Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

Both myself and the kids at my school love a genuinely scary read, one that will send shivers down your spine. The thing that can notch up the scare factor is if the story ties in real life events. I feel like it adds some authenticity to the scares because the events took place or the people existed. Lindsay Currie has set her new story, Scritch Scratch, in modern day Chicago but she links in historical events, making for a super creepy ghost story that will haunt you long after you reach the end.

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She is a scientist who knows there is no evidence that ghosts exist. Her dad runs a ghost-tour business, showing tourists around the most haunted parts of Chicago on his bus. When she gets asked to help her dad with one of his tours she begrudgingly goes along. At the end of the tour she sees a dripping wet boy with a sad face sitting in the back of the bus, but nobody else seems to notice him. Claire thinks that she was imagining things and that maybe it was just her dad’s ghost stories playing on her mind. But then the scratching starts. Claire hears voices whispering to her and scary things start happening at home and at school. Claire is being haunted and she needs to find out who her ghost is before he drives her crazy.

Scritch Scratch is a super creepy, spine-tingly story that keeps you turning the pages. It is one of the best ghost stories for kids that I’ve read. Lindsay takes readers on their own ghost tour of Chicago, introducing you to some of the places around the city that have seen great tragedies. I knew very little about Chicago when I first picked the book up but became really interested in the history of the city. After I finished the story and discovered the truth of the ghost boy I had to find out more about some of the events of the story. Connecting the story to real events made the story have more of an emotional impact and made the story even creepier because the ghost could have been someone who existed in real life. I remember becoming completely obsessed about the Titanic after watching the movie when I was younger, reading everything I could about the disaster. I think Scritch Scratch will do the same for kids, leaving them wanting to find out more about the real places and events from this story.

It is more than just a ghost story though. It’s also a story about navigating friendships. Claire’s best friend Casley has started to hang out with another girl, Emily, and Claire strongly dislikes Emily. Claire thinks Emily is stealing her best friend away and changing her. When Claire needs Casley the most though she has to push through her jealousy. Claire needs her friends’ help to discover the truth about the ghost boy and stop her haunting.

The cover artist, Jana Heiderdorf, and cover designer, Nicole Hower, have done a brilliant job of capturing the tone of the story in the cover. It is a cover that tells kids straight away that this is a spooky story and they’re going to be scared.

Get a copy of Scritch Scratch and be prepared to be up all night with the lights on.

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

‘Grandma Anna had left me her books. It was as though she wanted me to find this, to read it at this exact moment in my life. It felt like she had written it precisely for me.’

Imani lives with her adopted family. She loves her family and her Jewish community but has always wondered where she came from, especially as she is the only black person in her mostly white community. Imani’s bat mitzvah is coming up, and while her friends are asking for extravagant gifts, Imani wants one thing she isn’t sure her parents are prepared for. She wants to know about her birth parents. When her great-grandma dies Imani inherits her books and amongst these she discovers Anna’s journal from when she was Imani’s age. Imani finds herself engrossed in Anna’s story. It’s a story of a girl who left her only family behind in Nazi occupied Luxembourg to start a new life with a new family in New York. Anna writes to her sister in her journal, telling her about life in New York, not knowing what is happening to her family back home. The more that Imani reads about Anna the more she feels connected to her. When Anna’s journal ends abruptly Imani knows she has to discover the truth. Imani also wants to know where she came from and why her birth parents gave her up, but it will mean hurting the family who raised her.

The Length of a String is a story of family, identity and connections that takes you on an emotional journey. Like Imani, who reads her great-grandma’s journal every chance she gets, you want to keep coming back to the story to learn more about the characters. The story highlights the plight of Jews during the Second World War while not explicitly giving details. We know what happens to Anna’s family while Anna can’t get any news about what is happening back home. Jewish culture is an important part of the story and I certainly know more about it from reading this story. I did have to look up the difference between bat mitzvah and bar mitzvah (the former is the coming of age ritual for girls and the later for boys).

This is a story about connections and Elissa makes you feel intimately connected to her characters. Both Anna and Imani talk about the strings that connect them, whether this is the feeling of a string connecting Anna and Belle (the twins who are thousands of miles away) or the strings of DNA that intertwine and connect Imani to her birth parents. It is also a story of identity as Imani is trying to figure out who she is and where she comes from.

I loved the way that Elissa pulled all of the threads of the story together at the end. Anna and Imani’s lives become intertwined throughout the story and Imani’s research leads to a discovery that strengthens her connection to her adopted family.

The Length of a String is a great read for ages 11+, especially those who like family stories or stories with strong characters. I was really interested in the Holocaust when I was about 14 and this is a book I would have devoured.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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!

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:

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.

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.