The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast by Chad Sell

The Cardboard Kingdom is one of my favourite kid’s graphic novels because it’s all about kids being their true selves. They build costumes and props out of cardboard and let their imaginations go wild. They can be a beast, a scientist or a sorceress. They are stories about acceptance but also having a whole lot of fun. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the second Cardboard Kingdom book and it has just been released. I loved returning to these characters that Chad Sell brought to life and seeing what they got up to next.

Halloween is approaching and the gang are planning their costumes. Vijay is excited to make The Beast bigger, better and scarier, but when the local teenagers crush his costume, they also crush his confidence. Nate is sure he’s seen a monster in his backyard, and when he tries to rescue his stepbrother, he falls down the stairs. No one believes him though, even his stepbrother. Nate is determined to prove that the monster is real. The monster shows up again and again, all over the kingdom, but no one knows why it is there or what it wants. They only know that it is super quick and super scary. Nate gathers the best scientists, heroes and villains from across the kingdom to track the monster and crack the case.

The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast is the best kind of sequel. It reunites us with our favourite characters, builds on their stories, and has a mystery that brings them all together. Where the first book was more stand-alone stories that introduced each character, Roar of the Beast has a story arc that is woven through each of the characters’ chapters. Each chapter is written by a different author and focuses on a particular character or characters, with Chad Sell bringing the characters to life in his terrific illustrations.

I love everything that Chad Sell illustrates. I really like his style of illustration, as the kids are realistic and have great expressions. I particularly like how Chad draws the kids as their characters. You see how the kids see themselves in character. Elijah’s costume is pretty basic but he looks completely different as the character of the Blob, and Jack lets his true self shine as the Sorceress.

Although they aren’t named on the front cover, each of the authors have created wonderful characters that all kids will be able to relate to. The cast of characters is diverse in ethnicity and sexuality, which is one of the aspects I really love about the Cardboard Kingdom books. Thanks to Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, David DeMeo, Jay Fuller, Cloud Jacobs, Barbara Perez Marquez, Molly Muldoon and Katie Schenkel for giving us your characters.

If you haven’t discovered this series you need to hunt both books down. The first book has been a firm favourite in my school library since it was released, and I know kids who will be super excited when they see Roar of the Beast on the shelf. If you want to add some diversity to your graphic novel collection you need to have the Cardboard Kingdom series.

Alone by Megan E. Freeman

I love both survival stories and verse novels, so any story that combines both is a winner with me. Dusti Bowling’s The Canyon’s Edge was my top book of 2020 because of this combination of survival story told in verse. If you’re a lover of verse novels too then you need to read Megan E. Freeman’s latest book, Alone. It’s a story of a girl trying to survive on her own after everyone else in her town disappears.

Maddie is just your average 12 year old. She wants to hang out with her friends and is frustrated at having to spend her weeks between two separate houses. Maddie organises a sleepover with two of her friends at her grandparent’s vacant house. She gives her mum and dad two separate stories so that they won’t suspect anything. However, an unexpected event occurs that leaves Maddie abandoned and alone. Her whole town has been evacuated, leaving houses empty and personal belongings strewn across roads and footpaths. The bits of information that Maddie can gather make no sense, and there is no one around to ask what happened. Maddie’s only companion is George, her neighbour’s Rottweiler. They explore as far as they are able to, finding food, water and other essential supplies. What they don’t find are other humans. Without power for heating and cooking, Maddie must rely on other means to help her survive. The library becomes vital for helping her learn new skills and for keeping her sane. Maddie holds on to the hope that someone will come for her, but as the months go by, Maddie has to cope with changing seasons and wild weather that make survival hard.

Alone is an absolutely amazing read! It is a tense, gripping and, at times, terrifying story of survival against the odds. I was really torn reading this book, because the pace races along which kept me turning the pages, but Megan’s writing is just so stunning that I wanted to savour her words. There were quite a few times when I was holding my breath while I was turning pages, because I was generally concerned for the life of this fictional character. There were also parts where I wanted to throw the book across the room because something didn’t seem fair.

Maddie is the kind of character we all wish we could be. You hope that, if you were put in her shoes, you could find ways to survive. She is incredibly resilient, even when faced with terrifying circumstances, including a tornado. Maddie is used to relying on technology to answer her questions, but when the power goes out, she has to rely on information in books. She raids her local library to find stories to read as an escape, but also nonfiction books to teach her how to light a fires. Those who have control over the funding of libraries should be given this book to prove how vital physical libraries are. Maddie has grown and matured so much by the end of the story that I wonder how she would cope returning to normal society. Maddie’s relationship with George is adorable. They have each other’s back and keep each other warm when the weather changes.

The main reason I love verse novels is because they so perfectly capture the raw emotion of the characters. This is what makes Alone so stunning. In just a handful of words, Megan captures Maddie’s despair, loneliness or horror. We know how she feels, what she’s thinking and what she fears. Alone is an emotional- rollercoaster that leaves you feeling exhausted but satisfied.

Alone is one of my top reads of 2021. I will be recommending it to both the kids and teachers at my school. It’s a book that will spread like wildfire between the kids and is perfect for those teachers who ‘don’t have much time for reading.’ It would be a great read aloud or class set for Years 7-9.

Training guides for knights and ninjas

I buy a lot of the books for my school library online, but nothing beats browsing a bookshop and discovering a gem. While browsing the wonderful Scorpio Books in Christchurch a few weeks ago I came across two very appealing nonfiction books that I immediately knew I needed for my library. So You Want to Be a Knight? and So You Want to Be a Ninja? (both published by Thames and Hudson) have both been adapted from previously released books, into a new and exciting format.

Both books are highly visual, with heaps of comic-style illustrations. They are full of humour, both in the text and the illustrations. They are sure to hook even the most reluctant of readers because they are just so engaging. There are lists, quizzes and diagrams galore, and like the Horrible Histories books, the author and illustrator have left the gory and gross bits in. There are pictures of skulls being split open with battleaxes and faces being scratched with ring daggers. You get both the positives and the negatives of being a ninja or a knight, and the author and illustrator highlight how dedicated and disciplined you need to be to become one. They are the sort of nonfiction book that kids will read from cover to cover, but you could also look in the index to find specific information.

These books are going to be so easy to sell to kids in my library! Sharing a section or two with kids (like ‘How to Get Into Your Suit of Armour’) would be a great way to do this. Check out the covers and blurbs below for both of the books. There is also So You Want to Be a Viking? and So You Want to Be a Roman Soldier? in the same series.

So You Want to be Knight? by Hannah Pang, illustrated by Takayo Akiyama

Do you know how to wield a lance? Can you somersault into a suit of armor? Join Kate, Eddie and Angus as they travel back to the 14th century to see if they have what it takes to become a knight. Tutored by the original author of the Book of Chivalry, they discover the secrets of the chivalric code, receive vital weapons training and learn top tips on how not to die in battle.

So You Want to Be a Ninja? by Bruno Vincent, illustrated by Takayo Akiyama

With padded ninja shoes underfoot and ninja stars around their belts, our plucky newbie ninjas Kate, Eddie and Angus travel back in time to 1789 Japan to enrol in the Iga School of Ninjutsu. Under the guidance of the Grand Master, they learn the ninjutsu craft from two of Japan’s stealthiest ninjas – Hanzo, the ninja of many disguises (some convincing, some not so much…) and Chiyojo, a kunoichi (female ninja) who is so clandestine that they’re not entirely sure whether she actually exists. Finally, at their fingertips are the tightly guarded secrets of ninjutsu!

Freaky, Funky Fish: Odd Facts about Fascinating Fish by Debra Kempf Shumaker and Claire Powell

Children’s nonfiction books about fish are few and far between. I have a few in my school library, but none that I think kids will pick up and read when they’re browsing. An awesome new book, Freaky, Funky Fish, on other hand, screams ‘PICK ME UP!’ I guarantee that this book will leave kids and adults alike fascinated by fish.

Debra Kempf Shumaker and Claire Powell introduce us to fish of all kinds. Inside this book there are fish that zap, sting and sing, fish that can fly, climb and squirt, and fish that use their special abilities to survive. The simple text throughout the book and the entertaining illustrations makes this a book perfect for preschoolers right through to older children, and everyone will find something that fascinates them. Each fish has a freaky or funky rating (you find this throughout the book and in the ‘Fish Inventory,’ which makes up the endpapers). In the back of the book there is more information about the different types of fish, as well as books and links to videos where you can find out more. This book is a wonderful introduction to a wide variety of fish and the author has included these great suggestions for finding further information.

Freaky, Funky Fish: Odd Facts About Fascinating Fish is one of the most awesome nonfiction books for kids. It is a whole lot of fun to read and it’s packed full of quirky fish facts. The cover is absolutely fin-tastic, with the holographic foil that draws readers towards it like an anglerfish’s glowing lure draws prey. You’re drawn to its shinyness and then you need to know what is inside.

Debra Kempf Schumaker’s text is accessible to a wide range of ages, so it’s great for children to read by themselves or for an adult to read aloud. I love that it is the kind of nonfiction book that less-confident readers can pick up and read, and there are lots of visual cues about the traits of the fish in the illustrations. If a teacher or librarian was reading it to a group, you could just read the story first, then go back to look at the illustrations in more detail. I absolutely love Claire Powell’s illustrations! Claire has given each of the fish a different personality and they have some much character. I have read this book so many times, because I love going back to Claire’s illustrations. So many of her illustrations make me laugh (their expressions are hilarious!) but I think my favourite is the female anglerfish, with the male anglerfish attached to her.

Allen and Unwin should be applauded for the thought that has gone in to the production of this book. The design of the book is stunning, from the holographic foil to the endpapers, and it deserves to be published in hardback. The love that has gone into the writing, illustrating, and design of this book will make it a winner with its target audience.

Freaky, Funky Fish is a must-have book in any school library, and any lover of aquatic creatures should have a copy of their own.

Graphic novels to hook the youngest readers

For the past 3 years the graphic novel section of my school library has been the most popular part of the collection. I struggle to keep up with the demand of my readers, especially the kids who will now exclusively read graphic novels. There are heaps of great graphic novels being published, for all ages, and some of the most fun ones are aimed at beginner readers. As you can see from the book covers above, many of them feature two main characters, and the humour in these stories comes from the interactions of the characters. Here are some of my favourite graphic novels for young readers.

Kitten Construction Company series by John Patrick Green

The Kitten Construction Company series are some of the first graphic novels created by John Patrick Green (also the creator of one of my favourite graphic novel series, InvestiGators). In Meet the House Kittens, we meet Marmalade, a cute, adorable kitten who is also a trained architect. She is sick of not being taken seriously, and so with some new feline friends, she sets out to show those ridiculous humans what they’re capable of. In the second book, A Bridge Too Fur, Marmalade and her Kitten Construction Company are in hot demand. Their latest assignment is to build the new Mewburg bridge, but they are forced to get help from a demolition crew of dogs. This series is adorable and seriously funny! The panels are big, there are puns galore and the characters are super expressive. They also read aloud nicely so they’re good ones to share.

Pizza and Taco: Who’s the Best? by Stephen Shaskan

Pizza and Taco are best friends and they have a lot in common. They both love water slides, and they’re both friends with Hot Dog and Hamburger. They can’t decide who is the best though. Maybe they need to have a debate and get their friends to decide. The illustrations are colourful (and make you hungry) and the text is simple but full of humour. Like pizzas and tacos, this is a tasty morsel of a book that kids will gobble up. They’ll be begging for more stories about these two besties.

Narwhal and Jelly series by Ben Clanton

Narwhal and Jelly are two of my favourite best buds. Every time I read one of their stories I grin the whole way through because they’re so adorably silly. Narwhal is bursting with happiness and he’s always super positive (and he’s also rather obsessed with waffles). Each of their books has a handful of stories, as well as some facts about narwhals, jellyfish and other sea creatures. The stories is perfectly pitched for young readers, Ben’s illustrations are simple and fun, and his characters are full of personality. Once you read one Narwhal and Jelly book you won’t be able to stop!

Shark and Bot by Brian Yanish

I know what you’re thinking – a shark and a robot couldn’t be friends. Wrong! Shark has just moved to a new place, all the way from Australia. Being a shark, he has trouble making friends, as anybody he meets just runs away screaming. Bot has trouble making friends too, especially with a blade for a hand. These two unlikely friends become best buds. When some bullies take over the playground, Shark and Bot think like their heroes, the Glo-Nuts, and confront the bullies the only way they know how – with the power of dance. The thing I like most about this graphic novel is that it pokes fun at itself. Shark and Bot’s dance moves had me laughing out loud! Any graphic novel that has step-by-step instructions on how to draw the characters is brilliant in my books, and kids can learn how to draw both Shark and Bot in the back of the book.

Arlo and Pips: King of the Birds by Elise Gravel

I love everything that Elise Gravel has created, so I was super excited to see that she had created a graphic novel for younger readers. Arlo believes that he is the greatest bird in the world. Pips is here to try and prove him wrong. There are plenty of birds more beautiful than Arlo, and Pips can certainly sing sweeter than him. Arlo tries to win Pips over by showing Pips the clever things that he can do, using his larger than average brain. As well has being a fun story, with a bit of adventure and suspense, you learn lots of interesting facts about crows along the way. Elise’s text and illustrations are perfect for beginner readers and the story is full of humour.

Honourable mentions – The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems and the Monkey and Cake series by Drew Daywalt and Olivier Tallec

While these two series aren’t technically graphic novels they are great stepping stones to graphic novels for beginner readers. In both the Elephant and Piggie series and the Monkey and Cake series, the authors and illustrators have two friends tackling a series of problems. There is no narration for these stories, rather it is the interactions of the characters that tell the story. The creators use speech bubbles for the conversations between the characters, there is lots of expression in the characters body language and the text, and the stories are hilarious. Both of these series are great to read together with beginner readers. My daughter and I take a character each and read or act out their parts. I also recommended this idea to a teacher at my school, who was looking for books to read with her 6-year-old son, and this worked brilliantly for her too.

Graphic novels to celebrate Pride Week

To celebrate Schools Pride Week and Out on the Shelves I wanted to highlight some of my favourite rainbow graphic novels for primary and intermediate students. I have each of these graphic novels in my primary school library collection and they are hugely popular. I personally feel that graphic novels are the perfect medium for stories featuring rainbow characters, as kids can really see themselves in the characters. From my experience, kids that love graphic novels will pretty much read any graphic novels I have in the library, and they just might discover a rainbow character that they identify with.

Although these graphic novels are mainly aimed at 9-12 year olds, they all have crossover appeal to teens. I have also included Mike Curato’s amazing graphic novel, Flamer, which is definitely aimed at older teens (not appropriate for primary and intermediate schools).

Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil

Three years ago, Ash’s mom, Kristin, left home and never came back. Now, Ash lives in the house where Kristin grew up. All of her things are there. Her old room, her old clothes, and the shed where she spent her childhood creating a fantasy world called Koretris. Ash knows all about Koretris: how it’s a haven for girls, with no men or boys allowed, and filled with fanciful landscapes and creatures. When Ash’s friends decide to try going to Koretris using one of Kristin’s spell books, Ash doesn’t think anything will happen. But the spell works, and Ash discovers that the world Kristin created is actually a real place with real inhabitants and very real danger. But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy. Ash uses he/him pronouns. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?

Girl Haven is such a cool story! It is an inspiring story about being the person you want to be, wrapped up in a fantasy adventure. The story is full of fun and adventure, but Lilah and Meaghan also make you think about gender identity and how society makes you fit in to one box or another. The characters are diverse, representing cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people, and different sexual orientations. I think this is an important book that will help children who are confused about their identity. It will help them to see that they are not alone, and that it is important to have people around you who understand and support you.

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter

The Dungeon Critters are a tight-knit gang of animals who go on adventures together. There’s Juniper (or June) the dog, Rose the cat, Prince Chirp the frog and Goro the snake. Between them they have magic, brute strength and cunning to help them fight for what’s right. After defeating a necromancer, an invitation discovered in his belongings leads the Dungeon Critters to The Baron’s ball. The Baron is Prince Chirp’s life-long arch nemesis and Chirp knows that he is up to no good. The gang decide to crash the party and look for clues. With their fancy disguises and fake identities they go to the ball, but Juniper gets mistaken for royalty. She keeps The Baron distracted while the rest of the gang search The Baron’s mansion. With proof in hand that The Baron is up to something, and The Baron’s mansion in flames, the gang head off in search of answers. Just as they start to get some answers, Prince Chirp is summoned back to the palace for ‘The Event’ that his parents are hosting. While at the palace disaster strikes and Juniper is arrested and put on trial. Friendships are tested as members of the Dungeon Critters find themselves on opposite sides of the trial. It is then up to their friends to uncover the truth and help their friends when they need it the most.

I absolutely adore Dungeon Critters! Everything about it is wonderful, from the story and the characters to the humour and the artwork. Everything gels together perfectly to make a graphic novel that is hilarious, action-packed, super-sweet and full of diverse characters. I loved every one of the characters, whether they were the heroes or the villains. They all have a lot of depth to them and history that is revealed throughout the story. Rose and Juniper obviously have some history together (as you can see from the first part of the story) and you discover more about their relationship as the story progresses. There is a fierce rivalry between Prince Chirp and The Baron and its fun to watch this play out. The standout character for me is Goro. He is a gentle giant who is always there when the gang need him, but he’s sensitive too. I loved learning more about him and his boyfriend, Horseboy.

Cardboard Kingdom, illustrated by Chad Sell, with stories by various authors

Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters—and their own inner demons—on one last quest before school starts again.

Cardboard Kingdom is bursting with a diverse cast of kids. Through their imaginations these kids can be whoever they want to be and they’re accepted by the other members of the cardboard kingdom. They may have had to hide their true selves before, but their imagination sets them free. Each story focuses on a different kid but the stories interconnect. This graphic novel has been read so many times in my library, since it was released in 2018. The sequel, Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast, has just been released in the US and I’m really looking forward to joining these kids again, and meeting some new characters.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?

The Prince and the Dressmaker is one of my absolute favourite graphic novels. I love the friendship between Frances and Prince Sebastian and the way that Sebastian’s true personality shines as Lady Crystallia. I love, love, LOVE the ending because it is so unexpected but superb. Jen Wang’s illustrations are reminiscent of early Disney films and I love all the details in each of the panels. The essence of this book is about being your true self and the joy of this shines bright.

Anything by Kay O’Neill (also published as Katie O’Neill)

Kay O’Neill is an award-winning graphic novel writer and artist from Christchurch. Kay has won some of the biggest awards in the comic world, including Eisner, Harvey, and Dwayne McDuffie awards for children’s comics. The first book of Kay’s that I read was Princess Princess Ever After, about two princesses who rescue each other and fall for one another. This was followed by The Tea Dragon Society, The Tea Dragon Festival, Aquacorn Cove, Dewdrop, and Kay’s latest book, The Tea Dragon Tapestry. All of Kay’s work, with the exception of Dewdrop, feature LGBT+ characters and their illustrations are gorgeous.

Kay is underappreciated here in NZ but has a huge fan base in the US. I can’t recommend their books highly enough.

You can read a fantastic interview with Kay O’Neill on the Christchurch City Libraries website.

Flamer by Mike Curato

Aiden is away at Scout camp in the summer between middle school and high school. Everyone is changing around him and he’s terrified of going to high school. He is bullied at school and camp and he knows that it will just get worse at high school. His dad is physically and verbally abusive, so camp is a reprieve from home life. As he navigates friendships, Aiden also tries to figure out feelings he is having for one of his fellow Scouts, Elias. Aiden knows that he’s not gay because he hates boys and how they behave, but  he can’t seem to stop thinking about Elias. Aiden starts to feel like everything is going wrong and makes a decision that affect those around him.

Flamer is an extremely powerful graphic novel that all teenage boys should read. It’s incredibly authentic, especially the language the characters use. It deals with bullying, body image, sexual identity, homophobia, and male friendships. As Jarrett Krosoczka says in the front cover ‘This book will save lives.’ It’s a book that tells readers that no matter how bad things may seem there is always someone who loves you and cares about you.

Panda at the Door by Sarah Horne

I have loved Sarah Horne’s illustrations for Sam Copeland’s books, including Charlie Changes into a Chicken and his latest book, Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everything. I love the way that Sarah brings out the unique personality of each character she illustrates. Sarah has just published her first book as both author and illustrator and it is such a fun read. As soon as I heard that it was about a panda with a love of Mary Poppins I knew I would love it.

Pudding the panda lives at Edinburgh Zoo. Everyday she makes people smile, and at the end of the day, she snuggles in to her pen and watches Mary Poppins on her TV. Her keeper, Gerald, gave her the DVD when she first moved to the zoo as a young cub, and it helped her to feel less lonely. What Pudding really wants though is a real family to take care of, like Mary Poppins. Gerald tells Pudding that the zoo are sending her away to China, but Pudding is determined to run away before that happens. Luckily, Pudding discovers that there is a family close by in need of help, so she sets off to find them. On the day that Pudding escapes, it is Callum Campbell’s ninth birthday. Callum comes home from school to find his dad storming out of the house. His parents have forgotten all about his birthday, and the only present he gets is a certificate telling him that he has adopted a panda. The next day, Pudding turns up on the Campbell’s doorstep, ready to turn their lives around. However, news spreads about Pudding’s escape, and a large reward is offered for his return. The Campbell’s horrible neighbours are certain that the panda is hiding at their house and they are intent on getting the reward. With some panda cakes, some clever disguises, and a spoonful of sugar, Pudding just might be able to bring the Campbell family closer together.

I adore Panda at the Door! It is brimming with heart and humour. I fell in love with Pudding the panda from the very first page and her antics kept me smiling right until the final page. Much like her idol, Mary Poppins, she changes the lives of those around her for the better and her positivity is infectious. The Campbell family have a few problems, and it seems that only a loveable panda can help.

The story is a lot of fun to read, and it would be wonderful to read aloud (especially to 6-10 year-olds). It is Sarah’s illustrations that make the story even better. So many of the illustrations made me chuckle, whether it is Mrs Campbell fainting in the hallway with her legs in the air, or Pudding dressed up like the Queen.

I love Sarah Horne’s first book as author and illustrator and I hope to read many more.

Twitch by M.G. Leonard

I’ve been a fan of M.G. Leonard from her very first book, Beetle Boy. I love all of her books, especially her most recent series, Adventures on Trains, written with Sam Sedgman. I was super excited to hear she had another new solo book coming this year, all about birdwatching and solving mysteries. Twitch is out now and it is absolutely wonderful!

Twitch is a kid who loves birdwatching. It’s nearly the summer holidays and he plans to spend it watching birds at Aves Wood, in the bird hide that he has painstakingly constructed. His plans are interrupted though when the police start hunting for an escaped convict from the local prison. The police are combing every inch of Aves Wood, scaring the birds away. All of his hours spent birdwatching have honed Twitch’s observation skills, and he notices some strange behaviour from visitors to Aves Wood. There are two girls who seem to be sneaking around and a man called Billy, who is camping out in the woods. Billy is friendly to Twitch and wants to know more about Aves Wood and its bird life. Robber Ryan has been seen in the area and Twitch is hoping that Ryan doesn’t find his bird hide. As Twitch tries to uncover the truth about what is happening at Aves Wood, he unwittingly puts others in danger. It’s up to Twitch and his friends to catch the criminal and right a wrong.

Twitch is an action-packed mystery that zips along at the speed of a kingfisher. I flew through the story, because I needed to find out how it ended. It’s a story that has something for everyone, from twists that swoop out of nowhere and clever characters, to tricky plans and birds galore. It’s also a story where you don’t know who to trust. Twitch will make you want to get outside and enjoy nature, because M.G. Leonard shows you that there is so much to explore and observe. Paddy Donnelly’s stunning cover makes you want to dive into Twitch’s story and meet all of its avian characters.

Like her Adventures on Trains series, M.G. Leonard weaves a perfect mystery, that keeps you guessing, and has the most satisfying ending. She makes you feel connected to the characters and concerned when they find themselves in trouble. I love the way that she sets up the characters, so that you’re never really sure about their intentions. Twitch’s bully/friend Jack is one of those characters who is tricky to figure out. At the start of the book he is trying to force Twitch to eat a worm but then becomes his friend. You’re never really sure whether he’s actually Twitch’s friend or not though. Twitch is a cool character and I’m sure he will inspire young readers to become birdwatchers themselves. He has made me want to take more notice of the birds around me.

I absolutely love Twitch and I hope we get to join him and his friends on more adventures. Twitch would be a wonderful read aloud for Years 5-8 as it will have everyone on the edge of their seats.

Walker Books and M.G. Leonard have created some wonderful videos to go with Twitch. Check them out below:

2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Finalists

The finalists for the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced early this morning. The judges have done an excellent job of selecting the best New Zealand books for children and teens, published in the last year. I’m so excited for the finalists, especially since many of my recent favourite NZ books have made the shortlist.

I’ll be highlighting the finalists on My Best Friends Are Books over the next few months, but in the mean time, here is the press release about the finalists:

From a field of 166 entries, the 28 finalists in the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are announced today. Across six main categories, these books offer the nation’s young readers a tasty smorgasbord of titles, packed with meaty themes and addictive plot lines.

“The diversity of ideas in this year’s entries really stood out,” says convenor of judges Alan Dingley. “It’s clear that our authors truly credit kids and young people with having the emotional intelligence to deal with complex themes, issues and feelings.”

Whether that’s celebrating Māori culture or dealing to the injustices of inequality, seeing a reflection of their own small-town community or exploring issues around body image, disability and adversity, no topic is off-limits. But, says Dingley, big ideas are delivered in a way that also entertains.

“Dystopian futures, ecological battles and immersive fantasy all take the reader into new worlds, something that has been so important of late, after so many have been trapped in their homes,” Dingley adds.

And while kids will find no shortage of reading material on the finalist list, Dingley thinks adults will discover plenty of treasures too.

“It’s a really accessible selection. If a child brings any one of these books home, I guarantee an adult will enjoy reading it also.”

This year’s Picture Book Award shortlist beautifully combines delicate illustrations that connect to and enhance sometimes delicate themes. There are laughs, tears, sighs (both contented and wistful) to be had in equal measure.

Picture Book Award Finalists

Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment, Laura Shallcrass (Beatnik Publishing)

Hound the Detective, Kimberly Andrews(Penguin Random House NZ)

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker (Mary Egan Publishing)

The Hug Blanket, Chris Gurney, illustrated by Lael Chisholm (Scholastic New Zealand)

This Is Where I Stand, Philippa Werry, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart (Scholastic New Zealand)

The books vying for the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award presented the judges with eclectic plot lines and endearing characters and they struggled to narrow down to a shortlist from the well-crafted titles.

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award Finalists
Across the Risen Sea, 
Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, T K Roxborogh, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Huia Publishers)

Red Edge, Des Hunt (Scholastic New Zealand)

The Inkberg Enigma, Jonathan King (Gecko Press)

The Tunnel of Dreams, Bernard Beckett(Text Publishing)

The top contenders for the Young Adult Fiction Award speak to the power of young people to profoundly influence the world around them, and don’t shy away from topics such as environmental destruction, oppression and injustice.

Young Adult Fiction Award Finalists

Draw Me a Hero, N K Ashworth (Lasavia Publishing)

Fire’s Caress, Lani Wendt Young, (OneTree House)

Katipo Joe: Spycraft, Brian Falkner (Scholastic New Zealand)

The King’s Nightingale, Sherryl Jordan (Scholastic New Zealand)
The Pōrangi Boy, Shilo Kino (Huia Publishers)

The judges found the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction a particularly strong category this year, stating “to say there is something for everyone is an understatement, this list has everything, for everyone”.

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction Finalists

Egg and Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook, Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)
Mophead Tu: The Queen’s Poem, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

New Zealand Disasters, Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić (Scholastic New Zealand)

North and South, Sandra Morris (Walker Books Australia)
You’re Joking: Become an Expert Joke-Teller, Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis (Write Laugh Books)

The judges faced an outstandingly strong and large pool of entries for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration. The finalists are characterised by a diversity of styles and media, but the books all have in common an expert use of colour and line to communicate emotion and pace and skilfully add texture to the narrative.

Russell Clark Award for Illustration Finalists

Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment, Laura Shallcrass (Beatnik Publishing)

I Am the Universe, Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House NZ)

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker (Mary Egan Publishing)

Moon & Sun, Malene Laugesenwritten by Melinda Szymanik (Upstart Press)
Te Uruuru Whenua o Ngātoroirangi, 
Laya Mutton-Rogerswritten by Chris Winitana (Huia Publishers)

The finalists in the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori will appeal to a broad range of abilities. Te reo in its simplest form will lift the language for beginners, while there are also titles with a depth of language to send the imaginations of confident speakers soaring. The judges were pleased to see a marked increase in the number of books written in te reo Māori, rather than translated from English.

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award Finalists

Aroha Te Whai Ora, Rebekah Lipp, illustrated by Craig Phillips and translated by Karena Kelly (Wildling Books)

Mihi, Gavin Bishop (Gecko Press)

Pīpī Kiwi, Helen Taylor, translated by Hēni Jacob (Penguin Random House NZ)

Ngake me Whātaitai, Ben Ngaia, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)
Te Uruuru Whenua o Ngātoroirangi, Chris Winitana, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)

Finally, the finalists for the Best First Book Award left the judges reassured that the future of children’s literature in New Zealand is in good hands. In fact, the standard is so high, that four of the books are also finalists in one or more of the main categories.

Best First Book Award Finalists

Laura Shallcrass for Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment (Beatnik Publishing)

Kate Parker for Kōwhai and the Giants (Mary Egan Publishing)

Jonathan King for The Inkberg Enigma (Gecko Press)

Amy Haarhoff (illustrator) for The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi, written by Clare Scott (Penguin Random House NZ)
Shilo Kino for The Pōrangi Boy (Huia Publishers)

The winners of each of the six main categories – Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori – take home $7,500 and are then in the running to be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with a further $7,500 prize money. In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2,000 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are the preeminent celebration of publishing for young people in Aotearoa. As well as acknowledging the best and brightest in books for children and teens, a core aspect of the Awards’ mission is to foster literacy and a love of reading amongst New Zealand’s children and teenagers.

This includes administering the ever-popular HELL Reading Challenge, which has encouraged children to read close to 12 million books since its inception, and running a programme of popular Books Alive events, which see authors and illustrators interact with Kiwi school children.Following the success of the online programme in 2020, Books Alive will have a strong virtual component again this year, in partnership with the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA). In addition, hundreds of Wellington school children will also be able to enjoy a very full programme featuring many of the shortlisted authors and illustrators in person on the day of the Awards ceremony.

After Covid made a virtual presentation necessary last year, this year finalists and publishers plan to celebrate in person, at a ceremony to announce the winners at Tiakiwai Conference Centre at the National Library in Wellington on 11 August.

The formidable task of narrowing the field to a list of finalists was met by this year’s experienced judging panel: Alan Dingley (convenor) has over 20 years of experience working in children’s/youth libraries; Mary Sangster, a specialist children’s bookseller; Nicola Daly, a senior lecturer in Children’s Literature at the University of Waikato; Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, an author, educationalist and director of Mīharo Murihiku Trust; and Stephen Clothier, a librarian, composer and performer.

They were joined by a panel appointed by Te Rōpū Whakahau, the national body that represents Māori engaged in Libraries, Culture, Knowledge, Information, Communication and Systems Technology in Aotearoa, to judge te reo Māori entries. Anahera Morehu (convenor), is the Kaiārahi at the University of Auckland Faculty of Business and Economics; Ruki Tobin, the Poutiaki Rauemi National Manager Māori for Services to Schools at Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, National Library of New Zealand; and Te Paea Paringatai, is a Library and Information Advisory Commission Commissioner, and a Library Manager at the University of Canterbury.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, Wellington City Council, Nielsen Book and The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

To find out more about the shortlisted books, go to https://www.nzbookawards.nz/new-zealand-book-awards-for-children-and-young-adults/2021-awards/shortlist/

Delicates by Brenna Thummler

I love Brenna Thummler’s debut graphic novel, Sheets, and it’s one that so many of the kids at my school have loved too. It follows Marjorie, a girl who runs her family laundry business, while dealing with everything that school throws at her and a dad that can’t move on from her mother’s death. Marjorie discovers that her house is home to a group of ghosts, including Wendell, a boy who died too young. Wendell and Marjorie find each other when they most need a friend. The last pages of Sheets promised a sequel, and Delicates is finally here. And what a sequel it is!

It’s nearly the end of summer and Marjorie is spending the last days hanging out with Wendell. Marjorie has finally been accepted by the popular kids and she hopes that this year will be different. She’s starts to worry though, that if anyone finds out that she is friends with a ghost, she’ll be labelled a freak or a weirdo. The more time that Marjorie spends with her new friends, the less time she is home to spend time with Wendell, and he starts to feel even more invisible than he already is. Eliza Duncan feels invisible too. She has a passion for photography and she’s determined to capture photographs of actual ghosts. The other kids at school think she’s weird and she doesn’t have any friends. Eliza gets bullied by Marjorie’s so-called friends and she starts to feel like a ghost herself. She finds a friend in Wendell, who feels the same way that she does. When popular girl Tessi goes too far and destroys Eliza’s photos, Eliza can’t take any more. It is up to Marjorie to find Eliza and put things right.

Delicates is a stunning sequel with a powerful message. Brenna tackles bullying and toxic friendships, while also developing her characters from Sheets. I like the way that Brenna has developed Marjorie and Wendell’s stories, while also adding Eliza to the mix. Eliza’s story shows readers the impact of bullying and how it leaves the victim feeling, and Marjorie’s story shows readers how doing nothing to help is also a form of bullying. Brenna gives us some great examples, in Tessi and Colton, of toxic friends.

Brenna’s illustrations blow me away every time! She uses a limited palette, but her illustrations are rich in detail. I am constantly amazed at the way she shows light and shadow. One of the pages just shows the exterior of Eliza’s house, but the way Brenna has shown the sunlight and the shadows of the tree on the house, makes the illustration look like a photo. Some scenes take place in the darkroom and others at night, so Brenna has only used red tones or blue tones, but it is so effective. I also love that Brenna has portrayed different body types throughout the book, meaning that most kids will be able to see themselves in the illustrations.

Both Sheets and Delicates are must-haves for primary, intermediate and high school libraries. They’re perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Hope Larsen and Svetlana Chmakova. Brenna Thummler has also created a graphic adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, which I highly recommend.