Monthly Archives: January 2012

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Have you ever read a book that makes you want to pull the characters into your arms, rock them gently and tell them everything is going to be OK?  This is exactly what I wanted to do the whole way through Katherine Applegate’s beautiful story, The One and Only Ivan.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla.  Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain.  He rarely misses his life in the jungle.  In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog.  But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home – and his own art – through new eyes.  When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

From the opening lines, ‘I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.  It’s not as easy as it looks,’ you are transported into Ivan’s head and see the world through his eyes.  You read everything Ivan thinks and remembers, sees, touches, tastes and smells.  Ivan comes out with some real pearls of wisdom and I found myself writing down so many quotes that I wanted to remember later.  Things like,

“In a Western, you can tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and the good guys always win.  Bob says Westerns are nothing like real life.”

There is a real sadness to the story, because these once great majestic beasts are locked away in cages, but the friendships between them help them to deal with their situation and add humour to the story.  It’s these friendships and Ivan’s need to protect Ruby that bring a sense of hope.  Ivan wants Ruby to have a better life than the one that he has lead, locked up in the mall.  Katherine Applegate’s writing is absolutely beautiful and I wanted to savour every word.  The stream of consciousness writing style she has used for this book means that she has obviously chosen her words very carefully.  Her writing is incredibly descriptive and, like Ivan, she paints a vibrant picture for you.  This is my one of my favourite descriptions,

“Because she remembers everything, Stella knows many stories.  I like colourful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings.  But any story will do.”

I can’t recommend The One and Only Ivan highly enough.  It’s a story that will affect you and the characters will stay with you long after you close the covers.

 5 out of 5 stars

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The Field by Bill Nagelkerke

How on earth do you tell your family that you’d seen . . .

 . . . Our Lady . . .

 . . . The Virgin Mary . . .

 . . . The Queen of Heaven . . .

 . . . The Mother of God. (The Mother of GOD!)

 And that she had spoken to you.

 And that she was going to speak to you again.

 Up in the Crow’s Nest.


 And that was why you had to be there.

 (And that’s why you’d wet yourself.)

Jacinta’s father works as the groundsman for the local sports stadium, which they’ve nick-named The Field.  While he tends to the needs of the stadium, Jacinta looks down on the world from the Crow’s Nest, the corporate box used by the big-wigs to get the best view of the games at the stadium.  The Crow’s Nest is one of her favourite places in the world and she often pretends that she commands the players and places them where she wants them to go.  She may not have her special place for much longer if the City Council gets its way and knocks down The Field to replace it with a carpark for the new stadium.  It is while she is in the Crow’s Nest one day that Mother Mary appears to her in the television.  Jacinta doesn’t know if she is going crazy and seeing things or whether her vision is real, but when Mary appears again the next day there is no doubt.  Mary wants Jacinta to gather as many people as she can at The Field so that she can pass on a message.  The only problem is trying to get her family and the rest of her town to believe her.

The Field is a refreshingly original story from one of Christchurch’s own children’s authors, Bill Nagelkerke.  The story had a real ‘Kiwi’ feel about it, from the setting (which could be just about any city in New Zealand) to the characters.  Don’t be put off by the religious aspect to the story because I think you’d enjoy it whether or not you have any religious affiliation.  I found Jacinta easy to relate to as she was just a normal kid, and I found myself wondering what I would have done if I’d been in her situation.  In a way she’s a modern day Joan of Arc, who has to convince her parents, the priests and the other people in her city that she actually is communicating with Mother Mary and that they should listen to her message.  One thing that I particularly liked about the story was that the second part was told using different forms of media, including newspaper articles, letters to the editor and City Council meeting minutes.  This added different opinions to the story that we didn’t get in the first part.   The ending leaves you wondering whether people do turn up to hear her message and what that message might have been.  Like the other people in the story, we have to make up our own mind.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Field is one of the first ebooks I’ve read and it’s the first title in ACHUKA’s digital publishing imprint: ACHUKAbooks.  I’ll look forward to reading their next releases.  ACHUKAbooks  are encouraging more submissions so if you are interested you can contact them at

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The One and Only Ivan book trailer

The One and Only Ivan is the beautiful new book by Katherine Applegate.  It’s due out in New Zealand in February and I’m reading it at the moment.  I’ve fallen in love with Ivan and his friends and am trying to make the story last as I don’t want it to end.

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Floors by Patrick Carman

Imagine if you could live in a hotel.  Not just any hotel, but one where each of the rooms had a different theme.  If you like cuddly toys, you could live in a room full of cuddly toys of every size, colour and type.  If you like Playstation, you could live in a virtual reality room where you could be a character in any game you chose.  In Patrick Carman’s new book, Floors, Leo lives in the weirdest, most wonderful hotel in the whole world, the Whippet Hotel.

Leo Fillmore and his father Clarence live and work at the Whippet Hotel as the caretakers, making sure everything is in working order.  The hotel’s eccentric owner, Merganzer D. Whippet disappeared one hundred days ago and hasn’t been seen or heard from ever since.  This leaves the mean hotel manager, Ms. Sparks in charge of the hotel, and when the hotel doesn’t work as it should, everybody hears about it.  Leo spends his days helping his father maintain the hotel and making sure Betty and the other ducks get walked.  One day, as Leo is returning the ducks to their pond on the roof, he discovers a mysterious box in the duck elevator.  This box is the first of four that will lead Leo to discover the secrets of the Whippet Hotel and the mystery of the missing Merganzer D. Whippet.

Floors is full of wonder, mystery and mahem, and made me smile the whole way through.  Patrick Carman has created this weird and wonderful hotel and filled it with one exciting room after another.  There’s a Pinball Room, which is set up like a pinball machine, with bowling balls as the pinball and couches for the flippers; the Cake Room filled with real cakes that are delivered by the chefs each morning; and the Central Park Room which contains a scale model of New York’s Central Park.  The characters are just as weird and wonderful as the hotel.  There’s Captain Rickenbacker who thinks that his arch-nemesis is out to get him, the obsessive writer, Theodore Bump, and the nasty hotel manager Ms. Sparks.  Floors is one of the most fun, imaginative stories you’ll read this year.  It’s perfect for fans of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snickett.

5 out of 5 stars.

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Blood Runner by James Riordan

The best authors can put you in their characters shoes and experience everything that they do.  You can empathise with the characters and feel all their emotions.  James Riordan is one of those authors.  I still remember how I felt when I read his book Sweet Clarinet (about a boy badly injured in World War II) many years ago.  His latest book, Blood Runner, puts us in the shoes of a boy growing up in Apartheid South Africa, who fights for his people’s freedom in the only way he knows how.

Samuel is growing up in a South Africa divided into blacks and whites.  Samuel and his people have to carry passbooks in order to move into the whites-only zone, but a group of men in Samuel’s town don’t think that it is right they should have to carry them.  This group stage a peaceful protest by walking to the police station, and many of the other residents of the town, including Samuel and his family come to watch what will happen.  In a display of their force, the police arm themselves with guns and tanks, and when someone fires accidentally, all hell breaks loose.  As people try to flee, the police start gunning them down and Samuel’s parents and sister are killed.  Samuel is separated from his brothers who both retaliate by joining the anti-Apartheid movement, with guns and terrorism as their weapons.  But Sam decides to fight for freedom in his own way – as a runner.  Against all odds, Samuel strives to become the best runner he can so that he can compete in marathons, and achieve his dream of winning gold in the Olympic Games.

Blood Runner is an inspirational story that portrays the hardships and prejudice that black people, like Samuel, faced in Apartheid South Africa.  Through Samuel, James Riordan shows us that people can face extraordinary circumstances but still have the strength and determination to fight for what they believe is right.  James Riordan also shows us, through other people Samuel meets, that not all white people shared the same views, that many of them wanted everyone in South Africa to have the same rights and freedom.  James also provides a basic history of Apartheid at the end of the book which would be a great teaching tool.  If you like authors like Elizabeth Laird, Deborah Ellis or Sally Grindley then this is the perfect book for you.

4 out of 5 stars

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Coming up from HarperCollins New Zealand – February 2012

Here are some of the great books I’m looking forward to coming in February from HarperCollins New Zealand.

Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt (NZ)

Sometimes friendship and loyalty can be dangerous things – especially when fireworks are involved.
Inseparable Aussie friends dare-devil Dean and tag-along Pelly often get up to no good. That’s what makes them the Steel Pelicans. But as Dean’s homemade fireworks get increasingly dangerous, things start going wrong, and Pelly’s parents hasten a move back to New Zealand.  After living most of his life in Australia, Pelly feels like he’s been dumped in a foreign land with no friends and a school that doesn’t care, until he joins up with Afi Moore and is invited to stay the weekend at the Moores’ seaside bach. Then the pair stumble on a smuggling operation and find themselves deep in trouble, which only gets worse when Dean comes over for the holidays. In no time at all, Dean’s obsession with explosives threatens not only the investigation but also their lives.

Des Hunt is one of my favourite New Zealand authors.  He writes adventure/mystery stories set in New Zealand and they usually have an ecological message.  If you live in NZ and haven’t read any of Des Hunt’s books you should remedy this immediately. They’re especially good for boys around age 9+.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is an easy-going gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen, and his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with colour and a well-placed line.  Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home-and his own art-through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Katherine Applegate blends humour and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

I’ve heard so many good things about this book and I just know that it’s going to be one of those stories that gets right under my skin. 

The Lorax (Eco edition) by Dr. Seuss

An eco-friendly edition of one of my favourite Dr. Seuss stories, printed on 100% recycled paper.  The Lorax movie, starring Danny Devito (as The Lorax) is coming soon so this is a lovely edition to bring the story to a new generation.




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Coming up from Penguin New Zealand – February 2012

Here’s some of the books I’m excited about being released from Penguin NZ in February:

Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (paperback)

Old enemies awaken as Camp Half-Blood’s new arrivals prepare for war. When Jason, Piper and Leo crash land at Camp Half-Blood, they have no idea what to expect. Apparently this is the only safe place for children of the Greek Gods – despite the monsters roaming the woods and demigods practising archery with flaming arrows and explosives. But rumours of a terrible curse – and a missing hero – are flying around camp. It seems Jason, Piper and Leo are the chosen ones to embark on a terrifying new quest, which they must complete by the winter solstice. In just four days time. Can the trio succeed on this deadly mission – and what must they sacrifice in order to survive?

Time Riders: Gates of Rome by Alex Scarrow

Liam O’Connor should have died at sea in 1912. Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010. Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2026. But all three have been given a second chance – to work for an agency that no one knows exists. Its purpose: to prevent time travel destroying history …Project Exodus – a mission to transport 300 Americans from 2070 to 54AD to overthrow the Roman Empire – has gone catastrophically wrong. Half have arrived seventeen years earlier, during the reign of Caligula. Liam goes to investigate, but when Maddy and Sal attempt to flee a kill-squad sent to hunt down their field office, all of the TimeRiders become trapped in the Roman past. Armed with knowledge of the future, Caligula is now more powerful than ever. But with the office unmanned – and under threat – how will the TimeRiders make it back to 2001 and put history right? This is book five in the bestselling TimeRiders series by Alex Scarrow. Ancient Rome gets a time-travel makeover!

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship – or an early grave.  Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.  If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood – not even from each other.

Look out for these great books in libraries and book stores in February.

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Join Scotland’s National Poet Liz Lochhead to celebrate Robert Burns

Thanks to Beth from the Scottish Book Trust for giving me this heads up.

Scotland’s National Poet Liz Lochhead is to give a live broadcast to children across Scotland during a special Robert Burns celebration on Thursday 26 January at 11am. The Scottish Friendly Meet Our Authors Special Event, run by Scottish Book Trust, will be streamed live from BBC Scotland in Glasgow and available after to watch again for free from the Scottish Book Trust website. The broadcast will be most suited to children from P6 – S4 (9-16 year olds) and any fan of Scottish poetry.

You can join over 10,000 pupils across the UK watching the event live by following this link:   Alternatively, the event can be downloaded or streamed from next Thursday following the same link.
The event will be free to watch again after 2nd February on our website and clips of the event will be available on our Meet Our Authors YouTube channel around the same time.
You can go to to submit a question. Please bear in mind that many thousands of children will be watching and will have submitted questions. Please don’t be too disappointed if your question doesn’t get asked.
Liz will be celebrating the poetry of Burn’s as well as reading her own work. We’re sure this event is going to be really inspirational as no-one can make Burns come to life like Liz can.

Scottish Book Trust do loads of events like this every year: their previous events have featured authors such as Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo, Julia Donaldson, Eoin Colfer, Jacqueline Wilson, David Almond and many more. You can stream or download any of these events for free here:


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Fracture by Megan Miranda

Twitter has been a great tool for me to find out about hot new books and great new authors to try.  Every now and again a book comes along and it seems that everyone is raving about it, reviewing it and spreading the word.  Megan Miranda’s Fracture was one of those books recently and I wanted to know what all the buzz was about.  I just read the blurb (because I can’t bring myself to read a review of a book before I actually read it) and was intrigued by the idea.  I got my hands on a copy and surfaced a couple of days later with this eerie, captivating story in my head.

After falling into the icy waters of a frozen lake, Delaney Maxwell is officially dead for eleven minutes.  Rescued by her friends, she is taken to hospital and falls into a coma, from which she is not expected to wake.  Then, miraculously, she regains consciousness with few signs of damage to her brain.  According to the doctors she should be a cabbage, but she seems to be fully functioning.  But Delaney knows that something is very wrong.  She is pulled by forces outside of her control and starts to have a series of seizures.  Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying, but she doesn’t know if she is predicting death or causing it.  As she struggles to come to terms with these strange feelings, she is drawn to the mysterious Troy Varga who seems to know what she is going through.  Troy knows the truth about her ‘gift’ but will Delaney use it as Troy suggests or take a different path?

Fracture is a dark, eerie story that will keep you turning the pages to discover the truth.  Megan had me guessing right up until the very end and I wasn’t even sure it was going to end on a positive note for a while.  I love it when an author holds onto the mystery or the secret right up until the end of the story, because it makes you want to keep reading (and reading furiously) to discover how it all ends.  The story reminded me, both in the setting and the dark tone, of something written by Dean Koontz or John Connolly.  Megan really put you in Delaney’s shoes and I kept asking myself if I would have done the same in her situation.  Delaney has to come to terms with her ‘gift,’ as well as figuring out how she feels about Carson, Decker, Troy, and her parents, so Megan made us feel Delaney’s pain, jealousy, grief, anger, and love.  Troy was one of the hardest character to try and figure out.  I wasn’t really sure of what his motives were, and even when I did, I wasn’t sure that they were right.  He almost seemed like Delaney’s shadow as he always seemed to be there, even when she was sleeping.  I have to applaud Megan for writing one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve read in a while.  I won’t say much, because I hate spoilers, but it involves Carson and Delaney.  Let’s just say I had to put the book down for a few minutes afterwards.

I’m sure Fracture will haunt me for days to come and will have me wondering what I would do if I only had a day left to live.

4 out of 5 stars

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Picture Book Nook: Zoe and Beans by Chloe and Mick Inkpen

Mick Ingpen’s Kipper and Wibbly Pig have been popular picture book characters for many years.  Mick’s bold illustrations and simple story are winners with children and parents alike.  However, it’s his latest creation, with daughter Chloe, that I fell in love with as soon as I set eyes on it.  Zoe and Beans are the loveable duo that Chloe and Mick Inkpen have recently introduced us to.

We’re introduced to the very cute Zoe and her loveable dog Beans in their first outing, Where is Binky Boo?  Zoe loves her dolly, Molly, but so does Beans, ever since he lost his toy, called Binky Boo.  Molly is the only toy he wants to play with, and when Zoe isn’t looking he takes it to show his doggy friends.  But when Zoe washes Molly, Beans refuses to play with it.  Beans is very unhappy, until they discover something ‘a little woolly something with a particular smell’ sticking out of the sandpit.

In The Magic Hoop, Zoe tries to get Beans to jump through her hoop, but Beans won’t have a bar of it.  Zoe tempts Beans to go through the hoop using all his favourite treats, but when she throws Binky Boo through the hoop, the toy disappears.  Beans jumps through to find his toy and magically turns into a rabbit.  Zoe decides she doesn’t want a rabbit so makes Beans jump through again.  Beans turns into a mouse, a crocodile and then an elephant!  But elephants are big and the hoop is small.  Will Zoe be able to get Beans back to normal or will he be stuck as an elephant forever?

Their most recent adventure was Christmas themed.  In Zoe’s Christmas List, Zoe and Beans travel to the North Pole to deliver her letter to Father Christmas, and meet a cute, fluffy friend along the way.  Their next adventure (due out in June 2012) is called Pants on the Moon and sounds fantastic!  The illustrations are gorgeous and the stories are that rare blend of both cute and funny.  Zoe is brimming with confidence and a love for adventure that children can relate to.  Children will beg for them to be read again and again, and I’m sure parents will be only too willing to.  Perfect for reading one-on-one or as a read-aloud for groups (a particular favourite at my library Story Time).

5 out of 5 stars for each book

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