Category Archives: books

The Nothing to See Here Hotel by Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

There is a hotel that is hidden to the human eye that caters to the most smelly, hairy, warty clients around. Nestled amongst the waterfront hotels for humans is the number one place to stay for magical creatures, The Nothing to See Here Hotel.the-nothing-to-see-here-hotel-9781471163838_lg

Frankie Banister runs the Nothing to See Here Hotel with his parents.  This isn’t your average hotel though!  It’s a hotel for magical creatures and it’s full of all sorts of weird sights, smells and sounds.  All varieties of magical creatures come to stay here, from trolls and ogres to mermaids and werepoodles.  There is no such thing as a normal day at The Nothing to See Here Hotel but things get really crazy when a messenger arrives to announce the imminent arrival of the goblin prince, Grogbah.  He’s mean, demanding and very, VERY important.  Before the Banisters know it Grogbah is taking over the place.  Then another unexpected guest arrives to shake things up.

The Nothing to See Here Hotel is a rambunctious, rollicking read packed full of imagination and fun.  As soon as I entered The Nothing to See Here Hotel I immediately felt at home and didn’t ever want to leave.  It is fun from beginning to end and I need to read more escapades of Frankie and his family.

You can tell that Steven Butler and Steven Lenton had enormous fun writing and illustrating this story.  The characters are hilarious and they have some great lines. There is Granny Regurgita (Frankie’s great-great-great troll grandmother with the best insults), Nancy the hotel cook (who is a giant Orkney Brittle-Back spider), Gladys Potts the werepoodle and Mrs Dunch (a geriatric mermaid).  My favourite characters though are the Molar Sisters, the triplet tooth fairies.  Their names are Dentina, Gingiva and Fluora and they have the worst dental hygiene in all of the magical world (because they eat nothing but sugar cubes and their teeth are rotten).  Their magic wands come in very handy though to help the Banisters out of some sticky situations.

The Nothing to See Here Hotel is perfect for reading aloud as there are lots of great voices you could do. It would make a great read aloud for Years 3-6, especially for those teachers wanting a change from the usual Roald Dahl. There is plenty to keep all kids engaged and begging you to read the next chapter. I’m glad to see that this is the first book in this new series so there will be more books to come.

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Rory Branagan: Detective Book Trailer

Rory Branagan: Detective by Andrew Clover and Ralph Lazar is the first book in a fantastic new series featuring this switched on kid detective.  Packed full of quirky illustrations and shady characters Rory Branagan is perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure.  It’s great for reluctant readers as it looks like a chunky book but is actually a quick, fun read.

Rory Branagan: Detective is out now from HarperCollins.

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Great Graphic Novels for Primary and Intermediate

I absolutely love graphic novels for kids!  I can’t get enough of them and neither can the kids at my school (especially the girls).  There are more and more great graphic novels being written and produced for kids and there really is something for every sort of kid.  These are a selection of recent reads that have stood out for me.  If you’re looking for some great new reads for your graphic novel collection I highly recommend these ones.

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Sparks! by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto

This is a hilarious story about two cats who do good deeds dressed in a dog suit.  August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outdoors and Charlie is the pilot of the suit and isn’t afraid of anything.  Together they are a sort-of robo-Lassie (along with their sentient litter-box), rescuing a baby from a well and saving people from a burning building.  In to the story comes a strange family with an evil baby whose aim is to control every animal on earth.  It’s up to Sparks to save the day and stop their dastardly plan.

I smiled the whole way through this graphic novel because the humour is spot on.  I could hand this to any kid from Year 4-Year 8 and I’m sure they would love it too.

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The Adventures of Jack Scratch: The Quest for the Hiss-paniola by Craig Phillips.

This action-packed tale of cats on the high-seas started life as a Kick-Starter campaign and I was super excited when it went ahead and I got my copy.  It’s a swash-buckling adventure full of brave, fearsome and some down-right nasty cats.  Like the Tintin graphic novels I grew up with its got plenty of action to keep kids interested and illustrations that they will pore over.  One of the things I love most about graphic novels is that they are perfect for reading again and again and this one will certainly be read to bits.  Perfect for ages 7+

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Cucumber Quest #1: The Donut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

I can only do this book justice by using the Goodreads blurb so here it is:

What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

This is the first book in a new series (that started out as a web comic).  It’s another hilarious story with fantastic characters.  The BLT Trio had me laughing out loud and I hope to see more of them as the series progresses.  The world that the story takes place in reminded me of Adventure Time so any kids who love that will love Cucumber Quest. The kids that I’ve passed this on to have loved it just as much as I did and we all can’t wait for #2 to be available in NZ.  Perfect for ages 10+.

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Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel, adapted by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler

This is a wonderful new graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler.  It perfectly captures the essence of the story and will hopefully open up the story to a new generation of readers.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

The Witch Boy is about 13-year-old Aster who is expected to grow up to be a shapeshifter when he really wants to become a witch.  In his family all the females are witches while all the males are shapeshifters, but Aster has always found witchcraft more exciting.  When some of the males start disappearing and an evil force threatens his family Aster knows that he can help – as a witch.  With the help of his non-magical new friend Charlie, he sets out to help his family using his witchcraft skills.

It is a fantastic story about being different and being who you want to be.  This is another graphic novel that the girls at my school have been gobbling up.  Molly’s illustration style is quite similar to Raina Telgemeier which lots of the kids love.

23594349Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach & Douglas Holgate

A dangerous rally race + archaeology = a whole lot of fun!

Clementine Hetherington and her robot brother, Digory, have run away from the orphanage they’ve been living in since their parents died. Clem and Dig want to follow in their famous archaeologist mother’s footsteps, but no one will take them seriously. Their chance arrives when a man from their past saves Digory’s life, and to repay the debt they enter a multiday rally race… to recover stolen artifacts! Clem and Dig hope to win so they can give them to a museum, but their opponents want to sell them on the black market. The Ironwood Race has no rules, and Clem and Dig might be in over their heads!

This is an ingenious mash-up that I couldn’t get enough of.  Before I knew it I had finished the book and I’m dying for more!  This story is sure to keep even the biggest non-reader engaged.  Those kids who love action-packed movies with great baddies and lots of explosions will love this book too.

 

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Max and the Millions by Ross Montgomery

What kid hasn’t pretended there are microscopic people living microscopic lives right under our noses?

In Max and the Millions Ross Montgomery takes readers in to the tiny world of Floor that the Blues, Reds and Greens call home. They are at war for the control of Floor but little do they know there is something much bigger that could mean the end of their civilisation. Demon is coming and he is bringing his vacuum cleaner! There is one person who can save them and his name is Max. Although Max needs hearing aids to hear it is his ability to lip read that helps him to communicate with these microscopic people and help them when they need it the most.

I absolutely loved Max and the Millions! Ross Montgomery had me captivated from the first page. The story cast a spell on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen next. There is lots of action, both in Max’s world and in the land of Floor, as the story switches between the points of view. There is also a touch of mystery as you are trying to figure out what happened to the School caretaker, Mr Darrow, and where the people of Floor have come from.

I loved the characters, both good and bad. Max is a loveable character who you routing for the whole way. Mr Pitt on the other hand is a character that you love to hate. He is delightfully horrid and is willing to do anything to get what he wants. It is deliciously satisfying what happens to him in the end.

I was sad to say goodbye to Max, Sasha, Luke and Ivy but I can’t wait to push this book in to the hands of young readers at my school. It’s perfect for fans of M.G. Leonard’s Beetle Boy.

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Mind-Swapping Madness by Tom E. Moffatt

New Zealand’s answer to Paul Jennings is here! Tom E. Moffatt’s collection of wacky short stories will have kids in hysterics.

If you’ve ever thought you might like to swap minds with someone these stories will make you think again. Tom shows us how funny, scary, crazy and totally embarrassing it would be to swap minds with a toad, an evil auntie, a flea, your baby sister and more.

In Mind-Swatting George switches minds with a fly after his brother seats him with an electric fly swat, Ari learns you should never kiss a toad in Croak, and a synchronised sneeze causes Emily to end up in nappies in Bless You.

These stories are perfect for reading aloud, especially to ages 10 and up. I can just imagine a whole class cracking up as the teacher reads it aloud. My favourite story is Soul Beneficiary, where Robert inherits more than he bargained for. It is clever and twisty with a hint of spookiness.

If you enjoyed Tom’s first book, Barking Mad, you need to read Mind-Swapping Madness.

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Summer Days: Stories and Poems Celebrating the Kiwi Summer

The days are getting warmer and it’s starting to feel like Summer is just around the corner.  When you think of a Kiwi summer you think of days at the beach, hokey pokey ice cream, pohutukawa trees, jandals and lots of family time.  New Zealand stories and poems that encapsulate a Kiwi summer have been gathered together in a gorgeous new collection by Puffin.

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Summer Days is a gorgeous collection of New Zealand stories and poems that the whole family will enjoy.  Authors, illustrators and their stories have been carefully selected to showcase our Kiwi summer.  Inside these bright covers you’ll find stories from Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley, Pamela Allen, Sandra Morris and Dot Meharry, interspersed with poems by Peter Bland, Fiona Farrell and James K. Baxter.  Each story and poem is beautifully illustrated by some of our best illustrators including Gavin Bishop, Jenny Cooper and David Elliot.

So much attention has been paid to the production of the collection.  It’s hardcover, with a summery design that is stamped into the cover, the page edges are bright yellow,  and it has a ribbon bookmark.  My favourite part of the design though is the ice cream endpapers.  It’s just one of those books that anyone would be happy to get. It leaps off the shelf and begs you to take it home.

Summer Days is the perfect collection for the whole family as there are stories for everyone.  Get a copy for your family this Christmas and spend the summer reading it again and again.

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I Want To Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien

I love interactive picture books that make the reader a part of the story.  It’s clear that kids love them too because it’s these kind of books that are the most popular in my school library.  I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien is an absolutely brilliant recent example of an interactive story where the reader talks directly to the purple monster who stars in the story.

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You start off asking Little Monster what he wants to do today.  He wants to be in a story, but not just any story – a scary story.  You then set up an idea for a scary story and in Little Monster goes.  However, it’s a little too scary for Little Monster, so you try again.  It is still too scary.  You keep trying until Little Monster decides maybe a funny story might be best.  Just when you think you’ve got the perfect story for Little Monster, he disappears, only to surprise you at the end.

I Want To Be in a Scary Story is a hilarious picture book that you have to read aloud.  You are guaranteed to have your young audience in fits of laughter.  It’s the sort of picture book that would almost be better if you read it in a pair, with one person being the reader and the other being the monster.  If you’re reading it yourself though you need to come up with a great Little Monster voice.

Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien are a winning combination for this book.  Sean Taylor’s text makes the story perfect for performing as there are two distinct voices, with different fonts and different colours.  You could even just read the text and get the children to draw what you think Little Monster’s scary story might look like.  Jean Jullien’s illustrations are bold, colourful and full of expression.  Little Monster’s face changes from an expression of pure joy to one of fear and shock.

I can’t wait to read I Want To Be in a Scary Story to all of the kids at my school.  I know this is going to be one of those books that the kids ask for again and again but will never be on the shelf because it’s so popular.

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NZ wildlife on show in three gorgeous new books for children

Potton and Burton are the New Zealand publishers who really showcase the beautiful country that we live in.  Not only do they produce wonderful coffee table books full of stunning photographs of our country, they also produce some of the best children’s books in the country.  Their children’s nonfiction and picture books are top quality and introduce kiwi kids to our native wildlife.

Three wonderful new children’s books have just been released from Potton and Burton – Up the River: Explore and discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and wetlands, Watch Out for the Weka, and It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).

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Up the River is the latest book by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud in their popular Explore and Discover series.  I love this series because it gives children a perfect introduction to different parts of our land and sea and the wildlife that make these environments their home.  Like the other books in the series, Up the River uses simple language, small chunks of text and realistic illustrations to engage young readers.  In this book children are introduced to creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands and the wildlife that they will find living there.  For most children these environments will be familiar but they may not have thought about what lies beneath the water or who nests in the reeds. Up the River is a fantastic addition to the series and is a book that children will come back to again and again, whether just out of curiosity or for school work.

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As well as illustrating nonfiction books, Ned Barraud also writes and illustrates his own picture books.  Watch Out for the Weka is Ned’s latest picture book and it tells the story of a mischievous weka who steals a DOC hut warden’s watch as he is taking a swim.  Ned takes us to Awaroa Inlet in Abel Tasman National Park, a gorgeous part of the country that lots of birds call home, including herons, oystercatchers and weka.  Weka are always on the lookout for food and something shiny, and one hot, sunny day, while Alf, the hut warden is cooling off in the stream, a weka steals his watch.  Alf gives chase in the nude but quickly loses the weka in the thick bush.  That night Alf comes up with a plan to tempt the weka and get his watch back.  Ned’s style of illustration is quite different from the Explore and Discover books, but the cartoony style matches the humour of the story.  Ned has made the weka look very cheeky indeed and he is sure to make kids laugh.  It is a fun picture book that is based on a true story.  Ned even includes weka facts in the back of the book.

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Heather Hunt’s stunning illustrations of kiwi have featured in several books, including the award-winning Kiwi: the real story.  Her illustrations jump right off the page in her latest book, written by Kennedy Warne, It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).  This gorgeous picture book highlights the reality of life for a kiwi trying to hatch an egg in the wild.  After laying the egg the female leaves the nest to go and build up her strength, leaving the male to look after the egg until it hatches.  It is not just a lot of sitting around for the kiwi dad though as he has to fend off attacks from predators, including cats, dogs and stoats.  The cat and the stoat look especially menacing as they creep up to the nest in the hope of a meal.  The kiwi fends off each attack though, repeating the line ‘It’s my egg, and you can’t have it!’  I love Heather’s illustrations, especially the way that she creates texture, making the kiwi look fluffy.  This is another picture book that is ideal to share with preschoolers through to the upper end of primary school.

Each of these wonderful books from Potton and Burton are available now in all good bookshops.

 

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The Thunderbolt Pony by Stacy Gregg

Imagine that a huge earthquake strikes, destroying your home and leaving your mother badly injured.  You could take the easy (and safe) way out, joining your mother on the rescue helicopter to the hospital.  This would leave your beloved cat, dog and pony to fend for themselves for who knows how long.  You decide that you will do anything to get your animal family to safety, which means a treacherous journey over mountainous terrain and rugged coastline to a ship that will take you to safety.  Not only do you have to cope with aftershocks and a landscape that is forever changing, you also have to deal with the OCD that has taken over your life.  This is what faces Evie in Stacy Gregg’s powerful, emotional new story, The Thunderbolt Pony.

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When a devastating earthquake hits Evie’s hometown of Parnassus on New Zealand’s South Island, she and the rest of the town are forced to evacuate. Evie’s injured mum is one of the first to be rescued by helicopter and Evie will be next. But when realises that she will be forced to leave her beloved pony, Gus, her dog, Jock, and her cat Moxy behind, she is determined to find another way. Before the rescue helicopter returns, Evie flees with Gus, Jock and Moxy in a race against time across difficult terrain to reach the port of Kaikoura, where she has heard that people will be evacuated by ship in three days’ time. Surely there will be space for her, Gus, Jock and Moxy there?

But the journey is harder than Evie could ever have imagined, and with aftershocks constantly shaking, Evie will have to draw on all her bravery, strength, and resilience to bring her and her animals to safety . . . and hope that they reach the boat in time.

I feel that The Thunderbolt Pony is Stacy Gregg’s best story yet.  It is a heart-racing story about a girl who will do anything to save the animals that have become her family.  It is a very emotional story that so many readers will relate to.  You can’t help putting yourself in Evie’s shoes and thinking ‘what would I do if I was told to leave my family behind?’ Although the cover, with the flowery design, gives you the impression this is a story for girls it is in fact a story for everyone.  Girls and boys alike will be absolutely gripped by the story and, like me, will hungrily read it to find out how it ends.  It would be a fantastic read aloud, especially for Years 5-8, as it will keep everyone engaged.

As someone who has lived with constant earthquakes this was an especially emotional story for me.  Stacy Gregg has perfectly captured the feeling of constantly being on edge and not knowing whether the next shake will be a big one or a little one.  Evie knows when there is another shake coming by the way that her animals react (ears back and growling or howling).  Stacy really gives you an insight in to how animals are affected with earthquakes as it’s not always something you think about.  Even the little details like the cows still needing to be milked, even though there was no power to make the pumps work.  When they do get the cows milked using the back-up generator they end of having to pump the milk through the irrigation system because the milk tankers can’t get through on the roads.

Evie is a fascinating character who has a lot to deal with in the story, but she overcomes any obstacles that come her way.  Not only does she lose her home and see her badly injured mother fly off in a helicopter, she also has OCD which causes her to go through different rituals to protect those she loves.  Her OCD was triggered after her father became sick with cancer.  It started with her double-closing doors and got worse after she blamed herself for her father’s death.  Dealing with OCD mustn’t be easy at the best of times, but throw in a huge earthquake and a trek across the mountains and it’s a whole lot to deal with.  Overcoming her condition is a huge part of the story.

Whether you are a pony person, a dog person or a cat person there is a character in this book to please you.  Gus (the pony), Moxy (the cat) and Jock (the dog) are Evie’s family and they are fiercely loyal right to the end.  I loved each of them as much as Evie and I hoped that they would all make it to the end.  There sure are enough incidents in the story that would make you think they might not all make it.

The ending of the story is absolutely perfect and made me want to go right back to the start and read it again.  I would put The Thunderbolt Pony alongside Michael Morpurgo’s stories as Stacy is a fantastic storyteller who tugs at your heart-strings. Whether you are a long-time fan of Stacy Gregg’s books or have never read one of her books you absolutely must read The Thunderbolt Pony.

 

 

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Interview with Frida Nilsson, author of The Ice Sea Pirates

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Photograph by Ellinor Collin

One of my recent favourite books has been The Ice Sea Pirates, written by Swedish author, Frida Nilsson and published in English for the first time by the wonderful Gecko Press.  The Ice Sea Pirates is an adventure story full of pirates, wolves, mermaids, frozen landscapes and a whole lot of heart.  You can read my review here on the blog.

The Ice Sea Pirates was still on my mind several days after finishing the story and I was lucky enough to be able to ask Frida Nilsson some questions.  Read on to find out what inspired Frida to write The Ice Sea Pirates, which story she would jump in to, and how she comes up with the names for her characters.

  • What inspired you to write The Ice Sea Pirates?

The inspiration mainly came to me shortly after my first child was born. Until then, my books featured another character, they had much more humour in them and were not classic sagas. When I became a mother it was suddenly more important to me to try and make some sort of change with my books. A lot of us are worried, I think, about the conditions in our world, with poverty and pollution, the death of many species, the plastic in all the oceans. My story about Siri is my way of questioning how we live our lives. We constantly take more than we need and in the long term, that’s not going to work.

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  • The Ice Sea Pirates is one of those books that I felt I wanted to jump in to.  If you could jump in to one book and be part of the story which one would you choose?

I think I would choose Charlie and the chocolate factory (and if possible I would bring my kids along since they are absolutely crazy about chocolate)

Siri is incredibly brave and determined and I’m sure children will wish that they could be like her.  Which book characters did you wish you could have been when you were growing up?

I hope that the children that read the book will NOT want to be as brave as her. Children characters in sagas like this are often “thrown out” on adventures that are far too dangerous for a real child – and this is how it should be I think. I hope that Siri’s journey can inspire children in another way.  I hope they find the courage to question the things that are wrong with how we “overuse” our planet and how the stronger use the weaker.

But, to answer the question: One character that I envied a lot was Lisa in Astrid Lindgren’s books about the Bullerby children (The children of Noisy Village). I grew up far out in the “dark woods” with no neighbourhood children or siblings at all, and sometimes I would miss the company of people of my own age. I envied Lisa simply because she lived in a village with a lot of children that she could play with all day. And best of all: Lisa did NOT go on any dangerous journeys. Her everyday life and play were adventure enough.

  • Captain Whitehead is the terrifying pirate captain in The Ice Sea Pirates.  Who is your favourite pirate from history or fiction?

Well since I’m a big fan of the Aardman films I must answer the Pirate Captain in the movie ‘The Pirates! In an adventure with scientists’ (released as Pirates! Band of misfits in some parts of the world). If I’m not mistaken this film is based on a book with the same title, although I haven’t read it.

  • The crew of The Sea Raven have some fantastic names.  How did you come up with their names?

I found a list on the internet of old French soldiers names and I used a lot of them, but translated them into Swedish first of course. Then I just used my imagination for the rest.

  • Peter Graves has translated your story into English.  How do you work with translators to ensure they capture the essence of your stories?

In this particular case I could actually read the translation before it went to print. It’s not quite as easy when it comes to a Czech or a Russian text. It was a true pleasure to read Peter Graves translation. I think he did a fantastic job. When a foreign publisher takes on one of my books I must put my trust in the whole “crew” that works with the title (translator, editor, illustrator etc) because they all know their country and their readers much better than I do.

Make sure you grab a copy of The Ice Sea Pirates from your library or bookshop now.

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