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.
David Riley is a teacher and Head of Dance-Drama at Tangaroa College in South Auckland, and has a background in journalism. He was aware of a lack of appropriate resources and decided to write this book when Niuean students told him they did not know of role models from their culture. He wrote it “to encourage and inspire students”.
He writes about people like Che Fu, Pero Cameron, Stephanie Tauevihi and NRL player Dene Halatau. As most of them had mixed ancestry- Pacific, Māori and Pakeha- this is a book with a broad appeal. Other profiles are from mythology and history.
Themes in the book include achievement, leadership, believing in yourself, overcoming obstacles- always a popular subject- and issues to do with culture. David has a deft writing style that will appeal to students from mid-Primary to Secondary levels.
You can see some sample chapters on his website.
review by Rob
Image used with permission
Bob Dylan’s lyrics fit perfectly into Sophisticated Picture Book format, but the surprise here is the enormous difference illustration and general presentation make to words that true Dylan devotees regard as timeless.
Of the three examples here, Forever young (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is a Good Fairy-type wish for a child
‘May God bless and keep you always, May your wishes all come true…’
that is often sung at christenings.
Paul Rogers’ illustrations to the picture book version, however, take the message firmly into the adolescent area, and the retro-American style makes this the 1950s period of Dylan’s own adolescence. While the Illustrator’s Notes at the back are mainly about Dylan and his works (Paul Rogers is obviously a True Fan) they include useful snippets of information about Martin Luther King, the Beatles, Jack Kerouac, and other people whose lives touched Dylan’s in various ways. A good book for giving an older child a picture of life in the 50s and 60s, but, alas, it does not include a CD, so you’ll have to sing it yourself.
Blowin’ in the wind and Man gave names to all the animals do include CDs, Dylan’s original version of the songs in both cases.
This is perhaps the only problem with Blowin’ in the wind (Sterling Children’s Books, 2011). Jon J. Muth’s illustrations, though beautiful as always, seem to be aimed at a younger target audience than the lyrics, especially with Dylan’s gravelly diction included in the mix. The beauty and peace of the illustrations, linked by a paper crane motif, provide a strong contrast to the bitterness of the words— maybe this is the intention. The lyrics, can of course, speak against discrimination or unfair treatment over a much broader spectrum than the song’s original focus on racism, This is made clear in the afternote from music historian Greil Marcus, and keeps this definitive protest song, even wrapped up in a pretty package, as relevant today as it was when first written in 1962. The times may have kept on a-changing, but sadly, half a century on, many attitudes haven’t changed all that much.
Man gave names to all the animals (Sterling, 2010), illustrated by Jim Arnosky, is a much simpler proposition. A 1979 song from Dylan’s brief Christian period, this one is definitely a children’s song, and Arnosky’s illustrations make the picture book version a masterpiece.
The clear bright colours bring to life the ‘land of primeval beauty’ suggested to him by Dylan’s bouncy, light-hearted lyrics. There are hidden animals to find on each page, and an interactive element to make this a great read-aloud. It deserves a place, not just in every Sunday school, but in the bookshelf of every child who loves animals.
Of the three illustrators, I feel that Jim Arnosky is the one who made best use of the picture book medium to bring Bob Dylan’s words to life for a new generation.
review by Cecily
Image by brizzle born and bred
Sojourner Truth, (the name was taken after a religious experience), was the daughter of slave parents and was sold away from her family as a child. Truth’s life of engagement with slavery issues, black civil rights and the rights of women is remarkable in itself but is all the more astonishing when one considers that she died in 1883, - less than 20 years after the end of the American Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves. Even at the time of her death ‘Blacks’ in the United States were a long distance from experiencing the same rights and freedoms as whites. As a black woman, Sojourner might have been expected to be “doubly subservient”. At a time when women and ‘Blacks’ were still regarded and, in many situations, treated as lesser citizens, Truth stood up for what she believed was right.
While as a reader I was left wondering what her stance meant for her in daily life and how she was treated, how people reacted to her.
However Katherine Krohn gives a factual insight into a truly remarkable personality and this is enhanced by the “fast facts”, time line, glossary, recommended internet sites and bibliography. All of which will allow the interested reader to delve more deeply into Sojourners’ amazing life.
review by David
Image by madelinetosh
Whether or not you are familiar with the high rivers, valleys and mountains of the Southern alps, the villages of Greece, the landscape of Crete or the whiteness of Antarctica you will be spellbound by both the artworks and the life story of the remarkable Austen Deans. Austin Deans was one of New Zealand’s foremost landscape painters, a serving soldier in the Second World War and a man who actively tramped and rafted well into his eighties and beyond. Austen Deans was clearly a personality of note.
This work does not simply praise his art but also tells the story of his life. A man to be admired, author Nathalie Brown has done him, his achievements and his life ample justice. Family, faith, friendship, loyalty and spirit shine through in every painting reproduction and every story.
Brown has produced an excellent work that achieves the rare balance of enlightening the man; his achievements, and life, without becoming eulogistic. This work has duel value, as an examination of the art of Austen Deans and also as a biography of the man.
Beautifully illustrated, and well indexed the book is enlivened with a detailed and appropriate family tree. Capturing Mountains is a remarkable tale of a truly renaissance man,
review by David
Image by ekieraM
Bear Grylls is an iconic media figure known as much for his stomach churning consumption of grubs, insects and raw animal parts as his fearless adrenaline fuelled adventures.
My kids can’t get enough of his TV series and are fascinated by the places he goes and the physical challenges he puts himself through. When I tell them that Bear is a former British Special Forces soldier, an expert in martial arts, and at the age of 23 one of the youngest ever mountaineers to summit Mount Everest their eyes widen. When I tell them that he climbed Mount Everest only eighteen months after breaking his back in three places in a serious parachuting accident, they are amazed.
‘Mud, sweat and tears’ tells the tale of Bear’s journey from an adventurous young boy learning to climb with his father through to his life and death struggle of climbing Mount Everest, and on to international fame as the action hero of ‘Man vs Wild’. He recounts his many adventures from his wild school days, the gruelling challenges of selection for the elite squadron of the British Special Services and the journey from hospital rehabilitation centre to the summit of Everest.
Full of the gross-out detail and almost reckless fascination with risk taking that makes his tv series compulsive viewing, Bear is also extremely honest and reflective in trying to understand the forces that have shaped his life.
Whilst physical and mental strength, courage, perseverance, and endurance figure strongly, the central themes of the book and the core of Bear’s life are the importance of his family, friendship and his faith.
Written in short bite sized chapters in a simple and easy to read style, Mud, Sweat and Tears is recommended for young men (and women) who are fans of the TV series and for whom life is an adventure to be lived and a dream to be followed.
Bear Gryll’s website can be found here with information on his life, TV shows and books. Bear has also written a series of fictional adventures stories for young readers.review by Peter
review by Peter
image by Sarah Nitt
Judith and Dennis Fradin retell the amazing story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery (in the 1840s) before he was rescued twelve years later.
The authors use Northrop’s own autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave, to capture the desperation and perseverance of a man who never gave up despite numerous hardships. The imagined dialogue is believable and allows students to better empathise with Northrup’s unimaginable situation.
This book provides detail on the historical circumstances surrounding slavery in the US. Also included are photographs and drawings illustrating the experiences of slaves in that era, and a copy of the bill of sale, which allowed Solomon to be sold.
Students will find the included timeline of events related to slavery useful. They may be surprised to learn that the first slaves to the Americas were brought by the Spanish in the 1500s, followed by the Dutch in 1619.
Recommended for advanced primary students and intermediate students. Image above shows an Afro-American Slave ledger from 1846.
review by Courtney
Having never read anything that the Dalai Lama has written, this book was a revelation to me. It does not simply focus on Buddhism as a philosophy and religion but more about how we can all live our lives in a happier more peaceful way. It seeks to personalise the Dalai Lama as it is written in the first person and in his only words. He begins the book by telling the reader about his childhood and upbringing and how, at a young age, he became the 13th Dalai Lama.
This book is quick, accessible and summerises the Dalai Lama’s essential life teachings including some sound adages. I did however, expect to be more inspired by some of his teachings.
Review by Melissa
image by Serjao Carvalho
Rosa Park’s legendary 1955 bus (photo right) protest in Montgomery, Alabama is a story I thought I knew well. But until I read this book, I had no idea that 15 year old Claudette Colvin had already done something remarkably similar nine months earlier. So why is Rosa’s story so well known, when Claudette’s is not? The background to Claudette’s omission from the history books is just as intriguing as her defiant stand against the humiliating Jim Crow laws of that time.
Author Phillip Hoose alternates his voice with Claudette’s own, crafting a powerful narrative backed by thorough research. Illustrations have been well chosen to set the story in its place and time. This book goes a long way towards restoring Claudette to her rightful place in the history of the American black civil rights movement. Recommended.
Here’s an interview with Phillip in which he talks about his motivation for writing it: http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2009_ypl_hoose_interv.html
review by Pamela
Flickr image by Maia C
Let us make it clear from the start, this reviewer LOVES black and white photography, the starkness of the images and the enhancement of the contrasts. Marti Friedlander achieved that most difficult of tasks, to be a New Zealander and to gain an international reputation in her field.
Leonard Bell has a produced an excellent biography of one of New Zealand’s leading photographers. The biographical material is sympathetic and Friedlander’s photographic images expressive and beautiful.
The substantial collection of Friedlander’s work is, in itself, also biographical. Her work matures as she gains both years and experience. But Freidlander is not a one-trick pony. There are sufficient colour reproductions to demonstrate that she is equally adept and expressive in that form as well.
A beautiful book that will inspire the reader/viewer, either as an artists’ model for senior secondary photography students or simply as a delightful dip into the past for the pleasure of it.
Review by David
Florence Nightingale by Kay Barnham offers an interesting biographical study of Florence Nightingale for younger readers that also clearly and succinctly describes the historical and geographical context and attitudes of her time.
Original photographs and illustrations are used to support a clear bold text that profiles Florence Nightingale’s nursing career and life while also discussing the influences she has had on present day nursing standards, including Nurses Day- 12th May. There’s an easy to follow instructions on ‘how to make a sling’ with step by step photos and first aid tips, as well and a glossary and Index.
Celebrate International Nurses Day on 12th May in appreciation of the contribution Florence Nightingale has made to nursing and health care standards.
Review by Natasha
Flickr image by mharrsch
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