Tag Archives: history

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story by Gavin Bishop

I think the biggest growth in New Zealand publishing for children has been in nonfiction.  There have been some outstanding nonfiction books published by both big and small publishers in New Zealand in recent years, including Anzac Heroes by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic and the ‘Beginner’s Guide to’ series published by Penguin Random House.  Gavin Bishop’s latest book, Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story, has blown all of these out of the water.  I don’t think there has been another book for children about our history and culture that is as important as this book, and every home, school and library in New Zealand needs to have a copy.

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Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story is a huge book, not just in size but also in the content that Gavin Bishop covers.  Just about anything that a New Zealand kid has ever wanted to know about our country is here in this book, from the asteroid that destroyed most of the life on earth, to the first Polynesian explorers who visited and gave our land the name of Aotearoa, the birds and creatures that first lived here, the arrival of the Pakeha, and the development of transport, education, food and clothing.  Gavin introduces children to famous New Zealanders, famous places, natural attractions and disasters that shook our country.  Not only does Gavin take children in to the past, he also deals with the threats to our future, including pests, pollution and politicians (who don’t listen).  The book is a large format hardback, so it is perfect for opening out on the floor and poring over.

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This book is a taonga, a book to be treasured and read until it falls apart.  It is a book that will keep children and adults occupied for hours and you are sure to notice something new every time you look at it.  Every time I open this book I am amazed at the information and illustrations that fill every page.  It must have taken Gavin Bishop years to create this book but you can really tell that it has been a labour of love.  So much care and attention to detail has gone in to making this book the taonga that it is.   It is a book that the whole family will enjoy as the information is in small chunks and the layout is visually appealing.  Every classroom in every school in the country should have a copy because each age group will get something different from the book.  Gavin explains the history and culture of our country so that anyone who picks it up will be able to understand and absorb it.  All New Zealand children will be able to see themselves and something familiar in this book, from the famous New Zealanders to the food and famous landmarks.

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Penguin Random House New Zealand should be applauded for publishing Gavin’s book and for the care that they have taken to ensure the high standard of production.  Not only does the book look stunning, it also feels and smells like nothing has been spared to publish this important book.

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story is certain to win the coveted Margaret Mahy Award for New Zealand’s best children’s book next year. If you buy one book for your children this Christmas make sure that it is this one.

 

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Michael Morpurgo Month – A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

Michael Morpurgo has written some of my favourite stories – Private Peaceful, Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea, and Shadow.  He one of the best storytellers around.  Michael’s latest book, A Medal for Leroy, is inspired by the life of Walter Tull, the only black officer to serve in the British Army in the First World War.

A_Medal_for_Leroy_PBMichael doesn’t remember his father, who died in a Spitfire over the English Channel. And his mother, heartbroken and passionate, doesn’t like to talk about him. But then Michael’s aunt gives him a medal and a photograph, which begin to reveal a hidden story.

A story of love, loss and secrets.

A story that will change everything – and reveal to Michael who he really is…

A Medal for Leroy is a story of war, love and family secrets.  Like many of Michael’s other stories, it’s told from the point of view of someone who is old (in this case Michael) looking back at his life and telling the reader the story of what happened.  I really like this style of storytelling because it makes you feel like you are just sitting down for a cup of tea with the main character while they tell you the story.  Michael tells us that he never knew his father because he died during the war, but his mother and his aunties love him very much.  When one of his aunties dies, she leaves a special package for Michael, full of family secrets.  In this package, Michael learns about his auntie’s life and about the father he never knew.  Her story is heart-breaking, but with moments of happiness and hope.

Once again, Michael Morpurgo has written an emotional story that you get caught up in.  Even though the war is happening, you hope that everything is going to be fine, that Martha will meet Leroy again, and her father will welcome her home.  As always, Michael presents the realities of war to portray what life was like during this horrible time.  Even though Michael has returned to a topic that he has written about many times before, A Medal for Leroy, is a different story and just as wonderful as his other war stories, like Private Peaceful, War Horse, and An Elephant in the Garden. You can read more about the person who inspired this story, Walter Tull, at the back of the book too.

 

 

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Historium by Jo Nelson and Richard Wilkinson

We love museums in my family.  For me they’ve always been a multi-sensory experience, taking in everything with your eyes but also breathing in that special museum smell of ancient clothing, animals, vehicles and artifacts.  Museums are places that you can spend hours in, soaking up the information and discovering what it would have been like to live 50, 100 or even thousands of years ago.  An incredible new book by Jo Nelson and Richard Wilkinson packs this museum experience in to a book that will keep kids and adults alike occupied for hours.

Discover more than 140 exhibits in this virtual museum, open all hours

Welcome to the museum! Here you will find a collection of objects from ancient civilisations. Objects of beauty, objects of functionality, objects of war, objects of life, and objects of death and burial.

As you wander from room to room, explore the magnificence of what civilisations have left behind over thousands of years of human history.

Historium is an incredible book, filled with artifacts from ancient civilisations from around the world.  There is so much information in this book and it’s set out in a unique way.  The whole book is set out like a museum that you hold in your hands.  You start at the entrance, which welcomes you to the Historium, explains what Archaeology is and gives you a fantastic timeline of the objects in the Historium (my son would love this on his bedroom wall).  Jo and Richard then take us through the varies galleries, from Africa to America, the Middle East to Oceania.  We finish up in the Library, with the indexes, image credits and a little information about the curators of the Historium.

Jo Nelson’s text is detailed but simple enough for children aged 9 and up.  Jo gives a basic introduction to each of the galleries and civilisations and then provides descriptions of each of the artifacts from that civilisation.  There is a good selection of different types of artifacts, from statues and coins to armour.  There is something in this book to interest everyone, but children (and adults) who love history and archaeology will be absolutely rapt.  Richard’s illustrations are extremely detailed and are absolutely stunning.  The illustrations look so realistic that it almost looks like you could reach out and touch them.  Richard has created his illustrations using a photograph of the artifacts as a reference and there is a list of all the museums in the back of the book.

One of the things that I really love about this book is that it covers Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.  So many of these big historical nonfiction books miss out our side of the world and I think it’s important for our kids to know about their history.

The best thing about Historium is the production of the book. It is a beautiful hardback and the pages are thick, which will help it to last all the repeated reading and viewing.  It is also a huge book!  It’s a book that you really need to rest on a table or on the floor to read.  This means that the illustrations are really large too and you can see all the details of the artifacts.  You really feel like you are holding something special and valuable in your hands.

Grab a copy of the incredible Historium from you library or bookshop now.

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Q & A with Lorraine Orman about her new book Touchstone

  • You recently published your tenth book, Touchstone, as a YA e-book. What was the background to this venture into e-publishing?

I was a casualty when Longacre Press merged into Random House NZ. Longacre had published my two previous YA novels, but Random said no thanks to this one. My agent, Frances Plumpton, tried hard to find a home for Touchstone but fantasy and futuristic series were in vogue. After a couple of years I thought, “I can’t bear to stuff it into the metaphorical bottom drawer. Why not make it an e-book?”

  • How have you found the e-publishing process?

I could write a book about it! The general impression one gains from online articles is that it’s easy. It’s not. You have to come out of your cosy author’s corner and become editor, proofreader, formatter, cover designer, publisher, decision-maker, legal expert, distributor and promoter. I’m lucky enough to have a network of supportive colleagues – thank you to the Facebook crowd!

  • Tell us about the e-book.

TouchstoneCoverSmallVersionLike Cross Tides and Hideout, Touchstone is a blend of genres – family problems, adventure and suspense, environmental issues, and a good dollop of New Zealand history. It’s set in a
ghost town on the Buller Coal plateau. The 16-year-old heroine gets involved with a group of eco-warriors trying to prevent a new coalmine being established. Much of the environmental
theme is based on fact.

There’s a free PDF Teachers’ Resource Kit (prepared by a secondary teacher) available on my website at www.story-go-round.net.nz. Any royalties I make are being donated to the Animal Sanctuary at Matakana, near my home. In addition, the book links to Forest and Bird’s campaign to save the Denniston Plateau from more coalmines.

  • Where can people buy Touchstone?

It’s available for around $4.99 (US) from major online bookstores such as Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo Bookshop, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, etc. It’s also available on Wheelers E-Platform, which should be convenient for New Zealand schools and libraries. I’m working on getting it to more NZ suppliers.

  • Do you plan to publish another e-book?

Cross Tides is also available as an e-book, thanks to Random House NZ. But doing it all over again with another manuscript – who knows? I have to recover from this journey first!

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The Trouble with Mummies by F.R. Hitchcock

Hot Key Books are a UK based publisher who publish ‘stand out, quality fiction’ for 9-19 year olds.  Every time I go and check out their website to see what they’ve got coming up I add most of their books to my TBR pile.  They have introduced me to some wonderful new authors and some really original stories, including the marvelous Fleur Hitchcock.  Last year I loved her debut book, Shrunk, so when I heard she had a new book coming out I had to grab it.   The Trouble with Mummies is her latest book and it’s sure to have kids roaring with laughter.

Sam comes home one day to find his family turning strange – his mum is redecorating using hieroglyphics and his dad is building a pyramid in the back garden. He hopes it’s just a weird new fashion… but then the strangeness starts to spread. With the help of his friends Ursula, Henry and Lucy the Goat, Sam must save his town from rampaging Roman rugby players, hairdressers turned cavewomen, and a teacher who used to be a ‘basket of kittens’ but now wants to sacrifice the Year Ones to the Aztec sun god. As history invades Sam’s world, will he be able to keep the Greeks away from the Egyptians and discover the cause of the Mummy madness?

The Trouble with Mummies is a crazy adventure, where history comes alive and the kids have to solve the mystery before it’s too late.  When Sam’s parents start acting weirdly he gets the feeling something strange is going on.  Then his teacher dresses up in a wetsuit covered in feathers, and his PE teacher lines his class up in ranks and throws a javelin at them, so Sam knows that things aren’t right.  The people in his town get weirder and weirder and it’s up to Sam and his friends to figure out what is causing them to act so strangely.  Is it something they ate or drunk or have they all just lost their minds?

Fleur brings her love of history into the story with the different ancient peoples.  Sam’s parents become Egyptians, painting the house with hieroglyphics and building a pyramid, Miss Primrose becomes an Aztec and plans to sacrifice Sam’s friend Henry, and Ursula’s parents become Trojans.  It’s the perfect book for those kids who are really interested in history and ancient civilizations in particular.  If you know a Horrible Histories fan, you need to get them this book.  If your kids don’t already love history, then this book might just get them hooked.  You’ll certainly never look at your museum the same way again!

The thing I love the most about Fleur’s books is that they are unique stories full of imagination that are aimed at younger readers.  Forget Zac Power and Beast Quest, get your boys reading Shrunk and The Trouble with Mummies and they’ll be hooked on books.  Both of Fleur’s books also make great read alouds and they’re bound to have both you and your children laughing out loud.

What better way to hook readers in than show them the Hot Key Books ‘What’s in it?’ book key – Cavemen, Pyramids, Romans and Beards.  Who wouldn’t want to read a book with all that in it?

Check out this video of Fleur Hitchcock reading the first chapter of The Trouble with Mummies:

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Lest we forget: Books to remember the ANZACs

Last year in the lead up to Anzac Day I had some of our wonderful New Zealand authors and illustrators join me on the blog to talk about their Anzac books and what Anzac Day means to them.  You can read their posts by clicking on the links below.  You can also read about my favourite Anzac books and Philippa Werry’s fantastic new non-fiction book about Anzac Day, Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story.

Christchurch City Libraries has a great info page about Anzac Day and Gallipoli for children, with basic facts and links to some interesting websites.

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Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry

Why do we celebrate Anzac Day?  Why were donkeys used at Gallipoli?  Why do we wear poppies on Anzac Day? Why is the last post played at the Dawn Service?  Why do we have Anzac biscuits?  All these questions and more are answered in Philippa Werry’s new book, Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters is a fascinating, beautifully designed, thoroughly researched, and very accessible book for New Zealand children about Anzac Day.  It’s one of those non-fiction books that is both great for teachers to use in the classroom or for children to delve in to by themselves.  Philippa has written it in such a way that it is accessible for children of different ages, from 8 years and up, with lots of images to break up the text.  This book is different from other non-fiction books about Anzac Day and New Zealand’s involvement, as it looks at not only the past, but also the present and how we commemorate today.

Everything you would expect to find in a book about Anzac Day is here – what it is and why we celebrate it, a timeline of the Gallipoli campaign, profiles of key New Zealanders who played a part, and statistics of casualties and deaths.  However, it’s the focus on why Anzac Day matters and how we celebrate it now that really makes this book stand out.  There is a whole chapter about how we remember the war dead with poppies and war memorials, and another chapter on Anzac Day commemorations both in New Zealand and around the world.  There are also lots of fact boxes with tidbits of information about the animals at Gallipoli, Anzac biscuits, the New Zealand flag, and why the New Zealanders had ‘lemon-squeezer’ hats.

There are lots of primary resources in the book (which makes it great for teachers), from photos and newspaper clippings, to soldier’s diaries and paintings.  Philippa has created some incredibly helpful material at the back of the book too, including a glossary, bibliography, a list of helpful and authoritative websites, and a list of ‘More things to do’ to extend children’s understanding of the topic.

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story – What it is and why it matters should be in every home, school and library in the country.  It’s a book that will be well-used and well-read.

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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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A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

When I was a teenager I went through stages of reading nothing but war stories.  I was fascinated by them because I couldn’t believe how people, especially children, could survive such a horrific event.  These stories put me in the shoes of teenagers in another time, taught me empathy and taught me a lot about the survival instinct of humans.  The thing that always gets me with war stories is that you know these horrible things happened, but you struggle to accept that anyone can be that cruel.   In her latest book, A Winter’s Day in 1939, Melinda Szymanik introduces us to a Polish family who do everything they can to stay together and stay alive.

Taken from their home, forced to leave their country, put to work in labour camps, frozen and starved, Adam and his family doubt that they will ever make it out alive. Even if they were to get away, they might freeze to death, or starve, or the bears might get them. For the Polish refugees, the whole of the USSR becomes a prison from which there is seemingly no escape.

 

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds.  Adam and his family are ripped from their safe, comfortable life in Poland and transported to prison camps in Russia, in freezing conditions and with little to eat and drink.  They get transported in dirty, stinking train carriages with a stove and a pipe as a toilet, live in cramped barracks with many other families, and are forced to work for the good of Russia.  People die of exposure to the freezing conditions and disease is rife.  In these conditions you need to have to will to survive, and for Adam and his family, this is what is keeping them going.

The story is narrated by Adam, so you see everything through his eyes.  You feel how much he wants to survive and how important his family is to him. You get a real sense of how desperate their situation gets as time goes by, especially when it comes to food.  When a clerk at one of the evacuation centers apologizes to Adam for the lack of food, Adam says ‘He sounded sorry about it but that was no help to us.  You couldn’t eat ‘sorry.” You want so much for Adam and his family to survive the war and be able to return home, but you don’t know if their story will have a happy ending.

One of the things that stands out in Melinda’s story is the sense that Adam, his family, and the other refugees around them, hadn’t done anything wrong, yet they’re treated the way they are.  Adam says this himself, ‘We were being punished but I hadn’t done anything wrong.  None of us had.’ These people have been thrown out of their homes and sent to prison camps for no reason what so ever.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a great addition to any home or school library.  It’s a war story that hasn’t been told before and it will have an affect on readers of all ages.  Stories like Melinda’s help us to remember all those people who died during this horrific period of history and I’ll certainly remember Adam’s story for a long time.

4 out of 5 stars

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Cover Reveal – The Extraordinaires: The Subterranean Stratagem

The theatre can wait. First there’s a mystery to solve, not to mention a world to save . . .

Kingsley Ward and Evadne Stephens are the Extraordinaires and they should be the toast of the town – but their juggling and escapology act is failing, and Kingsley is to blame. His wolfish side is breaking free, ruining performances and endangering those around him. The secret to controlling this wildness lies in his mysterious past. Was he really raised by wolves? Who were his parents? What happened to them?

The discovery of Kingsley’s father’s journal promises answers, but when it is stolen the Extraordinaires uncover ancient magic, a malign conspiracy, and a macabre plot to enslave all humanity. What begins as a quest to restore Kingsley’s past becomes an adventure that pits the Extraordinaires against forces that could shatter the minds and souls of millions.

I’m a huge fan of Michael Pryor.  His Laws of Magic series was brilliant and his latest series, The Extraordinaires is set to be even better.  I reviewed the first book in the series, The Extinction Gambit here on the blog and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the second book.

The Subterranean Stratagem is out 2 April from Random House Australia.

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