The New Zealand Wars by Matthew Wright

With New Zealand history being part of the curriculum from 2022, teachers and school librarians are going to be on the lookout for great resources for students. Oratia Books are one of the publishers that are leading the way with their NZ Series of books that focus on New Zealand history. The most recent book in this series is The New Zealand Wars by Matthew Wright.

In his slim, visually-appealing book Matthew Wright gives readers a concise introduction to the New Zealand Wars. Matthew talks about how and why the wars started, who fought the wars, and breaks down the individual conflicts. We learn about the major incidents, including the Battle of Gate Pā, and the figures involved from both sides, including Hōne Heke and George Grey. The information has been broken down in to short sections of text, with lots of illustrations, photographs and maps. Matthew has very effectively used boxes and sidebars to explain points or words in more detail. There is also a list of further reading and an index in the back, making it easier to find details about certain people.

The New Zealand Wars will be an invaluable resource in New Zealand schools. I loved studying New Zealand history at primary school and high school, as it was history that was relevant to me. The books on New Zealand history were few, and very text heavy. Matthew Wright’s book, on the other hand, is short, but concise, and it’s very readable. It will be appealing to students as they won’t get bogged down by text and will be able to find the information they need easily.

The thing that I like the most about this book is that it is packed with images. There are primary resources, like the photos and paintings from the time of the conflict, but there are also modern photos of pā sites, graves and monuments. As Matthew mentions in his book, these monuments help to remind us that history isn’t a boring list of things that happened, that ‘it is about the shapes and patterns of the past that made us what we are today.’

The New Zealand Wars is the kind of New Zealand history book that I wish had been around when I was in high school. This is a book that should be in all schools in New Zealand, especially in primary, intermediate and high school libraries. I will be looking out for the other titles in Oratia Books The NZ Series.

Interview with Sandra Morris

Sandra Morris is the award-winning author of many wonderful picture books and children’s nonfiction books. In Sandra’s latest book, North and South, we learn about the differences in seasons between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and how the animals that live there deal with the changing seasons. You can read my rave review here on the blog. It is a fascinating book and it made me wonder about how Sandra chose which animals would be featured in the book. Read my interview with Sandra to find out the answer to this question and more.

  • North and South: A tale of two hemispheres is a unique concept for a children’s nonfiction book about wildlife. You compare wildlife from the Northern Hemisphere with those from the Southern Hemisphere. What inspired you to present the information in this way?

In North and South I presented wildlife in each month looking at the opposite seasons. As a child I was fascinated that two halves of the world experience such different weather systems at the same time. I thought if I showed both halves on each double spread with an animal from each hemisphere then it is pretty immediate and accessible for children to see the contrast.

  • How did you decide what wildlife to include in the book?

It was pretty challenging deciding on the final list of animals to be portrayed. I made an initial list after reading an old Readers Digest book on animals through the seasons. On further research I found out quite a few had become extinct- particularly disappointing! I made a more refined list and sent it to my Candlewick US editors and they made a further selection. We tried to represent as wide a species list as possible – birds, insects, mammals, marine life etc. and to cover as many different countries as possible. I also wanted to include some lesser known species like Portuguese man of war, stag beetles, and honeypot ants.

  • There were so many things that fascinated me reading this book, from the difference that heat makes to the sex of baby crocodiles to the hilarious way that Lyrebirds copy the sounds around them. What was the most fascinating thing you discovered while researching this book?

One of the most fascinating things was to learn how many of her young are carried in the jaws of the female salt water crocodile down to the river shortly after hatching. It was impossible to find images so I had to reconstruct that image myself- I have since seen amazing photos and she does cram them in!! Like an overloaded bus!!

  • A lot of effort has gone in to the design of North and South. It’s so important to get the design right in a children’s nonfiction book, as you want children to be able to find the information they need but also enjoy reading it. Did you have much of a say in the design?

Yes the design was largely mine. It went through various changes due to the publisher wanting it to sell foreign rights, so all my original coloured, hand lettering had to go and they replaced them with the black and white fonts. Also, I had originally had all the extra facts at the back making it a rather lengthy book, so the designer brought all the extra facts into each spread, running them down the side of the images. Therefore, all the images had to be reduced – they originally bled off the page with just a small amount of text within the image. But I am happy with what the designer has done and I understand all the reasons why. Sometimes you have to make compromises if you want the book to have a wider market appeal internationally. You just cant get too precious. I love it that it’s a team effort and I was lucky that Sarah Davies at Walker Australia made such good design decisions.

  • One of the design features that I really love about North and South is the map on the endpapers. Were maps an important feature to include in the book?

Yes. Originally the world map with animals was going on the Introduction page and Sarah suggested it as endpapers. This freed up more internal space. It was also her idea to include a small map on each spread, so that it was immediately clear where each animal lived.

  • What is your process of illustrating the wildlife you feature in your books? Do you watch videos and pore over photos?

I usually try to draw from life as much as possible, but as most of these animals do not live in NZ that was out of the question. So I referred to many books, Google images and videos for visual reference.

  • You have written and illustrated many books about New Zealand wildlife, and both the Bar-tailed Godwit and the Brown Kiwi feature in North and South. Do you have a favourite New Zealand creature that you love to illustrate? What is it that appeals about this creature?

For many years I have observed and sketched from life the amazing Bar-tailed godwits at Pukorokoro Miranda on the firth of Thames. I have grown to love these birds and admire their amazing annual migratory feats!! They fly non-stop from Alaska to NZ – 11,000 kms every southern summer to feed on our mudflats to be in peak breeding condition to fly back via several feeding spots, to breed in the Alaskan tundra as it thaws. It is such a worry that changing climate conditions and human habitation and development is chewing up their feeding grounds. This has a huge impact on their survival. There is clear evidence that their numbers have severely decreased. Statistics show they are declining by 2% a year.

  • Many of the animals featured in North and South have a special ability like changing their appearance to camouflage into their environment, copying the sounds of other animals, or storing honey in their swollen bellies for when it’s needed. If you could choose one animal ability to have yourself, what would you choose?

An animal ability I would choose is flight – what an amazing ability. To just make up your mind to lift off and go places with no cost to the environment!!

New Zealand Disasters: our response, resilience and recovery by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic

Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic are a formidable team. They have worked on many books together now, including the award-winning Anzac Heroes. The combination of Maria’s narrative nonfiction text and Marco’s realistic illustrations make their books ones that are loved by kids and adults alike. Maria and Marco have teamed up once again to tell the stories of disasters from throughout New Zealand.

In New Zealand Disasters: our response, resilience and recovery, Maria tells us about the natural and man-made disasters that have affected our country and our people, with Marco visually highlighting their dramatic nature. We can read about earthquakes, tsunamis, and cyclones, as well as shipwrecks, plane and train crashes. Historical disasters, from the 19th and 20th century are covered, as well as more recent events, such as the Kaikoura and Canterbury earthquakes, the Pike River Mine and the Port Hills fires. It is particularly interesting to note the similarities in each of the mine disasters, even though they occurred so far apart. A particularly relevant section towards the back of the book focuses on pandemics and epidemics, with information on Coronavirus, Polio, Measles and Flu. Throughout the book are text boxes noting the positive outcomes from some of the disasters, highlighting how communities pulled together to support those in need. Other text boxes highlight safety tips to help you if you are caught in a disaster, like a blizzard or a shipwreck. The hugely important work of our first responders and essential workers is also highlighted, with information on how they respond to disasters and help keep us safe. It is important to be prepared for disasters and tips for this are included at the back of the book, including suggestions for making a family plan and what to include in an emergency and evacuation kit. One of the aspects of this book that really makes it stand out is the section on recovery. Maria explains the ways that disasters can affect your body and mind and she also highlights the importance of talking about our experiences and being positive to help us recover.

New Zealand Disasters is an outstanding book that brings a fresh look to the disasters that have affected our country, both past and present. It is beautifully presented, with a child-friendly layout. Maria’s text tells us a story about the event, making it easy for readers of all ages to digest the information. This is a unique book about disasters, because of the way that Maria and Marco have put a positive spin on what happened. It is great for children to see that something positive can come out of something that is terrifying.

Both Maria and Marco perfectly capture the dramatic nature of these disasters. Maria describes the ‘deep rumbling’ and the ‘violent jolt’ of earthquakes, the ‘violent wind gusts and large swells’ faced by the Wahine on its fateful voyage, and the way that the ‘super-heated gases shot up the two lift shafts and engulfed’ the Ballantyne’s department store. Marco’s illustrations portray the fear, anguish and hopelessness that people faced during these disasters. Marco has also captured the time period perfectly in his illustrations, with attention paid to the fashion and technology of the time. I especially like the way that light and dark contrast in Marco’s illustrations, which highlights the unsettling nature of these disasters.

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the map at the start. It has a key for the different types of disasters and shows where in New Zealand they have occurred. A contents page, index and glossary are also included, making it easy for children to find the information they want or need.

New Zealand Disasters is an invaluable book for schools and is a must-have for all school libraries. The inclusion of more recent events makes it a fantastic book for your home library too. Maria and Marco have created another brilliant nonfiction book that is sure to be an award-winner.