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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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