Graphic novels to celebrate Pride Week

To celebrate Schools Pride Week and Out on the Shelves I wanted to highlight some of my favourite rainbow graphic novels for primary and intermediate students. I have each of these graphic novels in my primary school library collection and they are hugely popular. I personally feel that graphic novels are the perfect medium for stories featuring rainbow characters, as kids can really see themselves in the characters. From my experience, kids that love graphic novels will pretty much read any graphic novels I have in the library, and they just might discover a rainbow character that they identify with.

Although these graphic novels are mainly aimed at 9-12 year olds, they all have crossover appeal to teens. I have also included Mike Curato’s amazing graphic novel, Flamer, which is definitely aimed at older teens (not appropriate for primary and intermediate schools).

Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil

Three years ago, Ash’s mom, Kristin, left home and never came back. Now, Ash lives in the house where Kristin grew up. All of her things are there. Her old room, her old clothes, and the shed where she spent her childhood creating a fantasy world called Koretris. Ash knows all about Koretris: how it’s a haven for girls, with no men or boys allowed, and filled with fanciful landscapes and creatures. When Ash’s friends decide to try going to Koretris using one of Kristin’s spell books, Ash doesn’t think anything will happen. But the spell works, and Ash discovers that the world Kristin created is actually a real place with real inhabitants and very real danger. But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy. Ash uses he/him pronouns. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?

Girl Haven is such a cool story! It is an inspiring story about being the person you want to be, wrapped up in a fantasy adventure. The story is full of fun and adventure, but Lilah and Meaghan also make you think about gender identity and how society makes you fit in to one box or another. The characters are diverse, representing cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people, and different sexual orientations. I think this is an important book that will help children who are confused about their identity. It will help them to see that they are not alone, and that it is important to have people around you who understand and support you.

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter

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. 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.

Cardboard Kingdom, illustrated by Chad Sell, with stories by various authors

Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters—and their own inner demons—on one last quest before school starts again.

Cardboard Kingdom is bursting with a diverse cast of kids. Through their imaginations these kids can be whoever they want to be and they’re accepted by the other members of the cardboard kingdom. They may have had to hide their true selves before, but their imagination sets them free. Each story focuses on a different kid but the stories interconnect. This graphic novel has been read so many times in my library, since it was released in 2018. The sequel, Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast, has just been released in the US and I’m really looking forward to joining these kids again, and meeting some new characters.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?

The Prince and the Dressmaker is one of my absolute favourite graphic novels. I love the friendship between Frances and Prince Sebastian and the way that Sebastian’s true personality shines as Lady Crystallia. I love, love, LOVE the ending because it is so unexpected but superb. Jen Wang’s illustrations are reminiscent of early Disney films and I love all the details in each of the panels. The essence of this book is about being your true self and the joy of this shines bright.

Anything by Kay O’Neill (also published as Katie O’Neill)

Kay O’Neill is an award-winning graphic novel writer and artist from Christchurch. Kay has won some of the biggest awards in the comic world, including Eisner, Harvey, and Dwayne McDuffie awards for children’s comics. The first book of Kay’s that I read was Princess Princess Ever After, about two princesses who rescue each other and fall for one another. This was followed by The Tea Dragon Society, The Tea Dragon Festival, Aquacorn Cove, Dewdrop, and Kay’s latest book, The Tea Dragon Tapestry. All of Kay’s work, with the exception of Dewdrop, feature LGBT+ characters and their illustrations are gorgeous.

Kay is underappreciated here in NZ but has a huge fan base in the US. I can’t recommend their books highly enough.

You can read a fantastic interview with Kay O’Neill on the Christchurch City Libraries website.

Flamer by Mike Curato

Aiden is away at Scout camp in the summer between middle school and high school. Everyone is changing around him and he’s terrified of going to high school. He is bullied at school and camp and he knows that it will just get worse at high school. His dad is physically and verbally abusive, so camp is a reprieve from home life. As he navigates friendships, Aiden also tries to figure out feelings he is having for one of his fellow Scouts, Elias. Aiden knows that he’s not gay because he hates boys and how they behave, but  he can’t seem to stop thinking about Elias. Aiden starts to feel like everything is going wrong and makes a decision that affect those around him.

Flamer is an extremely powerful graphic novel that all teenage boys should read. It’s incredibly authentic, especially the language the characters use. It deals with bullying, body image, sexual identity, homophobia, and male friendships. As Jarrett Krosoczka says in the front cover ‘This book will save lives.’ It’s a book that tells readers that no matter how bad things may seem there is always someone who loves you and cares about you.

Panda at the Door by Sarah Horne

I have loved Sarah Horne’s illustrations for Sam Copeland’s books, including Charlie Changes into a Chicken and his latest book, Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everything. I love the way that Sarah brings out the unique personality of each character she illustrates. Sarah has just published her first book as both author and illustrator and it is such a fun read. As soon as I heard that it was about a panda with a love of Mary Poppins I knew I would love it.

Pudding the panda lives at Edinburgh Zoo. Everyday she makes people smile, and at the end of the day, she snuggles in to her pen and watches Mary Poppins on her TV. Her keeper, Gerald, gave her the DVD when she first moved to the zoo as a young cub, and it helped her to feel less lonely. What Pudding really wants though is a real family to take care of, like Mary Poppins. Gerald tells Pudding that the zoo are sending her away to China, but Pudding is determined to run away before that happens. Luckily, Pudding discovers that there is a family close by in need of help, so she sets off to find them. On the day that Pudding escapes, it is Callum Campbell’s ninth birthday. Callum comes home from school to find his dad storming out of the house. His parents have forgotten all about his birthday, and the only present he gets is a certificate telling him that he has adopted a panda. The next day, Pudding turns up on the Campbell’s doorstep, ready to turn their lives around. However, news spreads about Pudding’s escape, and a large reward is offered for his return. The Campbell’s horrible neighbours are certain that the panda is hiding at their house and they are intent on getting the reward. With some panda cakes, some clever disguises, and a spoonful of sugar, Pudding just might be able to bring the Campbell family closer together.

I adore Panda at the Door! It is brimming with heart and humour. I fell in love with Pudding the panda from the very first page and her antics kept me smiling right until the final page. Much like her idol, Mary Poppins, she changes the lives of those around her for the better and her positivity is infectious. The Campbell family have a few problems, and it seems that only a loveable panda can help.

The story is a lot of fun to read, and it would be wonderful to read aloud (especially to 6-10 year-olds). It is Sarah’s illustrations that make the story even better. So many of the illustrations made me chuckle, whether it is Mrs Campbell fainting in the hallway with her legs in the air, or Pudding dressed up like the Queen.

I love Sarah Horne’s first book as author and illustrator and I hope to read many more.

Twitch by M.G. Leonard

I’ve been a fan of M.G. Leonard from her very first book, Beetle Boy. I love all of her books, especially her most recent series, Adventures on Trains, written with Sam Sedgman. I was super excited to hear she had another new solo book coming this year, all about birdwatching and solving mysteries. Twitch is out now and it is absolutely wonderful!

Twitch is a kid who loves birdwatching. It’s nearly the summer holidays and he plans to spend it watching birds at Aves Wood, in the bird hide that he has painstakingly constructed. His plans are interrupted though when the police start hunting for an escaped convict from the local prison. The police are combing every inch of Aves Wood, scaring the birds away. All of his hours spent birdwatching have honed Twitch’s observation skills, and he notices some strange behaviour from visitors to Aves Wood. There are two girls who seem to be sneaking around and a man called Billy, who is camping out in the woods. Billy is friendly to Twitch and wants to know more about Aves Wood and its bird life. Robber Ryan has been seen in the area and Twitch is hoping that Ryan doesn’t find his bird hide. As Twitch tries to uncover the truth about what is happening at Aves Wood, he unwittingly puts others in danger. It’s up to Twitch and his friends to catch the criminal and right a wrong.

Twitch is an action-packed mystery that zips along at the speed of a kingfisher. I flew through the story, because I needed to find out how it ended. It’s a story that has something for everyone, from twists that swoop out of nowhere and clever characters, to tricky plans and birds galore. It’s also a story where you don’t know who to trust. Twitch will make you want to get outside and enjoy nature, because M.G. Leonard shows you that there is so much to explore and observe. Paddy Donnelly’s stunning cover makes you want to dive into Twitch’s story and meet all of its avian characters.

Like her Adventures on Trains series, M.G. Leonard weaves a perfect mystery, that keeps you guessing, and has the most satisfying ending. She makes you feel connected to the characters and concerned when they find themselves in trouble. I love the way that she sets up the characters, so that you’re never really sure about their intentions. Twitch’s bully/friend Jack is one of those characters who is tricky to figure out. At the start of the book he is trying to force Twitch to eat a worm but then becomes his friend. You’re never really sure whether he’s actually Twitch’s friend or not though. Twitch is a cool character and I’m sure he will inspire young readers to become birdwatchers themselves. He has made me want to take more notice of the birds around me.

I absolutely love Twitch and I hope we get to join him and his friends on more adventures. Twitch would be a wonderful read aloud for Years 5-8 as it will have everyone on the edge of their seats.

Walker Books and M.G. Leonard have created some wonderful videos to go with Twitch. Check them out below:

2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Finalists

The finalists for the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced early this morning. The judges have done an excellent job of selecting the best New Zealand books for children and teens, published in the last year. I’m so excited for the finalists, especially since many of my recent favourite NZ books have made the shortlist.

I’ll be highlighting the finalists on My Best Friends Are Books over the next few months, but in the mean time, here is the press release about the finalists:

From a field of 166 entries, the 28 finalists in the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are announced today. Across six main categories, these books offer the nation’s young readers a tasty smorgasbord of titles, packed with meaty themes and addictive plot lines.

“The diversity of ideas in this year’s entries really stood out,” says convenor of judges Alan Dingley. “It’s clear that our authors truly credit kids and young people with having the emotional intelligence to deal with complex themes, issues and feelings.”

Whether that’s celebrating Māori culture or dealing to the injustices of inequality, seeing a reflection of their own small-town community or exploring issues around body image, disability and adversity, no topic is off-limits. But, says Dingley, big ideas are delivered in a way that also entertains.

“Dystopian futures, ecological battles and immersive fantasy all take the reader into new worlds, something that has been so important of late, after so many have been trapped in their homes,” Dingley adds.

And while kids will find no shortage of reading material on the finalist list, Dingley thinks adults will discover plenty of treasures too.

“It’s a really accessible selection. If a child brings any one of these books home, I guarantee an adult will enjoy reading it also.”

This year’s Picture Book Award shortlist beautifully combines delicate illustrations that connect to and enhance sometimes delicate themes. There are laughs, tears, sighs (both contented and wistful) to be had in equal measure.

Picture Book Award Finalists

Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment, Laura Shallcrass (Beatnik Publishing)

Hound the Detective, Kimberly Andrews(Penguin Random House NZ)

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker (Mary Egan Publishing)

The Hug Blanket, Chris Gurney, illustrated by Lael Chisholm (Scholastic New Zealand)

This Is Where I Stand, Philippa Werry, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart (Scholastic New Zealand)

The books vying for the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award presented the judges with eclectic plot lines and endearing characters and they struggled to narrow down to a shortlist from the well-crafted titles.

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award Finalists
Across the Risen Sea, 
Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, T K Roxborogh, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Huia Publishers)

Red Edge, Des Hunt (Scholastic New Zealand)

The Inkberg Enigma, Jonathan King (Gecko Press)

The Tunnel of Dreams, Bernard Beckett(Text Publishing)

The top contenders for the Young Adult Fiction Award speak to the power of young people to profoundly influence the world around them, and don’t shy away from topics such as environmental destruction, oppression and injustice.

Young Adult Fiction Award Finalists

Draw Me a Hero, N K Ashworth (Lasavia Publishing)

Fire’s Caress, Lani Wendt Young, (OneTree House)

Katipo Joe: Spycraft, Brian Falkner (Scholastic New Zealand)

The King’s Nightingale, Sherryl Jordan (Scholastic New Zealand)
The Pōrangi Boy, Shilo Kino (Huia Publishers)

The judges found the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction a particularly strong category this year, stating “to say there is something for everyone is an understatement, this list has everything, for everyone”.

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction Finalists

Egg and Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook, Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)
Mophead Tu: The Queen’s Poem, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

New Zealand Disasters, Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić (Scholastic New Zealand)

North and South, Sandra Morris (Walker Books Australia)
You’re Joking: Become an Expert Joke-Teller, Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis (Write Laugh Books)

The judges faced an outstandingly strong and large pool of entries for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration. The finalists are characterised by a diversity of styles and media, but the books all have in common an expert use of colour and line to communicate emotion and pace and skilfully add texture to the narrative.

Russell Clark Award for Illustration Finalists

Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment, Laura Shallcrass (Beatnik Publishing)

I Am the Universe, Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House NZ)

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker (Mary Egan Publishing)

Moon & Sun, Malene Laugesenwritten by Melinda Szymanik (Upstart Press)
Te Uruuru Whenua o Ngātoroirangi, 
Laya Mutton-Rogerswritten by Chris Winitana (Huia Publishers)

The finalists in the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori will appeal to a broad range of abilities. Te reo in its simplest form will lift the language for beginners, while there are also titles with a depth of language to send the imaginations of confident speakers soaring. The judges were pleased to see a marked increase in the number of books written in te reo Māori, rather than translated from English.

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award Finalists

Aroha Te Whai Ora, Rebekah Lipp, illustrated by Craig Phillips and translated by Karena Kelly (Wildling Books)

Mihi, Gavin Bishop (Gecko Press)

Pīpī Kiwi, Helen Taylor, translated by Hēni Jacob (Penguin Random House NZ)

Ngake me Whātaitai, Ben Ngaia, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)
Te Uruuru Whenua o Ngātoroirangi, Chris Winitana, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)

Finally, the finalists for the Best First Book Award left the judges reassured that the future of children’s literature in New Zealand is in good hands. In fact, the standard is so high, that four of the books are also finalists in one or more of the main categories.

Best First Book Award Finalists

Laura Shallcrass for Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment (Beatnik Publishing)

Kate Parker for Kōwhai and the Giants (Mary Egan Publishing)

Jonathan King for The Inkberg Enigma (Gecko Press)

Amy Haarhoff (illustrator) for The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi, written by Clare Scott (Penguin Random House NZ)
Shilo Kino for The Pōrangi Boy (Huia Publishers)

The winners of each of the six main categories – Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori – take home $7,500 and are then in the running to be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with a further $7,500 prize money. In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2,000 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are the preeminent celebration of publishing for young people in Aotearoa. As well as acknowledging the best and brightest in books for children and teens, a core aspect of the Awards’ mission is to foster literacy and a love of reading amongst New Zealand’s children and teenagers.

This includes administering the ever-popular HELL Reading Challenge, which has encouraged children to read close to 12 million books since its inception, and running a programme of popular Books Alive events, which see authors and illustrators interact with Kiwi school children.Following the success of the online programme in 2020, Books Alive will have a strong virtual component again this year, in partnership with the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA). In addition, hundreds of Wellington school children will also be able to enjoy a very full programme featuring many of the shortlisted authors and illustrators in person on the day of the Awards ceremony.

After Covid made a virtual presentation necessary last year, this year finalists and publishers plan to celebrate in person, at a ceremony to announce the winners at Tiakiwai Conference Centre at the National Library in Wellington on 11 August.

The formidable task of narrowing the field to a list of finalists was met by this year’s experienced judging panel: Alan Dingley (convenor) has over 20 years of experience working in children’s/youth libraries; Mary Sangster, a specialist children’s bookseller; Nicola Daly, a senior lecturer in Children’s Literature at the University of Waikato; Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, an author, educationalist and director of Mīharo Murihiku Trust; and Stephen Clothier, a librarian, composer and performer.

They were joined by a panel appointed by Te Rōpū Whakahau, the national body that represents Māori engaged in Libraries, Culture, Knowledge, Information, Communication and Systems Technology in Aotearoa, to judge te reo Māori entries. Anahera Morehu (convenor), is the Kaiārahi at the University of Auckland Faculty of Business and Economics; Ruki Tobin, the Poutiaki Rauemi National Manager Māori for Services to Schools at Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, National Library of New Zealand; and Te Paea Paringatai, is a Library and Information Advisory Commission Commissioner, and a Library Manager at the University of Canterbury.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, Wellington City Council, Nielsen Book and The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

To find out more about the shortlisted books, go to https://www.nzbookawards.nz/new-zealand-book-awards-for-children-and-young-adults/2021-awards/shortlist/

Delicates by Brenna Thummler

I love Brenna Thummler’s debut graphic novel, Sheets, and it’s one that so many of the kids at my school have loved too. It follows Marjorie, a girl who runs her family laundry business, while dealing with everything that school throws at her and a dad that can’t move on from her mother’s death. Marjorie discovers that her house is home to a group of ghosts, including Wendell, a boy who died too young. Wendell and Marjorie find each other when they most need a friend. The last pages of Sheets promised a sequel, and Delicates is finally here. And what a sequel it is!

It’s nearly the end of summer and Marjorie is spending the last days hanging out with Wendell. Marjorie has finally been accepted by the popular kids and she hopes that this year will be different. She’s starts to worry though, that if anyone finds out that she is friends with a ghost, she’ll be labelled a freak or a weirdo. The more time that Marjorie spends with her new friends, the less time she is home to spend time with Wendell, and he starts to feel even more invisible than he already is. Eliza Duncan feels invisible too. She has a passion for photography and she’s determined to capture photographs of actual ghosts. The other kids at school think she’s weird and she doesn’t have any friends. Eliza gets bullied by Marjorie’s so-called friends and she starts to feel like a ghost herself. She finds a friend in Wendell, who feels the same way that she does. When popular girl Tessi goes too far and destroys Eliza’s photos, Eliza can’t take any more. It is up to Marjorie to find Eliza and put things right.

Delicates is a stunning sequel with a powerful message. Brenna tackles bullying and toxic friendships, while also developing her characters from Sheets. I like the way that Brenna has developed Marjorie and Wendell’s stories, while also adding Eliza to the mix. Eliza’s story shows readers the impact of bullying and how it leaves the victim feeling, and Marjorie’s story shows readers how doing nothing to help is also a form of bullying. Brenna gives us some great examples, in Tessi and Colton, of toxic friends.

Brenna’s illustrations blow me away every time! She uses a limited palette, but her illustrations are rich in detail. I am constantly amazed at the way she shows light and shadow. One of the pages just shows the exterior of Eliza’s house, but the way Brenna has shown the sunlight and the shadows of the tree on the house, makes the illustration look like a photo. Some scenes take place in the darkroom and others at night, so Brenna has only used red tones or blue tones, but it is so effective. I also love that Brenna has portrayed different body types throughout the book, meaning that most kids will be able to see themselves in the illustrations.

Both Sheets and Delicates are must-haves for primary, intermediate and high school libraries. They’re perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Hope Larsen and Svetlana Chmakova. Brenna Thummler has also created a graphic adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, which I highly recommend.

Takahē Trouble! by Sally Sutton and Jenny Cooper

The real-life antics of animals often inspire fictional stories. The escape of a pair of takahē from a predator-free sanctuary in Auckland inspired Sally Sutton and Jenny Cooper to create a picture book about their adventures, called Takahē Trouble. No-one really knows what the takahē got up to in the ten days that they were missing, but Sally and Jenny have woven a hugely entertaining and beautifully illustrated story about what might have happened.

Walter and Manaaki are teenage takahē who are the best of friends. They live behind a fence and life is pretty boring. Manaaki dreams of adventure. She wants to see a rat and a car, and she wants to nibble foreign food. Walter just wants to stay at home, with the smell of salt and the sweet-eating grass. The two friends escape and have the adventure that Manaaki dreamt of. However, now that they’ve experienced some of those things, Manaaki has changed her mind, and it’s Walter that loves the adventure. They decide to let themselves be caught and go back home…until next time.

Takahē Trouble is a funny tale of two friends toddling off on an adventure. The combination of Sally Sutton’s rich language and dialogue and Jenny Cooper’s delightful illustrations that are bursting with personality, make Takahē Trouble a perfect picture book. This is a picture book that children will be asking you to read again and again (I’ve read it half a dozen times already because my daughter keeps asking for it). Sally uses her signature onomatopoeia style throughout the book (my favourite is ‘munch-crunch-scrunch’) and lots of repetition, which makes the story a whole lot of fun to read aloud.

The thing I love the most about this book is the personalities that Sally gives Walter and Manaaki and the way that Jenny highlights their personalities in her illustrations. Manaaki has a very distinctive voice and I found my voice instinctively taking on her personality as I read the story. I especially love Jenny’s illustration of Manaaki standing at the fence, ready to break out. She has perfectly captured Manaaki’s mischievousness. At the start of the story Manaaki is really confident and is desperate for adventure, while Walter would rather stay home than seek adventure. However, as the story progresses, and they experience life outside the fence, their perspectives change. I also really like how Jenny has given Walter and Manaaki different hairstyles, which looks natural, but means that you can tell them apart easily.

The bonus section at the back of the book, The Truth About Takahē, taught me some things that I didn’t know about takahē, and it is sure to inspire young readers to want to find out more.

Grab a copy of Takahē Trouble and go on an adventure with Walter and Manaaki.

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent by Pippa Curnick

I love it when I find a book that my daughter enjoys just as much as I do. Sometimes I’ll read a book that I think is really great and then we read it together, but she doesn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped. This wasn’t the case with Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent. I was half-way through the book myself and she saw it on my bedside table and asked if we could read it. Like me, she was hooked straight away and kept asking for one more chapter.

Indigo Wilde lives at 47 Jellybean Crescent, with her little brother, Quigley, and an assortment of strange and magical creatures. Like all of the creatures at Jellybean Crescent, Indigo and Quigley were discovered by Bertram and Philomena Wilde in unknown lands, and adopted. Their parents often disappear off to known and unknown lands and send creatures back to Jellybean Crescent. A purrmaid called Fishkins, a llamacorn called Graham, two yetis called Olli and Umpf, and a couple of snortlephants, are all residents at number 47. The most recent arrival has just escaped from the crate that it was sent in and the note from their parents makes no sense. Indigo and Quigley must track down the new arrival before it, and the other creatures, destroy their house. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the terrifying Madam Grey starts asking questions and demanding to see their parents. Can Indigo and Quigley capture the creature and get rid of Madam Grey in the process?

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is wild and wonderful story, filled with amazing creatures, sillyness, and laughs galore. It is such a fun book to read aloud, as Pippa’s language is wonderful, there’s a large cast of characters (so heaps of voices that you can do), and it’s really funny. The book is bursting with Pippa’s bright illustrations, which add another layer of humour to the story. It is a beautifully produced hardback book that feels really special to hold and read.

It’s also a book about being different and unique. Each of the residents of number 47 are all a bit different, and didn’t fit in in their herd or flock because they were the wrong colour, size or shape. Number 47 becomes a sanctuary for them all, where they feel like they belong, and won’t be stared at or bullied. Indigo and Quigley are unique too. Indigo looks mostly human, apart from her horns and stripe of rainbow hair. Quigley was found by Bertram and Philomena, when he was a tiny baby, in a dragon’s nest halfway up an erupting volcano (he has the wings and tail of a dragon). The dragon’s roars had been so loud that Quigley is now deaf. Indigo and Quigley communicate with each other using sign language. I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.

I absolutely love Pippa Curnick’s illustrations! Her characters are bursting with personality, especially the weird and wonderful creatures. I don’t think I can pick a favourite character because they’re all so great. There are lots of little details to notice in the illustrations, from the pictures on the walls to the creatures lurking under the kitchen table. My daughter and I spent quite a while poring over the cross-section of the house, looking at the creatures in the different rooms. I really like the colour palette that Pippa has used throughout the book, as it really makes the characters leap off the pages.

I loved meeting Indigo Wilde and her family and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Indigo Wilde is already a firm favourite in our house and I know that the kids at my school will love her too. I already know that Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is a great read aloud, and it would be perfect for Years 1-4.

My Dad is a Grizzly Bear by Swapna Haddow and Dapo Adeola

There are plenty of picture books around about dads, but none quite like My Dad is a Grizzly Bear. This is a celebration of a loving family, wrapped up in an entertaining story that will have both kids and adults chuckling.

The boy in the story tries to convince us that his dad is a grizzly bear. His dad has the fuzziest fur, gives sloppy kisses and growls while he chases. He loves honey so much that he eats every drop in the house, he naps all the time and he’s grumpy and grumbly when he wakes up. He might be all of these things but there is no one better at giving the biggest, warmest bear hugs.

My Dad is a Grizzly Bear is an absolute joy to read and it makes me smile every time I look at it. Swapna and Dapo are a dream team, who have created a picture book that is a pleasure for the ears and the eyes. It is one of those stories that works on different levels. Kids and adults will each enjoy different aspects of it, with adults appreciating the familiar aspects of family life.

Swapna’s story flows really well and is full of lots of wonderful language. There is a tone of annoyance at some of the things the boy’s dad does, but he also points out the amazing things that his dad can do, like running fast to catch the bus or catching fish in his teeth. Dapo’s illustrations are sublime and they’re the perfect match for Swapna’s story. They’re so bright and full of fun. Dapo really capture’s both how much the boy is annoyed by his dad and how much he adores him. He has perfectly captured the love that the family has for each other. I love the personality that Dapo has given the dad (especially the cool clothes that he wears) and the way that he makes the dad look like a grizzly bear, while also keeping his dad-ness. My favourite part of the story is when the dad wanders off into the woods, with his torch and his roll of toilet paper, ‘perhaps he was looking for his friends.’

This is a beautifully designed picture book too. It’s hardcover, with a bright cover that captures the joy, and it has the best endpapers that I’ve seen for a while (pink with big pineapples, just like the dad’s swim shorts on the front cover).

My Dad is a Grizzly Bear is a picture book that will be enjoyed again and again. I’ve read it multiple times with my family and I know it will be a winner with many of the classes that I’ll read it to at my school.

Interview with Belinda O’Keefe

Belinda O’Keefe is a New Zealand author, whose picture book, The Day the Plants Fought Back, was a finalist for the Best First Book Award at the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Belinda’s first novel, Partners in Slime, won the 2020 Tom Fitzgibbon Award and is released by Scholastic NZ this month. Partners in Slime is one of favourite NZ children’s books this year and you can read my review here.

I caught up with Belinda to ask about her inspiration for Partners in Slime, which of her relatives has helped her out of a jam, and what awards mean to her.

• What inspired you to write Partners in Slime?

My youngest son Dylan has always been fascinated with science, constantly experimenting with all sorts of things. For about a year, he and his friends were obsessed with making slime, and it was after tearing my hair out at the state of my slime-splattered bathroom that I had a brainwave for the plot of Partners in Slime!

• Did you have to do a lot of slime experimentation as research for the story?

I left all of that up to Dylan, and yes, he experimented with all different types of glue, shaving foam and other kitchen ingredients to get the perfect recipe. It was a heap of fun seeing what he came up with!

• Jake and Cooper start their slime business to earn some money to get tickets for the opening of the Steel Beast rollercoaster. What can you remember desperately saving your money for when you were a kid?

I don’t remember saving my money for anything big when I was a kid. I used to love going to school fairs though, and I remember doing a heap of jobs to earn a bit of extra pocket money so I could spend it on things like candy floss and treasures at the white elephant stall.

• Cooper’s Uncle Ivor is a scientist who helps Jake and Cooper when things get a bit messy. Do you have a relative whose skills or knowledge has helped you out of a jam?

My dad always helped me out of a jam growing up. He was really good with his hands, and could fix just about anything. Uncle Ivor has a lot of the same traits as my Dad – he was always running around with the kids at birthday parties, joining in all the games and acting like a big kid. He had big bushy eyebrows too!

• How different was it writing a novel to a picture book?

It was completely different. I found it more of a challengewriting the novel – there’s a lot more editing involved, and ittakes a bit of planning getting the chapters to flow. Having said that, I found it more rewarding when I finally finished my first draft! I was also able to let my imagination run wild, as I didn’t have to think about how illustrations would fit onto each page. I love the fact that every reader will have a slightly different picture in their heads when they read it.

• Partners in Slime would be a great read aloud for Years 5-8. Do you read your books to your sons before they are published?

Yes, I always read my books to my sons (and my husband too). I usually read them each chapter as I write them, to make sure I’m on the right track. They’re brutally honest, and tell me if it’s good or not. We sit at the dinner table and I have a pen handy to make any changes they suggest – they’re a huge part of my editing process.

• The ending of Partners in Slime is fantastic and leaves the story open for sequel. Are you planning to write more books featuring Jake and Cooper?

I’m actually in the middle of writing a sequel – I just had to do something with that cliff-hanger ending!

• Your first book, The Day the Plants Fought Back, was shortlisted for the Best First Book prize at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and Partners in Slime won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award. What do awards mean to you as a writer?

Awards are a huge deal for me – it validates my writing and gives me encouragement to keep at it. I had seven years of rejection letters before I got my first book published, so I think it’s a great lesson for my kids, and for other kids (and adults too!), to never give up if it’s something you’re passionate about. I still have to keep pinching myself!

• What books are you and your family enjoying at the moment?

My boys haven’t had much time to read lately as they’ve been super busy with after-school stuff, but some of their favourite books have been the Harry Potter series, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. As for me, I’m never without a book to read – I always have to have the next one lined up as soon as I’ve finished the last page. I read a real variety – thrillers, comedy, tragedy, YA. One of my favourite junior fiction novels I’ve read recently is Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan.

Partners in Slime is released in June by Scholastic Books NZ.

Win Partners in Slime by Belinda O’Keefe

Belinda O’Keefe’s latest book, Partners in Slime, is a spectacular story filled with schemes, sibling rivalry, slime and silliness. It’s a story that is entertaining from beginning to end and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. Read my review of Partners in Slime here.

Thanks to Scholastic New Zealand I have 3 copies of Partner in Slime to give away. To enter, just email bestfriendsrbooks@gmail.com with the subject ‘Partners in Slime,’ along with your name and address. Competition closes Sunday 6 June (NZ entries only). Winners will be contacted by email.