Monthly Archives: October 2011

Rick Riordan talks about The Son of Neptune

The Son of Neptune is the latest book in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan.  If you loved the Percy Jackson series you’ll love this new series with new demigods and mythical creatures.  Percy Jackson even makes an appearance in The Son of Neptune.

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The Un-forgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

When you speak a different language from everyone else or come from a different culture it can be hard to fit in and make new friends.  In his new book, The Un-forgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce tells us the story of two brothers from Mongolia who just want to fit in.

The Un-forgotten Coat is told from the point of view of Julie, who is chosen by Chingis and his brother Nergui to be their ‘Good Guide.’  As their ‘Good Guide’ Julie looks after them and helps them to fit into their school and life in England.  Julie and her classmates learn all about Mongolia and that Chingis and Nergui had to leave their home because they were being chased by a demon.  Julie wants to be invited around to their house like her other friends but she can’t even figure out where they live.  When she discovers where they live Julie and her mother are not welcomed and Julie doesn’t understand why.  One day Chingis and Nergui disappear and Julie’s teacher tells her class that they weren’t supposed to be in England and were sent back to their own country.  Julie never sees or hears from them again until she makes a discovery on the internet many years later.

The Un-forgotten Coat is a story about friendship that leaves you with a smile on your face.  It shows you how hard it can be for people of other cultures to fit in, but how they just need friends to help them along the way.  There are some really funny parts in the book, especially when Chingis and Nergui are learning how to play football.  I really liked how Frank Cottrell Boyce has used Polaroid photos to help tell the story and I think it would be interesting to write your own story just using the photos.   Frank Cottrell Boyceis a great storyteller, and if you like his other stories including Millions, Framed and Cosmic, you’ll love The Un-forgotten Coat.

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Brother/Sister by Sean Olin

Some books you can only read when you feel in the right mood, and other books have the power to affect your mood.  Sean Olin’s latest book, Brother/Sister got so inside my head that it started to affect my mood.  It has to be one of the darkest, most disturbing Young Adult books that I’ve read in a long time

The brother and sister of the title are Will and Ashley and each chapter alternates between their points of view.  Sean Olin grabs you from the first paragraph,

“How many times do I have to say it?  Yes, I see the picture.  You’ve been shoving it in my face for, like, the past forty-five minutes.  And, yes, I understand what it is.  It’s a body, obviously.  It’s a dead body.  I’m not blind, okay?”

Both Will and Asheley are being interviewed by the police and it’s clear that they have something to do with the dead body.  Through their interviews we hear about their lives and their decisions that have lead them to this point.  Their parents have never been good role models.  Their mum has mental health problems which have lead to drink and drugs so she’s always in and out of rehab centres.  Their dad decided he couldn’t handle their mum and just up and left one day.  For a while now they’ve only had each other to look out for them and Will is the protective older brother.  He loves his sister and he’ll do anything to protect her.  When Asheley’s boyfriend forces himself on her, Will lashes out and does the unthinkable.   Asheley struggles to keep it together and Will really starts to spiral out of control, believing that people will find out what he’s done and try to take Asheley from him.  But at what stage does Will’s love for his sister cross the line?

Brother/Sister is a dark and disturbing story about the relationship between a brother and sister and the lengths they will go to to look out for each other.  Sean Olin takes the reader to some dark places and just when you think the character’s situation couldn’t get worse, it does.  Sean does an amazing job of getting inside his character’s heads and showing the reader the different sides of these characters.  Both Will and Asheley have authentic voices and, even when Will was at his most unstable, I still empathised with him.  Although I found the story disturbing in parts, Sean’s writing style made me want to keep reading to see how it would end.  If you enjoyed Jenny Downham’s You Against Me, try Sean Olin’s different take on the brother/sister relationship.

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Picture Book Nook: Marmaduke Duck and Bernadette Bear

Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam by Juliette MacIver and illustrated by Sarah Davis was one of the finalists in this year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards and was one of my favourites.  The bouncy, rhyming text and stunning illustrations were a winning combination and made a fun, if tongue-twisting, read-aloud.  I was excited to see that they had written another Marmaduke Duck book, called Marmaduke Duck and Bernadette Bear.

Marmaduke Duck has opened a marmalade shop and animals of all shapes and sizes are coming from all over to sample Marmaduke Duck’s marmalade jam.  But then one day, Bernadette Bear shows up and opens a honey shop right next door.  Will Marmaduke’s marmalade shop survive or will Bernadette put him out of business?

I absolutely love Marmaduke Duck and Bernadette Bear!  Juliette’s rhyming text is a joy to read and makes the story bounce along.  I’m a huge fan of Sarah Davis‘ illustrations, whether it’s people or the myriad of different animals that populate the pages of Marmaduke Duck and Bernadette Bear.  Sarah has the amazing gift of being able to portray animals that look life-like while at the same time having human expressions (just have a look at the front cover to see what I mean).  Every page glows with the brightly coloured animals and their crazy antics.  Any parent who chooses to read the Marmaduke Duck books to their children is sure to give them a love a words and beautiful illustrations.  This is definitely one of my top picture books of 2011.

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Picture Book Nook: There’s a Hole in my Bucket, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

When Kiwi legends, the Topp Twins get together with one of New Zealand’s best illustrators, Jenny Cooper, you know you’re in for a treat.  Scholastic New Zealand have teamed-up these two fantastic talents to bring new life to a classic song, There’s a Hole in my Bucket.

Jenny Cooper has transformed the Topp Twins into a goat and a duck full of personality.  Henry the goat has a problem – there’s a hole in his bucket and he needs his duck friend Liza’s advice to help him fix it.  Liza makes some helpful suggestions, but she gets increasingly angry when Henry keeps asking questions.  Will they ever be able to fix their bucket?

There’s a Hole in my Bucket is a perfect combination of music, lyrics and illustrations from an outstanding team.  The Topp Twins have made the song their own and it will be enjoyed by both children and adults.  Jenny Cooper’s Henry and Liza are full of personality and you can see the Topp Twins shining through.  I love Jenny’s illustrations because of the way she shows emotions in her characters.  Liza the duck is a really good example of this, especially when she gets annoyed at Henry’s constant questions (I’m sure we’ve all felt like this at different times).  There’s a Hole in My Bucket is a perfect gift book for Christmas, but parents be warned – you and your children will be singing this song for days.

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Picture Book Nook: Old MacDonald’s Farm, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Everyone knows the song – Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.  In this latest picture book version of the song, one of New Zealand’s most talented illustrators, Donovan Bixley, has given the song a uniquely Kiwi twist.  As soon as you open the book you get a dose of Kiwiana with illustrations of some of the things you might find on Old MacDonald’s New Zealand farm.  You can’t help but sing the song as you join Old MacDonald on a typical day on the farm.  These cows don’t just go moo-moo here and moo-moo there, they also make a mean milkshake.  The dog bakes ANZAC biscuits, the pigs have a beauty salon and the sheep get fancy haircuts.  Who knew Old MacDonald’s farm was so remarkable?

Donovan Bixley has to be one of New Zealand’s most talented illustrators.  He has a very unique style of illustration and the way that he portrays expression in his characters is amazing.  I especially like the look on the cow’s face as its preparing its smoothy.  Donovan’s illustrations depict not only the beautiful New Zealand landscape, but also items that you would find on a Kiwi farm, from Old MacDonald’s Swanndri to his gumboots, black singlet and All Black’s jersey on the washing line.  You’ll also find a Buzzy Bee toy, an Edmond’s Cookbook, Hokey Pokey Ice Cream and a bottle of L & P.  The large illustrations of the animals make this a great book for sharing with a group while singing the song.  I look forward to seeing what Donovan will do next, but in the mean time I’ll check out the other classic song that he has illustrated, The Wheels on the Bus.

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Picture Book Nook: Bruiser by Gavin Bishop

Christchurch kids have seen lots of diggers, dump trucks, and cranes lately with all the demolitions after our earthquakes so what better time for a book about a grumpy digger than now.  Bruiser is a grumpy digger on a mission.  He has to hurry up and plough the hillsides, crush rocks and tear up forests so that he can get the motorway built.  But one day he gets stuck in the mud and no matter what he does he can’t get out.  While he’s trying to get out, he knocks a magpie nest out of a tree and it’s up to Bruiser to get them to safety.

Bruiser has everything that a great picture book should.  The story is full of mischief and fun, and it’s perfect for reading aloud.  Gavin Bishop’s bright, bold illustrations bring his story to life and children (especially boys) will love this grumpy digger with a heart of gold.  Gavin has effectively used the days of the week and numbers in his story, in a similar way to Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, “On Monday he ploughed through five hills.  On Tuesday he crushed ten rocks,” and so on.  Children are always the best critics of picture books, and having read Bruiser aloud to a group of preschoolers, Bruiser gets the tick of approval.  Bruiser is certain to become a New Zealand classic.

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The Mask of Destiny by Richard Newsome

Two years ago we were introduced to Gerald Wilkins, the boy who inherited 20 billion pounds from his aunt Geraldine.  In The Billionaire’s Curse Gerald found out that his aunt Geraldine had been murdered and that she wanted Gerald to track down her killer.  In the second book, The Emerald Casket, Gerald and his friends, Ruby and Sam traveled to India on holiday, only to get mixed up with a mysterious and deadly cult.  The final book in the trilogy, The Mask of Destiny brings Gerald’s story to a thrilling conclusion.

Gerald’s foe, Sir Mason Green has been arrested and Gerald has to act as a witness in the trial.  Disaster strikes at the trial when Mason Green collapses and is pronounced dead.  Gerald thinks this is the end of their problems and he can finally enjoy his billions, but the police come calling and want to arrest Gerald for the murder of Mason Green.  With Mr Fry’s help, Gerald goes on the run with his ever faithful friends, Ruby and Sam.  They head to the island of Mont-Saint-Michel in France hoping to uncover the truth of Gerald’s ancestors and clear Gerald’s name along the way. Their search takes them from France to Italy and Greece, to the heart of an ancient city that has been buried for centuries.

The Mask of Destiny is the perfect finale to this amazing series from Richard Newsome.  The story speeds along like a train out of control and just when you think you know what’s going to happen there’s a twist.  Gerald, Sam and Ruby are incredibly brave and courageous and I was amazed at how they found their way around Europe by themselves.  My favourite thing about the series are the characters Richard Newsome has created.  The clumsy, pigeon-loving Constable Lethbridge makes me laugh every time and my favourite from this book would have to be Walter, the life coach that Gerald’s mother hires.  He’s creepily nice and Gerald knows there’s something not quite right about him.  If you’ve read the other books in the trilogy you’ll love The Mask of Destiny.  If you haven’t discovered this fantastic series full of mystery, action, adventure, family secrets and sinister villains, go straight to your library or bookshop and get reading them now.

Recommended for 9+    10 out of 10

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Picture Book Nook: The Elves and the Cloakmaker by Chris Gurney

The Elves and the Cloakmaker is the latest title in the Kiwi Corkers series from Scholastic.  Written by Chris Gurney and illustrated by John Bennett, I think this is one of the first, if not the first, Christmas book with a Maori theme.  Chris and John have taken the idea of the original Elves and the Shoemaker story and given it a New Zealand twist.

Kahu is a cloakmaker who toils night and day to weave cloaks to sell to his customers.  His wife picks the flax and extracts the fibres for the cloaks and Kahu finds the feathers.  It is nearly Christmas and they must finish their cloaks in time, but when they fall asleep, four fairies come to help them.  Their little rhyme is:

“Tahi, rua, toru, wha
we bring feathers from afar.
Our flying fingers weave a cloak,
for we are special fairy folk…
Patupaiarehe!”

Each night the Patupaiarehe come to help them so that they can get their cloaks finished in time for Christmas.

Like the other titles in the Kiwi Corkers series, The Elves and the Cloakmaker is a fun twist on a classic tale and is a welcome addition to the growing number of Christmas stories for Kiwi kids.

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Picture Book Nook: All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth, Illustrated by Katz Cowley

Christmas is nearly upon us again and one of the first new Christmas books for the year is an illustrated version of song, All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth, originally by Don  Gardner.  This catchy little song has been brought to life by the quirky illustrations of Katz Cowley, who also illustrated the best-selling Wonky Donkey and Willbee the Bumblebee.  I’ve loved Katz’ illustrations ever since I first saw how she’d perfectly portrayed the Wonky Donkey from Craig Smith’s song.  The song is about a child who has lost their two front teeth and wants nothing more for Christmas than to have them back again so that they don’t have to keep talking funny.  Katz has taken a different take on the song and instead she uses a monkey to tell the story.  The monkey’s two front teeth have gone missing and he doesn’t know who to blame.  The teeth police are on the case and they try to find where his teeth are gone.  The monkey can see that everyone else has all their teeth apart from him and thinks up all the ways he could get new teeth, including asking Father Christmas, and replacing them with buttons or leaves.

All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth is the perfect Christmas gift for young children.  Katz’ illustrations are quirky and fun and will make children laugh.  I particularly like the page where the monkey is holding up a pair of teeth that he has drawn.  Like the other books that Katz has illustrated, there are lots of things happening in each of her illustrations, especially with other characters, so watch out for these.  Not only are the illustrations wonderful, but the book also comes with a CD of Craig Smith (of Wonky Donkey fame) singing the song (and a monkey version), as well as one of his own songs, called Toothless.  If you loved Wonky Donkey, Willbee the Bumblebee and The Fidgety Itch, then you’ll love All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.

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