Category Archives: children

Are You Sitting Comfortably? by Leigh Hodgkinson

I love books about books and the experience of reading so when I saw Are You Sitting Comfortably? by Leigh Hodgkinson I fell in love.  This wonderful picture book is all about the search to find the perfect place to read.

9781408864821

The story starts like this, ‘The thing is…when I want to read what I really really need is a place to sit…just for a bit.’ The boy in the story tries to describe the perfect place to read, somewhere that’s not ‘buzz-buzzy,’ or ‘slippy, slimy,’ but also somewhere that is not too hot or too cold. He realises that it doesn’t really matter where you sit, but that a book is best when you share.

Kids and adults alike understand the struggle to find the perfect place to sit and read.  In winter I want somewhere warm and in summer I often want somewhere cool.  Leigh perfectly captures this struggle, both in the text and the illustrations.  I love the way that the font changes to match the things that the character is describing.  When the boy is talking about a place being too itchy and fuzzy the text looks fuzzy.  I also love the way that the chairs change size, shape and pattern to match what the character is describing.  The ‘buzz-buzzy’ chair has flowers all over it and ‘stinky grimy’ chair has a pattern of wafting stink lines.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? is the perfect picture book to curl up with and share with your little book worms.

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Michael Morpurgo Month – Little Manfred by Michael Morpurgo

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

I love both stories about war and stories about animals, which is my I love Michael Morpurgo.  Most of his stories are about war or animals and sometimes both.  His latest book is called Little Manfred and it’s about war, and a dog that sparks the memories of an old man.

It’s the summer of 1966 and Charley and her little brother, Alex, are walking their dog Manfred on the beach by their home when they notice two old men staring out to sea.  When the two men discover that their dog is called Manfred, this sparks the memories of Walter and he tells the children about his experiences during World War II.  Through Walter’s story, Charley and Alex learn about their mother’s past and her connection to Manfred, a German prisoner of war who was posted at her farmhouse when she was a little girl.

Michael Morpurgo has woven another amazing story of friendship, bravery, and forgiveness that transported me to another time and another place.   Whenever I read a Michael Morpurgo book it’s almost as if he is sitting on my couch or in the library beside me, telling me the story, because I can hear his voice in my head.  If you’ve ever seen one of his videos of him reading you’ll know that he’s got the perfect storytelling voice.  Michael Foreman’s illustrations, once again, perfectly match the story because they can be bright and happy or dark and gloomy.  I think Michael Morpurgo’s books are perfect for anyone and if you haven’t read any of his books, Little Manfred is a great one to start with.

 

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Michael Morpurgo Month – A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

Michael Morpurgo has written some of my favourite stories – Private Peaceful, Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea, and Shadow.  He one of the best storytellers around.  Michael’s latest book, A Medal for Leroy, is inspired by the life of Walter Tull, the only black officer to serve in the British Army in the First World War.

A_Medal_for_Leroy_PBMichael doesn’t remember his father, who died in a Spitfire over the English Channel. And his mother, heartbroken and passionate, doesn’t like to talk about him. But then Michael’s aunt gives him a medal and a photograph, which begin to reveal a hidden story.

A story of love, loss and secrets.

A story that will change everything – and reveal to Michael who he really is…

A Medal for Leroy is a story of war, love and family secrets.  Like many of Michael’s other stories, it’s told from the point of view of someone who is old (in this case Michael) looking back at his life and telling the reader the story of what happened.  I really like this style of storytelling because it makes you feel like you are just sitting down for a cup of tea with the main character while they tell you the story.  Michael tells us that he never knew his father because he died during the war, but his mother and his aunties love him very much.  When one of his aunties dies, she leaves a special package for Michael, full of family secrets.  In this package, Michael learns about his auntie’s life and about the father he never knew.  Her story is heart-breaking, but with moments of happiness and hope.

Once again, Michael Morpurgo has written an emotional story that you get caught up in.  Even though the war is happening, you hope that everything is going to be fine, that Martha will meet Leroy again, and her father will welcome her home.  As always, Michael presents the realities of war to portray what life was like during this horrible time.  Even though Michael has returned to a topic that he has written about many times before, A Medal for Leroy, is a different story and just as wonderful as his other war stories, like Private Peaceful, War Horse, and An Elephant in the Garden. You can read more about the person who inspired this story, Walter Tull, at the back of the book too.

 

 

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

‘In any case, Crenshaw had excellent timing.  He came into my life just when I needed him to.  It was a good time to have a friend, even if he was imaginary.’

There have been a few books published recently about imaginary friends.  I have lapped them all up.  I don’t remember having an imaginary friend as a kid but reading these books make me wish I had.  The book that most makes me wish for an imaginary friend Katherine Applegate’s latest book, Crenshaw.  I’m sure you’ll wish you had a friend like Crenshaw once you’ve read this wonderful book too.

Crenshaw_UK.inddJackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

 

Crenshaw, like Katherine Applegate’s previous book The One and Only Ivan, is one of those books that I just want to carry around everywhere and give to everyone.  It is heart-warming story about family and friendships, that will make you want to keep hugging the main character and wanting to hang out with Crenshaw.  Katherine Applegate tugs at your heart-strings and brings a little wonder into your world.

Jackson is not an imaginary friend kind of guy.  He prefers facts and figures.  He doesn’t like stories because they ‘are lies, when you get right down to it.  And I don’t like being lied to.’  His parents have fallen on hard times and they keep telling Jackson and his sister, Robin, that everything is going to be alright.  Deep down Jackson knows that they aren’t going to be alright.  His family had to live in their mini-van for weeks on end when he was younger and he doesn’t want to do that again.  Just when he needs a friend the most, Crenshaw, Jackson’s large, outspoken, imaginary friend shows up to help him to face the truth.

There is so much wisdom in Katherine Applegate’s books.  They’re like guides to how to live your life.  She teaches you about kindness and honesty, and that it’s OK to be yourself.  I always find myself stopping reading to write down little bits of wisdom from her stories.

I love Crenshaw’s voice. He is very opinionated, especially about Jackson’s dog, Aretha, but he has some great lines.  This is one of my favourites,

‘Imaginary friends are like books.  We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again.’

Crenshaw is one of those few books that I’ve read multiple times.  It is a special book and I know that I’ll come back to it again to visit Jackson and Crenshaw.  Adopt Crenshaw yourself and make a new best imaginary friend.

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First glimpse of The BFG

Disney and Steven Spielberg are making a new movie version of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.  It’s a mixture of CGI and live action and it’s due out in mid-2016. Check out the teaser trailer below:

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My Top 10 Picture Books of 2015

This year has been another great year for picture books.  There has been a good mix of laugh-out-loud picture books to read aloud to groups and picture books with lots of details to share one-on-one.  Below is my list of favourite picture books from 2015 (some with links to my reviews).  I’ve been doing lots of school visits in my library role this year and most of the books below have been real winners with the kids I’ve read them to.  Some of them I didn’t get a chance to review (these I’ve elaborated on) but they have proved to be very popular.

  1. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey
  2. Little Red Riding Hood (Not Quite) by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley
  3. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
  4. I Want Spaghetti by Stephanie Blake
  5. My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley
  6. The Mystery of the Haunted Farm by Elys Dolan
  7. Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey – another winner from Aaron Blabey.  This was the book that got me hooked on his stories.  It’s about a pony called Thelma, who really wants to be a unicorn.  She discovers that fame isn’t all that its cracked up to be and that being yourself is more important.  Boys have groaned when they have first seen it but they laugh along with the story too.
  8. The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton – for a debut picture book this is absolutely brilliant!  Princess Pinecone wants to be a warrior and she needs a big, strong, fast horse to help her.  Her parents don’t get her wishes quite right and she ends up with a short, fat little pony that farts a lot.  This little pony might not be what she asked for but together they become a great team, and help the meanest warriors show their cuddly sides.  Kids from Year 1-8 have all loved this book and I never get sick of reading it aloud.
  9. Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers – Two huge names come together to bring imaginary friends to life.  It’s a quirky, funny and absolutely stunning book.  Fred is the best imaginary friend you could ask for, but he always finds that he isn’t needed anymore and he fades away.  Then one day, a boy called Sam wishes for a friend and everything changes.  It’s a book that I want to share and tell everyone about.  The only downside is that it is too long to read to a group of children.  I love it though and it will be one that I’ll read again and again.  Check out the book trailer here.
  10. The Cow Tripped Over the Moon by Tony Wilson – I always enjoy retellings of fairy tales and nursery rhymes and this book is a hilarious take on Hey Diddle Diddle.  The cow tries again and again to jump over the moon but she keeps messing up.  She trips over the moon, crashes into the moon, and sails straight over the moon, but she is determined to do it.  It’s a perfect book to share with pre-schoolers and it will have them laughing out loud.  It had me in stitches!

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My Top 10 Children’s Fiction of 2015

There have been so many great children’s fiction titles this year.  I’ve been furiously reading books for ages 7-12 for my many school visits this year so that I would have some fantastic new books to introduce kids to. Here are my top 10 children’s fiction titles of 2015.

  1. 9780733333682The Shark-Headed Bear-Thing by Barry Hutchison
  2. Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
  3. The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey
  4. Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad
  5. Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
  6. The Porridge of Knowledge by Archie Kimpton
  7. The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  8. The Ghosts of Tarawera by Sue Copsey
  9. The Marvels by Brian Selznick
  10. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (will review on the blog next year when it comes out in NZ)

My favourite children’s fiction title of 2015 is…Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad.  It has been one of the last books I’ve read this year but it really stands out for its wonderful characters and quirky humour.

My favourite series for children of 2015 is…The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey.  The combination of Aaron’s hilarious text and illustrations make this series an absolute winner!

 

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My Top 5 NZ Series for Kids and Teens

Like many kids I’m a fan of series.  There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into a great series and being able to read more than one book featuring your favourite characters.  While there aren’t a heap of New Zealand series for kids and teens there are some that really stand out for me.  Some of them make me laugh again and again, while others take me to different times and places.  Here are my Top 5 NZ series for kids and teens.

  • 1219373The Karazan Quartet by V.M. Jones
    • Book 1 – The Serpents of Arakesh
    • Book 2 – Beyond the Shroud
    • Book 3 – Prince of the Wind
    • Book 4 – Quest for the Sun
I was excited when the first book in the series, The Serpents of Arakesh, came out.  The idea of an orphan boy getting the chance to test a new computer game and go into this game to retrieve a magical object sounded fantastic, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As soon as I started I knew I was going to love this book, and the other three books in the series just got better and better.  It’s one of my favourite fantasy series and just writing about it now makes me want to go back and read it all over again.  After publishing this series and a couple of great contemporary (and award-winning) novels, V.M. Jones seems to have disappeared.  I really miss her writing and I wonder what she’s doing now.

These are all out of print now but if you have this series in your library, get it out on display and promote it to your Year 5+ kids, especially the boys.

Recommended for 9+

  • The Juno series by Fleur Beale
    • Book 1 – Juno of Taris
    • Book 2 – Fierce September
    • Book 3 – Heart of Danger

Once I got in to Juno of Taris I couldn’t put it down.  Fleur Beale’s strength with this series is her characters, the strong bonds between them and also the conflict between them.  Fleur really makes you feel for her characters and the strange situation that they are in.  After reading the first book, I would have been satisfied to leave the characters as they were, then Fleur wrote two sequels.  I really enjoyed following these characters as they settled into their new life, and it was great to find out more about the other characters in the series.

Recommended for 11+

  • Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
    • Currently 8 books in the series, starting with T-wreck-asaurus

Prehistoric toilet humour – what more can you ask for!  These books are full of dinosaur farts, dinosaur poo, caveman vomit and partial caveman nudity.  Not only are they disgusting and hilarious, you also learn heaps about dinosaurs and prehistoric life.  The challenge is trying to figure out what is factually accurate or just a huge whopper.  Kyle and Donovan are too of the wackiest people to ever be thrown together to create a series and it’s a truly winning combination.  If your children haven’t discovered this series yet they are seriously missing out.

Recommended for 7+

  • My New Zealand Story series by various authors

9781775431824The My New Zealand Story series from Scholastic New Zealand introduces children to different events and periods of New Zealand’s history.  I love this series because it gives a snapshot of the life of a fictional character (based on real people) and how they cope with life in the goldfields, or in colonial New Zealand, or how they react to a disaster like the Napier Earthquake.  These books also highlight how different the lives of the characters is to the lives of children today.  They really bring history alive for young readers and connect them with the history of their country.  The latest in the series is Canterbury Quake by my good friend, Desna Wallace.

Recommended for 9+

  • QueenTales of Fontania series by Barbara Else
    • The Traveling Restaurant
    • The Queen and the Nobody Boy
    • The Volume of Possible Endings
    • The Knot Impossible

Barbara Else’s Tales of Fontania series is a fantasy series that stands out from the crowd.  Barbara has an incredible imagination and her world and characters jump off the page.  Her tales are full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, a floating restaurant, stinky trolls, poisonous toads and much, much more.  You never know what who or what you’re going to meet next.  Thanks to the stunning covers by Sam Broad the books jump off the shelf and grab your attention.  I have it on good authority that there are more Tales of Fontania to come too.

Recommended for 9+

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My Top 10 NZ Read Alouds

There are lots of New Zealand books for children that are great read alouds, either to share one-on-one with your children or in a classroom.  Here are my Top 10 NZ Read Alouds, some old and some new (in no particular order).

Red Rocks by Rachael King

Red RocksWhile holidaying at his father’s house, Jake explores Wellington’s wild south coast, with its high cliffs, biting winds, and its fierce seals. When he stumbles upon a perfectly preserved sealskin, hidden in a crevice at Red Rocks, he’s compelled to take it home and hide it under his bed, setting off a chain of events that threatens to destroy his family. Can he put things right before it’s too late?

Suggested read aloud age: 9+

See Ya Simon by David Hill

Simon is a typical teenager – in every way except one. Simon likes girls, weekends and enjoys mucking about and playing practical jokes. But what s different is that Simon has muscular dystrophy – he is in a wheelchair and doesn t have long to live. See Ya, Simon is told by Simon’s best friend, Nathan. Funny, moving and devastatingly honest, it tells of their last year together.

Suggested read aloud age: 11+

The Brain Sucker by Glenn Wood

How would you act if part of your personality was stolen with a brain-sucking machine?

Lester Smythe has a black heart. He s invented a dangerous brain-sucking machine that removes the goodness from its victims, and he intends to use it to rid the world of all human kindness. But Lester didn t count on thirteen-year-old Callum McCullock and his two best friends, Sophie and Jinx. The trio vow to destroy the brain sucker. And nothing will stop them.

Suggested read aloud age: 8+

Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley

Snake is elegant and calm, and a little self-centred; Lizard is exuberant and irrepressible. Even though they’re opposites, they are good friends. With its wisdom, acceptance and good humour, Snake and Lizard captures the essence of friendship.

Suggested read aloud age: 7+

Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt

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.

All of Des Hunt’s other books are great read alouds too.

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

Northwood by Brian Falkner

Cecilia Undergarment likes a challenge. So when she discovers a sad and neglected dog, she is determined to rescue him. No matter what. But her daring dog rescue lands her in deep trouble. Trouble in the form of being lost in the dark forest of Northwood. A forest where ferocious black lions roam. A forest that hides a secret castle, an unlikely king and many a mystery. A forest where those who enter never return. But Cecilia is determined to find her way home. No matter what.

Suggested read aloud age: 9+

Juno of Taris by Fleur Beale

Juno is young; she has no authority, no power, and to question the ways of Taris is discouraged. She knows what it’s like when the community withdraws from her – turning their backs and not speaking to her until she complies.The Taris Project was the brainchild of a desperate twenty-first-century world, a community designed to survive even if the rest of humanity perished. An isolated, storm-buffeted island in the Southern Ocean was given a protective dome and its own balmy climate. And now Juno is one of 500 people who live there – but what has happened to the outside world in the years since Taris was established? The island has not been in contact with Outside since the early years of its existence.Juno yearns to know about life Outside, just as she yearns to be allowed to grow her hair. It is a rule on Taris that all must have their heads shaved bare. But is it a rule that could be broken? Danger awaits any who suggest it.

Suggested read aloud age: 11+

Super Finn by Leonie Agnew

When Mr Patel asks his class what they’d like to be when they grow up, Finn (most famous for getting in trouble and doing stupid things) chooses ‘superhero’. With his friend Brain, the two boys make a list of things needed to be a superhero, including superpowers and saving someone’s life. Can Finn use his superpowers to help save his World Vision sponsored child? Sometimes, despite the best intentions, things don’t always work out as planned. Join the hilarity as the boys’ money-making scheme comes unravelled. Look out, world …here comes Super Finn!

Suggested read aloud age: 7+

The Wolf in the Wardrobe by Susan Brocker

Finn had seen those eyes before. They were golden yellow, like the colour of the moon hanging low in the sky. And they were full of pain. When Finn comes across a car accident, little does he realize his life is about to change forever. The huge, injured animal he discovers is no dog – but a wolf, escaped from the circus. Finn is bewitched. Instinctively, he knows he must save the wolf, Lupa, and prevent her return to the cruel circus. Where to hide the wolf, and how to feed her, are just the beginning of Finn’s problems. For the sinister circus clown, Cackles, is hot on their trail and will stop at nothing to get Lupa back. But Cackles doesn’t even like wolves, so why is he so determined to get her? In a race against time to save Lupa, Finn gets help from unlikely quarters. But will it be enough?

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

The Ghosts of Tarawera by Sue Copsey

On holiday near Rotorua, Joe and Eddie are fascinated by the area’s bubbling mud pools and boiling geysers. Local volcanologist Rocky tells them about the Pink and White Terraces that existed on the lake where they’re staying, and how they were destroyed in the cataclysmic 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. But Joe’s fascination turns to unease when strange sightings on the lake and dark rumblings from the Earth hint that the volcano is reawakening. Can he persuade Rocky, who puts his faith only in science, to sound a warning?

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

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Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection Book Trailer

I’m a huge fan of Stephan Pastis’ Timmy Failure series.  It’s funny, incredibly silly and it’s perfect for readers who love their books with cartoons, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The latest book in the series, Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection is out now and I’ll be posting my review later in the week.  For now, enjoy this book trailer for the new book:

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