Seance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

A lot of kids can’t wait to grow up and a lot of adults wish that they could be kids again. In Reimena Yee’s new kid’s graphic novel, her character Lora doesn’t want to grow up and have to stop playing. With the help of a ghost and some new friends, Lora learns that she doesn’t have to leave the magic of childhood behind.

Lora is 12 but still enjoys playing and dressing up. Her friends are all growing up and leaving childhood games behind but Lora isn’t ready for that. One day she holds a seance tea party and her old imaginary friend turns up. Alexa is no ordinary imaginary friend, but the ghost of a girl who died in the ‘70s. Alexa helps Lora to gain the confidence she needs to make new friends. As Lora starts to need her less, Alexa discovers a connection to an old childhood friend who is now much older. Alexa realises though that she can’t stay around forever, just to make her friends happy. She must move on, just as Lora and Diana have moved on.

Seance Tea Party is a cute story of friendship, magic, ghosts and holding onto your imagination. It’s a story of a girl whose friends are growing up and changing around her, but she wants to stay the same. I loved this story because of its message about growing up – that you don’t have to leave all the fun things behind just because you’re getting older. I really like how Lora comes to accept this, with the help of her friends. Alexa helps her to gain the confidence to make new friends and her new friends accept her for who she is, rather than making her change. 

Reimena’s illustrations are vibrant and I really like the darker colour palette. Her illustration style is unique and each of her characters look different. I like the way that Reimena uses longer sections of wordless panels to tell some of the story, especially at the beginning. The illustrations flow really nicely and Reimena uses different illustration techniques to tell the story.

Reimena has included a break-down of her process of creating Seance Tea Party in the back of the book, which is really insightful for anyone wanting to create their own comics and graphic novels.

Seance Tea Party is a fresh and unique graphic novel that kids will love. I would highly recommend it for those readers who love graphic novels by Molly Knox Ostertag, Brenna Thummler and Vera Brosgol.

Vi Spy: Licence to Chill by Maz Evans

I have to admit that I’ve never really enjoyed spy stories. I have plenty of kids at my school who love Alex Rider and a few who are really keen on the Cherub series, but I’ve never really been able to get in to them. Maz Evans’ Vi Spy: Licence to Chill is a completely different kind of spy story though, and one that is a whole lot of fun.

Valentine Day (or Vi for short) lives with her mum and her Nan, both of whom are famous secret agents who are now retired. When Vi was born, her mum (Easter) gave up her life of espionage in order to keep her daughter out of harm’s way. Easter, who now calls herself Susan, is about to marry Vi’s teacher, Mr Sprout. However, Vi’s dad has other plans. Her dad, Robert, also known as the supervillain Sir Charge, hasn’t been around for most of her life, but now he suddenly wants to be a part of it. Her dad tells her that he is turning over a new leaf and becoming a good guy and Vi wants to get to know him. Her mother is furious and wants Vi to have nothing to do with him. Vi knows what she wants – to go to the prestigious spy school, Rimmington Hall. Villains and heroes alike are after a dangerous piece of technology called Neurotrol and Vi knows that if she finds it, that will be her ticket to Rimmington Hall. With her parents distracted with their own problems, Vi must get her hands on the Neurotrol to prove she is worthy of becoming a spy.

Vi Spy: Licence to Chill is an entertaining thrill-ride of a book, with plenty of laughs along the way. This is a spy story unlike any I’ve read before, as it pokes fun at spies and villains. There is something in this book for all readers, from flatulent supervillains with stinky feet and super-spy grannies with gadgets galore, to dance-fighting parents and secret agent waiters. Maz Evans has clearly had a lot of fun writing this book!

I was laughing almost the whole way through this book. There are just so many funny moments, such hilarious characters and great dialogue. My favourite part of the book is Chapter 5, where Vi’s dad takes her to the cafe. While they enjoy their gelato and catch up, assassins are trying to take out Robert. The waiter is in the background, knocking out ninjas and diffusing dynamite, while Vi and Robert are clueless to what is happening. My favourite characters are the Ex-Villains Improvement League, a bunch of supervillains who are trying to go straight. There’s Doctor Doppleganger (a two-headed villain who argues with himself), Dimitri (the vampire), Auguste (the clown), and my favourite, Siren (the femme-fatale with a flatulence and body odour problem). The dialogue between these characters makes up some of the funniest parts of the story.

Vi is a great character who is super-relatable. She’s been sheltered her whole life, thanks to her over-protective mum, but now she has a chance to prove that she can look after herself. She is desperate to become a spy, and her mum’s reluctance just makes her even more determined. I love the relationship that Vi has with her Nan and the relationship that grows between her and the Sprouts.

Vi Spy: Licence to Chill is the first book in this new series and I’m excited to see how Vi grows as a spy. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Maz will make me laugh next.

There is a fantastic collection of resources for Vi Spy: Licence to Chill on the Chicken House Books website. Check out their Schools Hub page for chapter-by-chapter resources, videos from Maz Evans, an extract of the book, and a super cool Spy Kit activity book.

InvestiGators: Off the Hook by John Patrick Green

Just when you think John Patrick Green’s InvestiGators series can’t get any better, it does. Mango and Brash are back for another adventure in InvestiGators: Off the Hook and it might just be their funniest one yet.

Crackerdile is just a bucket of dough but he is determined to become a bigger and better villain and get his revenge on S.U.I.T.s. This time he has help. Bill Plungerman used to be a plumber, but thanks to an experiment gone wrong he now has a snake for an arm. Now he’s known as Hookline and Slinker and is working for Crackerdile. The bucket of dough has a plan that involves a waffle iron, a chicken scientist and an underground lab. Mango and Brash don’t know where Crackerdile is, or what his plans are, but they know that he is up to no good. Armed with new V.E.S.T.s the InvestiGators must track down and stop Crackerdile before it’s too late. When the time comes though, can Mango choose between catching the villain or saving his partner?

Off the Hook is another laugh-your-head-off graphic novel that is chock-full of puns and waffle-related food that will make your mouth water. I laughed so hard reading this book! John’s humour works on so many levels. Just like the best movies for kids there are jokes that kids will love but also jokes just for the adults. I loved the running gags about dough, because the characters were getting confused about whether they were referring to cracker dough or money. There are some great waffle-related jokes too, and I cracked up at the end of the book when I saw the menu items for MAW or Mother of All Waffles. If these foods aren’t a real thing they totally should be (like buttermilk fried chicken in an edible waffle bucket). John’s illustrations are hilarious as always and Aaron Polk’s colouring makes the characters pop. I especially like what Aaron has done with Slinker’s eyes when he hypnotizes someone.

The new characters in this book are really entertaining. We got introduced to Bill Plungerman in Take the Plunge but the character of Hookline and Slinker is awesome. Even his name makes me laugh! I really enjoyed the development of his character throughout the story. Cilantro the chameleon is another great new character in Off the Hook. Even though the S.U.I.T.s agents don’t notice him, he really stood out for me, and I’m glad my hunch about him was right. I was waiting for Doctor Copter to show up, as I love his character, and I wasn’t disappointed.

One of the things I really liked about Off the Hook, that was a bit different from the previous books, was the breaking the fourth wall. Mango and Brash go to visit the Science Factory and they comment that it is nice to visit when they’re not in the middle of a science accident, and the scientist says ‘Give it time. This is only page 54.’ There are a couple of other times too, where the characters refer back to something that happened on another page. Another aspect of the whole series that I love is the added extras at the end. You can learn to draw the characters and there are other fun activities you can try, like designing your own V.E.S.T.

Fans of the InvestiGators series will be begging for Off the Hook. I can’t get enough of this series and I hope there are still plenty more books to come. If you haven’t read any of the books in the series you NEED to. All school libraries should have the whole series, especially as they’re such a great read-alike for Dav Pilkey’s Dogman series.

Head to www.investigatorsbooks.com for book trailers, games and activities. There is even a cool colouring book you can download for free.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

That’s what the best books do./ They make you think/ And rethink/ how you see/ yourself,/ others,/ and the world./ Most of all/ they make you feel./ Feelings toward people/ who aren’t like you./ Feelings you didn’t know/ you had.

This is just one of the quotes that I loved from Lisa Fipps debut middle grade verse novel, Starfish, and it perfectly describes this book. Starfish is a book that I guarantee will make any reader feel some strong emotions. I don’t think anybody can be unmoved reading Lisa’s story. I have read many verse novels for middle grade and YA but Starfish is my absolute favourite.

Ever since she wore a whale swimsuit to her fifth birthday pool party, Ellie has been bullied about her weight. At school the bullies call her Splash and are constantly making fat jokes, and at home her mum is always on at her about her weight. Her mum has made her try different diets and puts articles on the fridge about weight-loss. The only one in her family who seems to accept her and show her any love is her dad. Her best friend, Viv, has always been there for her, but now she’s moving away. At first, Ellie doesn’t trust the new girl who has moved in next door. As she gets to know Catalina, Ellie discovers she may have a new best friend. Ellie’s parents make her see a therapist, which Ellie is not keen on. However, Ellie warms to Doc and the more they talk, the more Ellie is able to process how she feels. With the support of Doc, her dad and her friends, Ellie learns to love herself and the body she’s in.

I love Starfish so much! It is such a powerful, emotional story that is perfectly suited to the free verse format. Ellie is a character who you feel an immediate connection to and empathise with. Ellie’s story takes you on a roller-coaster of emotion, laughing one minute and then in tears the next. The bullying that Ellie faces at school is pretty horrible, but it’s the words and actions of her own mother that really make you angry and so sad for Ellie. Even a couple of days after reading the book I still can’t believe some of the things that Ellie’s mum did and said to her. I didn’t want to be a bystander and say nothing, but instead confront Ellie’s mum and tell her what she was doing was not OK.

Lisa Fipps’ writing is just so beautiful and lyrical. She captures emotions perfectly in just a few words. I found myself stopping and writing down quotes from the book so many times. I wanted to take my time with the book and savour Lisa’s words but I also needed to get to the end to find out how Ellie confronted her bullies.

There were so many passages that struck a chord with me, but this one was quite poignant, as it is Ellie talking about her school librarian, Mrs. Pochon:

She’s the first person to smile at me today/ The first to make me feel wanted./ Understood./ I blink back tears./ It’s unknown how many students’ lives librarians have saved by welcoming loners at lunch.

Starfish is now one of my favourite books and I’ll be telling everyone about it. It would be an amazing read aloud or class novel for Year 7/8. Thank you Lisa for giving us your wonderful story!

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue

Cats and comics is a winning combination. Cat & Cat, The Kitten Construction Company, the Cat Kid Comic Club, and even that craziest of cats, Looshkin, are some of my favourite graphic novels and they’re adored by the kids at my school. Now there is Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue to bring some kitty joy to your life.

Katie’s friends are excited about summer camp but Katie can’t afford to go so she’ll be stuck at home all summer while her friends have fun. Katie decides to try and save up for camp by doing jobs for people in her building. After a couple of unsuccessful jobs she gets offered the job of looking after Ms. Lang’s cats for a few hours every night. It’s not just one or two cats though, but 217, and these are no ordinary cats. They use the toilet like humans, order stuff online and steal couches from the lady downstairs. Katie becomes suspicious of Ms. Lang and believes that she might be the supervillain, The Mousetress. The more Katie learns about her crimes though, the more she wonders whether The Mousetress might just be a superhero instead. When The Mousetress is captured by the superhero, The Eastern Screech, Ms. Lang’s cats put a plan into action to save her. But they’re going to need Katie’s help.

Katie the Catsitter is a super fun, adorable and hilarious graphic novel that I totally love. When you meet all of Ms. Lang’s cats you’ll wish your cats were this cool. You’ll also wish you had a team of cats, with skills like this, to help you every day and give you snuggles. Life certainly wouldn’t be dull with them around.

Katie is a super relatable character that kids will love. She’s the kid who can’t afford to do everything her friends are doing but works hard to try and achieve her goal. She feels her friend slipping away and becoming a different person, but she makes lots of new feline friends. I love the relationships that Katie has with the adults around her, whether it’s with her mum, Ms. Lang or Mr B. Katie has a positive relationship with each of them. Each of the cats has its own name and personality, as well as a particular set of skills. There’s Miles (laser expert), Jollie (computer hacking), Seamus (Math Genius), DJ Bootie Butler (Mad Beats), and so many more. I love the last few pages of the book where Colleen and Stephanie show us all of the cats, with their name, skill and a little picture of each one. They all look distinctly different which is so cool.

The story flows really naturally and the artwork is fun and full of character. I love the panels of the cats clearing up the apartment after they’ve gone crazy. They are just calmly mending furniture and walls, bringing in groceries to put in the fridge and then freaking out when they turn the vacuum on. I particularly enjoyed the matching panels, near the start of the book, about the last day of school. The kids are jumping for joy and high-fiving in the corridor, while the teachers are doing the same in the teachers’ lounge.

Katie the Catsitter is going to be a huge hit with the kids at my school, especially with fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson and Shannon Hale. A fun fact I learnt at the end of the book is that the illustrator, Stephanie Yue, was the colourist of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Thankfully this is just the first book in the series, with book 2 due in 2022.

I purchased Katie the Catsitter for my school library from Wheelers. It was released in the US earlier this year but is due for release here in NZ with Penguin Books on 30 March 2021.

Become an expert joke-teller with Tom E. Moffatt

Tom E. Moffatt is the award-winning author of some of the funniest Kiwi books for kids. Tom won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2015 for his debut children’s book, Barking Mad (you can read my review here). Tom has followed Barking Mad with Mind-Swapping Madness (you can read my review here) and Body-Hopping Hysterics, two hilarious collections of short stories about swapping minds and swapping bodies. Tom’s most recent books carry on his passion for making kids laugh, by telling jokes and teaching kids how to become an expert joke-teller.

I’m Joking: 500+ original jokes for kids is exploding with Tom’s own jokes, which are guaranteed to have kids and adults alike in stiches! The best thing about this collection is that they are jokes that you won’t have heard anywhere else before as they’re all Tom E. Moffatt originals, whether they be good, bad or very ugly. This is the best joke book for kids that I’ve ever read because they’re not just thrown haphazardly into the book. All of the jokes are split into different sections, so you can find the kind of jokes that you really want to read or share. There are jokes about animal sounds, puns about body parts, jokes entirely about eggs, knock-knock jokes and stinky poo gags. There is even a section at the end of the book with readers’ favourite jokes. My favourite section is the funny book titles, with book and author combos like Farm Fences by Barb Dwyer. Joke books are some of the most borrowed books in my school library and I know that this book will be an absolute winner with my kids. I’ll order one box-full please Tom!

You’re Joking: Become an Expert Joke-teller is Tom’s incredibly entertaining how-to guide for perfecting the art of telling jokes. This is a brilliant book that is desperately needed for those kids who love telling jokes. Sure, anyone can tell a joke but it takes skill to deliver a joke in such a way that is entertaining and has everyone in the room laughing. Inside this book you’ll find basic tips, practice jokes and exercises, and each sections ends with a reflection. There are 101 jokes of different types to help you practice different deliveries. Tom teaches you about the different types of jokes, how to build a repertoire, how to deliver different jokes, and where to find jokes. He explains how important it is to know your audience and that there is a right time and place for telling jokes. This book is a must-have for all kids who love telling jokes (and for the adults who wish they could do it better). It’s another great addition to both primary and high school libraries.

The Joke Collector’s Notebook is the perfect companion to You’re Joking, as it is the ideal place to write all of the jokes that you collect to add to your repertoire. This is not just a blank notebook though. Tom has added some chapter headings, like ‘Delivery Tips’ and ‘Knock-knock Jokes,’ but he has also left chapter titles blank so that you can add your own. Throughout the book there are plenty of blank pages, some with jokes or challenges on them that could inspire you. The challenges encourage you to try new things, like finding a joke that your teacher might enjoy and testing it out on them. This is such a cool book that I know so many kids would love. I want to have heaps of copies that I can just give out to kids who I see enjoying jokes. Its a book that would make a great present for kids of any age (or that adult in your life who loves sharing jokes).

All of Tom’s books are chock-full of the wonderful Paul Beavis’s bonkers illustrations. They are a great match for Tom’s bonkers stories and hilarious jokes.

Tom also has a YouTube channel where he shares his jokes in hilarious video compilations, with animations by Paul Beavis. Make sure you check out Tom’s website too for more info about his books, plus activities and jokes galore.

You can buy Tom’s books through his website (which links to Amazon), from Wheelers or from the fantastic Kiwi Kids Books website.

When We Got Lost in Dreamland by Ross Welford

What would you do if you had the power to control your dreams? Would you meet people that you would never be able to meet in real life? Would you have crazy adventures? In Ross Welford’s latest book, When We Got Lost in Dreamland, Malky discovers a device that allows him and his little brother, Seb, to share dreams and control them, which has disastrous consequences.

Malky has never really got on with his little brother, Seb. He’s the annoying little brother who always gets in the way. Their relationship changes one day, when Malky brings home the Dreaminators, seemingly harmless devices that hang over your bed and allow you to control your dreams. Malky has stolen them from the back yard of a house down the road from him, after a dare from a girl at school. At first, Malky thinks that they are just cheap and tacky, but after reading the instructions Malky and Seb try them out. They discover that they can share their dreams and control them. They can have fun in their dreams and if something gets too weird or scary, they can alter the dream or wake themselves up. The more dreams that Malky and Seb share, the closer they become, until the night that disaster strikes. While sharing a dream something scary happens, and while Malky escapes and wakes up, Seb remains lost in the dream. No matter what Malky or his family try Seb won’t wake up, so he is transferred to hospital. The doctors are perplexed about Seb’s condition and no one seems to believe Malky about the Dreaminators. Malky knows that he is the only one who can rescue Seb from the dream and he must own up to the theft of the Dreaminators in order to get help from its creator, Kenneth McKinley. Will Malky be able to save Seb before the doctors and his family pull the plug?

When We Got Lost in Dreamland is another wonderfully original story from Ross Welford. Like each of his books, this one makes you think, care deeply for the characters and makes you leap into the unknown. I love how Ross takes a seemingly impossible idea, like time travel or controlling dreams, and makes it happen. Ross throws you straight into the story and hooks you in with a taste of what is to come. Malky’s voice is clear from the first page and you want to keep reading to discover how things went so wrong.

One of the things that I love about Ross Welford’s books is the way that he uses foreshadowing. He teases little details of the story to make you keep reading, like ‘It turns out it’s all going to become a lot clearer, but not necessarily in a good way.’ He’s telling you that you will get answers to your questions eventually.

Relationships play a big part in this story, whether it is between Malky and Susan, Malky and Mr McKinley, Malky and Seb, or Malky and his dad. Malky isn’t sure about Susan at first but their relationship grows throughout the story as they are thrown together both in and out of school. She is different from anyone else that Malky knows but she becomes an important ally. Malky isn’t honest with Mr McKinley when they first meet, but the more that he gets to know Mr McKinley, the more important he becomes to helping Malky save his brother. Mr McKinley is a curious character who I enjoyed learning more about as the story progressed. Malky’s relationship with Seb changes the more they share dreams and Malky finds that he really does care about Seb. When Seb gets lost in Dreamland, Malky does whatever it takes to get him back again, including putting himself in danger. Malky’s relationship with his dad is quite strained and we learn there are complicated reasons why his dad hasn’t been part of his life for a while. The lack of trust that Malky’s dad has in him infuriated me.

When We Got Lost in Dreamland another fantastic book from one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend all of his books, which are great for class sets for Year 7/8. There is plenty in Ross’s books for readers to ponder and his characters stick with you.

The Year of Skulduggery

I’ve been a fan of Skulduggery Pleasant right from the start. I’ve eagerly awaited each new book, and when I got to interview Derek Landy in person in 2010 I thought all my Christmases had come at once. As a long-time Skulduggery Pleasant fan 2021 is a pretty exciting year for me. The penultimate Skulduggery Pleasant book, Dead or Alive (book 14 in the series), is due out in April, along with a World Book Day short story, Apocalypse Kings. Most exciting of all though is The Skulduggery Pleasant Grimoire coming in May.

The information on the HarperCollins website describes The Skulduggery Pleasant Grimoire as this:

An unmissable paraquel to the internationally bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series, The Skulduggery Pleasant Grimoire is at once a thrilling recap of the books so far, a reference guide to characters, and a treasure-trove of bonus content.

As the Skulduggery Pleasant series nears its end (again), relive the adventure in this lavishly illustrated compendium of all things Skulduggery. Featuring a unique run-down of the books so far, it also includes an invaluable reference tool for the dizzying cast of characters, as well as bonuses, surprises, and a dark story all of its own. The Grimoire is an essential book for any Skulduggery fan.

As someone who was obsessed with the first sequence of nine books (and has still enjoyed the later sequence), this Grimoire sounds AMAZING! When I’ve been reading the second sequence of books (books 10 and onwards) there have been times when I’ve had to use the Skulduggery Pleasant wiki (an excellent resource – https://skulduggery.fandom.com/wiki/Skulduggery_Pleasant_Wiki) to refresh my memory about certain characters and events. The Grimoire will bring all of that information about characters and events in to book form. It will hopefully be a great way to get new readers interested in the series too. It is a long series, full of BIG books, and there is a huge cast of characters (with some of the best names in children’s fiction), so it will be great to have this book to refer to.

Derek Landy revealed the cover and a little more info about the book on Twitter yesterday:

I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Check out the covers and blurbs for the two other Skulduggery Pleasant books coming next month.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Apocalypse Kings – releasing in NZ in April

Three ancient gods are freed from their prison with only one desire: to destroy the planet and everyone on it.

To save us all, Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain must go undercover in a Dublin school. Skulduggery has to blend in with the teaching staff, while Valkyrie has to pass for an ordinary schoolgirl. Above all else, no matter what happens, they both must act completely and utterly normal.

Keep an eye on My Best Friends Are Books in April for your chance to win 1 of 5 copies of Apocalypse Kings.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Dead or Alive – releasing in NZ in April

Skulduggery, Valkyrie and Omen return in the 14th and penultimate novel in the internationally bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series – and their most epic test yet… In a matter of days, the world will change.

Billions of lives will be wiped away in a final, desperate search for the Child of the Faceless Ones — she who is destined to bring about the return of humankind’s ancient overlords.

To prevent this, Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain have one last – terrible – option: the assassination of Damocles Creed. With protests stirring in the magical city of Roarhaven, with riots and revolutions on the horizon, Valkyrie must decide who she wants to be: the hero who risks everything for a noble ideal, or the killer who sacrifices her own soul for the fate of humanity.

The decision must be made, and time is running out.

Interview with Sandra Morris

Sandra Morris is the award-winning author of many wonderful picture books and children’s nonfiction books. In Sandra’s latest book, North and South, we learn about the differences in seasons between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and how the animals that live there deal with the changing seasons. You can read my rave review here on the blog. It is a fascinating book and it made me wonder about how Sandra chose which animals would be featured in the book. Read my interview with Sandra to find out the answer to this question and more.

  • North and South: A tale of two hemispheres is a unique concept for a children’s nonfiction book about wildlife. You compare wildlife from the Northern Hemisphere with those from the Southern Hemisphere. What inspired you to present the information in this way?

In North and South I presented wildlife in each month looking at the opposite seasons. As a child I was fascinated that two halves of the world experience such different weather systems at the same time. I thought if I showed both halves on each double spread with an animal from each hemisphere then it is pretty immediate and accessible for children to see the contrast.

  • How did you decide what wildlife to include in the book?

It was pretty challenging deciding on the final list of animals to be portrayed. I made an initial list after reading an old Readers Digest book on animals through the seasons. On further research I found out quite a few had become extinct- particularly disappointing! I made a more refined list and sent it to my Candlewick US editors and they made a further selection. We tried to represent as wide a species list as possible – birds, insects, mammals, marine life etc. and to cover as many different countries as possible. I also wanted to include some lesser known species like Portuguese man of war, stag beetles, and honeypot ants.

  • There were so many things that fascinated me reading this book, from the difference that heat makes to the sex of baby crocodiles to the hilarious way that Lyrebirds copy the sounds around them. What was the most fascinating thing you discovered while researching this book?

One of the most fascinating things was to learn how many of her young are carried in the jaws of the female salt water crocodile down to the river shortly after hatching. It was impossible to find images so I had to reconstruct that image myself- I have since seen amazing photos and she does cram them in!! Like an overloaded bus!!

  • A lot of effort has gone in to the design of North and South. It’s so important to get the design right in a children’s nonfiction book, as you want children to be able to find the information they need but also enjoy reading it. Did you have much of a say in the design?

Yes the design was largely mine. It went through various changes due to the publisher wanting it to sell foreign rights, so all my original coloured, hand lettering had to go and they replaced them with the black and white fonts. Also, I had originally had all the extra facts at the back making it a rather lengthy book, so the designer brought all the extra facts into each spread, running them down the side of the images. Therefore, all the images had to be reduced – they originally bled off the page with just a small amount of text within the image. But I am happy with what the designer has done and I understand all the reasons why. Sometimes you have to make compromises if you want the book to have a wider market appeal internationally. You just cant get too precious. I love it that it’s a team effort and I was lucky that Sarah Davies at Walker Australia made such good design decisions.

  • One of the design features that I really love about North and South is the map on the endpapers. Were maps an important feature to include in the book?

Yes. Originally the world map with animals was going on the Introduction page and Sarah suggested it as endpapers. This freed up more internal space. It was also her idea to include a small map on each spread, so that it was immediately clear where each animal lived.

  • What is your process of illustrating the wildlife you feature in your books? Do you watch videos and pore over photos?

I usually try to draw from life as much as possible, but as most of these animals do not live in NZ that was out of the question. So I referred to many books, Google images and videos for visual reference.

  • You have written and illustrated many books about New Zealand wildlife, and both the Bar-tailed Godwit and the Brown Kiwi feature in North and South. Do you have a favourite New Zealand creature that you love to illustrate? What is it that appeals about this creature?

For many years I have observed and sketched from life the amazing Bar-tailed godwits at Pukorokoro Miranda on the firth of Thames. I have grown to love these birds and admire their amazing annual migratory feats!! They fly non-stop from Alaska to NZ – 11,000 kms every southern summer to feed on our mudflats to be in peak breeding condition to fly back via several feeding spots, to breed in the Alaskan tundra as it thaws. It is such a worry that changing climate conditions and human habitation and development is chewing up their feeding grounds. This has a huge impact on their survival. There is clear evidence that their numbers have severely decreased. Statistics show they are declining by 2% a year.

  • Many of the animals featured in North and South have a special ability like changing their appearance to camouflage into their environment, copying the sounds of other animals, or storing honey in their swollen bellies for when it’s needed. If you could choose one animal ability to have yourself, what would you choose?

An animal ability I would choose is flight – what an amazing ability. To just make up your mind to lift off and go places with no cost to the environment!!

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold – extract and author intro

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold has just been released in NZ, in a beautiful hardback edition, with illustrations by Levi Penfold (the illustrator of the new editions of Harry Potter). The book sounds amazing and I can’t wait to read it. Here is the cover and blurb:

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

Hannah Gold says about her book:

The character of Bear came to me first. I can’t remember when or how, but suddenly he was gazing at me with his dark chocolate eyes and a forlorn, pleading expression on his face. I’ve always found it impossible to ignore animals, particularly ones as magnificent, regal and bighearted as Bear. There was a story he had to tell, and I, apparently, was the one to tell it. When I wrote this book, most of the children’s books about climate change were dystopian. But I believe it’s not too late and that’s why I was keen to tell a story that showed how one girl, even a very little one, could create a huge impact. You don’t need to single-handedly rescue a polar bear like April (I wouldn’t advise that!), but I hope this book encourages every reader to believe that he or she can help. And if, like me, you’ve fallen in love with Bear, then the best way to help polar bears and protect our beautiful planet is to do everything you can to fight climate change. With a loud enough roar, I know we can make a difference.

You can watch a short video of Hannah introducing the book and the book trailer below. You can also read an extract of Chapter One.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold and illustrated by Levi Penfold is available in NZ now.