The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot by Gareth Ward

This book is AMAZING! There is something for everyone – mystery, adventure, action, magic, ingenious machines, powers being used for good and evil, witty dialogue and curious characters. The fantastic cover (illustrated by Bex Bloomfield) alone is enough to draw you in and from the first page I was hooked on Brasswitch and Bot. Gareth drops you straight in to the action and gives you a taste of his world. Once you get a taste you just want more. This is a world of clockwork, machines and science but also a world tainted by power from another dimension. There are those with powers and abilities who live in the shadows and those who hunt them down.

When The Rupture occurred, monsters tore through into the world from another dimension, leaving many people with altered physical features and strange powers. Wrench is a Brasswitch, an ‘abberation’ who can control machines with her mind. After her parents died in a train crash when she was younger she tried to keep her abilities hidden away. Her abilities are discovered and she is taken by the ruthless Regulator, Flemington. When the mechanoid, Bot, rescues her, Wrench finds herself helping the Regulators to stop the rise of the abberations and the end of the world as they know it.

Brasswitch and Bot has shades of Hellboy and Skulduggery Pleasant. The abberations are being hunted down with the help of abberations, much like Hellboy, Abe Sapien and the B.P.R.D. The relationship between Wrench and Bot reminds me of Skulduggery and Stephanie’s relationship in the early Skulduggery books. The relationship and the banter between Wrench and Bot was one of my favourite aspects of this book. I really want to see more of these two taking on the bad guys together. I would also highly recommend this series for fans of Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series. Like Jessica, Gareth’s world-building and characters draw you in and you don’t want the story to end.

There is so much depth to the characters and you know there is more to discover about them. Bot is quite mysterious and secretive. You learn a little about him in this book but I want to know more about him and his history. Likewise, you get to know Wrench but she has more to learn about her powers and her past.

Gareth’s world-building is masterful. He gives us little details about this steampunk version of York throughout the story and gives us the details of the history of the Rupture. I really loved some of the little details of the world, like the Scotch dog (a mechanical creature that is made up of a giant set of bagpipes on legs) and G-mail (mail that is delivered by greyhounds).

Gareth’s dialogue is witty and there were lots of moments that made me chuckle. There are lots of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations) used by the Regulators but my favourite is BBG (the Bloody Big Guns that come out when the situation gets serious).

I need book 2 right now! This is a series that will have me eagerly awaiting the next instalment and lining up like a Harry Potter fan to get my hands on it. Get to your bookstore or library and get The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot now.

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.

The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King

The Inkberg Enigma is a brilliant graphic novel from New Zealand comic creator and film maker, Jonathan King. Reading this made me feel like I was 10 years old again, devouring Tintin and wanting to be him.

Miro is a book-obsessed boy living an adventurous life through the stories of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Real-life adventure finds him though when Zia, a girl from his school, drags him in to a town mystery. Miro is reluctant to get involved but, as Mira says, ‘this is how you have adventures. You find cool things and you do them…you don’t just read books about them!’ Their town of Aurora has been built on the prosperous fishing in their harbour. When Miro and Zia see something that they are not supposed to, they set out to discover the truth behind the legacy of Aurora and the shady characters who run the town.

The Inkberg Enigma is filled with adventure, mystery, and secrets. It’s also just the right amount of spooky and sinister that keeps you turning the pages. I flew through the story the first time and have since read it again to fully appreciate the story and the artwork.

I love all the characters, from the book-loving Miro and the ever-curious Zia to the sinister mayor of Aurora, Mr Hunter. Miro reminds me a lot of myself because he sells artefacts that he finds in his attic just so he can buy more books. His habit gets so bad that he has a whole spare room full of books! He’d also rather read about adventures than have them in real life.

Jonathan’s illustrations are fantastic, from his characters to the images of the town of Aurora. As a Christchurch local I immediately recognised Lyttelton as Aurora, from the town streets to the museum and the harbour. I really like the flow of the illustrations, with the scene on the boat being my favourite. Jonathan doesn’t let the panels limit the story either, with some really clever sections where the illustrations move out of the panels.

The Inkberg Enigma is one of my favourite kids graphic novels of 2020 and I’ll be recommending it to everyone. I really hope there will be more stories with Miro and Zia.

The Inkberg Enigma is released in August from the wonderful Gecko Press. Stay tuned for my interview with Jonathan King.

#Tumeke! by Michael Petherick

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction Finalist

Plans for the Newtoun community’s Waitangi Day celebrations are well under way: Monty and Pete `The Deadly Icedagger’ plan a wrestling demo. Dreadflock needs to upskill her braiding technique. Constable Rutene is planning the biggest kapa haka event in suburban memory. Sauerkraut Burgers are gearing up for fierce battle with Carnivores Rule. And that’s not the half of it.

Flicking through Tumeke originally I didn’t think I would like it but after reading it in one sitting I completely loved it! It’s totally unique and has a real Kiwi flavour to it. The story is pieced together from notices on the community noticeboard at the library, text messages, emails, diary entries, social media posts and more. The design is so clever and visually appealing. I loved all the different personalities, from the local constable and his relationship with the teacher to the local Lord of the Rings and Beatles Appreciation Society and the owner of the goat who keeps causing havoc (and communicates using emojis).

I think, because of Tumeke’s uniqueness this will be the winner of the Junior Fiction category of the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Prince of Ponies by Stacy Gregg

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction Finalist

Stacy Gregg is NZ’s answer to Michael Morpurgo. Stacy is a captivating storyteller who weaves the plight of animals and humans together with history, adventure and suspense. Prince of Ponies is one of her best.

Prince of Ponies has a duel storyline, one in the present and one in Poland during the Second World War. Mira is a Syrian refugee now living in Berlin. She is bullied at school and her mother appears to be busy working (she is not mentioned much). However, Mira’s life is changed when she meets a spirited pony while walking in the woods. The pony leads her to Zofia, an old woman with an astounding story to tell. Mira agrees to write down Zofia’s story in exchange for riding lessons. As we discover more about Mira and watch her bond with Zofia and her pony Emir grow, we also discover Zofia’s past and her childhood in a Poland ruled by the Nazis. Mira’s skill as a rider grows to which leads to her competing in her first competition.

There is something in this story for all readers – princely ponies, daring escapes, nail-biting competitions, history, and characters who you are routing for. Having read and loved The Princess and the Foal I really liked the cameo of Princess Jana. This was a nice connection between Stacy’s books. I also love the epilogue which connects the story to the history behind it. Stacy always makes this information accessible to her readers.

My only niggle about this book is the cover. Much like Stacy’s other books I really wish the covers were more neutral to encourage boys to read them.

Time Machine and Other Stories by Melinda Szymanik

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction Finalist

Like a lolly mixture or a surprise toy you never know what exciting things you’ll discover in a short story collection and this one has something for everyone. In this collection from Melinda Szymanik there’s a magical soup to help with maths, a messy monster under the bed, an extraterrestrial mum, a mysterious crocodile tooth, and a boy who gets kidnapped by pirates. There is a really good range of stories that kids could read themselves or a teacher could read them aloud to a class.

I like how Crocodile Dreaming and Time Machine II are separate stories but also interconnected and they gave me a classic Paul Jennings vibe. They reminded me of watching Round the Twist growing up. My absolute favourite story (and the one I keep thinking about) is The Gift. It’s a haunting story about the lengths a sibling goes to for their sister. It’s one of those perfect short stories that I know I’ll remember and come back to again and again.

Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan

Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chen is a story filled with mystery, intrigue, spies and secret missions, that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Set in Singapore in 1940 the story focuses on Lizard, a boy who steals a package that dangerous people want to get their hands on. Lizard is just a boy who steals to make ends meet but this latest job leaves him mixed up in Japanese plans to invade Singapore. Lizard’s friend, Lili, is secretly a special agent who is tasked with uncovering more about the Japanese plans. With the help of Lizard and his contacts, and a British girl staying at the Raffles Hotel, they set out to uncover the truth. The gunjin (Japanese military) are known for their ruthlessness and Lizard and his friends discover this first hand.

Lizard is a character who is very resourceful. He lost his parents at a young age and has been brought up by his uncle. His uncle disappeared suddenly several years ago so Lizard has to survive on his wits and the kindness of others. The girls in the story are quite resourceful too – Lili is a fearless secret agent and Georgina doesn’t live the sheltered life her parents believe she does.

Weng Wai Chan gives readers an interesting insight in to Singapore at the start of the Second World War. There are so many different nationalities in the city, from Chinese and Malay to British and Japanese. This is a period of history I didn’t know much about and I found it fascinating.

Lizard’s Tale is a very engaging story perfect for ages 10+. It’s a very worthy finalist in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Mind-Swapping Madness by Tom E. Moffatt

New Zealand’s answer to Paul Jennings is here! Tom E. Moffatt’s collection of wacky short stories will have kids in hysterics.

If you’ve ever thought you might like to swap minds with someone these stories will make you think again. Tom shows us how funny, scary, crazy and totally embarrassing it would be to swap minds with a toad, an evil auntie, a flea, your baby sister and more.

In Mind-Swatting George switches minds with a fly after his brother seats him with an electric fly swat, Ari learns you should never kiss a toad in Croak, and a synchronised sneeze causes Emily to end up in nappies in Bless You.

These stories are perfect for reading aloud, especially to ages 10 and up. I can just imagine a whole class cracking up as the teacher reads it aloud. My favourite story is Soul Beneficiary, where Robert inherits more than he bargained for. It is clever and twisty with a hint of spookiness.

If you enjoyed Tom’s first book, Barking Mad, you need to read Mind-Swapping Madness.

Summer Days: Stories and Poems Celebrating the Kiwi Summer

The days are getting warmer and it’s starting to feel like Summer is just around the corner.  When you think of a Kiwi summer you think of days at the beach, hokey pokey ice cream, pohutukawa trees, jandals and lots of family time.  New Zealand stories and poems that encapsulate a Kiwi summer have been gathered together in a gorgeous new collection by Puffin.

9780143771593

Summer Days is a gorgeous collection of New Zealand stories and poems that the whole family will enjoy.  Authors, illustrators and their stories have been carefully selected to showcase our Kiwi summer.  Inside these bright covers you’ll find stories from Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley, Pamela Allen, Sandra Morris and Dot Meharry, interspersed with poems by Peter Bland, Fiona Farrell and James K. Baxter.  Each story and poem is beautifully illustrated by some of our best illustrators including Gavin Bishop, Jenny Cooper and David Elliot.

So much attention has been paid to the production of the collection.  It’s hardcover, with a summery design that is stamped into the cover, the page edges are bright yellow,  and it has a ribbon bookmark.  My favourite part of the design though is the ice cream endpapers.  It’s just one of those books that anyone would be happy to get. It leaps off the shelf and begs you to take it home.

Summer Days is the perfect collection for the whole family as there are stories for everyone.  Get a copy for your family this Christmas and spend the summer reading it again and again.

NZ wildlife on show in three gorgeous new books for children

Potton and Burton are the New Zealand publishers who really showcase the beautiful country that we live in.  Not only do they produce wonderful coffee table books full of stunning photographs of our country, they also produce some of the best children’s books in the country.  Their children’s nonfiction and picture books are top quality and introduce kiwi kids to our native wildlife.

Three wonderful new children’s books have just been released from Potton and Burton – Up the River: Explore and discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and wetlands, Watch Out for the Weka, and It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).

Up-the-River_cvr-72-max-800

Up the River is the latest book by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud in their popular Explore and Discover series.  I love this series because it gives children a perfect introduction to different parts of our land and sea and the wildlife that make these environments their home.  Like the other books in the series, Up the River uses simple language, small chunks of text and realistic illustrations to engage young readers.  In this book children are introduced to creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands and the wildlife that they will find living there.  For most children these environments will be familiar but they may not have thought about what lies beneath the water or who nests in the reeds. Up the River is a fantastic addition to the series and is a book that children will come back to again and again, whether just out of curiosity or for school work.

Watch-out-for-the-Weka-72dpi-max-800

As well as illustrating nonfiction books, Ned Barraud also writes and illustrates his own picture books.  Watch Out for the Weka is Ned’s latest picture book and it tells the story of a mischievous weka who steals a DOC hut warden’s watch as he is taking a swim.  Ned takes us to Awaroa Inlet in Abel Tasman National Park, a gorgeous part of the country that lots of birds call home, including herons, oystercatchers and weka.  Weka are always on the lookout for food and something shiny, and one hot, sunny day, while Alf, the hut warden is cooling off in the stream, a weka steals his watch.  Alf gives chase in the nude but quickly loses the weka in the thick bush.  That night Alf comes up with a plan to tempt the weka and get his watch back.  Ned’s style of illustration is quite different from the Explore and Discover books, but the cartoony style matches the humour of the story.  Ned has made the weka look very cheeky indeed and he is sure to make kids laugh.  It is a fun picture book that is based on a true story.  Ned even includes weka facts in the back of the book.

It's-My-Egg-72dpi-max-800

Heather Hunt’s stunning illustrations of kiwi have featured in several books, including the award-winning Kiwi: the real story.  Her illustrations jump right off the page in her latest book, written by Kennedy Warne, It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).  This gorgeous picture book highlights the reality of life for a kiwi trying to hatch an egg in the wild.  After laying the egg the female leaves the nest to go and build up her strength, leaving the male to look after the egg until it hatches.  It is not just a lot of sitting around for the kiwi dad though as he has to fend off attacks from predators, including cats, dogs and stoats.  The cat and the stoat look especially menacing as they creep up to the nest in the hope of a meal.  The kiwi fends off each attack though, repeating the line ‘It’s my egg, and you can’t have it!’  I love Heather’s illustrations, especially the way that she creates texture, making the kiwi look fluffy.  This is another picture book that is ideal to share with preschoolers through to the upper end of primary school.

Each of these wonderful books from Potton and Burton are available now in all good bookshops.