The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke

The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke is a spooky, historical tale that is perfectly formed. At just 75 pages readers can gobble it up in one bite and it is ideal for reluctant readers who need a short but engaging story. It would also make a great read aloud for Years 5-8.

Elsie lives in the port town of Lyttelton in 1884. She spends her days fishing and exploring. It is one day while she is fishing that she meets brothers Davie and Archie. They have come to Lyttelton on the train from Christchurch but have no money to take the train back again. They decide to walk back over the hill on the Bridle Path, the path carved over the hill by the early settlers. However, the weather closes in and the boys both die on the hill. One year later Elsie is haunted by the memory of the brothers and a feeling of guilt because she didn’t stop the boys from leaving. When Elsie misses the train to Christchurch and a chance to meet her new cousin, she decides to face her fears and make the trek over the Bridle Path. Do the brothers haunt the hills? Elsie will find out when she faces her own challenge on the hills.

I loved this story as an adult and I know I would have loved it as a kid. Growing up in Christchurch I studied the early settlers in primary school and even had a field trip walking over the Bridle Path to Lyttelton. The places in the story are so familiar to me yet quite different, given the time that the story is set. You don’t need to be familiar with the setting though to appreciate the story. The fact that the story is inspired by real events makes a chill go down my spine and loads of kids love spooky stories. Bill includes newspaper clippings from 1883 in the story and details of the real events in his author’s note.

Bill incorporates te ao Maori in to the story too. Through Elsie’s father, who is Maori and living at Rapaki (just around the bay from Lyttelton), we learn about the Maori stories of the area, including the stories of the patupaiarehe, the wicked fairies that live in the clouds on the hills.

I found myself comparing the events of the story with how it would be different if the story was set today. The children in the story have a lot more freedom than children today. Elsie’s Mum is happy for her to walk over the hills by herself, and Davie and Archie walk from the centre of town and catch a train through to Lyttelton with no adult with them. Getting from one place to another easily is something we take for granted these days too. I couldn’t imagine walking from Lyttelton, over the Bridle Path, and all the way to the middle of Christchurch city, but that’s what Davie and Archie were going to do. If you were stuck in bad weather on the hills today you would just get out your cell phone and call for help but in 1884 you were on your own. You had to stay where you were or carry on. These would be some great talking points to discuss if you were sharing the story with a class.

The Ghost on the Hill is a fantastic addition to a school library or as a class set of books. The Cuba Press have even created some wonderful teacher’s notes to go with the book that you can find here.

2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi

The ACB with Honora Lee is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I reviewed it in October last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.

Kate De Goldi’s last book, The 10PM Question, was a wonderful story and won many awards.  It’s a story that’s loved by adults and children alike, and Kate’s latest book, The ACB with Honora Lee, is bound to have the same crossover appeal.  I first heard about it when Kate talked about it at the Schools Programme for the Christchurch Writer’s Festival and I’ve been dying to read it ever since.  I immediately fell in love with Perry and the residents of Santa Lucia.

Perry’s mother and father are busy people … they’re impatient, they’re tired, they get cross easily. And they think that only children, like Perry, should be kept busy. On Saturday mornings Perry and her father visit her gran, Honora Lee, at the Santa Lucia rest home, but Gran never remembers them. ‘Who is that man?’ Honora Lee asks when Perry’s father leaves the room. After movement class is abruptly cancelled, Perry is allowed to go to Santa Lucia on Thursday afternoons. She discovers her Gran has an unconventional interest in the alphabet, so Perry decides to make an alphabet book with the help of Honora and the others. Soon everyone is interested in Perry’s book project.

The ACB with Honora Lee is a quirky story about an unusual girl who finds friendship in an unlikely place.  The story is brimming with humour, joy, wisdom, and a cast of colourful characters.  It’s set in the Beckenham loop in Christchurch (where I live) and I only wish that I could go and meet Perry, Honora Lee, Dorris and the rest of Kate De Goldi’s characters.  Perry is a unusual girl, who acts and sounds older than her 9 years.  She seems quite lonely when we first meet her.  Her parents are wrapped up in their own problems and don’t seem to have time for her.  They don’t take much notice of her and enroll her in after school activities that she doesn’t really enjoy.  Even when she really enjoys going to visit her gran and the others at the rest home, her parents don’t understand.  Perry makes lots of new friends at Santa Lucia, including her gran’s friend, Doris, and Stephen and Audrey who work there.  The fact that her gran doesn’t remember her doesn’t seem to worry Perry, she just reminds her who she is each time she visits.  The thing that I like the most about Perry is her love of words.  If she hears a word she doesn’t understand she has to find out what it means.

Perry’s gran, Honora Lee, is a real character.  She may not remember who the people around her are, but she remembers songs and lines of Shakespeare.  As one of the characters describes her, she’s ‘crabby as an old apple,’ but she comes out with some hilarious lines.  I especially like it when her and Perry are playing I Spy, because she always gets it around the wrong way.  Here’s a great example, ‘I spy with my little eye,’ said Gran,’something beginning with fat.’

It’s Kate De Goldi’s whole cast of wonderful characters that make The ACB with Honora Lee such an enjoyable read.  Their interactions provide some funny, embarrassing and touching moments.  It’s a story that will be enjoyed by the young and the young at heart and it will leave you with a smile on your face.

4 out of 5 stars

My International Book Giving Day

I’ve been looking forward to International Book Giving Day for weeks and it’s finally here! I knew as soon as I heard about it that I wanted to be a part of it.  A special day that aims to get books into the hands of children who needed them most is right up my alley.

As soon as I heard about International Book Giving Day I set out to get local authors, publishers, librarians, bloggers, and book lovers involved.  Some of our best authors pledged their support and the always wonderful HarperCollins New Zealand and Random House New Zealand sent a box of lovely new books to donate to children.  Both Duffy Books in Homes and KidsCan were very keen to be involved and agreed to be the recipients of the donated books.  The people of Christchurch also got on board and I received piles and piles of pre-loved books to send to Duffy and KidsCan.  They will both received 3 or 4 large boxes of new and second-hand books next week that will then be given to children around the country who need them the most.

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Along with my colleagues in my library, I bought some new picture books and board books to donate to the doctor and dental surgery in our community.  I know that they’ll be well loved and I’m going to try and refresh the books regularly.

I hope your International Book Giving Day was as awesome as mine.  Don’t forget to share your photos and your experience via Instagram or Twitter by adding the tag #giveabook. You can also email photos to amy dot broadmoore at gmail dot com, and they’ll be shared at International Book Giving Day’s website.