Here come the Miniwings!

Miniwings is a terrific new series by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Kirsten Richards that I have to rave about.  The first two books in this new series have just been released and I can’t get enough of them.  I want my own set of Miniwings!

The Miniwings series is about two sisters, Clara and Sophia, and the mischievous little Miniwings (think My Little Pony toys that come alive whenever it’s just them and the girls).  There is Moonlight (a unicorn who loves his food), Glitterwing (who rains glitter when she flaps her huge, sparkly wings), Whizz (a fast little pony who loves playing tricks), Comet (a show-jumping and dressage star who hates losing), Firestorm (who is brave and a little bossy) and Oceana (who is loves the water and is very messy).  They love to have fun and play tricks so they are always getting Clara and Sophia in to trouble.

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Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder is about Clara and Sophia getting ready for Book Week at their school.  They meet their favourite author and try to make their book character costumes, with a little help from the Miniwings.

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In Whizz’s Internet Oopsie, the Miniwings discover the internet and the marvels of shopping online.  When they are left at home while the girls go to school the Miniwings find Mum’s credit card and go shopping.  When deliveries start turning up on their doorstep Clara and Sophia have to figure out how to sort out the mess, especially when one of their surprise packages is a goat.

I love everything about these books!  The covers are really eye-catching, with their appealing colours and sparkly stars, so you just know that girls in particular are going to be desperate to get their hands on them.  The Miniwings themselves are adorable but also super mischievous.  They each have very different personalities and Kirsten Richards shows this in her stunning illustrations.   Sally Sutton’s stories are so much fun to read and I know that kids are going to read these books over and over.  Sally has a lot of fun with language and has created her own Miniwing-ese.  The Miniwings  like to use words like ‘noggin-flash’ (idea) and ‘delishy’ (tasty).  The Miniwings also like to burst in to song throughout the story which made me laugh every time.

The Miniwings series are perfect for young readers who are just getting in to chapter books.  These fun, engaging stories are sure to hook young readers on books for life.  I can’t wait to see what the Miniwings get up to next!

 

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Interview with CATs hero Claude D’Bonair

Award-winning author and illustrator, Donovan Bixley, is currently chronicling the heroic adventures of the famous CATs pilot, Claude D’Bonair.  Donovan very kindly put me in touch with Claude, who took some time out from fighting the dastardly DOGZ to answer my questions.

  • We’ve heard the tales of your daring missions so far.  What are the three most important things to take with you on a mission?
Phew Zac, you had to start with a hard question. Let me think … well, the truth is that we never know where the next mission will take us, or what danger we’ll be heading in to. You can’t rely on anything. You might find yourself deep in enemy territory without your squadron. You might even lose your plane … which happens to me more often than I’d like to admit! Quick thinking and fearlessness has helped me get out all sorts of dangerous situations. So, I guess the best thing I can take on a mission is my courage and inventiveness … that, and a packet of cat biscuits.
  • How do you prepare before going off on a mission?
You’re asking the wrong cat. I’m not much for preparing. I just try and figure out what to do as I go along. My friend, Syd – he’s actually more like an uncle to me – he likes to “prepare” for a mission by eating and sleeping. Syd says, “In war, you never know when you’ll get you’re next meal”… that doesn’t explain why he used to eat and sleep all the time before the war too!
For me, a change is as good as a rest. I like to clear my mind, practicing Meowzaki, the martial art I learnt from my dad.
  • C-for is the cat responsible for the brilliant inventions that help you on your missions. What is your favourite of C-for’s inventions?
It would have to be his exploding fake dog poop.
  • You get in to some pretty hairy situations on your missions.  Who is the best cat to have by your side when catastrophe strikes?
When catastrophe strikes, it usually means you’ve downed your plane behind enemy lines. In those situations you want someone who doesn’t just follow orders. You want someone who speaks their mind and thinks on their feet. I think I’d want to have Manx at my side when I’m in a tight jam. Manx and I just got back from a dangerous mission in Venice and really she saved my tail that time. Manx is a top engineer and real problem solver in tricky situations.
  • Your dad was a race car driver, adventurer and pilot and you certainly seem to have inherited his bravery.  What was one of the most important lessons that you learnt from him?
Ha ha, that makes me think of a time when I was young, when dad and Syd took me on one of their crazy adventures to Japan. Syd is always suspicious of new things – but this one time, he thought wasabi paste was a lip cream – ha ha – after that, he wouldn’t eat Japanese food for the rest of the trip.
My dad was completely different. He was never afraid to try new experiences. It can be scary at first, especially when you’re in a new place and you don’t speak their language, but you soon find that they are just like you. Whether someone was cat or dog, ginger striped, or black and white spotted, my dad always treated others they way he wanted to be treated. So I guess he left me with two great lessons: to be fair and to be fearless. I owe my life to those lessons, and even though CATs are at war with the DOGZ army, I’ve often made friends with dogs who’ve helped me when I’ve been in greatest need.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not off foiling the DOGZ plans?
You know, I’m not one of those cats who like to lounge around sleeping all day (unlike some cats I could name). I love to get out and see the world and try new things. One day, when cats and dogs are living in peace again, I want to take off and see some of the friends I’ve made around the world. That will make for some exciting adventures.
Claude

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Interview with Darkmouth author Shane Hegarty

Shane Hegarty is the author of the awesome Darkmouth series.  It’s full of legendary creatures of all kinds and there are plenty of laughs.  You may have been one of the lucky people who got to hear Shane talk about his books when he visited the top half of the country last month (I’m very jealous!).  The third book in the series, Chaos Rising, is soon to be released here in NZ and I got the chance to interview Shane about the series.

  • What inspired you to write the Darkmouth series?

I ran out of excuses not to do it! From a very young age I’d wanted to write a story of fantasy and adventure, with scary bits, jokes, an ordinary hero in extraordinary circumstances. In the end, I wanted to write a story for my own kids that gave me the focus to make the relationships the heart of it even as their town is under attack.

  • What 3 words would you use to describe the series?

Fun. Fantastic. Freaky.

  • What would your Legend Hunter name be?

Shane the Easily Spooked.

  • Which of your characters do you most relate to?

I relate to a few in different ways. Finn has to become a Legend Hunter even though he doesn’t feel strong enough, and I recognize his fear. His friend Emmie is fearless, and she’s the flip side of things – how I would actually like to be. Finally, Finn’s dad Hugo is a but pushy to his son, and I guess I recognise that even if I don’t want to be a pushy dad!

  • Which Legend would you least want to encounter?

There’s a Hydra in Darkmouth 3: Chaos Descends, and I really wouldn’t like to meet any of its heads on a dark night. Or a bright day. Or at any time.

  • The series is being adapted in to an animated movie.  Will you have any part in the creation of the movie?

I’ve seen some of the early drawings and story ideas they’re working on in Hollywood, and it looks amazing. There are brilliant directors involved – Dave Pimentel (Moana) and Doug Sweetland (Storks) – so I know they’ll do a great job. I’m having fun watching it being put together.

  • What books do you recommend for readers who love your series?

If you haven’t read Derek Landy’s amazing Skulduggery Pleasant, they’re so good. I always tell readers of my own favourite book, Douglas Adams’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I’m always delighted when a reader is inspired to pick that up because they always love it.

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Flying Furballs: Unmasked by Donovan Bixley

Claude D’Bonair and his cat friends are back for their third Flying Furballs adventure in Unmasked.  Donovan Bixley’s Flying Furballs series is one of the best series for young readers around.  The stories are packed with action, close shaves, puns to make you laugh-out-loud, brave cats and horrid dogs.  They are perfect for newly independent readers because there are lots of Donovan’s wonderful illustrations throughout the story and they are just really fun to read.

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Claude D’Bonair is the heroic, young pilot in the CATS Air Corps, who you follow on his adventures in to DOGZ territory.  He flies all over Europe to try and foil the DOGZ plans and rescue fellow cats.  In the latest book in the series, Unmasked, Claude and Manx, CATs’ head engineer, have to go on an undercover mission to Venice to recover some secret plans.  With great escapes, explosions and marvelous inventions, Unmasked is another thrilling story in this fantastic series.

Flying Furballs is hugely popular in my library and I’m always trying to get new kids hooked.  The series is especially great for 7-9 year olds and they would be fantastic stories to read aloud to a Year 3/4 class.  I can’t wait to read more Flying Furballs adventures!

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Ruru’s Hangi by Nikki Slade Robinson

Nikki Slade Robinson’s award-winning picture book, The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, is my favourite book to read around Matariki.  In this book Nikki Slade Robinson introduced young children to Matariki through Kiwi and his friends in a simple yet fun way, using a mixture of English and te reo in the text.  In Nikki’s latest book, Ruru’s Hangi, she introduces young children to the concept of a hangi as the creatures celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies.

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Ruru has been sitting on her eggs for 30 days and 30 nights and on day 31 the eggs wriggle and hatch.  Kiwi hears Ruru’s elated cries and goes to tell the other creatures in the forest.  Kiwi has an idea to celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies and gets the other creatures to help out.  They dig a hole and gather all of the things that they need to make a hangi.  When the hangi is ready they call Ruru and they share the kai together to celebrate.

Ruru’s Hangi is a perfect introduction to the hangi for young children and is another wonderful bilingual text from Nikki Slade Robinson that is great to share with young children, especially preschoolers.  Nikki introduces children to native birds and creatures, like the Tui, Katipo and Weka who all help to prepare the hangi. Nikki’s illustrations are fun with each of the creatures having a distinct personality.  The Te Reo used is basic and weaves effortlessly in with the English, so this is a great book to share even if you know very little Te Reo.  Nikki uses lots of repetition in the text, like:

‘Ka pai, perfect!’ they said. Shhh! Don’t tell Ruru!’

Nikki ends the book with a simple explanation of how to prepare a hangi, just like the creatures in the book have done.  Ruru’s Hangi is a invaluable resource for early childhood centres and schools.  It is a book that will be used by teachers and librarians around the country but also a book that children will love.  Anyone who is looking for a wonderful bilingual story to share with their children should get a copy of Ruru’s Hangi.

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My Pictures After the Storm by Eric Veille

A book that makes you laugh every time you read it is a sure sign of a great book.  The first time I read My Pictures After the Storm, the latest ‘curiously good’ book from Gecko Press, I was laughing the whole way through because I didn’t know what to expect.  Now, every time I read it I know what is coming and it is just as funny.

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My Pictures After the Storm is a stand-out book and my favourite book at the moment.  I want to show it to everyone I see and I am desperate to show it to all the kids at school after the holidays.  It features a series of before and after illustrations that are incredibly clever and absolutely hilarious. Eric Veille shows us the changes to his pictures after the storm, after a cannonball, after the hairdresser and much more.

The text is sparse but the language that Eric uses is rich.  On the My Pictures after the hairdresser page for example the lion-tamer goes from being ‘a lion-tamer unconcerned’ to ‘a lion-tamer nicely permed.’ A cake after the elephant turns into a splitch and an octopus becomes a splatch.  One of my favourite pages is ‘My pictures after a cold,’ because you have to say the names of the fruit and vegetables like you have a cold.

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Eric’s illustrations are what makes this book so brilliant.  They are full of humour and expression.  It is so much fun to compare the before and after pictures to see what has happened to everything on the page.  Each of the scenes is something that kids and adult will be able to relate to, from having lunch and going swimming to having a battle and eating too many potato chips.

My Pictures After the Storm is a book that kids will beg to read again and again and adults will be happy to do so.  It’s a book that will have you laughing together and noticing new things on the page each time you read.  It is sure to engage even older children who will appreciate the clever illustrations and humour.

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The Treehouse Fun Book 2 by Jill Griffiths, Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

Do you know a fan of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s Treehouse series? Are you looking for something to occupy them these school holidays? You need to rush out to your nearest bookshop and buy a copy of The Treehouse Fun Book 2 from the creators of the Treehouse series.


The Treehouse Fun Book 2 is the perfect book for any fan of the brilliantly funny series.  It is chock full of Terry’s hilarious illustrations that kids love and Andy, Jill and Terry’s crazy antics.  It’s a book to make kids really feel like a part of the series as they fill in their details at the start of the book and get to control the action by writing and drawing. You can use the combining machine to make crazy new animals, create moo-vie posters, decipher coded messages, create a disaster in the treehouse, write in speech bubbles to create wacky conversations between animals, and make up names for Jill’s rabbits.  There really is hours of entertainment in this book and it will have kids laughing out loud.

Grab a copy of The Treehouse Fun Book 2 to keep your kids entertained these school holidays.

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Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

I loved Cecelia Ahern’s debut YA novel, Flawed.  It was fast-paced, tense and the ending left you wanting more.  After a year long wait the sequel and finale, Perfect, is finally here and it had me on the edge of my seat.

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Celestine North lives in a society that demands perfection. After she was branded Flawed by a morality court, Celestine’s life has completely fractured – all her freedoms gone.

Since Judge Crevan has declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been a ghost, on the run with the complicated, powerfully attractive Carrick, the only person she can trust. But Celestine has a secret – one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground.

Judge Crevan is gaining the upper hand, and time is running out for Celestine. With tensions building, Celestine must make a choice: save only herself, or risk her life to save all the Flawed. And, most important of all, can she prove that to be human in itself is to be Flawed…?

Perfect is the sequel that I hoped for.  It is thrilling, tense, action-packed, and twisty.  Celestine is forever on the run and you just know that she could be caught at any stage.  Celestine’s grandfather tells her to trust no one and she certainly finds this out throughout the course of the book.  There are those who want to help but know they need to cover their backs, those who seem trustworthy but blame Celestine for messing up their lives, and there are those who are willing to do anything to bring her down and silence her.  Celestine and her fellow Flawed find themselves in some situations that could blow up at any moment.

I have really enjoyed seeing Celestine’s character evolve, from the girl who had everything to the girl who had nothing.  She went through so much and became so strong.  Although she didn’t want to be the ‘face’ of the Flawed she took a stand for their rights and did everything she could to try to bring the system down.

In a market full of trilogies it was great to read a story that is just told in two books.  Although there were a couple of places where there was a lull in the action I felt that overall everything was covered in the two books.  By the end I felt that everything was resolved and that there is hope for the future.  Celestine’s story is set in Humming, which is only a small part of the world, so I am curious to see if Cecelia Ahern will return to this world and show us a different part.  Humming was supposed to be the test of the Flawed system but are there other places in the world who have a similar system that they adopted?

Several of the Year 7/8 girls at my school absolutely loved Flawed and are dying to get ahold of Perfect.  This second book gets a little steamy at one stage but would still be fine for good intermediate age readers, especially the girls.  Celestine is sure to be another strong female character, like Katniss, that readers will love.

 

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Win a Timmy Failure Prize Pack

I’m super excited for the release of the sixth book in Stephan Pastis’ Timmy Failure series!  It’s called The Cat Stole My Pants and here is the blurb:

Timmy is in Key West, Florida, ostensibly for the honeymoon of his mother and Doorman Dave – if they even got married, which Timmy doubts. Unfortunately for Timmy, crime doesn’t take a holiday. And because Total has fled to Cuba, Timmy must rely on a new partner for help: Doorman Dave’s nephew Emilio. Meanwhile, a surprise newcomer shows up in Timmy’s life and, as if things couldn’t get more hectic, Timmy’s pants have been stolen by a six-toed cat.

Thanks to the wonderful people at Walker Books Australia I have a Timmy Failure prize pack to give away.  The pack includes a copy of each of the 6 books in the series and a pair of Timmy Failure sunglasses.

Timmy Failure Prize Pack

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Noah.

The Cat Stole My Pants by Stephan Pastis is released in Australia and NZ on 27 April.

 

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Lonesome When You Go Blog Tour – Interview with Saradha Koirala

Saradha Koirala is the author of the wonderful Lonesome When You Go, a YA novel that follows Paige and her high school rock band in the lead up to Rockfest.  To help spread the word about Saradha’s book, her publisher, Makaro Press has set up a blog tour.  I’m very pleased to be part of the Lonesome When You Go blog tour and today I get to share my interview that I did with Saradha about her book.  Thanks for joining me Saradha!

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  • What inspired you to write Lonesome When You Go?

I was on a train heading out to Johnsonville to see my brother and his oldest friend and just started thinking about when we all played in a band together in high school and what an excellent and tumultuous time that was in the midst of all the other dramas that those years can throw at you.

I wrote the briefest idea out on a scrap of paper there and then and talked to them about it when I arrived. We had a good old reminisce!

Our high school band’s rise and fall was pretty ordinary really and I wanted the story to be much more dramatic than that. It was a chance to revisit that time but I also ended up amalgamating a bunch of different high school experiences – as student and teacher – and a whole lot of rock and roll times, real and imagined. It seemed like a fun concept and it did turn out to be a lot of fun to write.

Being a high school teacher lent itself quite naturally to wanting to write for teenagers too, and I had an idea of what I thought some of the young women I’d been teaching might want to read about – a cool rock chick who isn’t fixated on a mysterious sparkly boy!

  • What are the songs that shaped teenage you?

I spent a lot of my early teen years listening to whatever I could find in the house, which was mostly popular tunes from the 60, 70s and 80s. It wasn’t until people started giving me mixed tapes and I could buy my own CDs that I really saw how music could change my views of self and shape my teenage identity.

Radiohead, Violent Femmes, Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr, Stone Temple Pilots and Shihad were often on high rotation in my CD player. Music is much easier to access these days, but back then I really got to know the few albums I owned inside out! I would analyse the lyrics, read the liner notes, talk to my friends about them, sing along and all that.

I really think those bands of the mid-nineties tapped into a collective feeling that teenagers hadn’t been able to vocalise yet. They gave us permission to feel moody and outraged, while also acknowledging the sweetness we desired from the world. But it’s been a long time since I was a teenager, so maybe that’s Paige talking.

  • What genre of music best sums up your life?

Some days I would say it’s been a bittersweet folk album in the vein of Joni Mitchel’s Blue, but mostly I like to look at life as an Indie pop band full of cheesy catchy lyrics, bright colourful beats and frivolous synthesizers.

If Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan could write a soundtrack for the novel then everything in the world would make sense to me!

Actually I say that because I think he’s a master of creating story and character in very few words, but his music probably isn’t quite garage rock enough to capture the rock and roll aspect of the book.

So in that case, I’d say The Pixies. I kind of had The Pixies in the back of my mind as I described Vox Pop playing and I think they’re just an incredible band with a totally kick-ass bass player.

  • What is the most important lesson that you learned from being in a band?

Because I tend to be quite a self-sufficient person and my favourite things to do (writing and reading) are largely solo tasks, I think playing in bands taught me how to be part of something beyond myself. I never really played team sports, but was always in school orchestras, choirs, chamber music groups and, later on, rock bands.

In all those groups we had competitions to work towards, tours to organise, performances in front of sometimes many, but often very small audiences, rehearsals to get to on time and other band members to consider when making decisions and playing. It isn’t enough to just learn your part well and play it through, you really need to tap into what everyone else is doing and how they’re going, what they need and how what you’re doing affects all of that.

  • As well as being the author of Lonesome When You Go you’re also a poet.  Is the process of writing a novel similar to writing poetry for you?

They’re really very different processes for me and I’ve continued to do both simultaneously since finishing Lonesome. I enjoy being able to shift between the different forms.

When writing a novel I find I can set myself much more tangible goals – 1000 words a day, complete a particular scene etc. It’s a more continuous process too, as you’re developing and building on what you wrote last time and thinking about where you left your characters and what might happen to them next. With a novel there’s a lot of planning involved (for me, anyway) and behind the scenes stuff that helps inform my picture of the characters and their world.

I find poetry more difficult to describe in terms of a process as I’m less systematic about it. The poems come from everywhere and sometimes when I least expect them. I find I need to be open to poetry’s own schedule rather than try and force out a number of lines a day or give myself a deadline to complete something. Poetry doesn’t have to stay within a certain world or voice either, so there’s less need for continuity or meeting reader expectations.

The crafting process is probably similar for both. I think you need to be able to look at the world in a certain way to be a poet, and it’s a way of seeing the world that I really value.

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