Tag Archives: NZ Book Month

My Top 5 NZ Series for Kids and Teens

Like many kids I’m a fan of series.  There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into a great series and being able to read more than one book featuring your favourite characters.  While there aren’t a heap of New Zealand series for kids and teens there are some that really stand out for me.  Some of them make me laugh again and again, while others take me to different times and places.  Here are my Top 5 NZ series for kids and teens.

  • 1219373The Karazan Quartet by V.M. Jones
    • Book 1 – The Serpents of Arakesh
    • Book 2 – Beyond the Shroud
    • Book 3 – Prince of the Wind
    • Book 4 – Quest for the Sun
I was excited when the first book in the series, The Serpents of Arakesh, came out.  The idea of an orphan boy getting the chance to test a new computer game and go into this game to retrieve a magical object sounded fantastic, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As soon as I started I knew I was going to love this book, and the other three books in the series just got better and better.  It’s one of my favourite fantasy series and just writing about it now makes me want to go back and read it all over again.  After publishing this series and a couple of great contemporary (and award-winning) novels, V.M. Jones seems to have disappeared.  I really miss her writing and I wonder what she’s doing now.

These are all out of print now but if you have this series in your library, get it out on display and promote it to your Year 5+ kids, especially the boys.

Recommended for 9+

  • The Juno series by Fleur Beale
    • Book 1 – Juno of Taris
    • Book 2 – Fierce September
    • Book 3 – Heart of Danger

Once I got in to Juno of Taris I couldn’t put it down.  Fleur Beale’s strength with this series is her characters, the strong bonds between them and also the conflict between them.  Fleur really makes you feel for her characters and the strange situation that they are in.  After reading the first book, I would have been satisfied to leave the characters as they were, then Fleur wrote two sequels.  I really enjoyed following these characters as they settled into their new life, and it was great to find out more about the other characters in the series.

Recommended for 11+

  • Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
    • Currently 8 books in the series, starting with T-wreck-asaurus

Prehistoric toilet humour – what more can you ask for!  These books are full of dinosaur farts, dinosaur poo, caveman vomit and partial caveman nudity.  Not only are they disgusting and hilarious, you also learn heaps about dinosaurs and prehistoric life.  The challenge is trying to figure out what is factually accurate or just a huge whopper.  Kyle and Donovan are too of the wackiest people to ever be thrown together to create a series and it’s a truly winning combination.  If your children haven’t discovered this series yet they are seriously missing out.

Recommended for 7+

  • My New Zealand Story series by various authors

9781775431824The My New Zealand Story series from Scholastic New Zealand introduces children to different events and periods of New Zealand’s history.  I love this series because it gives a snapshot of the life of a fictional character (based on real people) and how they cope with life in the goldfields, or in colonial New Zealand, or how they react to a disaster like the Napier Earthquake.  These books also highlight how different the lives of the characters is to the lives of children today.  They really bring history alive for young readers and connect them with the history of their country.  The latest in the series is Canterbury Quake by my good friend, Desna Wallace.

Recommended for 9+

  • QueenTales of Fontania series by Barbara Else
    • The Traveling Restaurant
    • The Queen and the Nobody Boy
    • The Volume of Possible Endings
    • The Knot Impossible

Barbara Else’s Tales of Fontania series is a fantasy series that stands out from the crowd.  Barbara has an incredible imagination and her world and characters jump off the page.  Her tales are full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, a floating restaurant, stinky trolls, poisonous toads and much, much more.  You never know what who or what you’re going to meet next.  Thanks to the stunning covers by Sam Broad the books jump off the shelf and grab your attention.  I have it on good authority that there are more Tales of Fontania to come too.

Recommended for 9+
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My Top 10 NZ Read Alouds

There are lots of New Zealand books for children that are great read alouds, either to share one-on-one with your children or in a classroom.  Here are my Top 10 NZ Read Alouds, some old and some new (in no particular order).

Red Rocks by Rachael King

Red RocksWhile holidaying at his father’s house, Jake explores Wellington’s wild south coast, with its high cliffs, biting winds, and its fierce seals. When he stumbles upon a perfectly preserved sealskin, hidden in a crevice at Red Rocks, he’s compelled to take it home and hide it under his bed, setting off a chain of events that threatens to destroy his family. Can he put things right before it’s too late?

Suggested read aloud age: 9+

See Ya Simon by David Hill

Simon is a typical teenager – in every way except one. Simon likes girls, weekends and enjoys mucking about and playing practical jokes. But what s different is that Simon has muscular dystrophy – he is in a wheelchair and doesn t have long to live. See Ya, Simon is told by Simon’s best friend, Nathan. Funny, moving and devastatingly honest, it tells of their last year together.

Suggested read aloud age: 11+

The Brain Sucker by Glenn Wood

How would you act if part of your personality was stolen with a brain-sucking machine?

Lester Smythe has a black heart. He s invented a dangerous brain-sucking machine that removes the goodness from its victims, and he intends to use it to rid the world of all human kindness. But Lester didn t count on thirteen-year-old Callum McCullock and his two best friends, Sophie and Jinx. The trio vow to destroy the brain sucker. And nothing will stop them.

Suggested read aloud age: 8+

Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley

Snake is elegant and calm, and a little self-centred; Lizard is exuberant and irrepressible. Even though they’re opposites, they are good friends. With its wisdom, acceptance and good humour, Snake and Lizard captures the essence of friendship.

Suggested read aloud age: 7+

Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt

Sometimes friendship and loyalty can be dangerous things – especially when fireworks are involved. Inseparable Aussie friends dare-devil Dean and tag-along Pelly often get up to no good. That’s what makes them the Steel Pelicans. But as Dean’s homemade fireworks get increasingly dangerous, things start going wrong, and Pelly’s parents hasten a move back to New Zealand. After living most of his life in Australia, Pelly feels like he’s been dumped in a foreign land with no friends and a school that doesn’t care, until he joins up with Afi Moore and is invited to stay the weekend at the Moores’ seaside bach. Then the pair stumble on a smuggling operation and find themselves deep in trouble, which only gets worse when Dean comes over for the holidays. In no time at all, Dean’s obsession with explosives threatens not only the investigation but also their lives.

All of Des Hunt’s other books are great read alouds too.

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

Northwood by Brian Falkner

Cecilia Undergarment likes a challenge. So when she discovers a sad and neglected dog, she is determined to rescue him. No matter what. But her daring dog rescue lands her in deep trouble. Trouble in the form of being lost in the dark forest of Northwood. A forest where ferocious black lions roam. A forest that hides a secret castle, an unlikely king and many a mystery. A forest where those who enter never return. But Cecilia is determined to find her way home. No matter what.

Suggested read aloud age: 9+

Juno of Taris by Fleur Beale

Juno is young; she has no authority, no power, and to question the ways of Taris is discouraged. She knows what it’s like when the community withdraws from her – turning their backs and not speaking to her until she complies.The Taris Project was the brainchild of a desperate twenty-first-century world, a community designed to survive even if the rest of humanity perished. An isolated, storm-buffeted island in the Southern Ocean was given a protective dome and its own balmy climate. And now Juno is one of 500 people who live there – but what has happened to the outside world in the years since Taris was established? The island has not been in contact with Outside since the early years of its existence.Juno yearns to know about life Outside, just as she yearns to be allowed to grow her hair. It is a rule on Taris that all must have their heads shaved bare. But is it a rule that could be broken? Danger awaits any who suggest it.

Suggested read aloud age: 11+

Super Finn by Leonie Agnew

When Mr Patel asks his class what they’d like to be when they grow up, Finn (most famous for getting in trouble and doing stupid things) chooses ‘superhero’. With his friend Brain, the two boys make a list of things needed to be a superhero, including superpowers and saving someone’s life. Can Finn use his superpowers to help save his World Vision sponsored child? Sometimes, despite the best intentions, things don’t always work out as planned. Join the hilarity as the boys’ money-making scheme comes unravelled. Look out, world …here comes Super Finn!

Suggested read aloud age: 7+

The Wolf in the Wardrobe by Susan Brocker

Finn had seen those eyes before. They were golden yellow, like the colour of the moon hanging low in the sky. And they were full of pain. When Finn comes across a car accident, little does he realize his life is about to change forever. The huge, injured animal he discovers is no dog – but a wolf, escaped from the circus. Finn is bewitched. Instinctively, he knows he must save the wolf, Lupa, and prevent her return to the cruel circus. Where to hide the wolf, and how to feed her, are just the beginning of Finn’s problems. For the sinister circus clown, Cackles, is hot on their trail and will stop at nothing to get Lupa back. But Cackles doesn’t even like wolves, so why is he so determined to get her? In a race against time to save Lupa, Finn gets help from unlikely quarters. But will it be enough?

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

The Ghosts of Tarawera by Sue Copsey

On holiday near Rotorua, Joe and Eddie are fascinated by the area’s bubbling mud pools and boiling geysers. Local volcanologist Rocky tells them about the Pink and White Terraces that existed on the lake where they’re staying, and how they were destroyed in the cataclysmic 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. But Joe’s fascination turns to unease when strange sightings on the lake and dark rumblings from the Earth hint that the volcano is reawakening. Can he persuade Rocky, who puts his faith only in science, to sound a warning?

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

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Fast Five with Jenny Cooper

  • Why did I want to be an illustrator?
I never knew you could be an illustrator, but I always drew, at home, when I was young. Then I grew up and discovered that there was a whole world of picture books for children, and even though I had other jobs like teaching and advertising, I couldn’t help being drawn to children’s illustration, because I had spent so many thousands of hours, as a child, doing that sort of art. So in a way, I had no choice, it just happened naturally.
  • What is the best thing about being an illustrator?
The best thing is when you do a picture that you are really proud of. This doesn’t happen often, usually I am disappointed in my work. But just sometimes, maybe one picture out of 10, I do something that really surprises me, astonishes me and makes me think, how did I paint something that good? When that happens, it makes all the other, average, illustrations, worth it.
  • What is your favourite New Zealand Book?
The Year of the Shining Cuckoo by Joyce West. It is not in print now, I bought it second hand and read it once a year.
My favourite NZ picture books are  probably A Booming in the Night, by Helen Taylor, or Dragor, by Philip Webb
  • What do you love most about New Zealand?
New Zealand to me means freedom and space. I didn’t notice the  space and peace and quiet here until I had travelled in Europe, where the beaches are so full you don’t have room to put down a beach towel. And I can be in the mountains in an hour, if I want, or beside a beautiful clean alpine lake. And I love our relaxed and unfussy way of life, as Kiwis are basically trustworthy and trusting of other people, and I really hope it stays that way. Doors don’t always have to be locked, and a lost wallet will probably be returned, and if you want to live in an unusual way, up a mountain or on a boat, you are free to do it.
  • What do you love most about libraries?
If I go into a library for one book, I always come out with 5, there are so many interesting things to read about. But unlike the internet, where you are alone, libraries are always full of other people. Libraries are friendly, the people are helpful, and I always come out feeling I have spent my time well, and learned something. And of course, the books are free!
Jennifer Cooper is a children’s book illustrator with a background in graphic design.  Jenny has illustrated books for Melanie Drewery, Yvonne Morrison, Joy Cowley, and Jane Buxton, among many others.  Jenny’s most recent collaboration is with the Topp Twins for their version of There’s a Hole in My Bucket and Do Your Ears Hang Low?

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Fast Five with Philippa Werry

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I think I wanted to be a writer because I was a reader, and I wanted to be able to write a book as well as read one. It frustrated and puzzled me for a long time that writing a book seemed as if it should be so easy – but it actually it takes a lot of work on the writer’s part to make it look that easy.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

There are lots of good things – can I have two? One is getting to do the best job of all, which is making stuff up and inventing places that you’d like to spend time in and characters whom you’d love to meet. The other is when someone writes or emails or comes up to tell you in person that  they really liked one of your books.  

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Too hard! I could say any book of poetry by Jenny Bornholdt, especially The rocky shore. Also any books by wonderful NZ authors for children and young adults – too many to single out, but Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager and Jack Lasenby for starters (just to mention a few whom we are lucky to have living in and around Wellington.)

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

I love that we are a beautiful, free country where we can think what we like, say what we like, read what we write and write what we like. I love that we have beautiful beaches that aren’t all built up with skyscrapers and hotels. I love that we have wonderful books and great bookstores, cinemas and theatres and fabulous writers.  I love that my family and friends live here, and my husband and three gorgeous daughters.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

I used to be a librarian myself, and I spent hours in them as a child, so I feel very at home in libraries. Not just the libraries I use most, but any library anywhere can make you feel welcomed and belonging as soon as you walk in. I’m also grateful that I can use them to find out all sorts of information that I need for writing non fiction, and for the background to fiction as well.

Philippa Werry is a children’s writer whose non-fiction, poetry, stories and plays have been widely published, and also broadcast on National Radio. Philipp’s work has appeared in various anthologies and she has written over 100 pieces for the School Journal and other educational publishers.  Her latest book is Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story (published by New Holland Publishers NZ) is a nonfiction book about Anzac Day, what it is and why it matters.

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Fast Five with Jennifer Beck

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I was lucky to grow up in a family who loved books and valued reading.  Although I wrote my first book when I was nine (it wasn’t very good – I’m sure many of you could do better today!) I didn’t really start writing until I had children of my own.  Sharing books with them was such a delight that I decided to make my own books.  I wrote and illustrated them on the kitchen table, and later mustered up the courage to send some to a publisher.  It took a few years of persistence before the first one was accepted and published.  Although I didn’t set out to write lots of books, once started I haven’t been able to stop. Well, not yet.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer? 

For me, it’s the pleasure of creativity.  I really enjoy the process of developing an idea, or combining several, into a story that is new and original.  Working with the illustrator and seeing the pages come to life with skilful artwork is also an enjoyable experience, followed by reading the finished book for the first time.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I have so many it’s hard to choose.  I enjoy Joy Cowley’s warmth and surprise endings, and the delightful humour in John Parker’s Poppa McPhee Gets the Eggs.  However my favourite is probably Robyn Belton’s Herbert : The Brave Seadog because it is a story with such heart and I know something of the special background to the book.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

I admire the inventiveness, adaptability and creativity of New Zealanders, which I feel is a legacy of our pioneering past.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

I must confess I’ve never been very good at finding my way around libraries, so what I love most is the generous response from librarians when asked “Please, can you help me…”

Jennifer Beck is the author of more than 45 children’s books.  She has worked with many different illustrators, including Robyn Belton and Lindy Fisher.  Her books have also won many awards, including the Elsie Locke Award and the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award. Jennifer’s latest book is Remember That November, illustrated by Lindy Fisher.

 

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Fast Five with Melanie Drewery

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

Because I have always had a vivid imagination, and when I was small I was a real chatterbox with lots of ideas to share. Writing is sort of like talking a lot on paper.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I can put my ideas into a story and they will reach heaps and heaps of people I may never even meet! My words might make someone laugh or cry, they might even teach them something or change the way they look at the world. That’s pretty amazing.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Under the Mountain.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

Oh I can’t just love one thing, I need at least two, so I’m going to cheat here. I love our beaches, and being able to swim or walk by the sea every day. I also love our own unique culture, and how much more Te Reo Maori and Maori expressions have become part of everyone’s culture.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

I love being able to read lots and lots and lots of books. Is it weird to say I also love the bookish smell of libraries, yum, all those words wiggling around in their books and making their own special smell.

Melanie Drewery is an author, illustrator and artist who writes primarily for children. Koro’s Medicine was a finalist in the Picture Book Category of the 2005 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults, and the Maori translation of this title, by Kararaina Uatuku, won the 2005 Te Kura Pounamu Award. Melanie won the Picture Book section of the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for her book Tahi: One Lucky Kiwi.

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Fast Five with Anna Mackenzie

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I have always loved writing. I wrote my first book when I was seven – I have it still; it’s called ‘Stories of the Little Elf’ – but it still took me quite a long time to get around to writing fiction as a job. Instead I had a range of jobs that involved editing or non-fiction writing. It wasn’t until I left full-time work to raise my kids that I really found the right space and time for writing fiction. From that moment, there was no looking back!

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The very best thing is being able to spend not just hours but weeks and months following your characters through the twists and turns of their lives. It’s almost like living lots of different lives yourself.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

‘The Changeover’ by Margaret Mahy. This is a perfect book: it captures the challenge and discovery of negotiating adolescence; it was one of the first novels I read set in my own country, which is highly affirming of your place in the world; and the writing is absolutely flawless.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

I’ve lived in various places around the world but always knew I’d come back to New Zealand. We have beautiful and varied landscapes, we have clear air and a great climate, but we also have our own way of being. I fit in here! For better or worse, New Zealanders are outspoken, hard working, down to earth, determined. We believe anything is possible – and so we make the world that way.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

The limitless possibility that lies on the shelves! I remember a moment of sorrowful realisation when I was about ten and it struck me that I would never have time to read every book in the library. I love that libraries make so much available to anyone who walks through the doors.

Anna Mackenzie is a full-time writer who writes young adult fiction.  Her first novel, High Tide, was published in 2003 and her third novel, Sea-wreck Stranger, won the Young Adult Fiction Honour Award at the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young AdultsAnna’s latest book, Cattra’s Legacy, is published in April by Random House New Zealand.

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Win a New Zealand Kids Book Pack

It’s the last week of NZ Book Month for 2013.  I always enjoy NZ Book Month because I love reading books by our wonderful New Zealand authors and illustrators.  I hope you’ve read some great NZ books this month and enjoyed my Fast Five Questions with NZ authors and illustrators.

To finish NZ Book Month I’m giving away a New Zealand Kids Book Pack, thanks to Scholastic New Zealand.  The pack includes:

  • The Silly Goat Gruff by Scott Tulloch
  • A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik
  • Dinosaur Rescue: Salto-scaredypus by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
  • Ransomwood by Sheryl Jordan
  • Scrap: Tale of a Blond Puppy by Vince Ford
  • Scrap: Oh My Dog! by Vince Ford

To get in the draw just leave a comment (with your name and email address) telling me about a New Zealand book you’ve read and loved this NZ Book Month.  Competition closes Sunday 31 March (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is the Rodgers-Foran family.  I hope you enjoy your books!

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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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Fast Five with Kath Beattie

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was a small girl. Telling stories is just something I do and want to do and as a small child had to do. We didn’t have many books…we were poor (as many were way back then) so we wrote our own stories (and illustrated them!). We loved writing to the children’s page of the NZ Herald…and later as I grew I wrote stories for the local newspapers and various magazines.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I think the greatest fun is finding a way to tell a story in a new way or to find a new and different character. I still love the story I wrote where one of the characters in the story talks to me the writer! She gets mad because she doesn’t want to say what I want her to say! So I threaten to write her out of the story…sadly the story has never been published!

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I always dislike this sort of question. I love many many books for many many different reasons. And there are SO many marvellous books written by New Zealanders.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

Again I have many reasons for loving NZ. I particularly love the outdoors…our beautiful wild coastline, the lush and glorious bush, rugged mountains and hills country and the growing interest in our ‘wildlife’. I also love that we have so so many opportunities for education, sport, the arts etc. and rejoice that we can have very full and interesting lives as well as helping the less advantaged.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

When I was much much younger I used to find libraries a little daunting…no longer.  Libraries these days are so welcoming. The staff are wonderfully helpful and almost any book we would like to read a librarian can find it or order it for us. Libraries don’t just have books…there are CDs and now electronic readers. I have written a couple of historical fiction books and the archivists at the libraries I have visited have been wizards at finding me information. Libraries are busy friendly places. Make sure you get to know yours. The books are free as well!!

Kath Beattie is the author of two books in the My New Zealand Story series, Gumdigger and Cyclone Bola (released this month).  Kath has also had her stories published in anthologies, including Dare and Double Dare and Mischief and Mayhem.

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