North and South by Sandra Morris

Sandra Morris is the award-winning author and illustrator of both picture books and children’s nonfiction. Sandra has introduced Kiwi kids to many of our native birds, reptiles, trees and insects through her engaging books. In her latest book, North and South, Sandra compares and contrasts the wildlife that lives in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

In North and South we learn about the differences in seasons between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and how the animals that live there deal with the changing seasons. Sandra highlights the effect of the rapid heating of our planet on the habitats of these creatures, as well as the effect that it has on migratory habits and the sex of hatching reptiles. Starting in January and going through until December, each double page spread presents an animal from the Northern Hemisphere and one from the Southern Hemisphere. As well as focusing on the month and the season, each spread also focuses on a different aspect about those animals. The spread for March focuses on Mothers and Babies and compares the polar bear (in the Northern spring) with the saltwater crocodile (in the Southern autumn). The warming seas and melting ice mean the polar bears need to swim and walk further for a meal. The hotter temperatures also affect the sex of the crocodile hatchlings, with warmer temperatures meaning the hatchlings will be male. There is a handy mini map with each animal so that you can see where they live, and Sandra also explains the threats to each animal. At the back of the book there is a concise glossary, an index and suggestions of where to find more information and how you can help the wildlife.

North and South is a perfect children’s nonfiction book, that is engaging, cleverly designed and gorgeously illustrated. This is the kind of book that can be read cover-to-cover or easily dipped into. There will animals that children know, but others that they will discover for the first time. They’ll also discover astounding facts about these animals that they’ll want to share with their friends and family. The layout is really kid-friendly because the illustrations are large, there’s just the right amount of text, and there’s a mini-map on every spread. It’s a great book to not only learn about animals and their differences, but also to highlight the differences in the seasons of Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

This book made me go ‘Wow!’ so many times! I found it fascinating how the sex of crocodile hatchlings can change with a difference in temperature. I had heard of the Lyrebird before but had no idea how cool this bird is. It can mimic other birds that it hears, as well as other sounds, including drills and chainsaws. I was so astounded by this that I spent quite a while watching YouTube videos of these birds. I laughed so hard listening to them!

Sandra Morris’ illustrations are stunning and the design of the book is superb. It’s a beautiful book to look through and read. One of my favourite aspects of the book is the maps. The end papers are a world map with animal icons, showing where they live, and the mini-map on each spread shows this too.

I love North and South! It is a book that should be on the shelf of all animal lovers and is an invaluable resource for schools. I know that this book will be pored over in my school library and I’ll be promoting it to all of my classes.

Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest series by Maureen Crisp

There are lots of great series available now for newly independent readers to choose from. There are books about monsters, fairies, horrible boys, unicorns, stinky dinosaurs and much more. Something there isn’t a lot of for younger readers is mystery books. This is where Maureen Crisp’s wonderful Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest series comes in.

Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest follows a circus troupe who have been together for many years, but believe this year may be their last together. In the first book in the series, The Playbill, they receive an invitation to the circus conclave (a gathering of circus troupes) from The Puzzle Master. However, they must solve the clues to discover its location. Monsieur Charles has said that if they received the invitation this year, it would be his last as head of the circus, which would mean the circus would split up. Everyone agrees to do anything they can to solve the clues and try to save their circus. Last year, the clues were stolen, so this year it is up to Kestrel to keep the clues hidden and safe. Meanwhile, Stanley, one of the circus workers, is being paid by a shadowy figure to make some accidents happen to try and shut down the circus. Kestrel must work together with his brother Peregrine and his friend Skye to solve the clue and figure out where to find the next one. The second book, Magician’s Moustache, follows Monsieur Charles’ circus as they travel to the island of Papenton to perform and try to solve the second clue.

Monsieur Charles’ Circus Quest is a clever and fun series for younger readers. It’s a series that gives younger readers a taste of mystery and adventure, but at a level that they can understand. Kids will enjoy trying to solve the clue in each book and figure out what exactly the clue means. Maureen has written the books in such a way that you don’t find out the answer to the clue until the next book. That way you have to read the next book to find out if you’re right. I was a bit stumped by the clue in book 1 but when I started book 2 it was clear straight away.

There is something in the books for all readers, whether they want mystery, adventure, laughs, suspense, or interesting characters. I’ve read the first two books in the series but I need to know what happens to the circus so I’ll be hunting down the other books. There are currently five books in the series, with another five planned. You can buy them from The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie or from Wheelers.

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter

I’m a huge fan of First Second, as they publish some of the best graphic novels for kids. My favourite kids graphic novel, Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker, is published by them, as well as Best Friends and Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. I ordered Dungeon Critters, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, for my school library just because it sounded fun and the cover looked cool. After reading it though, I can say it’s so much more than that. In fact, it almost knocks The Prince and the Dressmaker off its top spot, it’s that great.

The Dungeon Critters are a tight-knit gang of animals who go on adventures together. There’s Juniper (or June) the dog, Rose the cat, Prince Chirp the frog and Goro the snake. Between them they have magic, brute strength and cunning to help them fight for what’s right. After defeating a necromancer, an invitation discovered in his belongings leads the Dungeon Critters to The Baron’s ball. The Baron is Prince Chirp’s life-long arch nemesis and Chirp knows that he is up to no good. The gang decide to crash the party and look for clues. With their fancy disguises and fake identities they go to the ball, but Juniper gets mistaken for royalty. She keeps The Baron distracted while the rest of the gang search The Baron’s mansion. With proof in hand that The Baron is up to something, and The Baron’s mansion in flames, the gang head off in search of answers. Just as they start to get some answers, Prince Chirp is summoned back to the palace for ‘The Event’ that his parents are hosting. While at the palace disaster strikes and Juniper is arrested and put on trial. Friendships are tested as members of the Dungeon Critters find themselves on opposite sides of the trial. It is then up to their friends to uncover the truth and help their friends when they need it the most.

I absolutely adore Dungeon Critters! Everything about it is wonderful, from the story and the characters to the humour and the artwork. Everything gels together perfectly to make a graphic novel that is hilarious, action-packed, super-sweet and full of diverse characters. You can tell, even before reading about their process at the back of the book, that Natalie and Sara worked closely together to combine their storytelling talents to create this book. The story flows really nicely throughout the book, as does the artwork. I laughed so hard while reading this book! Natalie and Sara’s comedic timing is spot-on and there are puns galore.

I loved every one of the characters, whether they were the heroes or the villains. They all have a lot of depth to them and history that is revealed throughout the story. Rose and Juniper obviously have some history together (as you can see from the first part of the story) and you discover more about their relationship as the story progresses. There is a fierce rivalry between Prince Chirp and The Baron and its fun to watch this play out. The standout character for me is Goro. He is a gentle giant who is always there when the gang need him, but he’s sensitive too. I loved learning more about him and his boyfriend, Horseboy. I laughed so hard though when the gang’s stuff gets stolen and Goro has to borrow a teeny, tiny shirt.

The artwork is completely stunning, from the character designs and the colouring, to the way that the story flows on the page. Every character, from the main ones to the minor ones (who might appear just once) has its own personality. They’re all really expressive too, so it’s easy to tell their emotions and intentions. The colouring also helps to set the tone and highlight emotions. I like the way that the colours used help to draw your eye in a particular direction, especially when there is a lot happening on a page. Another thing I really like about the colouring is the way that light has been used to throw shadows on faces, whether that is to show villainous intent or determination.

It is the layout of the artwork and the flow from one panel to the next that really makes this graphic novel stand out for me. Natalie and Sara use lots of different layouts throughout the book and your eye is drawn to different parts of the page each time you turn the page. Some spreads have a background image, with lots of smaller panels layered over the top. Another spread might have one thread of the story happening in the background of the page, with another thread of the story playing out in panels down the side. One of my favourite sections of artwork is when Rose and Chirp are setting off the booby traps under The Baron’s mansion. Chirp effortlessly jumps and dives through the lasers, while Rose (being a cat) sees the lasers and tries to pounce on them.

I seriously love Dungeon Critters! I hope Natalie and Sara have more ideas up their sleeves because I need more of the Dungeon Critters in my life. I think I would probably read anything that Natalie and Sara create together.

Dungeon Critters is great for ages 9+ and would be a great addition to a primary, intermediate or high school library. It’s also a must read for any adult who enjoys a graphic novel with magical adventures and a whole lot of laughs.

Hilo: Gina – the Girl Who Broke the World by Judd Winick

Judd Winick’s Hilo series is my favourite kid’s graphic novel series. I love it because it’s entertaining, action-packed, and laugh-out-loud-funny, but it also has real emotional depth. His characters are saving the world and putting themselves in danger while doing so, and Judd shows how this affects his characters, especially the grief they feel at losing friends. In the first six books in the series, D.J., Gina and Hilo have been through a lot together, and they’ve come out the other side as different kids. The latest book in the series, Gina – the Girl Who Broke the World, starts a new chapter for our heroes, but it still has everything I love about the Hilo series.

Gina, D.J. and Hilo are still coming to terms with the events in All the Pieces Fit. Things are different for everyone. Hilo is now human and living with D.J. and his family, and Gina can do more magic than ever before. She could use her magic to help others, but she knows that sometimes magic isn’t enough to save the ones you love. When strange beings start appearing around their town, it seems that only Gina can see and hear them. They appear to be hunting the Nestor, but they won’t reveal what or who the Nestor is. D.J. and Hilo want to help Gina, so she helps them to see the creatures. When they finally meet the Nestor, the creatures explain that they just want to get home, and Gina offers to help them. Gina must use all of her magic to help the Nestor return home, but in doing so, will put the entire earth in jeopardy.

Gina – the Girl Who Broke the World is an awesome start to a new chapter of Hilo. This book is a real emotional rollercoaster, as I was cracking up at Hilo’s antics one moment and my heart was breaking the next. Gina, D.J. and Hilo are grieving for their friends so are all finding it hard to adjust to their new lives. They are such good friends though, as they take note of how they are each feeling and try to help in their own way. You can tell, by their actions and from the illustrations, that they care deeply for each other. I love the way that Judd can show us this using just a look between the characters.

Hilo has always made me laugh but he made me chuckle so many times in this book. He keeps forgetting that he’s human now and doesn’t have any powers. He tries to fly like he used to and ends up flat on his face, or tries to shoots beams from his hands but remembers he can’t do that either. Now that he’s human he can eat real food and he becomes totally obsessed with mango. He wants to join Gina to fight the monsters so he makes special tights for him and D.J. so that they’ll look the part. My favourite Hilo moment is when he is distracting the babysitter with the face he’s drawn on his belly. There are some things that he can do though that suggests that he is not completely human.

Judd’s art is fantastic as always. The thing I love the most about Judd’s storytelling is that so much of it is visual. There are chunks of the story, when the kids are fighting monsters, where there is very little text. That is what makes the Hilo series so great for struggling or reluctant readers, as the stories are light on text and heavy on visual storytelling. Judd’s characters are also very expressive, so it is clear to see their emotions on their face and in their body language.

I can’t recommend the Hilo series highly enough. If you haven’t discovered them yet, go and find the first volume, Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. If you’ve read all of the others in the series you must get your hands on this volume immediately. I will be eagerly awaiting Hilo book 8, coming in 2022.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

B.B. Alston’s debut middle grade novel, Amari and the Night Brothers, has been one of my most anticipated books of 2021. It feels like forever that I’ve had it on my to-be-read list. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book and lots of marketing to get it in front of readers. After having just finished it, I can confirm that it is totally worth the hype. This is the first book in a new series that will have readers, including myself, counting down the weeks, days and minutes until the next book in the series is released.

Amari has a scholarship to a prestigious school, where she is constantly reminded how much she doesn’t fit in. She is picked on constantly because she lives in the wrong part of town and she’s Black. She lives with her mum, and until recently, her brother Quinton. Her brother is currently missing and nobody seems to be doing anything to try and find him. Amari receives a package from her brother, with an invitation to attend an interview at the place where he worked. Thanks to her brother’s nomination, Amari is introduced to a world that she never knew existed. Amari joins the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, an organisation charged with protecting the known world from the world of the unknown. Her eyes are now open to the weirdness of the world and she can see the supernatural creatures around her that are hiding in plain sight. Amari must be awarded a badge and decide which part of the organisation that she would like to belong to. At the badge ceremony, Amari is identified as a magician, something that is illegal in the supernatural world. Amari now finds herself even more of an outcast than she was at her school and she has to try and prove to those around her that she isn’t evil. Amari decides to try out for a position as a Junior Agent for the Department of Supernatural Investigations, following in her brother’s footsteps. Her brother was one of the most famous Junior Agent’s before he disappeared, leaving few clues behind about his disappearance. While facing the three try-outs to become a Junior Agent, Amari makes it her mission to find out more about her brother and his disappearance. Together with her new friends, Amari must use her new skills and the information she gathers to stop the Night Brothers and their apprentice from getting their hands on a weapon that could bring about the end of the world.

Amari and the Night Brothers is an addictive read that is bursting with magic and imagination. I was hooked from the start and constantly marveled by B.B. Alston’s imagination. Reading this gave me the same tingles that I got reading Nevermoor, because the world is so fully realised and it’s full of really clever and funny details. The story is action-packed and you care about the characters, so you keep turning the pages because you need to know what happens. Even when you get to the end of the story it’s still exciting because you know that you’ve only just scratched the surface of this world and what is going on, so there will be (hopefully) many more books to come. Amari is just coming in to her powers and figuring out who she is, so you know that she is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Amari has grown up in a neighbourhood where she didn’t have much, but she did have her family. Whether it is at Jefferson Academy, where she is picked on because of the colour of her skin and where she lives, or at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where she is an outcast as a magician, Amari is told that she isn’t good enough.

It’s kind of like how being a Black kid from the projects makes Mr. Jenson feel the need to watch me extra close every time I come in his store. Or how surprised my scholarship interviewers were that I could speak so well. People assume stuff about you based on things you can’t change about yourself.

Amari just does her ‘best to prove them wrong, to be the person they’re not expecting.’ She does this throughout the book, trying to prove that she is worthy to have a place in the Bureau and that she isn’t the evil magician they think she is.

The Bureau is a fascinating place and I really enjoyed learning about the different parts of it and the way that it operates. It seems like one of those places that you would never really know everything about. There are so many different floors and areas and we only see a handful of them in this first book. I particularly enjoyed the Department of the Unexplained, which has a room called the Origin of Both the Chicken and the Egg. Each of the elevators has a different personality too, from ones that sing opera to ones that like to prank kids.

There are lots of quirky details that give this world depth (and make me laugh). There is a gossip magazine called Rumours and Whisperings, in which one of the headlines is ‘Dwarves insulted by Merlin’s insinuation that golden city is merely gold-plated.’ Amari and her friends sneak out to the All-Souls Festival in the story and discover the Sweet Dreams tent, where you can purchase liquids that give you the dreams that you want. They have titles like Richest Person in the World and Sweet, Sweet Revenge.

Amari and the Night Brothers is the perfect book to recommend to anyone who loves Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series or Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series. Anyone who loves stories with magic, superpowers, secret organisations, the supernatural or the unexplained will love Amari and the Night Brothers. I can’t wait to see where B.B. Alston takes us next!

Max Meow: Cat Crusader by John Gallagher

Do you know a kid that’s read all of the Dog Man books multiple times? Do you want to keep that reading spark alive by giving them something similar? You need to get your hands on John Gallagher’s meow-tastic new graphic novel series, Max Meow: Cat Crusader.

Max was just an ordinary cat, with a pretty average internet show, until the day that he accidentally eats a piece of space meatball and gets superpowers. His scientist friend Mindy discovered the meatball on her travels in space and brought it back to earth to investigate. Now Max can fly and has super strength, so he becomes the Cat Crusader and protects Kittyopolis. Agent M, Reggie and their boss, Big Boss, want to get their hands on Mindy and her space meatball so it’s up to Max to figure out this superhero thing and save the day. Oh, and stop the giant mini-golf monsters while he’s at it!

Meow-za! Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a super fun, action-packed read that will have kids and adults begging for more. There’s something in this book for everyone – superpowers, cats, villains, a robot with daddy issues, monsters, cliff-hanger endings and laughs galore. I had to read this over just two nights to my 5 year old daughter because she couldn’t stand waiting to know what happened in the next chapter. John Gallagher sets that up perfectly by ending each chapter with questions, like ‘WHAT will Mindy show Max? WHY is there a floating whale in Mindy’s lab?’ It’s one of the first graphic novels I’ve read aloud and it works so well. We giggled along together and each picked up different things in the illustrations.

John’s illustrations have heaps of kid appeal. They’re bright, colourful, and full of action and expression. John hasn’t let himself be constricted by the panels, as the action and characters often flow through or burst into other panels, and even right off the page.

The humour works on lots of different levels too. John uses puns in the text and there are plenty of visual gags. There are jokes for the kids and jokes for the adults. I especially enjoyed the character of Cody the dog, who doesn’t say anything but always gives a thumbs up. I also really like Reggie the robot who can’t seem to stop referring to Agent M as Daddy.

Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a must-have graphic novel for all primary and intermediate school libraries. It will be snapped up straight away and it’s popularity will spread like wildfire. Kids will be begging for the next book in the series, which is due out here in NZ in July. My daughter and I can’t wait for Max Meow: Donuts and Danger!

Moon & Sun by Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Malene Laugesen

Melinda Szymanik is one of our most versatile authors here in New Zealand. She has written picture books, novels for different ages and short stories, many of which have been shortlisted for our book awards. Melinda’s latest book, Moon & Sun, is a gorgeous picture book that will resonate with kids and adults everywhere.

Moon & Sun is told from the point of view of Moon, who feels like she lives in the shadow of her sister, Sun. Everyone loves Sun and the way that she shines. Moon has taken to avoiding her sister so that she only comes out at night. Moon is embarrassed about the craters on her face but she misses the light and warmth that her sister brings. When Sun overhears Moon talking about how unloved she is Sun explains how important she is. People need Moon for the oceans to ‘dance in and out’ and to help them know when to plant crops. Both Sun and Moon are loved but they both get lonely, so sometimes they share the sky.

Moon & Sun is a wonderful story about self-worth and individuality. Melinda shows readers that they all have strengths and value, even if they are different from others. When we work as a team though we can combine our individual strengths to make a great team.

I think every reader will be able to relate to this story. I certainly do. My wife is amazing at fixing things and doing DIY and I’m useless at that stuff, but I’m a good cook and baker and I can do some great funny voices when I read a book aloud. We have different strengths but we’re a great team. I had a kid in my school library last week tell me that she’s no good at swimming. I reminded her that she is an amazing writer and that she could focus on that, and her whole demeanour changed.

Malene Laugesen’s illustrations are gorgeous! The shades of blue for Moon and the yellow, orange and red of Sun captures their personalities perfectly. Both characters shine off the page in their own ways. Sun radiates confidence, while Moon is timid and shy. I love the way that the colours swirl together on the last page, when they are in the sky together.

The only niggle I have is with the production of the book. I feel that it’s a book that deserves to be produced as a hardback, rather than the stapled, paperback that it is.

Moon & Sun needs to be in every school around the country as it fits so perfectly with the focus on our place in the world and identity that starts off the school year. I will be promoting it to all of the teachers at my school as it would work well for all age groups.

Birds of New Zealand, Ngā Manu o Aotearoa: Collective Nouns by Melissa Boardman

I have a new found appreciation and interest in birds thanks to a board game that I’m currently obsessed with, called Wingspan. Up until recently I wouldn’t have considered myself a board game person but Wingspan has sparked my enthusiasm for both board games and birds. In the game you collect birds, eggs and food and play them on your board. The base game is made up of North American birds, and you can get expansions for birds of Europe and Oceania. Discovering the birds in the game has led me to want to know more about them, especially our New Zealand birds. In my search I came across a beautiful book that has recently been released about New Zealand birds called Birds of New Zealand: Collective Nouns by Melissa Boardman.

Birds of New Zealand: Collective Nouns is bursting with Melissa’s stunning illustrations of New Zealand birds, alongside a collective noun for the group of birds. Inside this book you’ll discover a rattle of sacred kingfishers, a ringing of bellbirds, a raft of little blue penguins, a hive of stitchbirds, and a booming of kākāpō. Each collective noun has also been translated in to te reo Māori. The collective nouns used in the book are a mixture of existing nouns, nouns adapted from similar overseas birds, and ones made up for the book. Each collective noun perfectly captures each bird’s characteristics, whether it is related to their appearance, the sounds they make or their colour. At the back of the book Melissa gives you a snippet of information about each of the birds included in the book, separating them into categories depending on how threatened or vulnerable they are.

I am smitten with this book and keep going back to look at it again and again. It’s the perfect book to leave out on a coffee table or open on a bookshelf and change the pages every now and again to show different birds. It would be a great book to have in a classroom or school library for kids to look through and discover new birds and collective nouns for them. Melissa’s art is stunning and I would love to have prints of them all over my house.

If you are a bird fan you must pick up a copy of Birds of New Zealand: Collective Nouns.

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

Imagine if clothes could affect your mood or change aspects of your personality. A hat could give you a confidence boost, give you a dash of bravado, help you sleep or fall in love. In Tamzin Merchant’s enchanting debut middle grade book, The Hatmakers, clothes have these magical properties and their creators are highly valued craftspeople.

Cordelia is part of the Hatmaker family. For centuries her family have been the creators of the headpieces worn by the British royal family. They use their skills to create hats that keep the monarchs level-headed, improve their concentration and help them negotiate peace. They use materials from plants, birds, and insects to create their masterpieces. The Bootmakers, Cloakmakers, Glovemakers and Watchmakers also create their masterpieces, that come together to form the Royal Garb. While the clothes have power individually, they are more powerful if all of them are worn at the same time. However, a rift between the families has left them untrusting of each other. The Hatmakers work their magic, not only for the royal family, but for anyone who needs a special hat to improve their life. When Cordelia receives word that her father’s ship has been wrecked and he is missing, she knows that he can’t be dead. She knows that she needs to ask the king to send a ship to find him. The King, however, is acting rather strangely indeed. It is hoped that a special hat will return the king to normal, but when this doesn’t work, the king’s advisor, Lord Witloof, suggests a holiday by the sea might help and puts Princess Georgina in charge. Cordelia knows that she must convince the princess to send a ship to find her father but every attempt to ask for her help is thwarted. Meanwhile, each of the Maker’s houses are broken into and their precious materials, needed for making their creations, are stolen. Cordelia is accused of being the thief and so she sets out to discover the true thief. She uncovers a plot that will set England at war with France, and when the rest of her family are imprisoned, it is up to Cordelia and her friends to foil the plot and save her family.

The Hatmakers is tantalisingly good! From the moment I picked up this book I was captivated by its magic and I didn’t want to put it down. Tamzin takes us back to a time to a London filled with horse and carts, Lords and Ladies, scruffy orphans and lavish palaces. While it seems familiar, it is also a London filled with magic, where clothes can make a person who they wish to be. As with all magic there is a dark side to this creation of garments, and one particular outfit will make your skin crawl. There are plenty of twists in the story to keep you guessing, with many of the characters not who they first appear to be.

There are so many things I loved about this book. Tamzin is a gifted storyteller, whose words wrap you up in a comforting blanket. I became immersed in her story as soon as I started reading and the language that she uses paints a vivid picture of her world. The idea of clothes being created, with special ingredients entwined in them and added to them to give them certain properties, is just amazing. It is fascinating to read the descriptions of Cordelia’s aunts and uncle creating the different aspects of the hats. Cordelia is left in charge of the hat shop in one part of the story and she knows that she is not allowed to create new hats. However, she has several customers who come in to the shop needing specific hats. This was my favourite part of the book, as Cordelia creates hats for them (even though she knows she shouldn’t) and the hats have unexpected consequences. Two young men, who need a hat to help them win a pistol duel, get hats of a different kind, and an actor gets more than a cure for stage fright. I love the idea of food being a kind of magic too. The Hatmaker’s Cook suggests that food is a kind of magic because it ‘can heal all manner of maladies.’

Tamzin’s glossary at the back of the book adds even more to the story. The glossary is fascinating and lists the ingredients that are ‘most potent and valuable for apprentice hat makers.’ Each ingredient is named, with a description of what it looks like or where it comes from, and what property it possesses. The Sicilian Leaping Bean ‘gives the wearer a sense of levity and gladness of heart,’ the Feather of the Athenian Owl ‘can be used for cleverness, concentration and contemplation,’ and Mellow Daisies ‘promote a happy-go-lucky attitude and a sunny outlook.’ I could imagine a faded, leather-bound book filled with these descriptions and drawings of the ingredients for identification.

Paola Escobar’s cover and internal illustrations are like the ingredients added to the Hatmaker hats. They give the book an extra magical quality. Paolo’s cover illustration invites you in to the world of the Hatmakers and his internal illustrations give you glimpses of the characters and the events of the story. I love that Paolo has even topped the Hatmaker house with giant hats.

The ending perfectly wraps up the story but leaves the promise of more adventures to come. I’m already dying to get back to the world of The Hatmakers and find out what happens next.

New Zealand Disasters: our response, resilience and recovery by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic

Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic are a formidable team. They have worked on many books together now, including the award-winning Anzac Heroes. The combination of Maria’s narrative nonfiction text and Marco’s realistic illustrations make their books ones that are loved by kids and adults alike. Maria and Marco have teamed up once again to tell the stories of disasters from throughout New Zealand.

In New Zealand Disasters: our response, resilience and recovery, Maria tells us about the natural and man-made disasters that have affected our country and our people, with Marco visually highlighting their dramatic nature. We can read about earthquakes, tsunamis, and cyclones, as well as shipwrecks, plane and train crashes. Historical disasters, from the 19th and 20th century are covered, as well as more recent events, such as the Kaikoura and Canterbury earthquakes, the Pike River Mine and the Port Hills fires. It is particularly interesting to note the similarities in each of the mine disasters, even though they occurred so far apart. A particularly relevant section towards the back of the book focuses on pandemics and epidemics, with information on Coronavirus, Polio, Measles and Flu. Throughout the book are text boxes noting the positive outcomes from some of the disasters, highlighting how communities pulled together to support those in need. Other text boxes highlight safety tips to help you if you are caught in a disaster, like a blizzard or a shipwreck. The hugely important work of our first responders and essential workers is also highlighted, with information on how they respond to disasters and help keep us safe. It is important to be prepared for disasters and tips for this are included at the back of the book, including suggestions for making a family plan and what to include in an emergency and evacuation kit. One of the aspects of this book that really makes it stand out is the section on recovery. Maria explains the ways that disasters can affect your body and mind and she also highlights the importance of talking about our experiences and being positive to help us recover.

New Zealand Disasters is an outstanding book that brings a fresh look to the disasters that have affected our country, both past and present. It is beautifully presented, with a child-friendly layout. Maria’s text tells us a story about the event, making it easy for readers of all ages to digest the information. This is a unique book about disasters, because of the way that Maria and Marco have put a positive spin on what happened. It is great for children to see that something positive can come out of something that is terrifying.

Both Maria and Marco perfectly capture the dramatic nature of these disasters. Maria describes the ‘deep rumbling’ and the ‘violent jolt’ of earthquakes, the ‘violent wind gusts and large swells’ faced by the Wahine on its fateful voyage, and the way that the ‘super-heated gases shot up the two lift shafts and engulfed’ the Ballantyne’s department store. Marco’s illustrations portray the fear, anguish and hopelessness that people faced during these disasters. Marco has also captured the time period perfectly in his illustrations, with attention paid to the fashion and technology of the time. I especially like the way that light and dark contrast in Marco’s illustrations, which highlights the unsettling nature of these disasters.

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the map at the start. It has a key for the different types of disasters and shows where in New Zealand they have occurred. A contents page, index and glossary are also included, making it easy for children to find the information they want or need.

New Zealand Disasters is an invaluable book for schools and is a must-have for all school libraries. The inclusion of more recent events makes it a fantastic book for your home library too. Maria and Marco have created another brilliant nonfiction book that is sure to be an award-winner.