The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea by Renée Treml

Renée Treml’s Sherlock Bones series is one of my go-to suggestions for kids who like books like The Bad Guys and Dog Man. It’s a fun and fact-filled series about a bird skeleton who solves mysteries in a natural history museum. Renée has now brought her humour and fantastic illustrations to her new series of graphic novels for younger readers. The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea bursts on to shelves this month with the first two books, It’s Owl Good and Squeals on Wheels.

Ollie is an owl who wears glasses. He’s worried about what others will think of him wearing glasses, because owls are known for their powerful vision. Maybe they can help Ollie to disguise his true identity, like his superhero idol, Super Owl. Without his glasses though Ollie can’t see properly, and he ends up tripping over Bea’s feet. Bea is a rabbit with huge feet, but she thinks that they’re no good for anything. Ollie and Bea will help each other to find their inner superhero, and become best friends in the process.

In Squeals on Wheels, Ollie is ready to go roller skating but Bea keeps making up excuses why she can’t go. Ollie wants to help Bea to find her skates, and even gets the super team to help. Bea admits that she is worried about looking silly, but with a little help from Ollie and his ridiculous costumes, Bea gives it a go.

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea is a totally adorable and absolutely hilarious graphic novel series for younger readers. The stories are simple, but fun, making them perfect for newly independent readers. The illustrations are cute and the characters are super expressive. The panels are sparse but colourful, which makes the stories easy to follow for younger readers. Renée’s humour shines through in both the pun-filled text and the illustrations. I love a good pun and there are plenty of them in these stories to keep readers laughing out loud.

Kids will find Ollie and Bea really relatable because they deal with real worries with fun and humour. Whether it’s worrying about being teased because of wearing glasses or worrying about looking silly on roller skates, Ollie and Bea are there for each other and try to help each other feel better. I especially love Ollie’s support and encouragement in Squeals on Wheels. I really like the way that Ollie and Bea interact with the reader at different parts too. It really makes the reader feel like part of the story.

Sandra Nobes has done a wonderful job of the cover design of the series. These covers will certainly grab kids’ attention, especially Ollie in his bright wig and underpants on the cover of Squeals on Wheels.

If you know kids who love the Elephant and Piggie or Monkey and Cake stories you need to get them The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea. They’ll be hooked from the first chapter. I hope that this is the first two of many Ollie and Bea books.

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne

Magic and science don’t often go together. Magic is mysterious and unexplainable whereas science is grounded in fact and can always be explained. Both magic and science are equally important in Denis Knight and Cristy Burne’s new series, Wednesday Weeks. The first book in the series, Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows, is out now and it’s absolutely brilliant!

Wednesday Weeks is always accidentally creating havoc, whether it’s setting things on fire or blowing things up. Her teacher knows what to expect and keeps a fire extinguisher handy at all times. If that wasn’t bad enough her sorcerer grandfather keeps materialising in her classroom, ready to take his apprentice away. Wednesday never asked to be a sorcerer’s apprentice, but her grandpa keeps showing up. One day, Wednesday will be the Protector of the Realms and her grandpa needs her to be ready. When Wednesday and her grandpa travel to the Realm of Slugs, they are attacked by the fire-flinging, psychotic goblin king, Gorgomoth. Grandpa refuses to give Gorgomoth the Ruby Ring, with which he would enslave the Nine Realms, so Gorgomoth takes grandpa and disappears through a void. Together with her best friend Alfie, a prime-number fan and robotics expert, and a wise-cracking talking skull called Bruce, Wednesday must learn to control her magic so that she can rescue her grandpa from the Tower of Darkness. Together they will have to solve puzzles, outwit fairies and survive a laundry maze to reach the Pit of Extreme Discomfort in the heart of the Tower of Darkness.

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows is an epically awesome adventure that had me laughing out loud the whole way. There is something for everyone in this story, whether you like coding and mathematical problems, magic spells and sorcerers, or power-crazy villains and sarcastic sidekicks. Wednesday and Alfie are two characters that I would follow anywhere. Between them they can solve any problem that comes their way.

The book is bursting with humour, from the characters, like Bruce the wise-cracking talking skull, to the witty dialogue, and Denis and Cristy’s spot-on comedic timing. There are so many parts of the story that made me laugh out loud, like the fact that there is a Realm of Unfriendly Cats, or that Wednesday’s grandpa has a Settee of Interdimensional Contemplation. I love that Bruce is totally sarcastic and you never know what will come out of his mouth. You can tell that Denis and Cristy had a lot of fun writing this story and really let their imaginations go wild. I mean, a maze in a laundry, filled with clothing that turns into a kraken?! Fantastic!

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows has me hooked on the series. I’m super excited for book two, Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny, which is out in September. I can’t wait for more adventures with Wednesday, Alfie and Bruce!

Rainbow Grey by Laura Ellen Anderson

I am a HUGE fan of Laura Ellen Anderson! Her Amelia Fang series was the first series of books that my daughter and I had a shared obsession with. I had listened to a couple of the Amelia Fang audiobooks myself and loved them, and I suggested to my daughter that we listen to one on the way to school one day. She absolutely loved listening to them and we got to the stage where we were quoting lines from the books to each other. It felt a little like our own secret club, because no one else in our family knew what we were going on about. When we finally listened to the last book in the series, Amelia Fang and the Trouble with Toads, we were both sad that we wouldn’t have any more adventures with Amelia, Squashy, Florence, Grimaldi and Tangine. They are the BEST audiobooks because Zoe Thorne perfectly captures the characters with her voices. My daughter told me that I couldn’t read the books aloud, after we had listened to the audiobooks, because ‘your voices don’t sound the same dad.’ Like so many other fans of Laura’s books, I was incredibly excited when she announced she was writing a new series, called Rainbow Grey. It feels like I’ve been waiting a long time for Rainbow Grey (especially when I was seeing people in the UK getting the most beautiful early copies of the book, with rainbow sprayed edges!). Thankfully, Rainbow Grey has now arrived in NZ! Over the past week I’ve been reading Rainbow Grey aloud to my daughter and we have been enthralled.

Ray Grey lives in the Weatherlands in the City of Celestia. The Weatherlands are responsible for creating the weather for Earth. The Sun Weatherlings look after the great Sunflower in the sky that provides light and warmth for humans, and there are Snow, Rain and Wind Weatherlings who use their magic to give Earth its weather. Ray’s friends, Droplett and Snowden, both have weather magic but Ray has none. Ray wishes she had magic and longs for adventure, like her hero, Earth explorer La Blaze Delight. Ray gets more than she bargained for though when a map in an old book sends her off on a forbidden trip to Earth. Ray and her friends discover a crystal which unleashes a power that hasn’t been seen in the Weatherlands for centuries. Suddenly, Ray has more power than she ever imagined was possible. Where there is great power though, there is always someone wanting that power for nefarious means. Someone Ray thought was her friend becomes her enemy and they will stop at nothing to take Ray’s new-found power. With the help of her friends and family, Ray will have to defeat this new enemy in order to save Earth from destruction.

I absolutely LOVE Rainbow Grey! This is a book bursting with magic, imagination, humour and heart. It is twisty, nail-biting, funny and completely brilliant. Every time we would read this book together, I found myself saying ‘let’s just read one more chapter,’ because I didn’t want to put the book down. There are some real cliff-hanger endings, where you can’t possibly stop! We were both hooked and couldn’t wait to dive back in to it again.

Like all of Laura’s stories, you immediately click with the characters and they feel like your best friends. Ray is incredibly determined, never giving up on what she believes in, and she is very brave. Snowden is clever and always looking for solutions to the conundrums that him and his friends find themselves in (and he loves drizzle pickle sandwiches!). Droplett is sassy, very good at puddle-porting, and will stand up to anyone who is mean to her friends. Ray, Snowden and Droplett make an amazing team and they always have each other’s backs. You feel like you are right there beside them as they try to save the world. The situation gets pretty tense towards the end and we ended up biting our nails, wondering how they were going to get through.

The thing I love most about Laura’s stories is the humour and this book radiates humour. The humour is there in the names of the characters (La Blaze Delight and her pigeon, Coo La La, is just one example), it’s there in the dialogue and in the illustrations, and it’s there in the events of the story. There are so many parts that made us laugh, like knicker-nadoes, exploding cloud-cats, and people being called thunderbum-faces.

Laura Ellen Anderson’s cover is amazing, with Ray’s rainbow hair swirling through the title. If I didn’t already automatically buy a new Laura Ellen Anderson book I would certainly be picking this one up to read. Laura has such a recognisable illustration style, and one of the things I love most about her illustrations is that every character looks different. Each of the different types of Weatherling has a different style of dress. Droplett has her raincape and has tight-fitting clothes (good for puddle-porting), whereas Snowden has snow-white hair, gloves and a scarf. I especially love La Blaze’s style.

Laura wraps up the story nicely, but gives us a tantalising glimpse of what is to come in the epilogue. Both my daughter and I will eagerly await the sequel and there will be squeals from both of us when it is published. I can say with confidence that Rainbow Grey is a FANTASTIC read aloud, for ages 6-10. It is one of those stories that would be particularly good as a family read aloud, if you have a range of ages to cater for.

The Memory Thief by Leonie Agnew

Leonie Agnew is one of my favourite New Zealand authors because each of her books is so different. Leonie can write funny stories, stories about kids standing up for what they believe in, and stories with touches of magic and darkness. Leonie’s latest book, The Memory Thief, is unlike anything I’ve read before and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Seth is a troll. By day he is frozen in stone, but after the sun goes down he comes alive. His home is a suburban park, surrounded by an iron fence. Iron burns Seth, so he can’t leave the park. He can’t eat normal food, but keeps his hunger at bay by eating the memories of humans. The only one who understands life as a troll is Celeste, the other troll who lives in the park. One night, however, Seth meets Stella, a girl who lives beside the park. Stella becomes the closest thing to a friend that Seth has ever known, but their relationship changes when Seth confesses his secret. Stella has a lot of painful memories that she would rather forget, and she forces Seth to eat them. With each bad memory that Seth takes, both him and Stella change. Seth realises that he has caused so many troubles taking memories and that only he can put it right.

The Memory Thief is an amazing story that captivated me from start to finish. It is a story infused with imagination, wonder and magic. This is an ancient kind of magic though, that feels more dark than exciting. I loved every minute of this story, but I also feel haunted by it, days after finishing it. It is one of those stories that you keep thinking about and want to keep coming back to. Seth and Stella are complex characters, who you are constantly trying to figure out as the story progresses. Like a troll eating a memory, Leonie gives us tantalising details about the characters to keep us wanting more.

Leonie’s reimagining of trolls is fresh and brings them in to the present day. The trolls in Leonie’s story eat the memories of humans, turn to stone during the day and wake at night, and live in a city park. Seth and Celeste are both trolls who live in the park, but they have different outlooks. Celeste has no qualms with eating the memories of humans, whereas Seth doesn’t want to hurt anyone by taking memories. He knows that he has to take memories to stave off his hunger but he doesn’t like doing it. Seth gets forced to take Stella’s bad memories, which make him sick and starts to change him. Seth doesn’t remember much about his past, which adds to the mystery of the story. How did he come to be living in the park? Has he always been a troll?

Kieran Rynhart’s cover is absolutely stunning! It is the best New Zealand children’s book cover that I’ve seen for a long time. Kieran has perfectly captured the tone of Leonie’s story and brought her characters to life. The cover has a haunting feel to it and draws you in. I especially like the composition, with Seth staring out from the middle of the cover, and the way that his eyes catch the light. Kieran has also created some atmospheric illustrations that are spread throughout the book, and the trees and gate of the park weave around the chapter headings.

The Memory Thief is one of those New Zealand books that will have worldwide appeal and I hope it gets published far and wide. It would be a great read aloud or class novel for Years 6-8.

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/

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent by Pippa Curnick

I love it when I find a book that my daughter enjoys just as much as I do. Sometimes I’ll read a book that I think is really great and then we read it together, but she doesn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped. This wasn’t the case with Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent. I was half-way through the book myself and she saw it on my bedside table and asked if we could read it. Like me, she was hooked straight away and kept asking for one more chapter.

Indigo Wilde lives at 47 Jellybean Crescent, with her little brother, Quigley, and an assortment of strange and magical creatures. Like all of the creatures at Jellybean Crescent, Indigo and Quigley were discovered by Bertram and Philomena Wilde in unknown lands, and adopted. Their parents often disappear off to known and unknown lands and send creatures back to Jellybean Crescent. A purrmaid called Fishkins, a llamacorn called Graham, two yetis called Olli and Umpf, and a couple of snortlephants, are all residents at number 47. The most recent arrival has just escaped from the crate that it was sent in and the note from their parents makes no sense. Indigo and Quigley must track down the new arrival before it, and the other creatures, destroy their house. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the terrifying Madam Grey starts asking questions and demanding to see their parents. Can Indigo and Quigley capture the creature and get rid of Madam Grey in the process?

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is wild and wonderful story, filled with amazing creatures, sillyness, and laughs galore. It is such a fun book to read aloud, as Pippa’s language is wonderful, there’s a large cast of characters (so heaps of voices that you can do), and it’s really funny. The book is bursting with Pippa’s bright illustrations, which add another layer of humour to the story. It is a beautifully produced hardback book that feels really special to hold and read.

It’s also a book about being different and unique. Each of the residents of number 47 are all a bit different, and didn’t fit in in their herd or flock because they were the wrong colour, size or shape. Number 47 becomes a sanctuary for them all, where they feel like they belong, and won’t be stared at or bullied. Indigo and Quigley are unique too. Indigo looks mostly human, apart from her horns and stripe of rainbow hair. Quigley was found by Bertram and Philomena, when he was a tiny baby, in a dragon’s nest halfway up an erupting volcano (he has the wings and tail of a dragon). The dragon’s roars had been so loud that Quigley is now deaf. Indigo and Quigley communicate with each other using sign language. I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.

I absolutely love Pippa Curnick’s illustrations! Her characters are bursting with personality, especially the weird and wonderful creatures. I don’t think I can pick a favourite character because they’re all so great. There are lots of little details to notice in the illustrations, from the pictures on the walls to the creatures lurking under the kitchen table. My daughter and I spent quite a while poring over the cross-section of the house, looking at the creatures in the different rooms. I really like the colour palette that Pippa has used throughout the book, as it really makes the characters leap off the pages.

I loved meeting Indigo Wilde and her family and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Indigo Wilde is already a firm favourite in our house and I know that the kids at my school will love her too. I already know that Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is a great read aloud, and it would be perfect for Years 1-4.

Partners in Slime by Belinda O’Keefe

For a long time slime was everywhere. It was the thing to make and kids were obsessed with it. The hype has passed but I still have heaps of kids, every week, asking for books about slime. It’s a fascinating substance for kids and there are so many different types. In Partners in Slime, Christchurch author, Belinda O’Keefe’s new book, friends Jake and Cooper create cool new slime that is in hot demand. However, when they add a new ingredient, things get out of hand.

An amazing new roller coaster, the Steel Beast, is opening in Jake and Cooper’s town in just over a month. They are desperate to ride it on opening day, but they need $110 each and their parents won’t give them the money. They need to make some fast cash but they can’t think of any good ideas. When Jake’s sister, Paige, takes his hair gel for making slime, Jake realises that slime is the key to making some easy money. If they give it their own unique name and market it right, they can sell heaps of it to the kids at school. After some experimentation, Gloopy Gloop is born. They have some early success with sales but Paige starts to sell a superior product and their sales drop rapidly. Jake and Cooper know they need something that will blow their competition away, and Cooper’s scientist uncle, Ivor, has just the solution. Their new products prove hugely popular, so to keep up with the demand, they add a secret ingredient. Adding this to their slime has unexpected consequences, and before they know it, things are seriously out of control. They need to find a solution, and fast.

Partners in Slime is a spectacular story filled with schemes, sibling rivalry, slime and silliness. It’s a story that is entertaining from beginning to end and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. It reminds me of Paul Jennings’ stories, because there’s an element of weird and wacky, but it’s also really funny. I especially enjoyed the part where Dave the turtle is walking down the street, between the shady and sunny parts.

Belinda’s characters are very relatable for kids. Jake and Cooper are determined to make the money they need for their ticket for the Steel Beast. Just when you think things are looking up for Jake and Cooper though, something happens to bring them back down to earth. The sibling rivalry between Jake and Paige is really strong, and Jake will do anything to beat his sister. I enjoyed Uncle Ivor, because he’s just a little mad (I mean, who keeps a mysterious space rock in their house?).

Illustrator, Minky Stapleton, and cover designer, Erin Nicol, have created a slime-tastic cover that will grab readers’ attention. The cover oozes green slime, and the turtle with stuff stuck to his shell makes you curious about the story.

Partners in Slime is one of my top NZ reads this year and it will be easy to sell this book to kids. I love the ending, which certainly leaves the story open for more adventures with Jake and Cooper. It would be a fantastic read aloud, especially for Years 5/6. It is sure to hook the whole class and keep them begging to read another chapter.

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race by Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians

Whether I’m looking for new and interesting books for the newly independent readers at my school or for books to read aloud to my 6-year-old daughter, I want a book that is going to be engaging. It’s got to have relatable characters, fun illustrations, and an eye-catching cover. Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians’ series, Magnificent Mabel, has all of these things and more. I read the first book in the series, just called Magnificent Mabel, to my daughter and we both immediately loved it. Mabel is a funny character who she really liked and I easily found the character’s voice. My daughter wanted me to get more Mabel stories, so thankfully they are being released pretty quickly. Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race is the latest in the series to be released here in NZ.

Like the other books in the series, Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race contains three short stories – the title story, Magnificent Mabel and the Class Play and Magnificent Mabel and the Dog Show.

Mabel is not a fan of sports day and things get even worse when she gets partnered with Edward Silitoe, a boy in her class who is always in a rush. Edward thinks that Mabel will ruin his chances of winning, but then comes the egg and spoon race, and Mabel is determined that no unhatched chicks will die because of her.

Mabel’s teacher is mad about acting so her class does a different play each term. Mabel loves acting, but she doesn’t like that some people (not her) get all the good parts. This term her class is doing a play about William Shakespeare and Mabel is very keen to be Shakespeare, especially because she would get to wear an interesting beard. Mabel is upset when she doesn’t get the part but she still finds a way to wear the beard.

Mabel thinks that dog shows are more fun than going on holiday. Her friend Lottie Clark goes to dog shows all the time, but Mabel has never been to one. Instead, her family drags her on holiday in the countryside. When Mabel discovers a dog show happening just down the road, her dad agrees to take her along. Mabel trains hard with her toy dog, Dermot, and when the day of the dog show arrives, she takes Dermot with her. Mabel and Dermot enter the dog agility competition, with surprising results.

I absolutely love the Magnificent Mabel series! Ruth Quayle has perfectly captured the voice of a 5 or 6 year old. Mabel is full of personality and has a view of the world that so many young readers will relate to. She gets fixated on certain things, like the Shakespeare beard, and can’t stop thinking about them. The humour is spot on, and both my daughter and I were chuckling our way through each of the stories. We couldn’t stop laughing reading the part where Mabel wears the beard everywhere!

Julia Christians has brought to life Mabel’s personality in her illustrations. She highlights how happy Mabel is and how much she likes to have fun. She also captures Mabel’s frustrations, especially when she has to do something that she doesn’t want to (like go on a boring holiday) or she doesn’t get what she wants (like a real dog of her own).

The Magnificent Mabel series is perfect for newly independent readers, as the stories are short but engaging and very relatable. They are also great to read aloud, either to a Year 1/2 class or to snuggle up and enjoy with your 5-7 year old. Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race is out now in NZ.

Interview with Brian Conaghan

Brian Conaghan is the author of such award-winning books as The Bombs That Brought Us Together, We Come Apart (a verse novel co-authored with Sarah Crossan) and The Weight of a Thousand Feathers. Brian’s latest book, Cardboard Cowboys, is destined to become another award-winner. It’s an unforgettable read, with characters that stick with you long after you finish their story. You can read my review of Cardboard Cowboys here on the blog.

I caught up with Brian to ask about the importance of music in his stories, his characters and how he ensures readers connect with them.

– What inspired you to write Cardboard Cowboys?

I simply had the idea for this 12 year-old character, who evolved into Lenny. However, like all my books, my inspiration is always the same: find an engaging story with an interesting set of characters, chuck some obstacles in their way and tell their story in the most entertaining manner I can think of.

– Music plays an important role in the story, especially in the connections between people. It’s what Lenny’s Mum holds on to when Frankie goes away and what gives Lenny confidence. Does the music featured in the story hold some significance to you?

​Music plays a huge part of every book I write. I feel that it can provide an additional layer to certain characters; in many ways it galvanises Lenny and Bruce’s relationship. The music featured in the story is exactly the music my own mother was listening to when I was Lenny’s age so it’s hugely significant for me. Plus it still sounds amazing!

– Do you play music as you write to help you get in to the characters heads and set the tone for the story? If so, what did you listen to as you wrote Cardboard Cowboys?

When I want to capture a particular moment or tone within what I’m writing I tend to listen to music that corresponds to that mood. It helps to place me in that emotional space that is required. Music has been hugely important in my life for as long as I can remember, I always listen to it when I’m working. For the past few months it seems all I’ve been listening to is Vikingur Olafsson, Kevin Morby, Waxahatchee, Arab Strap and Mogwai…and always Bob Dylan.

– Lenny is a character that I immediately connected with. His voice sounds really authentic. Did he come to you fully formed or did you have to spend time fleshing his character out?

He came to me in many guises throughout the past few years, and his voice kept getting layered as these years trundled on. He is an amalgam of three things: my imagination, students I taught when I was a teacher and one of my closest school friends.

Cressida Cowell has said that ‘empathy is a vital skill, and books are the best, and most fun way to learn it.’ Cardboard Cowboys is a story that will teach readers a lot about empathy. How do you ensure that readers will connect with your characters and what they’re going through?

I always want my characters to be honest with how they are feeling, and how they might express themselves. Emotion manifests itself in many ways, be it laughter, sadness, silence, self-harm etc. Most of my characters over the course of my books have demonstrated such feelings and more. I think readers will always recognise snippets of my characters’ lived experiences, be it relationships with parents/peers or environmental.

– Lenny and Bruce are one of those fictional duos that are really memorable. Who are your favourite fictional duos?

​My favourite fictional duo, by a mile, is Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting For Godot. Beckett shows the possibilities of language through these two characters, and how dialogue functioned beyond anything I had ever read previously (and since). I know it’s essentially an absurdist piece yet the communication between the duo is so fluid and emotional, which is something I always try to aim for in my own work. Although, I’m certainly no Samuel Beckett.