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.
Three new primary level picture books about war all focus on New Zealand’s involvement on the Western Front rather than at Gallipoli. These attractively presented works are ideal for broadening knowledge about World War I in a way that is distinctly positive rather than gloomy, and focuses on the values that can emerge from a battlefield.
David Hill’s The red poppy , accompanied by a CD of Rob Kennedy’s song of the same name, tells of the compassion and friendship that develop between two wounded soldiers from opposing sides in a brief encounter that neither of them will ever forget. The story incorporates a crowd-pleasing small black dog as well and is optimistic without being unbelievable.
While it doesn’t dwell on the mud and misery that were a constant presence in the trenches of Europe, it doesn’t gloss over them either. This is shown in Fifi Colston’s superb illustrations —subdued shades of brown and grey, with the only colour coming dramatically from the crimson poppy of the title. The red poppy’s superb hardback presentation would make it ideal as a gift, to enhance understanding for many Anzac Days to come. Teaching notes on The red poppy are also available from Scholastic Books.
The eels of Anzac Bridge is possibly about Passchendaele, although this is not overtly stated. Certainly it is about a young New Zealander who travels far across the sea to join the Great War in Europe and, like so many of his countrymen, does not return.
Ali Foster uses the imaginative tactic of linking his story to that of the migrating longfinned eels, who also never return from their long journey after spawning in the waters of the stream that flows through his home town. The two stories are intertwined throughout to show the pattern of the lifecycle itself, with its continuing processes of birth, growth and death.
The Anzac Memorial Bridge of the story really exists, in the small community of Kaipororo north of Masterton. The Art Deco bridge was opened in 1922 and contains the names of the town’s young men who fell during World War One. This inspired Ali Foster to write a story that could relate to any one of them. The eels of Anzac Bridge is published by the Wairarapa Archive in conjunction with Fraser Books.
There is a town in France that will always have a special place in its heart for New Zealand; that continues to have a public square proudly named ‘Place des All Blacks’ in spite of World Cup rugby traumas; and whose schoolchildren perform a (very smartly dressed) haka twice a year in our honour.
Glyn Harper’s picture book Le Quesnoy : the story of the town New Zealand saved gives us the reason for all these things, and provides long overdue information for our own schoolchildren about the nature of true home-grown heroism. Just as Willie Apiata’s VC was awarded for the saving of life rather than the taking of it, the glory here lies in the fact that our young soldiers used ingenuity to take back a French town occupied by the Germans without the loss of a single civilian life.
It was no easy task. Only a week before the Armistice was to end the horrifically blood-soaked Western Front campaign, the New Zealand Division was given the task of re- capturing Le Quesnoy, a mediaeval town surrounded by two bastions of walls several metres thick, with a moat in between. The town had been occupied by German troops for four years and, knowing the strength of the ramparts surrounding them, the Germans were refusing to surrender.
Rather than the ‘normal practice’ of storming the walls, which would have resulted in heavy casualties among the towns people, the New Zealand Field Artillery used heavy mortar fire to distract the Germans while members of the Rifle Brigade quietly crept up the walls under cover of the smoke. On November 4, 1918, Lieutenant Leslie Averill was the first survivor to make it into Le Quesnoy. Once the Germans realised the wall had been breached they opened one of the town’s main gates and surrendered. While 130 New Zealand soldiers and a greater number of Germans died during the liberation of Le Quesnoy, the historic town and its grateful population remained largely unharmed.
The picture book tells the story through the eyes of a child living in the town, and thanks are due to military historian Glynn Harper for using this device to make it totally suitable for primary school children (and thanks also, Glynn, for the pronunciation guide..it’s Ler kay nwah). Artist Jenny Cooper has relished the opportunity to widen her usual scope, and her illustrations are moving and evocative without being grim.
This is the one of our war stories that so needs not only to be told but to be shouted from the rooftops!
review by Cecily
Images used with permission
I was fascinated to discover this new picture book written by Ali Foster, illustrated by Viv Walker, and launched at Pukaha Mount Bruce earlier this year. It tells the story of Private Arthur Braddick, who grew up in the Kaiparoro area south of Eketahuna, and who later lost his life on the Western Front during World War I.
In a parallel story we learn about the life journeys of the long-finned eels that inhabit the Makakahi River and other local streams, and their journey to the warm undersea trenches near the islands of Tonga where they breed and then die (the baby eels then making their way back through the ocean to the rivers of New Zealand).
The name and setting comes from the real Anzac Bridge, which was erected after World War I north of Mount Bruce and still stands today.
Reading is so much about connections –my Great-Aunt turned the first sod for this bridge, and cut the ribbon when it was opened (she sent the most sons away to the war), and as a child I lived north of Kaiparoro on a farm bordering the same river.
The book was published by Wairarapa Archive, in association with Fraser Book.
review by Jan
Image used with permission
Young readers will love the names of the cows in this beautifully illustrated picture book by Ben Redlich. Jenny Bramble Rose is one of a herd of cows grazing and making milk and cream when suddenly her nose twitches - she has sniffed a cricket up her nose! The cows are tickled pink by the chain of events that follow. Daisy Lou and Jezzabel and the rest of the herd together make up a set of rules and play a game they called cricket. This delightful picture book has been developed with fun and fair play in mind.
Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble by Tracey Corduroy
Would you like it if your Granny was kinda different? Or would you try and change her? Everywhere this Granny goes, cats and frogs and bats are sure to go. This little girl is fed up solving the problems Granny creates. She just wants an ordinary Granny…, or so she thinks. Or will the little girl decide she loves her Granny (the witch) just the way she is. Joe Berger’s hilarious digital illustrations capture the relationship between the little girl and her granny. The readers will delight seeing the mischievous frogs popping up on the pages and people ducking and diving and running from burping bats.
review by Coral
Image by SocialRobot
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
The title of this picture book sums the message of the story up. This story is told through the eyes of a young boy, Tyson and begins with his reluctance to attend the Anzac Dawn Parade because for him it is all about celebrating war. But after talking with his whānau he realises he doesn’t have the full story and begins to see another side of the story about the importance of this day. Come dawn the next morning, he attends the Parade with his mum and Koro and stood in remembrance of those who died.
Elspeth Alix Batt’s pen and wash illustrations work well for the time periods of the story with every page linked to ANZAC poppies by using their colour. The red against a sombre grey background at the dawn ceremony emphasises the solemn occasion.
This book is also available in English. The te reo Māori version was shortlisted in SLANZA Te Kura Pounamu awards 2012. The late Katerina Mataira won the Te Rōpū Whakahau award Te Tohu Pounamu 2012 for her translation of this book.
review by Alice
Image by striatic
This treasure of a legend that previously was only known to a few, has been bought to life by Moira Wairama in her book Ngā Taniwha i te Whanga-nui-a-Tara.
This picture book retells the legend of Whataitai and Ngake, two taniwha whose bid for freedom from their lake shaped the current landscape of Wellington harbour.
Open the book and Bruce Potter’s vivid, imaginative illustrations quickly pull yopu in. The use of different size text and the way the words dance across the page and interact with the illustrations create a riveting read in te reo Māori. The landscape format fits the story well, allowing panoramic and large as life views on the double spread pages. This legend will appeal to a wide age group from primary aged students to adults.
This book was awarded the SLANZA Kura Pounamu book award 2012 and the Te Rōpū Whakahau - Te Tohu Taurapa for the best picture book in te reo Māori.
This book is also available in English under the title The taniwha of Wellington Harbour.
review by Alice
Image used with permission
This is an uplifting and thought-provoking book which gives children of all ages the chance to experience a different way of seeing. Isaac, having been taken aback by Luke’s (who is blind) response to a question about colours, sets out to use Luke’s other senses to give him an understanding of the different colours of the rainbow.
This book is stunningly illustrated in watercolour and guache by Keinyo White, and the evocative, poetic language reads aloud beautifully.
Colour the Stars has been retold in Te Reo by Ngaere Roberts (Taea Ngā Whetu), and has been translated into Braille and made into an audio book by the NZ Foundation for the Blind, who will receive any royalties from the sale of the book.
Published in 2012 by Scholastic New Zealand, who also provide a useful set of teaching notes
review by Jan
Image used with permission
Once again Laura Vaccaro Seeger has made clever use of cutout shapes to create peep holes between pages, the device which made her earlier picture book Lemons are not red so playful and inventive. In Green though, she has taken her game to another level by exploring some of the things that green can (and can’t) be.
Thoughtful words set off thoughtful paintings which are a visual and almost tactile delight with their thickly textured surfaces. I found this picture book as fresh and surprising as the colour green itself. Read it, and see if it doesn’t change the way you look at green in the world around you.
review by Pamela
Image by Darius Bauzys
Here are two new picture books with a similar theme, but totally different approaches. Two baby elephants is told in rhyme which captures all the joyful energy of a playground chant. Great choice for a boisterous read aloud romp!
The humour in Rhinos don’t eat pancakes is much more sophisticated, steering a lovely line between subtle and slapstick. Best of all is the happy ending, in which all the book’s characters are winners: the rhino is reunited with his family; Daisy’s parents discover what an amazing child they have; and Daisy has a Mum and Dad who actually listen to her!
review by Pamela
image by johnmuk
Lucky Biddy and Julia to be grand-daughters of Margaret Mahy—who could possibly have a better Nana at bedtime story time?
The DVD Margaret Mahy’s Rumbustifications features the author reading, or reciting from memory, a wide range of her best loved stories and poems to the two little girls who, a few years later, would proudly carry her ashes in a flowered box at the Christchurch Memorial Service.
The twins play an active role for much of the film. As they are identical but unnamed it is impossible to tell which one is providing the sound effects in Hiccups, which laughing child ducks as her own animated replica flies past her in Down the back of the chair, and whether the dramatic red-coated figure dancing over stark black rocks and grey sea in Puck’s song is Julia or Biddy, and it really doesn’t matter.
They and their Good Grandmother share the stage with a white fluffy dog, a fat black and white cat and a host of animated figures from the pages of Margaret’s books.
The DVD video footage was captured by Margaret’s longtime friend Yvonne MacKay at Margaret’s home in Governors Bay, a bay that has provided a great back-drop for the mixture of animation and real life in Summery Saturday Morning, Dashing Dog, The three-legged cat, The boy who was followed home, and a host of other favourites—the DVD features eight picture books in all, as well as a selection of poems, long and short.
Possibly the most moving moment is at the end, when Margaret is seen walking down the Governor’s Bay pier into a golden sunset as she recites her very un-sentimental poem When I am old. Following behind her, jostling and pushing and trying to catch up, is a wonderful animated hullaballoo mish-mash of characters from her books. The Lion has left his meadow, the Followed-home Boy has brought three of his hippos along, The Three-legged Cat is hopping jauntily on his peg-leg, -all the usual suspects are there. And raucously shouting from the throng comes the voice of the Pirate Mother: ‘Wait for me, Maggie!
The DVD has just been published (RRR NZ $19.99) and is available from Roadshow Entertainment .
review by Cecily
image by geoftheref
0800 LIB LINE
0800 542 5463
Get help from our advisers using this free phone line