Tag Archives: history

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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Christmas 2012: Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary and Martin Brown

Do you love history with all the horrible bits left in?  Have you ever wondered where Christmas carols came from or why we have Christmas trees?  Well all your Christmases have come at once with the latest edition of Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary and Martin Brown. 

Horrible Christmas is a fantastic book from the pair that have brought us the Horrible Histories series.  It’s a book ‘filled full of the foulest facts you can find on this festive folly.’  Terry and Martin dispel the myths about Christmas and give you the cold, hard, horrible facts.  You can discover:

  • the truth behind some popular Christmas carols
  • who invented the Christmas cracker
  • what people used to eat for their Christmas dinners
  • the things they never tell you about Santa
  • Christmas entertainment from the past
  • Christmas customs from around the world

There is so much in this book that I didn’t know about Christmas.  Did you know that Father Christmas comes in down the chimney because Saint Nicholas was the saint of chimney sweeps or that Christmas pudding in the Middle Ages was spicy porridge?  There are also lots of quizes and a game so that readers can test their knowledge about the different topics.  Martin Brown’s illustrations always make me laugh and this book is chock-full of his Christmasy characters from through the ages.  I especially like the illustration of a very fat Father Christmas trying to figure out how to squeeze back up a very small fireplace.

Horrible Christmas is a great addition to the Horrible Histories series that boys just seem to gobble up.  They’re hugely appealing because they’re interesting, funny and gross.  If you know a kid that says they don’t like reading, put  Horrible Christmas under the Christmas tree for them and they’ll be hooked on this fantastic series.

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The Boy in the Olive Grove by Fleur Beale

Fleur Beale has written some great novels, both for children and young adults.  My favourite books of hers are the award-winning Juno of Taris series.  Fleur’s latest book, The Boy in the Olive Grove, is a about a girl living in present day New Zealand, whose past lives resurface and turn her life upside down.

On the night of her seventeenth birthday Bess Grey sees images of a witch-burning unfold in front of her as if in a movie. She also sees images from a different time — lovers, and the girl, she’s sure is — was – herself. When she meets Nick she recognises him as the boy. There’s an immediate connection. However when her father nearly dies from a heart attack there’s no time to brood as Bess tries to save her father’s business. She falls in love with Nick but her difficult mother interferes, forcing Bess to make the hardest decision of her life. She must decide whether to lose her mother or the boy she loves.

The Boy in the Olive Grove is a really unique story about a girl who is navigating the minefield of her family life, while trying to deal with the lives she has lived in the past.  In the present Bess has a horrible mother who doesn’t seem to care for her at all, a protective brother who has just up and left her, a father who is ill, and a step-mother who she feels awkward around.  When she has a visions of herself burning a witch at the stake and of a mysterious boy who she has strong feelings for, she gets drunk and nearly kills herself on the road.  This only seems to be the beginning of her troubles, as she gets expelled from her boarding school and sent home to live with her mother.  Her dad falls ill and Bess gets left to look after his struggling furniture business.  She continues to have the visions and her step-mother sends her to a psychiatrist who helps her to understand these and come to terms with what they mean.

I found the story quite unusual (it’s quite different in a way from Fleur Beale’s previous books), but the more I read, the more intrigued I became and wanted to find out how it would end.  Fleur Beale always gets inside her characters heads so we know everything that they’re thinking and feeling.  Bess has so much to deal with, from her visions, to taking over her father’s business, and dealing with her horrible mother, but she deals with everything extremely well.  I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle all that at her age!  I love the relationship that Bess has with the men that work for her dad.  After some initial skepticism they warm to her and she helps to boost their confidence.  I love the way they call her ‘boss.’

The only thing I didn’t really like about the story was the scheming, vindictive bitch that was Bess’ mum.  I don’t think I’ve met a character that I’ve hated quite so much as her, and she didn’t seem to have any redeeming characteristics.  I’d really like to know if there are mothers out there that are really like her, because I couldn’t quite imagine a mother that could be as cruel and uncaring as she was.

If you like contemporary Young Adult fiction that stands out from the crowd, The Boy in the Olive Grove, get a copy now.  If you’re a fan of Fleur Beale then this is one not to be missed.

4 out of 5 stars

You can read an extract of The Boy in the Olive Grove on the Random House New Zealand website.

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The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

A Mutiny in Time, the first book in Scholastic’s new interactive series, The Infinity Ring is released today. Like the hugely popular 39 Clues series, the story doesn’t stop when you close the book.  It’s one of those books that comes with extra bits and pieces so that you can find out more about the story and the characters.  The Infinity Ring series is all about time travel so you follow the characters through different time periods.  Each book comes with a Hystorian’s Guide, a collectible map that includes a special code to unlock exclusive content on the Infinity Ring online game.  The multi-dimensional game on http://www.infinityring.com allows readers to play as the main characters from the books, as they travel back in history to fix the “Great Breaks,” key events that have gone wrong, altering history as we know it.  Players can interact with characters and explore key events in history alongside Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, and other figures featured in the books.

Book 1 is called A Mutiny in Time  and it’s written by one of my favourite authors, James Dashner (author of The Maze Runner series).

History is broken, and three kids must travel back in time to set it right!

When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the secret of time travel — a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring — they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone disastrously off course.

Now it’s up to Dak, Sera, and teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq to travel back in time to fix the Great Breaks . . . and to save Dak’s missing parents while they’re at it. First stop: Spain, 1492, where a sailor named Christopher Columbus is about to be thrown overboard in a deadly mutiny!

Reserve your copy of The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time at your library now or grab a copy from your bookshop.

Enter my competition to win one of two copies of The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time.

Scholastic NZ are also running a really cool competition to celebrate the release of the series.  All you have to do is register and play the Infinity Ring game on http://www.scholastic.co.nz/assets/pdf/tileE.pdf and you go in the draw to win iPods and iPads.

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Ransomwood by Sherryl Jordan

Every now and again a book comes along that surprises you.  I find myself reading a lot of Young Adult science fiction because I like the sound of the story and I love the different versions of society that authors can create.  A completely different type of story caught my eye recently, one by a New Zealand author who I love.  That book is called Ransomwood, by award-winning New Zealand author, Sherryl Jordan.

Spurned by her lover, and with her uncle threatening to marry her off to his odious widowed brother, Gwenifer is almost relieved to be sent away to escort the magistrate’s old, blind mother to Ransomwood, where the tears of the statue of the Holy Mother are said to have healing qualities.

Together with Harry, the village halfwit, who is escaping a sentence of hanging for being in charge of an ox that trampled a child almost to death, they embark on a perilous journey … each of them looking for a different kind of healing.

Ransomwood is a story of gossip, friendship, loyalty, suffering, acceptance and identity.  It’s the story of three very different people thrown together to go off in search of a cure for their ailments and medicine for a dying girl.  There is Halfwit Harry, the village idiot, whose fault it is that a little girl was trampled by oxen; Mother Dorit, an old crone who is thought to be a witch and is hoping to cure her blindness; and Gwenifer, who was caught with another boy who was betrothed.  Each of the pilgrims is hoping to achieve something by journeying to Ransomwood to collect the tears of the Holy Mother.

As we follow the pilgrims on their journey, you learn that there is more to them than the other villagers have assumed.   One quote from Mother Dorit that I love is about the gossip that flies around the village.

“If every word of gossip in Grimblebury was a bumblebee, the buzzing about the village would be enough to deafen the Good Lord Himself.  And if every gossip word were true, I say there’d be a blessed silence, and not one drop of honey to be had.  Nor anyone stung, for that matter.”

Mother Dorit is much more than the witch that others believe she is.  She’s a wise, kind soul who cares for Gwenifer and Harry and reassures them that everything is going to be alright.  Gwenifer is far from the girl of loose morals that others believe she is either.  She wishes to escape the clutches of her uncle and his horrible brother, and make a life for herself, where she can decide where life takes her.  Mother Dorit encourages her to follow her dreams by saying “If you have a dream, pick it up in both hands and shake it in the face of fate, and fight till you make every bit of your dream come true.”  She grows incredibly throughout the story and even puts herself in danger to help her friends.  My favourite character by far though has to be Harry.  Although everyone (even Gwenifer at first) believes him to be a half-wit and should be treated like one, he is probably the wisest of the pilgrims.  He truly regrets the awful thing that happened to Tilly and wants to make things right.  He is incredibly loyal to both Gwenifer (who he affectionately calls ‘Gwennie’) and Mother Dorit and will do anything to protect them on their journey.  One of my favourite parts of the book is when they are attacked by a group of men and Harry fights back with his pilgrim’s staff.  He’s also incredibly gentle and loving, and adopts a bantam along the way that he nurtures.  Harry actually reminded me of a bulkier version of Forrest Gump (think ‘I love you Gwennie’).

Sherryl Jordan’s writing is absolutely beautiful and she had me hanging on every word.  She transports you to an England of long ago, where everyone lived off the land, you slept on the hard ground or scratchy straw, you cooked over a fire, and it took you days or weeks to get to where you wanted to go.  Ransomwood will certainly be a finalist in next year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, if not the winner of the Young Adult category.

5 out of 5 stars

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Win The Drover’s Quest by Susan Brocker

Susan Brocker is a New Zealand author whose books keep getting better and better.  Her love of animals and history are obvious in her stories, especially her latest book, The Drover’s Quest.  The story is set in 1860s New Zealand and tells the story of Charlotte who joins a drove from Christchurch to the West Coast to find out what has happened to her father.  You can read my review here on the blog.

Thanks to Susan’s wonderful publishers, HarperCollins NZ I have 2 copies of The Drover’s Quest to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your details in the form below.  Competition closes Monday 25 June (NZ only).

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The Drover’s Quest by Susan Brocker

Over on the Christchurch Kids Blog (Christchurch City Libraries’ blog for children aged 8-12 years) our June Star Author, Susan Brocker has just released a fantastic new book called The Drover’s Quest.  It’s filled with Susan’s favourite things, including history and animals, and it’s set in New Zealand in the 1860s.

Rumour is flying around the west coast gold fields that Tom McGee has struck it rich and found a nugget of gold as big as a man’s fist. So no one is surprised when next his campsite is found wrecked and abandoned. Men have been killed for a lot less on the tough goldfields of 1860s New Zealand.

But one person is convinced Tom is not dead. His headstrong daughter, Charlotte.  Solving the mystery is not her first task, though. First, she must get to the coast. A skilful horse rider, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a cattle drive across the Southern Alps. To survive the dangerous drive over Arthur’s Pass and to keep her identity hidden from the vicious trail boss, she’ll need the help of her dog, her horse, and her father’s friend, Tama. She knows she can do it – she has to – but what will she find? And will her new American friend, Joseph, help or hinder her quest?

Charlie is in for the ride of her life – and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

If you love stories set in the past, stories about animals or stories with lots of adventure then The Drover’s Quest is the book for you.  The story starts in Christchurch and the characters travel over Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika on the West Coast.  These are my favourite parts of our beautiful country and I’ve travelled the route they took many times so I could see it clearly in my head.  It’s a route that is very quick and easy to travel today but was very rugged and dangerous in the 1860s.  There is a very tense part in the book where the drovers are taking the cattle down the Otira Gorge (it had me on the edge of my seat).

I really liked the characters, especially Tama and Joseph who bring different cultures into the story, and Scar because I couldn’t figure out whether he was good or bad.  The animals are also important characters in the story and they are incredibly loyal to their masters.

Check out the Christchurch Kids Blog throughout June to find out more about The Drover’s Quest from our June Star Author, Susan Brocker.

5 out of 5 stars

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New Zealand at war: New books from Ken Catran

Ken Catran is one of New Zealand’s most prolific authors for children and young adults.  He’s an incredibly flexible writer because he writes for different age groups and in different genres.  One of my favourite books by Ken Catran is the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2011 finalist, Smiling Jack.  A lot of Ken’s books deal with war and the way that it affects those both at war and at home.

Ken has recently had two new books published which focus on New Zealand’s role in war. These two new books focus on two wars that most New Zealanders know very little about, the second Boer War (1899-1902) and the Malayan Emergency (1948-60).

When the Empire Calls – published by Scholastic New Zealand

It is 1899 and the Boer War has just begun in Africa. The Boer War is the first overseas conflict that New Zealand as a nation is involved in. Young men and women are eager to sign up to help the British Empire. Patriotism sweeps through New Zealand, even reaching small farming communities like Huia.

James McDonald is a teenage boy who lives on a farm in Huia with his parents and brothers and sisters. When his two older brothers sign up James is left to help his father run the farm. Left behind by his brothers and two sisters who are training to be nurses James has to assume extra responsibility and also grow up quickly. The reality of war is illustrated vividly by James’ brother Edward in his letters home and James begins to worry that he may never see his brothers alive again.

“Croaky Fred” who owns Fred’s Grocery Emporium is a person who believes that war is neither glorious nor justified. He challenges James to question his assumptions and ideas about the war. Fred’s outspoken views are considered unpatriotic by many townsfolk, who are unaware that Fred is himself a war hero who knows only too well the horrors of war. Unfortunately for James and his family, Fred’s concerns and dire predictions don’t turn out to be unfounded.

Earth Dragon, Fire Hare – published by HarperCollins New Zealand

New Zealand’s forgotten war, fought in the deep green jungles of Malaya. In 1948, Britain and her allies are pitted against Communist terrorists in a struggle for freedom. On opposing sides are Peter Hayes, a young Kiwi soldier, and Ng, a dedicated guerrilla. They are enemies but, as the bitter conflict deepens, both will ask questions. Who fights for freedom? Who is the oppressor?

And then a chance horoscope links them … to meet in battle. Destiny also decrees that Peter and Ng will become unlikely comrades. But in this treacherous and bloody war, nothing is as it seems – not even trust. The path to honour and the search for peace promise to be hard-fought and come at the highest cost. EARTH DRAGON, FIRE HARE is the ultimate tale of war.

Enter my Anzac books giveaway to win a copy of When Empire Calls and Earth Dragon, Fire Hare.

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Picture Book Nook: The House That Jack Built by Gavin Bishop

If I had to pick one picture book that is quintessentially New Zealand, I would choose Gavin Bishop’s The House That Jack Built.  Gavin’s multi-layered story, based on the traditional rhyme, contains our history within it’s pages, told from both a Maori and a Pakeha perspective.  It is a picture book in which you discover something new or get a slightly different meaning from each time you read it.  Now, thanks to the wonderful Gecko Press who have reprinted the book in a stunning new format, a new generation of New Zealanders can enjoy this important book.

On the surface, it’s the story of Jack Bull, who travels to New Zealand from London as a new settler in 1798.   This is one of those brilliant picture books where the words tell a completely different story from the illustrations.  The end papers show us the reality of Jack’s life in London in 1798 and we see him with his cart of possessions and the red door that comes to symbolise Pakeha society.  In the next few pages we follow Jack’s ocean voyage on a map and see the list of goods that he has brought to trade with the natives.  Throughout the rest of the story Gavin portrays the effect that Pakeha colonisation had on the local Maori, from trading land and food for clothes and weapons, to the loss of culture and the deaths in the New Zealand Wars.

The House That Jack Built is a book that should be in every home, school, and library around New Zealand.  It’s an important book to help us remember who we are and where we’ve come from.  For those readers not in New Zealand the story will also be relevant as it applies to any colonial history.  Gavin Bishop is our master of the picture book and this is the best example of how he gets his message across visually.  He weaves the Maori and Pakeha strands of the story together and shows us through the illustrations, how Maori were assimilated into the Pakeha world.  The publisher, Gecko Press, deserves a huge amount of praise for, not only bringing this book back into print, but also for producing a gorgeous edition in a larger format than the original and printed on high quality paper.  Buying a copy of The House That Jack Built and sharing it with your family is the perfect way to celebrate Waitangi Day on 6 February.

5 out of 5 stars

The House That Jack Built is being published to coincide with Waitangi Day (6 February) and will be launched at the Porirua Festival of the Elements on Waitangi Day 2012 with author/illustrator Gavin Bishop.

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Blood Runner by James Riordan

The best authors can put you in their characters shoes and experience everything that they do.  You can empathise with the characters and feel all their emotions.  James Riordan is one of those authors.  I still remember how I felt when I read his book Sweet Clarinet (about a boy badly injured in World War II) many years ago.  His latest book, Blood Runner, puts us in the shoes of a boy growing up in Apartheid South Africa, who fights for his people’s freedom in the only way he knows how.

Samuel is growing up in a South Africa divided into blacks and whites.  Samuel and his people have to carry passbooks in order to move into the whites-only zone, but a group of men in Samuel’s town don’t think that it is right they should have to carry them.  This group stage a peaceful protest by walking to the police station, and many of the other residents of the town, including Samuel and his family come to watch what will happen.  In a display of their force, the police arm themselves with guns and tanks, and when someone fires accidentally, all hell breaks loose.  As people try to flee, the police start gunning them down and Samuel’s parents and sister are killed.  Samuel is separated from his brothers who both retaliate by joining the anti-Apartheid movement, with guns and terrorism as their weapons.  But Sam decides to fight for freedom in his own way – as a runner.  Against all odds, Samuel strives to become the best runner he can so that he can compete in marathons, and achieve his dream of winning gold in the Olympic Games.

Blood Runner is an inspirational story that portrays the hardships and prejudice that black people, like Samuel, faced in Apartheid South Africa.  Through Samuel, James Riordan shows us that people can face extraordinary circumstances but still have the strength and determination to fight for what they believe is right.  James Riordan also shows us, through other people Samuel meets, that not all white people shared the same views, that many of them wanted everyone in South Africa to have the same rights and freedom.  James also provides a basic history of Apartheid at the end of the book which would be a great teaching tool.  If you like authors like Elizabeth Laird, Deborah Ellis or Sally Grindley then this is the perfect book for you.

4 out of 5 stars

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