Prince of Ponies by Stacy Gregg

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction Finalist

Stacy Gregg is NZ’s answer to Michael Morpurgo. Stacy is a captivating storyteller who weaves the plight of animals and humans together with history, adventure and suspense. Prince of Ponies is one of her best.

Prince of Ponies has a duel storyline, one in the present and one in Poland during the Second World War. Mira is a Syrian refugee now living in Berlin. She is bullied at school and her mother appears to be busy working (she is not mentioned much). However, Mira’s life is changed when she meets a spirited pony while walking in the woods. The pony leads her to Zofia, an old woman with an astounding story to tell. Mira agrees to write down Zofia’s story in exchange for riding lessons. As we discover more about Mira and watch her bond with Zofia and her pony Emir grow, we also discover Zofia’s past and her childhood in a Poland ruled by the Nazis. Mira’s skill as a rider grows to which leads to her competing in her first competition.

There is something in this story for all readers – princely ponies, daring escapes, nail-biting competitions, history, and characters who you are routing for. Having read and loved The Princess and the Foal I really liked the cameo of Princess Jana. This was a nice connection between Stacy’s books. I also love the epilogue which connects the story to the history behind it. Stacy always makes this information accessible to her readers.

My only niggle about this book is the cover. Much like Stacy’s other books I really wish the covers were more neutral to encourage boys to read them.

Time Machine and Other Stories by Melinda Szymanik

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction Finalist

Like a lolly mixture or a surprise toy you never know what exciting things you’ll discover in a short story collection and this one has something for everyone. In this collection from Melinda Szymanik there’s a magical soup to help with maths, a messy monster under the bed, an extraterrestrial mum, a mysterious crocodile tooth, and a boy who gets kidnapped by pirates. There is a really good range of stories that kids could read themselves or a teacher could read them aloud to a class.

I like how Crocodile Dreaming and Time Machine II are separate stories but also interconnected and they gave me a classic Paul Jennings vibe. They reminded me of watching Round the Twist growing up. My absolute favourite story (and the one I keep thinking about) is The Gift. It’s a haunting story about the lengths a sibling goes to for their sister. It’s one of those perfect short stories that I know I’ll remember and come back to again and again.

Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan

Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chen is a story filled with mystery, intrigue, spies and secret missions, that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Set in Singapore in 1940 the story focuses on Lizard, a boy who steals a package that dangerous people want to get their hands on. Lizard is just a boy who steals to make ends meet but this latest job leaves him mixed up in Japanese plans to invade Singapore. Lizard’s friend, Lili, is secretly a special agent who is tasked with uncovering more about the Japanese plans. With the help of Lizard and his contacts, and a British girl staying at the Raffles Hotel, they set out to uncover the truth. The gunjin (Japanese military) are known for their ruthlessness and Lizard and his friends discover this first hand.

Lizard is a character who is very resourceful. He lost his parents at a young age and has been brought up by his uncle. His uncle disappeared suddenly several years ago so Lizard has to survive on his wits and the kindness of others. The girls in the story are quite resourceful too – Lili is a fearless secret agent and Georgina doesn’t live the sheltered life her parents believe she does.

Weng Wai Chan gives readers an interesting insight in to Singapore at the start of the Second World War. There are so many different nationalities in the city, from Chinese and Malay to British and Japanese. This is a period of history I didn’t know much about and I found it fascinating.

Lizard’s Tale is a very engaging story perfect for ages 10+. It’s a very worthy finalist in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.