Monthly Archives: April 2013

Jez Alborough reads Nat the Cat’s Sunny Smile

Jez Alborough is the creator of some wonderful picture books, including the classic Duck in the Truck.  I am a huge fan of his books, with their bouncy, rhyming text and bright, cheery illustrations.  Nat the Cat’s Sunny Smile is his latest book and the first in a fantastic new series.  I’ve been following the creation of Nat the Cat through Jez’s Facebook page.  It’s really interesting to see the steps of putting a picture book together and the different stages of the illustrations.

Nat the Cat’s Sunny Smile is available now in NZ from Random House.

Watch the video below to see and hear Jez reading Nat the Cat’s Sunny Smile and singing the song from the book.

 

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Picture Book Nook: The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

What do you get when you bring together the author of weird and wonderful stories, Lemony Snicket, and the award-winning illustrator Jon Klassen?  You get The Dark, a whimsical tale with stunning illustrations about a boy who is afraid of the dark.

Laszlo is afraid of the dark.  He lives in a big house, with a ‘creaky roof, smooth, cold windows and several flights of stairs.’  The dark also lives in this house and it hides in lots of different places. Laszlo thinks that if he visits the dark in the dark’s room, maybe it won’t come and visit Laszlo in his room.  However, one night it does come and visit Laszlo and tells him that it has something to show him…down in the basement.

The Dark is a unique take on the theme of being scared of the dark and it’s a wonderful collaboration between these two very talented people.  Jon Klassen’s illustrations are the perfect match for Lemony Snicket’s delightful and humourous text.  I really love Jon’s illustration style as he achieves so much with very little detail.  The way that he has contrasted the light and dark in this book is spectacular.  The dark is a character in the story and I love the way that Jon has portrayed this, especially when the dark is hiding in the cupboard or behind the shower curtain.  Some of the pages are almost completely black, apart from Laszlo and the details that we see in the beam of his flashlight.  The text has a uniquely Lemony Snicket style and tone, and it certainly took me by surprise.  I love the language that he uses to describe the house and the dark itself.

‘The voice of the dark was as creaky as the roof of the house, and as smooth and cold as the windows, and even though the dark was right next to Laszlo, the voice seemed very far away.’

If you know a child that is scared of the dark, The Dark, is the perfect reassuring story to read to them.  It’s also the perfect book for Jon Klassen fans who will be drooling over his illustrations.

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W.A.R.P.: The Reluctant Assassin book trailer

W.A.R.P. (Witness Anonymous Relocation Programme) is Eoin Colfer’s new series.  The Reluctant Assassin is the first book in the series and is released later this month by Penguin Books NZ.  It sounds like it’s going to be a great series and perfect for fans of his Artemis Fowl series.

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The Maleficent Seven by Derek Landy

One of the things I love the most about Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series is the cast of brilliantly named characters.  The series focuses on Skulduggery and Valkyrie as they fight to save the world from the forces of evil, but I’ve often wished that I could see more of particular characters.  I can imagine them getting in to all sorts of trouble when Skulduggery isn’t around.  I’m obviously not the only one who wished for this, as Derek has written a stand-alone book that focuses specifically on Tanith Low, once a hero but now a villain with a Remnant inside her.  Tanith and her gang of evil-doers go up against a group of rogue Sanctuary agents in Derek’s latest book, The Maleficent Seven.

This time, the bad guys take the stage. Tanith Low, now possessed by a remnant, recruits a gang of villains – many of whom will be familiar from previous Skulduggery adventures – in order to track down and steal the four God-Killer level weapons that could hurt Darquesse when she eventually emerges. Also on the trail of the weapons is a secret group of Sanctuary sorcerers, and doing his best to keep up and keep Tanith alive is one Mister Ghastly Bespoke. When the villains around her are lying and scheming and plotting, Tanith needs to stay two steps ahead of her teammates and her enemies. After all, she’s got her own double-crosses to plan – and she’s a villain herself…

There is no Skulduggery or Valkyrie in sight in The Maleficent Seven but I loved it and it’s got everything that makes the Skulduggery books so great.  Some of my favourite minor characters in the series are major players in this book, especially Tanith and Billy-Ray Sanguine. Tanith and Billy-Ray have an unusual relationship – you don’t expect villains to use the word ‘love’ and be cutesy with each other.  There are other characters who have also popped up in the other books in the series that you find out more about too, and not all of them make it to the end of the story (which is pretty normal for a Derek Landy book).  I like that this book focuses mostly on the villains, rather than the heroes.  You don’t often get to see things from their perspective so it makes a nice change.  The major villain is, of course, Tanith Low, who we haven’t seen much of in the last few books, and the whole story centers around her.  As well as the main story of tracking down the God-Killer level weapons, Derek gives us a glimpse of Tanith’s origins.  You see her as pre-Sanctuary Tanith as well as Remnant-host Tanith.

The main reason I love Derek’s writing is because of his wicked sense of humour.  The dialogue is great and his characters have some very entertaining conversations.  There are some hilarious lines in this book and I just have to share a couple.

‘There are plenty of things I’d insult before getting to your intelligence, Johann.  Your beard for one.  It looks like the beards of Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless mated, and their bizarre offspring crawled on to your face and died on your chin.’

‘”You zapped your own brain?”

“And it didn’t do me any harm apart from the dizziness and the vomiting spells and the weirdly persistent ringing in my ears.  Also the blackouts and the mood swings and the creeping paranoia.  Apart from that, zero side effects, if you don’t count numb fingertips.  Which I don’t.”‘

If you’re a fan of the Skulduggery Pleasant series I’m sure you’ll love The Maleficent Seven as much as I did.   You don’t have to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy this one, so it would be a great book to hook kids in to the series.

5 out of 5 stars

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Lest we forget: Books to remember the ANZACs

Last year in the lead up to Anzac Day I had some of our wonderful New Zealand authors and illustrators join me on the blog to talk about their Anzac books and what Anzac Day means to them.  You can read their posts by clicking on the links below.  You can also read about my favourite Anzac books and Philippa Werry’s fantastic new non-fiction book about Anzac Day, Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story.

Christchurch City Libraries has a great info page about Anzac Day and Gallipoli for children, with basic facts and links to some interesting websites.

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2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: Melu by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly

Melu by Kyle Mewburn, Ali Teo and John O’Reilly is a finalist in the Picture Book category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I’m a huge fan of Kyle Mewburn’s and I love Ali and John’s illustrations.  It’s a wonderful picture book and I’m glad to see it as a finalist.  I reviewed it in April last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.

Have you ever felt like you don’t quite belong?  Have you ever wanted to just stop doing the same old boring thing, day in, day out and go off in search of something better?  If you answered yes to these questions then Melu by Kyle Mewburn, and illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly is the perfect book for you.

Melu is a mule who lives with the rest of his herd, high up in the sun-baked hills, on a rocky island floating in a glittering green sea.  They’ve always clip-clop around the hills in the same direction, but Melu is different.  He doesn’t clip-clop, he clop-clips, and he imagines himself galloping across fields and splashing in the sea.  One day Melu decides to go off in search of the fields and the sea.  Along the way he meets Goat and Bull who are different just like him and they join him in his search.

Melu is an absolute winner!  The story is full of Kyle Mewburn’s witty humour and it’s a real joy to read.  Kids will identify with Melu because he’s different and full of dreams.  Kyle uses lots of descriptive language, like splashing and glittering, which make the story fun to read, and I love the way each of the animals talk (they each have their own voices in my head).  Ali Teo and John O’Reilly’s illustrations are bold and really make Kyle’s character’s shine.  They’re quite simple illustrations but the character’s faces and body language are so expressive.  My favourite illustration is near the end when they’re in the sea because they’re just so happy.  Not only is Melu a fun story with wonderful illustrations, it also shows children (and adults) that it’s OK to be different and stand out from the crowd.

5 out of 5 stars

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The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen

Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack of dawn to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cake. Until, one day, everything changes. Fighting  breaks out in the south and Toda’s father has to go there to defend his country.

Luckily he has a manual called ‘What every soldier needs to know’. This tells him how to hide from the enemy by using branches and leaves to disguise himself as a bush.

Toda remains in the city with her grandmother but even there it’s no longer safe. She is sent to stay with her mother who lives across the border. Toda’s journey is full of adventure and danger. But she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is a touching story about war told from the unique perspective of a girl who is caught in the middle.  The war that is taking place in the story is not identified as a specific war, only that the north is fighting the south.  The events of the story, including families being split up, fathers going away to fight, children being sent away, and a dangerous journey to get to safety are applicable to any war though, which makes Joke’s story universal.

As in some of the best stories about war, this story is narrated by a child (Toda) who is caught in the middle of this horrible event.  Toda is one of those characters you can’t help but love because she has a unique way of looking at things.  It’s her view of things that bring some humour to the situation she is in.  When Toda is hiding in the forest waiting for the coast to be clear, she finds the best thing to do is to give her brain something to do.  She lists her favourite foods (including her father’s pastries), her classmates, and then she lists things in alphabetical order (from Ape to Zebra).  I love the way that Toda describes different things too, like the way that she feels.  When an old couple take her in to their home and offer her some food she says, ‘My stomach was full of homesickness.  There was no room for anything else.’

On her journey, Toda meets some strange and interesting characters too.  There are some families who come to the public welfare home to give books and toys to the children, but then end up taking them away as they seem ungrateful, there is a room of old women who want to adopt her as their granddaughter, a strange old couple who try to kidnap Toda, and a captain who has deserted the army because he can’t command.  This captain was one of my favourite characters because he gives you a different perspective of the captains who give the orders during war.  One of my favourite quotes from the book came from this captain.

“I couldn’t command,” he said. “When I had to call out, ‘Open fire!’ I said instead, ‘Perhaps we should try shooting now, as long as it’s not too dangerous and not too much trouble for anyone.'”

Special mention needs to be made of the wonderful translation of Joke’s story by Bill Nagelkerke (recent winner of the Margaret Mahy Medal).  You really get the sense that Bill has remained true to the tone of the story while carefully choosing language that is beautiful to read.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is the best war story I’ve read that is told with so few words.  There is more emotion and character packed into this little book than some authors put in to 300 pages.  It can stand alongside John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword as a must-read war story.

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The 5th Wave book trailer

There has certainly been a lot of hype around The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  The teasers haven’t mentioned very much about what the story is about but it sounds intriguing.

The 5th Wave is due out in May from Penguin Books NZ.

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Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry

Why do we celebrate Anzac Day?  Why were donkeys used at Gallipoli?  Why do we wear poppies on Anzac Day? Why is the last post played at the Dawn Service?  Why do we have Anzac biscuits?  All these questions and more are answered in Philippa Werry’s new book, Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters is a fascinating, beautifully designed, thoroughly researched, and very accessible book for New Zealand children about Anzac Day.  It’s one of those non-fiction books that is both great for teachers to use in the classroom or for children to delve in to by themselves.  Philippa has written it in such a way that it is accessible for children of different ages, from 8 years and up, with lots of images to break up the text.  This book is different from other non-fiction books about Anzac Day and New Zealand’s involvement, as it looks at not only the past, but also the present and how we commemorate today.

Everything you would expect to find in a book about Anzac Day is here – what it is and why we celebrate it, a timeline of the Gallipoli campaign, profiles of key New Zealanders who played a part, and statistics of casualties and deaths.  However, it’s the focus on why Anzac Day matters and how we celebrate it now that really makes this book stand out.  There is a whole chapter about how we remember the war dead with poppies and war memorials, and another chapter on Anzac Day commemorations both in New Zealand and around the world.  There are also lots of fact boxes with tidbits of information about the animals at Gallipoli, Anzac biscuits, the New Zealand flag, and why the New Zealanders had ‘lemon-squeezer’ hats.

There are lots of primary resources in the book (which makes it great for teachers), from photos and newspaper clippings, to soldier’s diaries and paintings.  Philippa has created some incredibly helpful material at the back of the book too, including a glossary, bibliography, a list of helpful and authoritative websites, and a list of ‘More things to do’ to extend children’s understanding of the topic.

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters should be in every home, school and library in the country.  It’s a book that will be well-used and well-read.

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Interview with Anna Mackenzie

Today I have the pleasure of being joined by New Zealand author, Anna Mackenzie.  Anna is the author of the award-winning The Sea-wreck Stranger, and her latest book, Cattra’s Legacy tells of the journey of Risha, not only across the wild land in which she lives, but from timid young girl to fierce and powerful young woman. I love Cattra’s Legacy and I asked Anna a few questions about her fantastic new story and the life of a writer.

  • What inspired you to write Cattra’s Legacy?

The novel began with a single idea, a visual image initially, of a girl alone at a graveside. That idea could have gone many different ways, but my daughter had just begun to read fantasy novels, so I decided I would write one for her, from that starting point. That gave me the direction, and the story soon took over.

  • How did you build the world of the story? Did you know what it looked like and what the history of the world was before you started writing?

Elgard opened out before me just as it does for Risha. I was sometimes a step ahead, but a small one, and every now and then we would both be surprised. About six or seven chapters in I sketched a rough map which I added to as I wrote. The map on page 7 is a tidy version of that, created using computer software rather than a pen so that it’s more legible for readers. In terms of the history of Elgard, I had a broad sense of it as soon as I knew Pelon had been a scholar – about the time Risha began to read his manuscript – but some of the regional details became clear to me only after reaching LeMarc.

  • Did you get to do any fun or interesting research before you wrote the story, like weapons training or horse riding?

I rode farm horses when I was growing up, but it wasn’t really my thing. That said, my earliest memories include the creak of saddle leather and the smell of horse and hot summer: my father used to sit me in front of him on the saddle as he rode around the farm – I guess between the ages of 2 and 4.

As for weapons training, I’ve learned both martial arts and archery in the past. All knowledge is useful in writing!

  • The story is ultimately about the legacy that a mother leaves for her daughter.  What legacy would you like to leave for your daughter?

 My aim as a parent is to instil in my kids a confidence in themselves, the knowledge that they are loved and valued for who they are, and the bravery to fight for what they believe in.

  • Which of your own personality traits have you given Risha?

Determination. I don’t tend to give up (even when I probably should!). It’s an essential skill for a writer, and for many other things. Some people call it stubbornness.

  • Risha is a strong female character that teenage girls can look up to.  Do you feel that New Zealand young adult literature is lacking in these strong female characters?

No. Given the size of our market there is a fairly small crop of YA books published each year. Some years there will be more of one type of book than another, but feisty female characters are a feature of New Zealand’s YA literary landscape – and certainly of my work.

  • The advice that a lot of writer’s give is ‘write the sort of books that you would like to read.’  Is this the case with Cattra’s Legacy?  If so, what other books can you recommend to those who love Cattra’s Legacy?

I read very widely and this is a story I loved discovering as I wrote it. For readers who are looking for similar adventure fantasy, try Cynthia Voight’s Elske, Celine Kiernan’s Moorehawke trilogy, The Merlin Conspiracy and Dalemark quartet by Diana Wynne-Jones and Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy.

  • What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a writer?

The best thing is getting to live dozens of different lives through the experiences of my characters – writing a new story is just like that feeling when you are completely wrapped up in reading and have to be dragged reluctantly away.
The worst thing is far too much time spent sitting at a desk: it’s seriously bad for you, but sometimes I have to be dragged away from there too!

Check out my review of Cattra’s Legacy here on the blog and enter to win a copy.

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