Tag Archives: family

Activity books for the whole family

There have been a range of activity books that have been published recently.  There is something for everyone in the family, from toddlers right through to the 12-year-old history buff.

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Alison Lester’s Wonderful World brings together Alison’s illustrations from her many delightful books and gives kids the chance to create their own colourful adventures with Noni the Pony, beach holidays, and explorations of the jungle and oceans.  There are more basic illustrations for younger children, right through to very detailed scenes for older children (and their parents).  It’s a wonderful colouring book for old and young alike.

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See Play Do: A Kid’s Handbook for Everyday Fun is the ultimate activity book for Kiwi families.  This fantastic book is packed full of games and activities to get kids thinking, moving, exploring, being creative and having fun.  There are pages to draw on, with activities like planning your dream breakfast and drawing while listening to music.  There are pages to write on, like writing about what happened the last time you were at the park and writing a playlist of the favourite songs you like to listen to.  There are also pages with recipes to try, bird feeders and bath paint to make, and heaps of pages with suggestions of fun things to do and try.  There are so many things in this book that I want to do with my toddler.  Every family in New Zealand needs this book under their Christmas tree because it is certain to be loved by everyone.  It is a real winner!

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Peter Goes’ Timeline was a fascinating book that Gecko Press published last year.  It starts at the beginning of time and follows events right through to the present day.  It is a large book chock-full of information about people, places and events throughout time, and you find something new every time you look at it.  Gecko Press have just released a companion activity book for Timeline.  This is the perfect book for those kids that love history and who have lots of fascinating facts stored away in their head, especially older children.  Kids can be creative while learning about civilisations, historical events and famous people from history.  Kids can decorate a cave with rock drawings, bring Ottoman designs to life, graffiti the Berlin Wall, decorate the uniforms of soldiers in the Russian Revolution and help Michelangelo decorate the Sistine Chapel.  There is so much variety in this book and it will keep anyone entertained for many, many hours.  The pages can also be detached from the book so you can hang your masterpieces on the wall or share them with friends.  This is a must-buy Christmas present for older children.

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I also want to give a special mention to Gecko Press for their new card games based on two of their best-selling books.  Noisy Dominoes was inspired by The Noisy Book, a gorgeous board book featuring lots of different noises to make.  In Noisy Dominoes, players have to imitate the noise of the object or animal on their card or mime the action.  They have also released Poo Bum Memory, inspired by my favourite Gecko Press book Poo Bum, and featuring words and images from the book.  I think these are both a wonderful idea to extend the fun of these two books and they are a lot of fun.

 

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Gecko Press’ Gorgeous Annual

Unfortunately I’m not of a generation that grew up with annuals.  I didn’t experience the joy of these volumes, chock-full of activities, stories and quizzes. Thankfully the wonderful Gecko Press have brought back this format with their gorgeous new book, Annual, that a new generation of kids will love.

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Editors Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris have mined the talented authors and illustrators we have here in NZ and gathered these gems into a truly radiant collection.  There are stories, short essays, comics, a song, crafts, activities and a hilarious board game.  There are well-known authors and illustrators, such as Barbara Else, Bernard Beckett and Gavin Bishop, but also some incredibly talented debut authors such as Gavin Mouldey, whose story B.O.N.E. is an absolute wonder.

Annual arrived on my doorstep on the morning that I was going away for a school holiday break with my family, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect!  There is hours of entertainment in this book and there is something for the whole family. I especially enjoyed Kirsten McDougall’s A Box of Birds, a collection of odd words to take on a road trip.  I was thinking about some of these words as I was driving and I thoroughly confused my family when I yelled out ‘Tally ho, the salt!’ (a phrase to use when you first catch sight of the ocean).  We all enjoyed a ‘pootle’ (a wander along the beach with no destination in mind) and with 12-year-old boys in the car there were more than a few winkybubbles (you’ll have to look that one up yourself).

There are so many things that I love about Annual.  Being a Gecko Press book the standard of production is excellent, from the eye-catching red hardcover to the smell of the high-quality paper.  The variety of pieces in the book is brilliant, with something for every type of kid (and adult for that matter).  There are pieces to make you think, pieces to challenge you, pieces to make you laugh and pieces to unleash your creativity.  One of my favourite pieces is the comic strip Bad Luck Zebra by Sharon Murdoch and Susan Paris, which cracked me up every time I read it. Kate De Goldi, Susan Paris and Gecko Press deserve a standing ovation for this gorgeous book.

You will want to come back to Annual again and again to revisit your favourite bits and uncover some new delight that you might have missed last time.  Get a copy of Annual for everyone on your Christmas list.

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Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

I think books, rather than people, have taught me the most about empathy, particularly as an impressionable teenager.  They make me feel what the characters are feeling and help me to understand different situations. Dianne Touchell makes your heart break for the main character in her new book about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, Forgetting Foster.

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Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.

But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

Forgetting Foster is one of the most heart-breaking books that I have read since Morris Gleitzman’s Once.  It is Dianne’s lyrical writing and very real portrayal of a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease that makes the story so heart-breaking.  She takes us inside the head of 7-year-old Foster and we see his family falling apart through his eyes.  We experience Foster’s confusion and hurt as the father that he loves and looks up to starts forgetting things and changing completely.  We understand his anger at being treated like a child, even though he understands more than his family thinks he does.  The power of stories to bring enjoyment to our lives and help us to remember also plays an important part in the story.

Dianne’s writing is very lyrical.  I found myself stopping reading in many places just to soak up descriptions and savour images that she had conjured.  I especially liked the image that Dianne conjures when Foster and his dad are talking about phantom itches when someone loses a limb,

‘He imagined Dad’s profile, half a face that looked a bit empty lately, and felt a stab of ghost feeling.  A funny ache that told him the stories were still inside Dad somewhere, like an amputated foot that still itches.’

The way that Dianne describes the relationship between Foster and his dad in the start of the book gives you warm fuzzies.  Sunday is always a special day with Dad, when they make pancakes together and go into town, playing games along the way.  You can feel how proud Foster is of his dad and how much his dad loves him.

Stories play an important part in Forgetting Foster.  Before Foster’s dad got sick he would tell stories to Foster all the time and encourage him to join in.  Foster’s dad tells him that ‘there are stories in everything…They are all around you waiting to be discovered.  You just have to look for them.’ He also encourages Foster to tell his own stories to whoever will listen.  Foster’s mum had an accident when she was younger and his dad tells Foster a fantastic story about why she now looks different to other people.  Stories also play an important part in helping Foster and his family deal with his dad’s illness.

Although Foster is seven in the story, Forgetting Foster is not a story for 7-year-olds.  There are a couple of swear words which, although they are in the context of the story, may alarm parents.  I think good Year 7 and 8 readers would enjoy the story and it would make a great novel study for this age group.  Forgetting Foster is a book that I think all teachers, librarians and anyone who loves a beautifully-written, heart-breaking story should read.  I’m now going to hunt down all of Dianne Touchell’s previous books and will look forward to more books from her.

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A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill

Books can give us a window into a different life or show us that we’re not alone.  I had a pretty happy and comfortable childhood so it was books that showed me how other kids lived and some of the tough things that they have to live with.  I think it’s hugely important for kids to read books about all sorts of kids so that they see the world from different points of view.  Jo Cotterill’s new book, A Library of Lemons, gives us a window into Calypso’s life and the ways that her and her father deal with grief.

a-library-of-lemons-488x750Calypso’s mum died a few years ago and her emotionally incompetent Dad can’t, or won’t, talk about Mum at all. Instead he throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. Meanwhile the house is dusty, there’s never any food in the fridge, and Calypso retreats into her own world of books and fiction.

When a new girl, Mae, arrives at school, the girls’ shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. Mae’s friendship and her lively and chaotic home – where people argue and hug each other – make Calypso feel more normal than she has for a long time. But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and his magnum opus – and Calypso’s happiness starts to unravel.

A Library of Lemons is a beautiful, heart-breaking story about a family that has lost itself in books.  Jo Cotterill has perfectly captured a love of reading and books.  It’s almost like she has seen inside my head and my heart and put down on paper what it means to be a bibliophile.  Jo makes you feel for her characters, especially Calypso and the situation that she finds herself in.

This is a story of grief and how we all cope with it in different ways.  Both Calypso and her dad retreat into books, Calypso into her stories that take her far away and her dad into the book he is writing ‘A History of Lemons.’ Calypso misses her mum, who died five years ago, but her dad tells her to be strong and that they have ‘inner strength’ to get them through.  Calypso’s dad puts everything into writing his book and often forgets to eat and provide what Calypso needs.  When Calypso discovers what her father has been hiding in his library her anger and sadness comes exploding out of her and sets off a chain of events that will hopefully fix her broken family.

One of the things that Calypso holds on to is her mother’s books.  She knows that she can still be connected to her if she reads the books that her mother did.  This is one of my favourite quotes from the book:

‘Books give you more than stories.  Books can give you back people you’ve lost.’

Anyone who reads this book will wish that they had a friend like Mae.  Not only does she love books and writing like Calypso, but she is always there when Calypso needs her.  She absolutely trusts Mae and confides in her about how she is feeling and the situation at home.  Mae listens to Calypso and gets her mother’s help when she knows they need it.

The ending of the book is perfect.  It shows readers that there is no quick fix to the pain and grief that children and adults face, but over time, things will get better.  It feels very real rather than rose-tinted.

A Library of Lemons is perfect for anyone aged 9 and up who enjoys stories about families and friendship.  If you love books as much as I do you need to read it too because you’ll see a bit of yourself in Calypso.

 

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

‘In any case, Crenshaw had excellent timing.  He came into my life just when I needed him to.  It was a good time to have a friend, even if he was imaginary.’

There have been a few books published recently about imaginary friends.  I have lapped them all up.  I don’t remember having an imaginary friend as a kid but reading these books make me wish I had.  The book that most makes me wish for an imaginary friend Katherine Applegate’s latest book, Crenshaw.  I’m sure you’ll wish you had a friend like Crenshaw once you’ve read this wonderful book too.

Crenshaw_UK.inddJackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

 

Crenshaw, like Katherine Applegate’s previous book The One and Only Ivan, is one of those books that I just want to carry around everywhere and give to everyone.  It is heart-warming story about family and friendships, that will make you want to keep hugging the main character and wanting to hang out with Crenshaw.  Katherine Applegate tugs at your heart-strings and brings a little wonder into your world.

Jackson is not an imaginary friend kind of guy.  He prefers facts and figures.  He doesn’t like stories because they ‘are lies, when you get right down to it.  And I don’t like being lied to.’  His parents have fallen on hard times and they keep telling Jackson and his sister, Robin, that everything is going to be alright.  Deep down Jackson knows that they aren’t going to be alright.  His family had to live in their mini-van for weeks on end when he was younger and he doesn’t want to do that again.  Just when he needs a friend the most, Crenshaw, Jackson’s large, outspoken, imaginary friend shows up to help him to face the truth.

There is so much wisdom in Katherine Applegate’s books.  They’re like guides to how to live your life.  She teaches you about kindness and honesty, and that it’s OK to be yourself.  I always find myself stopping reading to write down little bits of wisdom from her stories.

I love Crenshaw’s voice. He is very opinionated, especially about Jackson’s dog, Aretha, but he has some great lines.  This is one of my favourites,

‘Imaginary friends are like books.  We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again.’

Crenshaw is one of those few books that I’ve read multiple times.  It is a special book and I know that I’ll come back to it again to visit Jackson and Crenshaw.  Adopt Crenshaw yourself and make a new best imaginary friend.

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The Bakehouse by Joy Cowley

Joy Cowley is a New Zealand legend.  Children grow up reading her books, from the very first school readers, through to school journals, picture books and on in to novels for children and young adults. She has been writing for many years and that experience truly shows in the depth and quality of her writing.  In the last couple of years the wonderful Gecko Press have been publishing Joy Cowley’s novels for older readers.  Her first with Gecko Press, Dunger, went on to win the Junior Fiction category at the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2014.  Then came the haunting, Speed of Light.  Joy Cowley’s latest novel from Gecko Press, The Bakehouse, takes readers back to Wellington during the Second World War.

Viewed from a distance of seventy-plus years, 1943 was history soup, everything mixed up, and it was difficult to separate reality from what he had read or been told.  One event, though, was crystal clear and refused to be forgotten.  He’d never talked about it to the others, not Meg and certainly not Betty, but he didn’t want to be buried with the truth.

Someone should know what happened that winter day.

Bert wants nothing more than be old enough to fight in the war—to handle weapons, defend his country, and have a life filled with adventure. Little does he know that the secrets and danger of war don’t always stay at the front line, and that one boy’s actions can change everything.

The Bakehouse is Joy Cowley at her best.  It’s a brilliant, multi-layered novel about secrets, lies and how the consequences of one boy’s actions ripple throughout his family.  Joy Cowley shows readers what life was like in New Zealand in 1943, with the threat of Japanese invasion and many of the men off at war.

We meet Bert as an old man in a nursing home, who recalls the story of the Geronimo Bakehouse for his grandson.  There is something that Bert needs to get off his chest, something to do with the Bakehouse, and as the story progresses you wonder what the big secret is that Bert has been keeping for seventy-odd years.  It is Bert who first ventures in to the Bakehouse and claims it as the family’s bomb shelter.  He cleans and tidies it ready for his family, and one day decides to show his sisters.  It is on this day that they discover a soldier hiding in the Bakehouse.  The soldier, Donald, has escaped from the army and is hiding in fear of being captured and court marshalled.  Bert and his sisters keep Donald as their secret and look after him, bringing him food and clothing.  Life gets complicated for the children, but little do they know what is to come and how much their lives will change in one moment. You know that something bad is going to happen but I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out.

The way that Joy tells the story reminds me of John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas.  Like Bruno in that story, Bert is a naive boy who doesn’t quite understand what is going on around him.  There are several incidents in the book where, as an adult, you know what is being implied but Bert has no idea.  Bert can’t understand why his sister Betty wants to go and visit Donald so much, especially without her brother or sister.  When Bert’s Auntie Vi takes him and his sister to the movies, but then ends up meeting her friend and a couple of soldiers, disappearing with them, we know what is implied but Bert is confused.  It is very good storytelling.

Gecko Press should be applauded for once again producing a wonderful little package that matches the other Joy Cowley books that they have published.

The Bakehouse is a must-read book from a New Zealand legend.

Recommended for 9+

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Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager

I had quite a sheltered upbringing.  I had a loving family who cared for me and life was never tough.  When I really got into reading when I was a teenager I discovered teenagers who had a very different life than mine.  These teenagers had abusive or neglectful families or they had been touched by tragedy of one kind or another.  I have never known anyone who has suicided so I haven’t been affected by it in any way.  As a teenager I didn’t want to read books about it because I didn’t think it related to me.  When I first heard about Mandy Hager’s new YA book, Dear Vincent, I wanted to read it, but I wasn’t sure if I would like it.  It affected me so much that I was in tears for the last few pages.

17 year old Tara McClusky’s life is hard. She shares the care of her paralysed father with her domineering, difficult mother, forced to cut down on her hours at school to help support the family with a part-time rest home job. She’s very much alone, still grieving the loss of her older sister Van, who died five years before.

Her only source of consolation is her obsession with art — and painting in particular. Most especially she is enamoured with Vincent Van Gogh: she has read all his letters and finds many parallels between the tragic story of his life and her own.

Luckily she meets the intelligent, kindly Professor Max Stockhamer (a Jewish refugee and philosopher) and his grandson Johannes, and their support is crucial to her ability to survive this turbulent time.

Dear Vincent is one of the most powerful, emotionally-charged books I’ve ever read.  I don’t think I’ve had such an emotional response to any other book, both adults or YA.  The story is narrated by Tara, so you experience all the ups and downs of Tara’s life and you go into the dark spaces inside her head.  When you figure out the path that she is taking, you just want to yell at her to stop and think clearly.  You want to be the person that she can talk to and help her see sense.

Like Mandy’s other stories, the characters really resonate with me.  You understand why Tara has so much anger and hatred towards her parents, but through her discoveries you can also understand why they have become these people.  You can’t help but become completely wrapped up in Tara’s life, as you know all her thoughts and feelings.  While Tara takes you to some dark places, some of Mandy’s characters bring some light and hope into Tara’s world.  My favourite character is Max (or the Professor) who Tara meets in the rest home that she works in.  Max is a sort-of grandfather figure to Tara.  He loves art, music and philosophy and he reminds Tara of Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music.  Right from when Tara first meets him he’s there to help her through and tries to make her see things from a different point of view.  He has some profound words of wisdom, like his metaphor on page 140. This is one of my favourite lines from Max,

‘All life is suffering.  One way or the other, damage attaches to us all.  In the end it’s how we deal with it – or don’t – that makes us who we are.’

Max’s grandson, Johannes, and Tara’s Auntie Shanaye and Uncle Royan, are others who try to help her through her tough time.  They are each incredibly loving and caring in their own ways, and they go out of their way to prove that they are there for Tara.  Even though Shanaye and Royan are struggling and they have their own issues to deal with, they are getting on with their life, and they show Tara more love than her parents ever had.  While Tara’s parents ran away from The Troubles in Ireland and were miserable, her auntie and uncle stayed and are doing the best that they can for their family.

Dear Vincent is an important story that all teenagers should read.  Thank you Mandy for telling Tara’s story. The fact that it can have such an emotional response on a reader is testament to your amazing writing.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Tara on page 249 that mirrors Max’s words from earlier in the story,

‘Hell, maybe it’s the suffering that makes us who we ultimately are.  Not just the hurdles, but how we deal with them.  Or don’t.’

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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

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Guest Author: Melinda Szymanik on A Winter’s Day in 1939

Today I’m joined by the wonderful Melinda Szymanik, author of the powerful new book, A Winter’s Day in 1939.  Based on her father’s experiences during World War II, A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds. Melinda has written a really interesting post for My Best Friends Are Books about why and how she wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939.

Why and How I wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939

When the Soviet soldiers come and order them out, Adam and his family have no idea where they are going or if they will ever come back.  The Germans have attacked Poland and the world is at war. Boarding a cattle train Adam and his family embark on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and several years, and change all their lives forever. And mine too. Because Adam’s story, the story told in my new novel A Winter’s Day in 1939, is very much my Dad’s story.

I often heard fragments of this story from my dad when I was growing up.  It was shocking, and sad, and amazing.  My Dad’s family was forced out of their home and taken to a labour camp in Russia. It was freezing cold, and many people died from disease or starvation. Even when the Soviets finally let them go, they spent weeks travelling around the USSR , were made to work on Soviet farms and were still hungry and often sick, with no idea of where they might end up next.  As a child growing up in a peaceful place like New Zealand it was hard to imagine the real dangers and terrible conditions my father experienced.

I didn’t get to know the full story until I was grown up with children of my own and was regularly writing stories for children.  I wrote a short story, also called A Winter’s Day in 1939, based on a single event I knew fairly well  from my Dad‘s childhood – when Soviet Soldiers first come to order them off their farm, the only home my father had known up till that point in his life. The story was published in The Australian School Magazine.  I showed the short story to the publishers Scholastic who liked it too. They wondered if I could turn it in to a novel.  This was a chance to tell my father’s story. By now I knew it was an important story that should be shared

Luckily my Dad had made notes about his life during World War Two; about twenty pages all typed up.  However I know people’s real lives don’t always fit into the framework of a novel and I knew I would have to emphasize some things and maybe leave other things out.

I read and researched to add the right details to the story. And asked my parents lots of questions. How cold was it in Poland in January 1940? Who or what were the NKVD? What were the trains like? What are the symptoms of typhoid? How do you make your own skis? Some information was hard to find. Some of the places that existed in the 1940s aren’t there anymore. And people didn’t keep records about how many people were taken to the USSR from Poland or what happened to particular individuals. But what I wanted to give readers most of all was a sense of how it felt to live that life.  So this then is the story of a twelve year old Polish boy in the USSR during World War 2 that all started on A Winter’s Day in 1939.

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Back to Black Brick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Sometimes a story can come along at exactly the right time.  It can mirror something that is happening in your own life and really strike a chord with you.  Back to Black Brick is a story about a grandfather who has Alzheimer’s Disease and his grandson, Cosmo, who tries everything he can to stop him losing his memory.  My nan has early stage dementia so I can completely understand how Cosmo feels.  Cosmo, however, does something that I can’t do – he travels back in time to meet his grandfather as a young man.

Cosmo’s brother Brian died when he was ten years old. His mum hides her grief and Cosmo lives with his grandparents. They’ve been carefree days as Granddad buys him a horse called John and teaches him all he knows about horses. But the good times have to come to an end and although he doesn’t want to admit it, Cosmo knows his Granddad is losing his mind. So on one of the rare occasions when Granddad seems to recognise him, Cosmo is bemused that he gives him a key to Blackbrick Abbey and urges him to go there. Cosmo shrugs it off, but gradually Blackbrick draws him in… Cosmo arrives there, scared and lonely, and is dropped off at the crumbling gates of a huge house. As he goes in, the gates close, and when he turns to look, they’re rusty and padlocked as if they haven’t been opened in years. Cosmo finds himself face to face with his grandfather as a young man, and questions begin to form in his mind: can Cosmo change the course of his family’s future?

Back to Black Brick is a captivating story about families, the secrets that they keep, and the pain they hold inside.  Sarah Moore Fitzgerald wraps this all up with plenty of mystery, a dash of history, and time travel.  It’s a time-slip story but quite different from similar stories I’ve read.  When time travel is involved the characters generally have to think about how their actions in the past will affect the future, but Cosmo does everything he can to try and change the future.  He wants to try and stop his grandfather’s memory from fading when he’s older, so he tells him about things that he’ll need to remember for later in life.

As soon as I heard Cosmo’s voice I knew I would really like this character.  Cosmo is a loner who has been affected by the death of his brother, the abandonment of his mother, and his grandfather’s worsening condition.  From the first few paragraphs you know how much Cosmo loves and admires his grandfather.  He wants to do everything he possibly can to help stop his grandfather losing his memory and would hate for him to have to go into a home.  So when Cosmo gets the chance to meet his grandfather as a young man he believes this is his chance to change the future and make things right.

There were several things that I really loved about Back to Black Brick.  I thought the characters were very well developed and you felt like you were part of their gang.  I especially liked the way that you could see the personality traits mirrored in both the young and old version of Cosmo’s grandfather, Kevin (like the ‘Ah, fantastic’ when he’d drink tea).  The other thing that I loved about the story is the way that Sarah explains how the time travel happened and the way that Cosmo’s visit to the past affected the future.  I like the way that this explanation rounds off the story but still leaves you with a sense of mystery.

4 out of 5 stars

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