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.
This is a story about Dewey’s eventful twelfth year. Set in a small Florida mining town in the 60s, there is a lot that’s confusing and potentially dangerous going on; racial tensions, class bullies, and girl friends.
Dewey befriends the class misfit and solves the mystery of the abandoned building but uncovers some adult secrets in the process. Luckily his family is close knit and the dramas are coped with - the brother nearly kills the bully and the girlfriend dies tragically. The 60s aspect is carefully integrated (Vietnam, race issues) and all the characters are well drawn. The sex scene (Dewey succumbs to the older girl) might restrict this story to secondary readers only, but hooray, at least there’s no bad language.
review by Phil
image by SportSurburban
This is a moving, but compassionately told story, about August, a boy with a severely deformed face, and his experiences attending public school after several years of home-schooling. The story is told from several different viewpoints with chapters narrated by the ten-year old himself and various people around him including his sister, his family and his friends. Within each chapter are sub-chapters, very short such that the story moves along quickly, visiting the hard facts but not dwelling on them. Each ‘storyteller’ describes events, the humour, the hurt, and the actions people take to try to protect August, and themselves, from embarrassment.
It is easy to warm to the central character as he yearns to be the normal kid he is inside, whilst battling the jibes and stares and sometimes outright cruelty of those who only see his face.
review by Melva
image by Merrick Brown
This first book, in the Dinosaur Rescue series, will be a hit with primary school-aged students with many varied interesting and disgusting facts including the secrets of Stone Age hunting and brontosaurus poo.
Mewburn’s witty humour in describing Arg and his family is hilarious. Arg is the most ‘evolved’ Neanderthal boy in his tribe however his parents don’t really understand Arg’s odd ways. Arg meets Skeet, an equally evolved Tyrannosaurus rex who can speak Arg’s language. Together they embark on a mission to save the dinosaurs from extinction.
I also liked Bixley’s cartoon-like black and white illustrations; they enhanced Mewburn’s story and both had enough action to ensure my interest.
review by Fiona
image by Scott Kinmartin
My home run books were Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham and One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. As a young boy I fell in love with the rhythm and the rhymes and the zany characters that filled the pages like dreams.
When my children were born it was wonderful to rediscover the Dr Seuss library and share in their excitement as they discovered the joy of imagination given flight through his words and illustrations.
Through the recent release of movie versions of The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and most recently, The Lorax, the stories of Dr Seuss are as popular and as relevant now as they were when first published more than fifty years ago.
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories is a new collection of stories published for the first time since the 1950’s. The entrancing characters and creatures that populate the seven stories are all new yet each instantly recognisable and familiar. The illustrations are quirky and delightful and the simple morality tales that gently underpin these fantastic stories are wonderfully affirming.
Recommended for fans of Dr Seuss, young and old. These stories were written to be shared with someone you love.
The Bippolo seed and other lost stories is also available as an iPhone and iPad app.
Review by Peter
Image by AdolfGalland
A student visiting the library recently recommended this book to me. As it is not the type of book I normally choose, I decided to give it a go. I am not surprised that it is a popular read. The action starts on the very first page and continues unrelentingly to the end of the book.
The two main characters, 13-year-old Colin Wagner and his best friend Danny are ordinary boys bored with school until Danny develops super powers. When the boys and their families are kidnapped, they are plunged into a nail-biting fight for survival. They realise that a new age of superhumans might be just beginning.
This adventure book will be enjoyed by boys aged from 10 -14 including reluctant readers. It has the added bonus of being the first book in a series, encouraging boys to continue reading for pleasure.
review by Anthea
image by keoni Cabral
Ray Bradbury works with artist Tim Hamilton to create this graphic novel. The novel is set in the future when “firemen” burn books (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper burns) forbidden by a totalitarian regime. The main character Montag is a fireman. When walking home one night a chance meeting with a neighbour challenges his thinking about his work. After his wife’s repeated suicide attempts Montag also questions the government’s policy of burning books. When the fire chief discovers his hidden books, he is forced to choose between personal safety and intellectual freedom.
The graphics full of dark, heavy black shadows effectively portray Montag’s bleak, oppressive world of censorship. They are an effective contrast with the vivid orange, red and yellow of the fires burning forbidden books.
This is a great crossover graphic novel for students who are reluctant to read a novel. It would also appeal to sci/fi readers.
review by Anthea
image by learning lark
Ruined and Dark souls are two of three novels in a series by New Zealand writer Paula Morris (Ngati Wai) on supernatural themes for young adults. (A third, Unbroken is soon to be released.)
Ruined, set in New Orleans, a city that Morris lived in through Hurricane Katrina, features Rebecca, a teenager left with distant and unknown family when her father goes overseas on business. Feeling out of place and lonely at her new school, Rebecca makes an unexpected and unique new friend while investigating Lafayette Cemetery. Lisette shows Rebecca a side of New Orleans that no-one else can see – because Lisette is a ghost and one with a tragic past, accompanied by an awful curse – when she is seen by the living a teenage girl will die.
Dark souls is set in York (where Morris completed her doctoral studies), one of the most haunted cities in the world – not the best place for 17 yr old Miranda who, as the result of the terrible accident that claimed the life of her best friend, discovers that she can see ghosts. The holiday her parents planned as relief becomes increasingly tense as Miranda takes up with mysterious, troubled local boy Nick, while trying to understand messages from the handsome ghost who lives in the attic that her room looks out to.
Both stories are engaging ghost story reads without delving too deep into horror. The cities feature strongly as settings (Morris has an intimate knowledge of both) and the plots move strongly into a compelling dramatic resolution.
Recommended for readers who enjoy the supernatural with a hint of romance.
review by Lisa A
image by SanFranAnnie
Albeit being dystopian and futuristic, The Nature of Ash draws many contemporary parallels because scenarios from this book are being played out on the current political stage, both nationally and internationally.
Ash McCarthy receives the devastating news that his father the President of the Combined Trade Unions has been killed when a bomb goes off in Wellington. The explosion is rumoured to be the mastermind of the UPR (United People’s Republic). Ash is forced to leave town when things get dangerous from forces offshore. He takes with him Mikey, his little brother who has Downs Syndrome, Travis the son of a cop and Jiao who appears to be part of the UPR. Soon their mission to stay away from trouble becomes murky and treacherous as they try to locate their lost mother and attempt to rescue Jiao’s parents.
It’s very heartening to read about the unconditional love and protection that Ash has for Mikey. The book is full of action and offers huge potential for discussion on government ideology, stereotypes and family. A lot of thought has gone into this very clever book.
review by Janice
cover image used with permission
The Flute, by Rachel Gilmore, is a lovely story about hardship and survival, illustrated through the life of young Chandra. Chandra learns to play the flute from her mother, who is all too soon lost in a flood with Chandra’s father, leaving her an orphan.
Chandra is forced to live with a cruel aunt and uncle who neglect her and force her to work. Music is her only consolation, but her relations take even that from her by casting her flute into a swift-moving river. Chandra is bereft, until the day she hears the flute playing mysteriously. What does this mean for Chandra? Is she imagining it, or is the flute trying to tell her something?
This is a great picture book with a fitting ending. The illustrations are beautiful and evocative. Great for middle and upper primary.
review by Courtney
Image by Anyaka
Bambino and Mr. Twain tells the story of the cat that inadvertently brought author Mark Twain back from the grief of losing his wife (and editor), Livy. Based on the true story P.I Maltbie weaves an engaging tale about the depths of grief and the unexpected spark that can restore even the saddest person’s zest for life.
The story opens shortly after the death of Twain’s wife and continues through several months in which he refuses all visitors and resists all invitation. Only the cantankerous Bambino seems to understand the extent of his pain. When Bambino disappears out an open window, Twain hastily puts an ad in the newspaper offering a reward for the return of his beloved cat. For several days, people arrive at Twain’s house offering their own cats to keep him company. Slowly, Twain begins to interact with his myriad visitors and step outside of his pain (and house).
Bambino returns not long thereafter, safe and sound. Twain is overjoyed, and thanks Bambino for teaching him a valuable lesson: “There’s a whole world outside of this house to enjoy.”
Colourful illustrations and simple language make this a great picture book for early to middle primary.
review by Courtney
Image by elisabetta2005
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