamu awards in 2007 the book is also available in English under the title Riding the Waves.
Reviewed by Alice
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.
Here’s a very interesting article that looks at the absolute importance of having and reading books at home.
Noting first (in England), “that one in three children has no books at home… and that one in five leaves secondary school still unable to read with confidence”.
The article goes on to quote poet Michael Rosen, who points to a recent study by the University of Nevada, which shows that the overriding predictor of a child’s educational success is the number of books at home.
“The key to social mobility is not social class or race, it’s not wealth, it’s not even parental educational levels: it’s books,” Rosen adds, “the evidence is there - the survey looked at 70,000 children in 27 countries over 20 years. Now all we have to do is act on it”.
flickr image by hownowdesign
Avalon is a beautiful, confidant and intelligent thirteen year old who has to move schools because her parents are offered better prospects. Her first day at the new school proves a disaster and from then it only gets worse. School bullies transform Avalon into an aggressive and enraged teen as she receives texts updating her on the latest cyber bullying posts against her. Marshall is her only friend and solace, but is he strong enough to endure the crucifixion of his own persona?
The book reveals the cruel, destructive power of bullying and how it creates insecurity, loss of self-esteem, confidence and dignity.
The rebuttal was my light the end of this often dark read.The book goes on to justify why bullying must be reported, how to cope with it, and actions that can be taken by a school and the law to support victims of bullying.
The book is a winner of the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards for Young Adults, and is a Notable Book of The Children's Book Council of Australia.
Destroying Avalon will probably become a significant read for those coping with bullying. I would highly recommend this book for all teenagers, parents and teachers.
Review by Janice
flickr image by Jacey F
There has never been a book solely dedicated to the toheroa before and this book does the shellfish delicacy justice by covering a wide range of explanatory information from the legends about the toheroa to its preservation. Maori tikanga, history and values are interwoven into the different sections. The language is pitched at a primary audience who will find it easy to follow especially with explanations of new terms in the text. The glossary, contents pages and clear, easy to follow layout add value to this superb example of a te reo Māori non fiction book that was short listed for the Kura Pounamu awards in 2009.
Reviewed by Alice
For those fans of Terry Pratchett (and there’s an awful lot of us) you might like to have a look at this recent School Library Journal interview with the courteous and witty Discworld Master. Its an interview made all more poignant as Pratchett talks candidly about living with Alzheimer’s disease.
I was intrigued to learn that one of Pratchett’s first jobs was working in a library. On asked what the winning the Margaret Edwards Award means to him Pratchett replied.
“It makes me very proud, I have to say. Because, you know, when it’s librarians that give the award, you’d be so proud. I don’t know whether you know this, but I wanted to be a librarian at one stage. I got a job in my local library..”
flickr image by firepile
Bright retro illustrations and simple text will have children engage learning how food makes its way from farms, orchards, factories into their lunchbox. This book provides good example for encouraging children to think about where food comes from, the processes it passes through, and transportation to the shops. Included is a section on the benefits of good eating habits.
review by Karen
flickr image by Graeme Worsfold
Secondary students have been looking forward to the arrival of this compelling New Zealand, Maori, fantasy and Daivid Hair doesn’t disappoint.
The Lost Tohunga opens with a prologue that quickly builds pace and tension. Characters are reintroduced along with an intriguing insight into the childhood of a main antagonist, Donna Kyle, and immediately we are hooked.
The hero of this New Zealand style fantasy, Matiu Douglas, has little time to enjoy his holiday from secondary school. With Puarata and his scheming forces of evil close to claiming Te Iho, -The Heart, all thoughts of revision are abandoned. Once more Matiu crosses over to the historical world of Aotearoa to work with his mentor Aethlyn Jones. Myth and reality entwine as the battle for mental and physical control gain momentum.
David Hair writes convincingly. Personalities in the story are complex. The connection between twentieth century New Zealand with Matiu’s peer group support team, and the powerful mana of the forces for good in traditional terms, are imaginative. Their integrity is such that the reader becomes completely involved in this powerful story.
Review by Barbara
Huhu Koreheke is a Māori story! This thought provoking story demonstrates a mokopuna’s love and respect for his koro as he comes to terms with his death. The reader can really feel the anguish of the loss. Ka rongo i te kōingo o te ngākau. The spirit of the story; the celebration of life and grief process is totally captured in the wonderful expressive illustrations. Short listed for the Kura Pounamu awards in 2010l the book is also available in English under the same title.
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